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INFO   :::  Projects > Archives > Promoting a Social Climate Propitious to Transitional... > Helsinki Charter No. 151-152 > Text



A Letter to Journalist Jacky Rawland


By Zoran Janic

Dear Ms. Rawland:
Let me tell you with due respect that I am not writing this letter in my name - as we do not know each other - but on behalf of a certain person I run into last summer. This letter, therefore, is the consequence of that brief meeting and my talk with this young guy, I'll name here Matador (actually he never told me his real name). On that occasion he confided - if a total stranger ever tells you anything in confidence - that he not only had a close encounter with you but that the said encounter had changed his entire life in a way. I must distance myself here: this encounter took place long ago, more than ten years ago, and, therefore, it is quite understandable that this young man (I'll call Matador) couldn't recall your exact name. But be it as it may, on the basis of some facts ("war correspondent for BBS, April or May 1999, the main street in Djakovica") and some research on the Internet I reached the conclusion that the person in question must have been you.

I'll try to refresh you memory: April or May of the warring year 1999, the mis-en-scene is the main square in Djakovica, the exchange of Serb and Albanian prisoners of war is about to take place. You are in the company of two colleagues, one with a camera on his shoulder, the other carries a movable microphone (the so-called fishing rod). Spring rain is dripping, you are wearing a short, man-style jacket with a checked shirt underneath. You are standing in the street, hands stuck in you pockets, head between your shoulders, shifting from one leg to another because it's pretty chilly. Every now and then you are looking in the direction you expect Albanian prisoners to show up from (remember?). A brown camouflage military truck is already parked across the street and just behind it a white van and a car. Some unshaved civilians (prisoners?) and heavily armed soldiers are grouped around them. You look nervous but trying to hide it. Probably you are nervous because envoys of the other side are late (the exchange should have taken place half an hour ago) or because you know how many foreign journalists and correspondents have died "under unknown circumstances" since the beginning of the war in Yugoslavia. In any case, you are evidently not at ease. At some point you are putting up your collar and speaking to your colleagues, and your left hand flashes a ring (do you remember wearing it at the time?) You are standing by a house that looks onto the street and something resembling a neglected park stretches between it and the adjacent, also shabby house. While you stand there, the wind sways barren branches of a tree resembling a willow (remember that park and the tree resembling a willow under which you stood with your collar up, Ms. Rawland?). And just across the street, at some angle from where you stand, in an overgrown yard stands a one-story house with unplastered, concrete walls that looks like an abandoned factory or some big workshop (I am quite positive you haven't noticed that house at all). Its upper floor displays a series of tiny windows, like gun emplacements. (Have you noticed that in wartime everything resembles something else, as if nothing really exists because it is there and should be there? That a house is no longer a house, a cloud no longer a cloud, a window no longer a window? That primary, tautological meaning of life has somehow vanished, that simple, self-validating feeling such as breathing, movement of one's limbs or blood circulation?)

So far my writing has followed Matador's story. As I said, the exchange was almost an hour late. Up to know I've been retelling the words of that young man, repeating what he told me. He called your face and complexion unusually pale, "like milk" (that's his expression), that was the first thing he noticed about you, as well as your speckles. I sought for those speckles at your pictures at the Internet but couldn't find a trace of them - I suppose that's because of poor quality of your photos (you do have tiny speckles, don't you, Ms. Rawland?).

Please do not be confused with so many details in the reminiscences of one day in the life of a war-correspondent standing in the street in Djakovica in 1999, the reminiscences so detailed as if told by someone watching a video recording made on that day of April or May of the said year or as if seen by some omniscient narrator writing a passage about you in his story or book. The truth is more prosaic, dear Ms. Rawland (more prosaic than any prose literature) though it could have been fatal to you: namely, on that very day (in April or May 1999) Matador was watching you though his rifle scope, that's how he noticed all those details. He was ordered to gun you down at the moment of exchange of prisoners but so that it looked as if the shot had come from the Albanian side.

He was exactly opposite to you, Ms. Rawland, on the upper floor of the building that once used to house a factory, leaning on one of those tiny windows that looked like gun emplacements, I've already mentioned. He lay in ambush, in the house with unplastered walls, waiting for you for the past twenty-four hours. That was when he came from his camp (located in the woods nearby the town) ridding in a civilian Yugo. He picked up that abandoned house and lay in ambush. He was wearing a dark brown uniform without insignia, just in case, and a black cap the color and shape of which resembles the caps worn by Albanian troops (just in case an enemy sniper spots him). All he had with him was his dismantled rifle and some food. His first bullet was to hit you just above your heart and the second to verify the shot.

You already guess, Ms. Rawland, that Matador was one of the infamous Red Berets, the formation just a bit less infamous than "Franky's guys" who, as you know, were having the control over the town in those days, together with the Serb army and police. It was only after long hours of hesitation and watching you through his rifle scope that Matador decided to disobey orders. The ring he spotted on your hand finally changed his mind. At that moment he said to himself, "What if she is married and has children?" I deeply believe that this extra meaning he found in the ring on your hand was the reason why this young man thought the brief encounter with you had changed his life and probably made the only war story he could retell without being ashamed of himself, something that made him feel human again. I deeply believe that, in him, that small object, a symbol turning into an allegory all of a sudden (a symbol of marriage into an allegory of family life), managed to turn the disbalance of the war into a natural order in which a human life is priceless. And so he spared your life, Ms. Rawland.

The young man dismantled his gun again, placed it in its case, and with that case under his arm headed on foot in the direction of the camp, bypassing the parked Yugo as if he had nothing to do with it. I am not sure can Matador be trusted when saying that he left just to buy you some time because he was sure his commander would dispatch someone else to do the job instead of him. In any case, once in the camp he was taken into some makeshift custody, in a tent erected in the center of the camp (they used to move the camp every three days). Another sniper was immediately sent to the town.

What comes now has been learned at second or third hand (if counting Matador's story as obtained at first hand): a while later shots came from the direction of the town and some fifteen minutes after that the camp was in confusion. An ambulance appeared in almost no time and took Matador's comrade in an unknown direction. It turned out that he had been shot in an action in the town. As Matador learned later, he was shot in his tight and his wound indicated that he had been shot from the back, while running away. (Do you remember the shooting on the day of the exchange of prisoners, Ms. Rawland?) Matador lost sight of his platoon comrade till the end of the war. He met him only twice in the years that followed: once he spotted him at veterans' protest in Belgrade in the crowd shouting slogans and then, for the last time, at the entrance of Belgrade's main bus station when he almost stumbled into him. It was summer, his comrade was sitting on the sidewalk, murmuring some song with a blank face - and begging.

I know this is a long letter that might tire you out, Ms. Rawland, but please have patience enough to read a bit more about the circumstances of my encounter with Matador. Of course, he didn't begin talking about his personal life at once. He was visiting some relative in the neighborhood and I suppose he wanted to kill time by offering to help me with my work on a patch in my backyard I planned to grass. Nothing in his looks associated his war career, not even a tattoo on his right forearm - I learned later on that the tattoo styled his number in the Red Berets - and not even his gesticulation or laughter (yes, he laughed a lot).

When I think about him today, dear Ms. Rawland, and no matter how hard I try, I cannot remember a single detail about him indicative of his notorious past - nothing, not a trace. Probably only the way he was sweeping along a concrete path, with his legs wide apart, as if ready to take an ambush at a moment's notice, associated a drilled soldier. What he felt while performing other tasks (more successfully than in your case, Ms. Rawland, since you were the exception) is beyond my imagination. Was it with some purpose that he picked up a snail from the patch and carefully placed it in the grass outside, saying, "That's also a living thing, isn't it?" If not, why was it that on the next day he furiously digging the ground to spade a big insect until he cut him in two? And why was it that one day I found dead earthworms floating in a plastic bottle I used for my drinking water (true, he admitted it was him who put them in)?

His resume, Ms. Rawland, is typical for the type of people usually recruited by the Red Berets: a small-time thief, who escaped to Italy, returns and joins the unit, undergoes the drill and even becomes an instructor. I far as I understood, who talked him into returning was his authoritative grandfather, whom he adored since his childhood, a retired colonel of the Security Service (and who died in the meantime). All he had to remember him by was a collection of trophy guns (including Magnums, Berets, etc.). As a birthday present, since he was 12, his grandfather used to give him each year a gun in an adorned box with velvet lining and engraving.

But let's take a look at the years that followed, the years making your resume, Mr. Rawland. Considering everything said above, I hope you believe no longer that the unusual kindness Milosevic treated you with in the ICTY courtroom during cross-examination with you in the witness stand was a fruit of his sincere feelings and heartfelt respect for all your past efforts to "picture the complex situation in Kosovo as objectively as possible." You don't believe, do you, that no deeper, hidden reasons were behind his flattery such as that "you could be proud of your reports?" You don't believe, do you, that he was not after "seducing you in the courtroom," as a colleague of yours frivolously put it, by the very fact that in cross-examination he addressed you "Miss Rawland" - as you once stressed with some pride - rather than formally calling you "the witness" (like, "let the witness take a look at the photo").

May I remind you at this point, Ms. Rawland, that the Red Berets were formed at his order, as his own elite unit accountable to him only, meaning that this same person - whose attitude towards you during cross-examination you've been praising so much - was actually the crucial link in the chain of command issuing an order to Matador on that fatal day of April or May in Djakovica. Therefore, don't be so naive to believe that Milosevic's secret services had not supplied him with every piece of information about you during the war in Kosovo the same as for the purpose of his cross-examination. What would you say crossed the mind of the arrested tyrant on the day he spotted you in the courtroom? He must have been very pleased with himself when he decided to put on such a friendly act: he was looking at one of few victims that escaped his claws and had the chance to cross-examine her.

I am afraid that was not "an intellectual confrontation" as you called it. I am afraid your interlocutor was smiling for some other, personal reasons, cynical reasons, and enjoying the whole spectacle. Metaphorically speaking, that bullet finally got you, Ms. Rawland, in the ICTY oval courtroom despite all those ten-odd bulletproof glass partitions. That bullet did not wound or kill you, it only threw you at Milosevic's mercy.

It's high time to put an end to this letter. As a poet says, "Every particle of time implies an endless dimension." And that's only a bit less melancholic variation - and, therefore, more comforting - of the Nietzchean concept of eternal recurrence. What I am interested in is not some philosophical or poetical but a simple, human truth: why was it me Matador had chosen to tell his story? Don't you think I haven't asked him. "I would like to apologize to her somehow," he answered. I deeply believe - not that much rationally as from the bottom of my heart - that he hoped to get redemption from you. But whether or not his redemption is in your hands, that's another story.



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