Hollywood goes to Bosnia, again.

Lucy Moore RSS / 08.10.2007. u 15:44

Two months ago I packed my bags and left Belgrade to take a job in Washington, DC Đ not in anyway an answer to the BIA vs. CIA question, I should point out.

At the moment I am working for The Atlantic, a slightly left of center, general interest publication with a long and respected history.

Recently, in an introductory conversation with a blogger for the magazine’s newly expanded website, I mentioned my year in Serbia and my interest in South Eastern Europe. His response: “Oh, the Balkans Đ that’s so esoteric. Aren’t you about ten years too late on that?”

(As a side note, Atlantic writer Robert Kaplan was not “ten years too late.” He jumpstarted his journalism career in the early 1990s with his travelogue of the region, Balkan Ghosts Đ a popular yet quintessentially ignorant, Western account of the region on the eve of Yugoslavia’s dissolution. To give you a sense of Kaplan's take on the place, he begins by attributing the origins of Nazism to Balkan hatred, and that’s only the introduction.)

While shocked by the dismissive, simplistic remark from this blogger Đ a voice of popular American pseudo-intellectualism Đ I was actually more surprised to discover recently that while the region is ten years too late for news media, Hollywood has not come to the same conclusion.

Just three weeks ago, almost twelve years since Bosnia’s peace agreement removed the tiny country from the international limelight, Hollywood released yet another Bosnia film, this time starting Richard Gere and Terrence Howard.

The Hunting Party
, a movie, loosely based on a “true” story by American journalist Scott Anderson, follows three American reporters on a hunt for “The Fox,” a fictional stand in for war fugitive Radovan Karadzic. Gere, the lead reporter, is a broken man looking to rebuild his career and revenge the death of the woman he loved. Back in Bosnia for the five year commemoration of the war’s end, he and his former camera man set off in search of Bosnia’s number one war criminal, but before they can get to him they are held at gun point by a dwarf, run off the road by a dump truck, confused for CIA agents, and entwined in an international conspiracy to protect none other than The Fox himself.

On the spectrum of Hollywood productions set in war torn or post war Bosnia, this one falls somewhere in the middle. Its enemy Serbs are not quite as mindless as the grunting Serbian soldiers of Behind Enemy Lines (2001), but the role of self-righteous journalist lacks any trace of nuance that at least grazed the comparable protagonist of Welcome to Sarajevo (1997).

Like all popular Western representations of the region, this film is rife with the classic Balkan stereotypes: “Balkan madness,” mystery, and, of course, its exotic women.

Despite its predictably Balkanizing rhetoric, however, the film actually attempts to replicate two genera perfected by Balkan sensibility, that of dark humor and conspiracy theory. But as it flounders between the two, The Hunting Party fails at both. Richard Gere’s Serbian alone is far more amusing than his witty asides (my favorite: Gere asking "Imate li domaci slivovitz"), and the plot line’s gross simplification of the peculiar dynamics surrounding the international community’s hunt for Radovan Karadzic is drowned out by its relentless high action sequences.

The Hunting Party's greatest flaw, however, lies not in its depiction of Bosnia or regional issues Đ by now I’ve learned that to dismiss a film on such grounds is to dismiss almost all film of such subject matter, foreign and domestic alike. Rather it lies in the film’s glorification of foreign journalists as freewheeling, drug using playboys driven by adrenaline addiction and the thrill of the chase.

The value and danger of foreign reporting is not to be underestimated. Recent events in Burma alone speak to both the danger of and the need for this harrowing job. In a country of broken Internet signals and regime controlled media, foreign journalists reporting from inside the country have been key to keeping the world informed during the Junta’s violent crack down. But for Kenji Nagai, the Japanese journalist shot by Burmese soldiers, information flow came at a price.

According to Reporters Without Borders, 113 journalists were killed last year while doing their job. I wonder what they or anyone who knew them would think of lines from the film like Gere’s reaction to narrowly escaping enemy fire: “Putting yourself in danger is actual living Đ everything else is just television.”

Sadly, this skewed, shortsighted understanding of journalism and foreign reporting is not limited to Hollywood spectacle. Last year I encountered this self-serving attitude far too often among expats living in the region. For instance, shortly after I returned from a trip to Kosovo last May, a fellow American resident of Belgrade said to me over coffee, “You know, I really hope something gets stirred up down there. If things in Kosovo were to flare up, I’d be down there in an instant and have my journalism career made.”

Let’s just hope ten years time doesn’t find this young expat's name dotting the pages of The Atlantic alongside Robert Kaplan.

Komentari (19)

Komentare je moguće postavljati samo u prvih 7 dana, nakon čega se blog automatski zaključava

oldtajmer oldtajmer 16:14 08.10.2007


I don't know what you think of Kaplan. While he may have made a name for himself, and built his journalistic career (good for him), but I find his writing little more than sensationalist, and clearly aimed at self-promotion rather than fact finding, or educating his audience. I hope you do not strive to become such a journalist one day.

As an aside, apparently his Balkans book has been scanned into Google in its entirety. So, read it and judge for yourselves.

Congrats on the new job and best of luck in DC!
Lucy Moore Lucy Moore 16:23 08.10.2007

Re: Kaplan

Oh, I think his supposed insights into the region are completely off base and self-serving and I have no interest in following him in his approach.

I don't believe the whole book has been scanned yet, but chunks are definitely available, and sadly, if a book store is going to carry a book on the region, it's most likely to have his, so it's not hard to come by.
oldtajmer oldtajmer 19:28 08.10.2007

Re: Kaplan

Oh, you're right, I didn't look carefully enough. Pages in the middle are missing :)

Tim Judah's "Serbs", IMHO, is required reading for any English-speaking (non-Serbian speaking) journalist interested in the region.
andjelija andjelija 16:27 08.10.2007

movies or not

everywhere hypocrisy...there are so many movies about war on iraq and afghanistan, that it's obvious Yugo story has a great value to producers.

as far as gere's role....with all do respect, I can't stand that guy. he is danger to societies.

I don't like journalist whatsoever. they chase stories only for sensation and headliners....
Sepulturero Sepulturero 16:34 08.10.2007

Re: movies or not

The problem is not so much the Kaplan book in itself but the fact that many politicians (even Clinton?) educate themselves by reading this kind of superficial, selfserving and ignorant books. There is even a proliferation of instant "history" books which are written in the same vein, for example those authored by Norman Malcolm.
Doctor Wu Doctor Wu 17:10 08.10.2007

Re: movies or not

as far as gere's role....with all due respect, I can't stand that guy.

why? what's wrong with american gigolo, ?
andjelija andjelija 18:35 08.10.2007

Re: movies or not

that movie is the only credit that he has from me. ...but comparing with the other movies and actions...he is just not worth it any attention.

buddhist my ass.
tnosugar tnosugar 17:36 08.10.2007

good show lucy

i see that you've studied the Balkans well. I disagree with your take on the journalist stereotype tho, since there is some truth to it. met quite a few druggies in the guild during the 90s. Now it's different.

As for Burma and the sudden attention it has drawn, I'd dig deeper into info about the wealth of its oil and natureal gas deposits as the prime reason for all the hub-bub, now that Iraq, Afghanistan and 'operation Siberia' seem to be falling apart. Not sure how whether US (NATO) can afford to intervene more directly with China looming large.

My guess this was a test balloon to see how China would react to the prospect of a putsch against the regime they are supporting. For now they haven't even flexed a tendon to show that they may be concerned.

I don't think Tienanmen Sq. can happen to them again, not at home or in their regional hinterland. They've got too much clout already. And they won't let anything spoil their Olympics :)
Lucy Moore Lucy Moore 17:55 08.10.2007

Re: good show lucy

see what i mean about Balkanites and their conspiracy theories? (just kidding)

In regards to Burma, I meant it only as an example of the value of on-the-ground news coverage. But I will qualify my assessment of that. I think Internet, blogs and a greater dispersal of recording and computer technology (even in countries as shut off as Burma) lent this last protest an intense degree of coverage that made a more sever reaction from the government (as in '88) impossible. Perhaps such media avenues will give greater volume to local voices in the realm of international media, though it could also make room for more self starter foreign journalists, for better or worse.

I think you're right about the potential, or lack there of, for international intervention in Burma though. Even if things had gotten worse in the aftermath of the protests, little suggests the UN would have done any more than it did, and the US is certainly in no position to do expand its presence.

In regards to journalists, I didn't mean to suggest that the film's stereotype was inaccurate. Instead, I meant to cast doubt on its decision to glorify and promote the macho, tough guy, story chasing aspect of foreign reporting.
tnosugar tnosugar 18:38 08.10.2007

Re: good show lucy

In regards to journalists, I didn't mean to suggest that the film's stereotype was inaccurate. Instead, I meant to cast doubt on its decision to glorify and promote the macho, tough guy, story chasing aspect of foreign reporting.

that's true. they're not macho at all :)

As for Burma, Serbia, Georgia and the likes, we are all small fry, a wedge between tectonic plates of major players in the international arena. It's not a matter of conspiracy theory... international relations are still more or less as Hobbes described them in Leviathan or Machiavelli in the Prince or the Book of Rulers of the State of Shan (Machiavelli analogue in early China), they are only packaged nicely in secondary concerns, such as human rights and the democratic order. The primary concern is still the balance of power and relative or absolute gain. Burma, or even better Palestine and Kurdistan are stark examples - where there is no gain in these primary objectives, human rights and justice for the victims are of no concern to the mighty.
Once we have a global government and global currency, then these might also become primary concerns, as they are more or less in a state of law. However, we seem father away from this Wilsonian ideal than after WW II.

DejanOz DejanOz 06:47 09.10.2007

Re: good show lucy

As for Burma, Serbia, Georgia and the likes, we are all small fry, a wedge between tectonic plates of major players in the international arena.

What?! Last time I looked, Serbia was about to bring NATO and the New World Order to its knees! ;-)

Great posts, tnosugar, my recommendations.
tnosugar tnosugar 08:11 09.10.2007

Re: good show lucy

Not to its knees, but we have served as an important training ground (and may yet serve as a precedent) for remodelling international relations in this century. The precedent that is being set less by the dissolution of the former Yu republics, but to a greater extent by the possible recognition of Kosovo (and perhaps even Vojvodina and Sandzak if some interest groups have it their way), could have huge implications for all other similar cases worldwide, as has been often argued on this blog and elsewhere.

This is why the clash between international players to keep Kosovo in Serbia (or provide it with independence and sovereignty) is actually more fierce, behind the closed doors of diplomatic relations, than was their confrontation over the break-up of ex-YU, which was inevitable and permissable by international law. It was the finer details of how to deal with the 'leopard skin' distribution of ethnic groups that provided conditions for the war-mongers at home and arms dealers abroad to present us with the worst case scenario.

I'm still not sure whether the US are looking to actually accomplish this precedent, or whether they are just looking for an important strategic pivot on the faultline between Eurpe and Asia Minor. Precedents come and go, but Bondsteel is there to stay.
tnosugar tnosugar 08:15 09.10.2007

Re: good show lucy

btw... good article on TFF on War from a Buddhist perspective.
Here's a teaser...the rest of it is here

Why we love war

David R. Loy

October 9, 2007

In war, there are no unwounded soldiers.
—José Narosky

War is hell, and today more than ever. Although high-tech weapons make it a videogame for some, those same weapons make it unbelievably destructive for everyone else. Whatever valor was once associated with hand-to-hand combat has long since disappeared due to gunpowder, and the massive slaughters of the twentieth century have made it increasingly difficult to romanticize the death and misery war causes. Nonetheless it continues and we have learned, if not to accept it, to take it for granted.

Obviously, not everyone loathes it. The U.S. economy would collapse without the obscene amount spent on the military-industrial complex, now well over $600 billion a year according to some calculations. It’s hard to rationalize such a sum without a war once in a while. That’s why the end of the Cold War with the Soviet Union was so disconcerting. What would we do without an enemy! Fortunately the war on terror fits the bill perfectly. With a bit of luck it may never end (how would we know?) and the military budget can balloon forever.

But it’s not only those who get rich (or richer) off war who like it. They couldn’t promote war if the rest of us weren’t willing to go along with their manipulations. We support and follow the war-makers because, to tell the truth, there is something in us that finds war agreeable . . . even attractive. Can Buddhism help us understand what that is?

The official excuse for every war is always the same: self-defense. It’s okay to kill other people and destroy their society because that’s what they want to do to us.

As Hermann Goering said, “The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders . . . Just tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger.” They haven’t attacked us yet? Then we need a “preventive war.” That suggests the problem with all “just war” theories. Once there’s such a thing as a just war, every war becomes marketed as a just war.

But that’s not why we like war. That’s just how the propaganda works, how leaders get us to line up behind them. What makes us so gullible? Why are we so willing to sacrifice ourselves, even our children? Why doesn’t exposing the lies of the last war inoculate us against the deceptions that will be used to promote the next one?

Buddhist societies have not been immune from war. The Japanese Buddhist establishment wholeheartedly supported the imperialist ambitions of its fascist government. In Sri Lanka today politicized Buddhist monks oppose a negotiated solution to a civil war that has already cost thousands of lives.

In all the cases that I can think of, however, people who consider themselves Buddhists became belligerent because their Buddhism had become mixed up with a more secular religion: nationalism. Such war-mongering startles us because it so obviously contradicts Buddhist principles—not only incompatible with its emphasis on not harming, but also inconsistent with a worldview that emphasizes wisdom over power.

From a Buddhist perspective, the various conflicts in the Middle East look like a family quarrel. That’s because the three Abrahamic faiths—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—share much the same understanding of the world. It’s a feud among brothers who have fallen out, which is, of course, sometimes the most vicious sort. Having been raised by the same father, they have a similar worldview: this world is a battleground where the good must fight against those who are evil.

The most important issue is where each of us stands in this cosmic struggle. Our salvation depends upon it. It’s necessary to choose sides.

It is not surprising, then, that the al-Qaeda understanding of good and evil—the need for a holy war against evil—is also shared by the administration of George W. Bush. Bin Laden would no doubt agree with what Bush has emphasized: “If you’re not with us, you’re against us.” Since there is no room in this grand cosmic struggle for neutrality, neither of them is much concerned about the fate of innocent bystanders. Bystanders are not innocent. Once something has been labeled as evil, the focus must be on fighting it. The most important thing is to do whatever is necessary to destroy it. This implies a preoccupation with power and victory at any cost. Whether one supports small-group terrorism or state terrorism, the issue is the same. Which will be more powerful, the forces of good or the forces of evil?

Buddhism offers a different perspective. In place of this battleground of wills where good contends against evil, the most important struggle is a spiritual one between ignorance and delusion, on the one side, and liberating wisdom on the other. And seeing the world primarily as a war between good and evil is one of our more dangerous delusions.

Looking back over history, we can see that when leaders have tried to destroy evil, they have usually ended up creating more evil. An obvious example is the heresy inquisitions and witch-trials of medieval Europe, but for sheer violence and dukkha nothing can match the persecutions of the twentieth century. What was Adolf Hitler trying to do with his “final solution” to the “Jewish problem”? The earth could be made pure for the Aryan race only by exterminating the Jews, along with all the other vermin (gypsies, homosexuals, the mentally defective, etc.) who contaminate it. Stalin killed well-to-do Russian peasants because he was trying to create his ideal society of collective farmers. Mao Zedong eliminated Chinese landlords for the same reason. Like Bush and bin Laden, they were trying to perfect the world by eliminating its evil people.

So one of the main causes of evil in our world has been attempts to get rid of evil (or what has been seen as evil). In more Buddhist terms, much of the world’s suffering has resulted from this delusive way of thinking about good and evil.

s56a s56a 18:22 08.10.2007

Balkan virus

Lucy, you might have caught Balkan virus paying so much attention to Hollywood movies about Bosnia. My Conn. friend suffers from that since 1974 and comes here often.

Congrats on The Atlantic Monthly internship despite DC location.

Solomon Solomon 18:43 08.10.2007

Good Guys

I agree with you Lucy. And there were many more like Kapplan. And such inacuracies aren't limited to the Balkans but to every area including domestic US issues.

Hollywood is however strapped for Good Guys and Bad Guys. The Ex-Yugo wars are the last Guilt-free Good-Guy / Bad-Guy division that Hollywood can allow itself. Serbs are the perfect villains. We're few, foreign, white and most importanly - guilty! I mean everyone, even Serbs, agree that we had some 'Bad Apples' running things back in the 90s.
Casting a reporter as a 'good-guy' may also, at this time, be more sensible then casting a US Pilot as a Good Guy.
Also, Im sure Gere's charachter will have some British or French sidekick to make the Good-Guys side less 'American' and more of a 'World Effort'.

You'll be seeing these movies made for years - at least there's some sort of conclusion to this Iraq-mess.
Hollywood can't deal with the current mess yet - it's too sensitive and unclear which side will prevail.

The question now is what types of movies will we be seeing from Hollywood dealing with IRAQ in 20 years ?
Movies like 'Pearl Harbor' or movies like 'Platton' ?

oldtajmer oldtajmer 20:18 08.10.2007

Re: Good Guys

Movies like 'Pearl Harbor' or movies like 'Platton' ?

Apocalypse Now?
Solomon Solomon 20:58 08.10.2007

Re: Good Guys

"Apocalypse now" is too good of a movie to be repeated :)

Obviously it's 'inspiration' was not too horrible to be repeated !
Dragan Dujaković Dragan Dujaković 22:01 08.10.2007

what movies

Surprisingly, a relatively small number of movies was made about our wars in the nineties. Majority are a B grade, cheap action flicks that ended straight on the video/DVD shelves. I think the main reason for that is that people are confused. Yes, Serbs are (almost) always the baddies, but people just don't gobble it up like we think they do.

I have lived and travelled across many countries in the nineties, and while there is a certain malaise when I would say where I am from, you do realise that people actually don't know much. It generally always stops on "Serbs and Croats".

Also, people (in Europe anyway) felt, and probably still feel, somewhat guilty that they "allowed it to happen in their backyard". This leaves a lot of room for those opportunists, scavengers and attention-seekers who write books, opine and offer their "theories" and generally don't give a shit other than for themselves and their peculiar interests - no matter what "side" they represent.

Noble cause - yes, but are all those people equally noble? Hell no. The list includes (but is not limited to) Kaplan, BHL, Amanpour on one side - and all those other weirdos that "represented" Milosevic's side in the world.
Predrag Brajovic Predrag Brajovic 00:57 09.10.2007

Kaplan and Co.

Speaking of Kaplan and stereotypes about Balkan, there is an interesting book by Vesna Goldsworthy Inventing Ruritania. I've posted my rewiev of the book: Kad su u Srbiji rasle masline You can find the history of sterotypes about Balkan in it.



Kategorije aktivne u poslednjih 7 dana