In His Own Words: Petar Lukovic
A music and culture critic, Petar Lukovic is a Belgrade-based correspondent for Feral Tribune in Zagreb, Croatia, and a writer for the Institute of War and Peace Reporting's Balkan Crisis Report in London.
On media and the regime's power:
I think that without the media, this regime couldn't stand being in power for 14 years. When Milosevic came to power here in Serbia, 14 years ago, the first thing he did was take power of television and the newspaper Politika. It was very, very important for him — simply through Politika and through the television of Serbia — he maintained his basic ideas of nationalism, ethnic cleansing, war, whatever.
And I think that without media, I'm talking about the state regime — newspapers and of course state television — Milosevic couldn't stay all these years, being in power like he was. But he made one great mistake. After being in power over the state newspapers and television for 14 years, he thought in one moment — it was very recently, in the last — a few months — that he was in charge of just saying spectacular, improbably fantastic things. Really. He was going over the top if you know what I mean. His people, in fact, were telling people on television such an incredible story that even the people who really loved Milosevic couldn't believe that it's going on.
This was the moment that really decided the future of Serbia, that moment. If you are Milosevic, you are feeling so strong. You are feeling so great and powerful. You can do anything, literally. And for one moment you let your people do whatever they want. And at that moment, they tell stories which nobody believes because they are science fiction stories about terrorist action, about everybody in the world supporting Serbia. And at the same time they are saying that our only friends, our biggest friends are Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Cuba — I don't know — Cayman Islands, something like this. I mean you start to, to say to yourself, "Am I really normal? I mean I support this, but is this normal?" Really, Iraq is going to help us with medicine, Iran is going to help us with the economy, Cuba is going to help us with, I don't know, with the motor industry and — I mean you start to believe, I mean you start to ask yourself, is this normal?
And so it was the beginning of the crack in the regime, because they were going over the top. In one moment they started to tell the people the things that nobody, even their supporters, the hard core supporters, could believe.
On Milosevic's propaganda:
From the moment when we all knew that there's going to be new elections, and especially in the last two months, we had this kind of propaganda which was very, very heavy. But unfortunately for them, for the regime, people finally, thank god, realized that this is something which you cannot believe. Really it's just crazy, crazy, crazy. One of the main ideas of the regime was that Yugoslavia was the only country in the world which was free. That no single country in the universe, on planet earth, was free. That we are the ones, that we will be the one who will lead the revolution against the new world order, against the planet. That maybe in the future, Mr. Milosevic will be president of the universe. Believe me, there were some theories and articles about this.
On television and the media, and how Milosevic stayed in power:
Keep in mind that Milosevic was a dictator with help of the people. It's different. I mean he didn't have to be hard, simply because the majority of people in Serbia supported him all these years. So why should he be a dictator? Against whom? No one. There were just a minority of people that he would be against but the majority of people all these years, supported Milosevic. Majority. Even this month September, almost 2 million people supported Milosevic so what we are talking about? I mean Milosevic was, I would say, another kind of dictator. And his means of ruling the country were very, very simple. I would do the same if I was in his place. First take television and take all the media. When you have the media, especially television, you can do whatever you want. You can do whatever you want.
I was, ten years ago, in Switzerland, in Zurich which is a very interesting city. Simply because there is a German side, Italian side and French side. And I told them something because they were asking me about Milosevic's rule and television in Serbia. I told them, very, very simple. You just give me all your television stations in Zurich for one month and I'll make you a war. In a month. I mean a beautiful great, unbelievable war. It's so simple because if you're Italian you just remember German crimes against Italians a few centuries ago. If you're French you remember German crimes against the French, I don't know, a few months ago or a few centuries ago. Same with Italians. So I mean it is possible if you are going with this 24 hours a day for a few months — we will have a great war in Zurich and Zurich will be divided like Sarajevo you know in three sides, not in two sides but in three sides, destroyed completely. It's very, very easy.
So television is just one means. Second, official newspapers, like Politika, Vecernje Novosti, like Politika Express, whatever. It doesn't matter if you are believing in this, but it's a custom for all the people in Serbia to buy newspapers. It's a custom for years. You cannot say I won't buy this, simply because you get used to buying it and you are buying it and of course you read it.
And the third thing which is most, most important: I think that people in Serbia were very willing all these years to support his crazy ideas. Believe me. In all elections through the late 80s to the beginning of the 90s and the middle of the 90s, people were supporting Milosevic. Should I remind you that two years ago in April 1998, Milosevic asked for a referendum in Serbia asking people a very simple question: "Do you want any foreign representatives go to Kosovo to resolve the problem there?" 5.4 million people said no, we don't want that. Out of this 5.4 million people, I would say that 3.4 voted for the democratic opposition of Serbia. So the mental state of people in Serbia didn't change.
Excerpted from an interview with Steve York: Belgrade, November 20, 2000.