Serbian Media Bombard Public With Nazi Footage, `Kninjas'

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia - Serbia's media constantly expose children and the general public to their view of the civil war? Some examples: MTV war - Serbian television frequently segues directly from music videos to scenes of soldiers firing mortars or dodging enemy fire.

Nazi footage - Nonnews programs are interspersed with scenes referring to war. For example, every time the Austrian soccer team committed a penalty during a recent match against Yugoslavia, the Serbian TV network cut away to show footage of World War II Nazi brutality.

Child victims - Many of the current war atrocities described on Serbian television - whether real or invented - involve child victims. "They are always describing how the Croats cut the fingers of children and make them into necklaces," psychologist Vesna Ognjenovic said.

Recently, the TV news gave prominence to a report from a Belgrade photographer who claimed to have seen 40 dead Serbian children, their throats cut in a massacre.

Although he recanted the claim the next day, the story was never retracted by Serbian media. On the contrary, it has been subsequently presented by Belgrade newspapers as a typical example of Croatian savagery and referred to at the highest levels as evidence that the enemy is embarked on genocide.

`Kninja' comics - A new series of children's comic books is devoted to the exploits of Serbian guerrilla fighters called "Kninjas" - a nickname formed by combining "ninja" and "Knin," a Croatian region now controlled by Serbian rebels.

Like adults, Ognjenovic said, children quickly absorb values from television. She found, for example, that 5-year-olds in Belgrade identified themselves as Serbs. "It used to be they had no national consciousness until they were 8 or 9."

Tatjana Kecman, a school psychologist, said teenage students now insisted on substituting Serbian religious songs for the Yugoslav national anthem.

At the same time, Zarko Korac, a psychologist who hosts a popular Belgrade children's TV program, said many youngsters wrote that they were tired of watching war on television. In Croatia, he noted, the TV programming is almost exclusively war-related.

"In Serbia, at least, children have the benefit of seeing some of their regular programs in the morning," Korac said.