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The Balkans: Debating Angelina Jolie's Film and the Legacy of War

Angelina Jolie’s In the Land of Blood and Honey, a film set in Sarajevo during the Bosnian War, has received much publicity, both positive and negative, in the Balkans, adding fuel to the ongoing debate on the legacy of the bloodshed that took place in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

It appears that many of those participating in the discussion of the film haven't had a chance to actually watch it.

Belgrade-based blogger Viktor Markovic wrote this on his Belgraded blog:

For starters, I have to say that even though it was labeled as “a propaganda movie” I must say that the propaganda failed on the very first step as it was extremely difficult to even find the movie to see it in the first place. It’s like it’s being shown in just a couple of cinemas in the world – one could say that because of this poor marketing, the movie is a disgrace to proper propaganda movies. [...]

Angelina Jolie received a Person of the Year award from the Bosnian newspaper Dnevni Avaz, prior to attending the premiere of 'In the Land of Blood and Honey' at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. Photo by EUROPA NEWSWIRE, copyright © Demotix (10/01/12).

Angelina Jolie received a Person of the Year award from the Bosnian newspaper Dnevni Avaz, prior to attending the premiere of 'In the Land of Blood and Honey' at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. Photo by EUROPA NEWSWIRE, copyright © Demotix (10/01/12).

UK-based Marko Attila Hoare wrote this on his Greater Surbiton blog:

Angelina Jolie’s directorial debut, In the Land of Blood and Honey, is difficult to watch. Difficult to watch in the sense that, here in the UK, it hasn’t been released, and there doesn’t appear to be any information about when or where it will be – certainly not on the movie’s official website, nor in any of the reviews that have appeared in UK newspapers. I spent the first three days of this week in Washington DC, where I found that the film was no longer playing in that city either, and that Amazon.com would not sell me the download since my debit card had a UK address. I have now managed to see the film – unfortunately, only the English-language version – via a link posted by a friend on Facebook.

In the Land of Blood and Honey‘s unavailability for viewing is odd, considering the widespread publicity it has received, the controversy that has surrounded it and the fame and popularity of the director. [...]

For UK-based Alan Jaksic of Balkan Anarchist, who has blogged at length about In the Land of Blood and Honey, not watching the film in its entirety was a conscious choice:

[...] I haven't seen the film myself; I've only seen clips of it on YouTube. And I'm not really sure I want to watch it — not because I'm afraid that I'll be deeply offended by it, but because I'm not that keen to see such an emotionally-charged war movie wherever it's set on the planet! [...]

Markovic wrote this about Jolie's depiction of the war:

[...] There are some really disturbing scenes in the movie. This was one of the things that upset the public opinion in Serbia most, because the public opinion doesn’t accept that anyone on Serbian side was that cruel. Unfortunately, I believe real war was even more cruel and disturbing than any movie can describe. [...]

And here is Hoare's take on the same aspect of the film:

[...] Nor, however, are the horrors and violence portrayed here of the comic-book, caricatured variety. Inevitably, this film has come under fire from the Great Serb, genocide-denying lobby for supposedly being ‘anti-Serb’, and portraying ‘the Serbs’ as monsters. Well, it is ‘anti-Serb’ in the same way that films like Schindler’s List or The Pianist are ‘anti-German’. [...]

Australia-based Ina Vukic wrote this in her post about Jolie's film:

[...] In all its history, movie making has been about bringing to the world portrayals of factual as well as fictional events. Jolie has brought a factual story of horror told by fictional characters. There’s no propaganda in that. But even if it were propaganda then it’s high time for more of it because justice has not yet been served to all the innocent victims, and especially not to rape victims in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. [...]

Jaksic explains why Jolie's film is considered “offensive” by many in Serbia:

[...] Many of us Serbs feel that the film revamps that deeply negative, media image about our people, which Western viewers had become accustomed to during the '90s, that we are a nation of cruel, sadistic, war criminals, hell-bent on ethnic cleansing, and as such, we were as bad as the Nazis of World War Two! Now, I don't deny the seriousness and the gravity of all those allegations of war crimes etc. against a whole host of Serb leaders, both political and military, all of which has coloured people's negative views on us as a people. However, it must be borne in mind that all this negative press from that time left us Serbs, both back home and in the diaspora, feeling dehumanised and demonised, but most of all, misunderstood by the world. [...]

However, what really offends and frustrates a lot of us Serbs about Jolie's film, whether we've seen it in full or just clips of it, is how it mainly depicts the suffering of one side of the war, i.e. the Bosniak side. This doesn't mean that we object to the production of any film that may portray the Bosniaks as the main victims; after all, they did suffer greatly during that war from 1992 to 1995, and we shouldn't deny that at all. However, what bothers a lot of us Serbs is how very little is known about the suffering of our own people during that conflict and others in the '90s. [...] Of course, we Serbs are aware of war crimes committed by our own against others, and many of us do feel ashamed of all that. But we are also concerned about the fate of our own victims from those conflicts too, and it displeases us how even now very little is known about them. [...]

Markovic, in his turn, explains why it is wrong to treat In the Land of Blood and Honey as “an anti-Serbian movie”:

[...] Yes, the movie has only the Serbian military as bad guys. But, and this seems to be hard to grasp for great majority of Serbs: this fact doesn’t make the movie anti-Serbian. This is because – are you ready for this – one Serbian military squadron does not represent even the entire Serbian army, let alone the entire Serb population. But it’s the trap majority of Serb population tends to fall into: we defend ourselves even if no one is really attacking us, and by doing so we end up defending the real bad guys – the war criminals. [...]

Jaksic also writes on the “tendency among all Balkan nations to feel offended by another nation's sense of victimhood”:

[...] On many occasions while surfing the net, reading messages on various Ex-Yu forums, comments under YouTube videos and discussion pages of Wikipedia articles, I've seen how easily offended, for instance, my fellow Serbs can feel when they hear Croats accusing them of war crimes against them, and unsurprisingly, the same is the case the other way round! And it's not just the recent conflicts that cause heated disputes; even different interpretations of distant periods of history can rouse offense, such as the Serbian and Bosniak view of Ottoman rule in the Balkans! And as we can see with the reception of Jolie's In the land of blood and honey, even films by outsiders can offend local nations, and not just some YouTube comments!

Vukic hopes that “Jolie’s movie will trigger more investigations and prosecution of all rapists from the war in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina”:

[...] So, I say: “good on you, Angelina! Now make a movie on the thousands upon thousands of rape victims in Croatia because Croatian women who were raped by the Serbs during the 1990’s war still await their justice. [...]

Markovic points out that the film isn't likely to serve as the closing argument in the painful post-war debate:

[...] the thing that puzzles me the most, and I know I am not the only one is – how is this movie supposed to contribute to reconciliation? Which is, according to Jolie’s statements, her goal with this. [...]

For an overview of some of the online Serbian reactions to Jolie's film, please see this GV text by Sasa Milosevic, who has also written about the film on his Huffington Post blog, here.
  • mike

    I find it terribly biased and it simply reignites public opinion that was shaped by misleading news media. For instance, during the war… I could not count the number of times a certain American news channel reported that a bread line was ambushed by those “evil” Serbs! It was played every half hour for weeks. A month later is was discovered that the bread line was a setup by opposing forces to capture sympathetic public opinion. They attacked their own people and played the pity card. This discovery was shown on that same news channel, once!… At 4am when no one was watching! But I’m sure that the “brilliant” direction and in-depth knowledge that Jolie can provide will bring that to light some day.

  • Classic

    Besides personal impressions, there is also a content analysis of the scenes of violence in the film showing that:

    1. All war criminals are Serbs.
    2. None of the civilian victims are Serbs.
    3. All civilian victims are Muslims.

    http://bit.ly/AntiSerbAfterAll

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