Inside Milosevic's Propaganda Machine

  • How can Serbs support Slobodan Milosevic after what he has done in Kosovo?" Westerners often ask. The truth is many Serbs just don't know the facts. Their ignorance is symptomatic of life in Serbia, where appearance and reality are carefully managed by Milosevic's propaganda machine. And though some Serbs have access to CNN and the Internet, it's still tough for them to get a clear view in a state where Milosevic controls even the weather report.

    At all costs Milosevic wants to maintain his fiction that Serbia won the war and Kosovo is not lost. To achieve this illusion, Milosevic has had to engineer one of the strangest U-turns in the history of propaganda. First, NATO was the enemy, the evil aggressor who bombed Serbia. Now peacekeepers from NATO countries are said to be protecting the Serbs--and, ultimately, their stake in the province. Last week TIME's Belgrade team assembled a week's worth of Milosevic's propaganda. Then we turned to some spin experts for their analysis. Though they spotted some holes, it's clear that getting rid of Milosevic will involve finding a way to weaken his propaganda operations.

    Our Experts
    YURI KOBALADZE was a general in Russia's intelligence service. His career included a covert posting to Britain.

    ALFRED PADDOCK is the former director of psychological operations at the U.S. Department of Defense.

    DONNY DEUTSCH is one of America's top ad men. His clients have included Baskin-Robbins, Louis Vuitton and Snapple.


    The government celebrated the harvest on June 28, anniversary of a key 1389 Serbian defeat in Kosovo. The spin: posters that evoked Serbia's heartland--and suggested proud self-reliance.

    "Milosevic has based his propaganda on themes that play on Serbian mythology. He adapts those to changing circumstances." --Paddock


    Politika, a state-run paper, picks up Milosevic's theme that Serbia won the war. Its lead: a reference to a New York Times article suggesting NATO bombers inflicted far less damage than claimed.

    "The propaganda line that they have won the war makes sense. I would say, 'We have withstood aggression.'" --Kobaladze


    Milosevic has a fervent supporter in Serbian president Milan Milutinovic. An indicted war criminal, Milutinovic hit the road selling a "reform" campaign to keep his pal in power--and himself out of jail.

    "I'm reminded of Al Gore in the Rose Garden, after Clinton's impeachment, calling him one of the greatest Presidents." --Paddock


    More than 70,000 Serbs have fled Kosovo, but the media are running stories on Serbs' returning to Kosovo. Remember, Serbia won, so there's nothing to flee, right?

    "That's no different than if 100,000 Albanians were slaughtered and you show one alive and say we didn't slaughter anyone." --Deutsch


    The government distributed a book on NATO's "war crimes" against Serbs. Inside: gruesome testimonials and grisly photos including one of a 12-year-old girl killed by a cluster bomb.

    "The technique of this kind of propaganda is to create the enemy and attach horrific crimes against humanity to them." --Deutsch