ABSTRACT

While carrying out fieldwork and conducting interviews with Serb veterans of the Yugoslav Wars (1991-1995, 1998-1999) in Belgrade, Serbia, I was struck by how different veterans’ accounts of war propaganda were from those of human rights lawyers. The former characterised war propaganda as ‘wartime media’ that, in the Serbian case, was more or less a byproduct of already occurring violence and hardly influential on combatants. Lawyers, on the other hand, are nowadays prone to argue that war propaganda causes collective violence (ethnic cleansing, mass rape, massacres, or genocide), especially in environments where there is an impoverished marketplace of ideas, economically depressed population or history of ethnic conflict.1 According to Richard Wilson, this outlook reflects an emerging trend in recent speech-crimes trials at the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).2 In those trials several journalists, politicians and media figures have been prosecuted for disseminating hate-media and causing collective violence.3 Yet these cases, and the respective legal outlook they inspire, unblushingly presume that there is a direct link between the illocutions of war propaganda and its perlocutionary force on perpetrators.4 This article draws from interviews with Serbian military personnel of the Yugoslav Wars to shed light on their

Jordan Kiper

motivations for participating in war and, to some degree, the cultural structuring of violence, which challenge recent legal theoretical notions of war propaganda.