German Media, Bosnia & Kosovo Wars


A review of German Print Media Coverage in the Bosnia and Kosovo Wars of the 1990s, by Margit Viola Wunsch.

Margit Viola Wunsch’s dissertation is an important scholarly addition to the study of the media in conflict zones. Wunsch has thoroughly and rigorously analyzed how the German press reported and interpreted the two epochal wars of modern times, namely the war in Bosnia (1992-95) and Kosovo (1998-99). In the course of her research she has closely examined visual and textual coverage of nine national publications over a condensed period of time. The research sheds light on “how the events were covered, what sources were used and what insights the publications conveyed” (p. 2). It must be noted here that the Bosnia and Kosovo wars have played a significant role in shaping and influencing Germany’s foreign policy in later years and thus this work becomes equally important for our understanding of the current socio-political dynamics of the European Union.

This research work is divided broadly into two parts. The first section concentrates on the Bosnia War, while the second section dwells upon the Kosovo War. Both sections follow a similar pattern of tracing the initial phase of each conflict, one atrocity – the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia and the Račak incident in Kosovo – and, lastly, the international involvement in the war.

Chapter 1, “Background: Key Historical Milestones,” deals briefly with the historical moorings of the troubled region since the medieval ages to World War II. Here the researcher takes note of the battle of Kosovo in 1389 and the role of religion therein. She sums up: “Tito ruled this Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia under the mantra ‘Unity and Brotherhood’. By superimposing Communism on the diverse republics, which in some 63 cases were at enmity with one another, academics generally agree that tensions stemming from various historical eras ranging from the Middle Ages to the Second World War, subsided. However, after Tito’s death in 1980, a decade of political instability and conflict ensued, which escalated in the 1990s” (pp. 62-63). During this period, however, the USSR, Germany and Eastern Europe were in great upheaval. Wunsch subtly situates her study in the larger context of these events which had great implications worldwide.

Chapter 2, “1991-1992: The Descent into War – Early German Press Coverage,” takes us to the main part of the dissertation. Wunsch underlines Slobodan Milosevic’s ascendancy in Yugoslavia in 1989, the consequent declaration of Slovenia and Croatia as independent republics in 1991 and Germany’s support of their self-determination. Bosnia also declared its independence on 1 March 1992 and, subsequently, Yugoslavia waged war that lasted for nearly four years in Bosnia and Croatia. This chapter delves deep into German print media coverage of the initial weeks of the Bosnian War by exploring the German press’ explanations for the violence, the role of the Yugoslav Peoples’ Army (JNA), while also examining issues such as language and authorship.

Chapter 3, “July 1995: Srebrenica – Reporting Genocide,” first takes into account the secondary literature available on the war and goes on to analyze the Srebrenica massacre through textual and visual coverage in the print media. The author places particular emphasis on the Holocaust memory and its ramification in the political and public sphere. Apart from qualitative analysis, Wunsch also focuses on the quantitative aspects of press articles, slant and semantics of the “genocide/ethnic cleansing.”

Chapter 4, “November-December 1995: Peace in Bosnia – The Dayton Agreement,” analyzes the aftermath of the Srebrenica massacre and the peace treaty under the supervision of the international community which was held in Dayton. In this chapter the author looks at Germany’s role in the peace process, how the media downplayed it and how Slobodan Milosevic’s perceptions by the press ranged from “war monger” to “seasoned politician.” She also examines Germany’s recurring past memory, military intervention, foreign policy and “Genocide Clause.”

Chapter 5, “March-June 1998: Renewed Violence – The Kosovo Conflict,” is the first chapter of the second section. It deals with the Kosovo conflict which started merely two months after the Dayton agreement. The Kosovo Liberation Army used violent means to attain Kosovo’s independence from Serbia. Some of the questions addressed in this chapter are: What was the cause of this conflict? Was Milosevic the main culprit?  How did the press compare this conflict with the Bosnian War and World War II? This chapter tries to decipher the German press’ responses to these questions while analyzing the historical background and the language of the press articles.  As in the first section, here too, the author takes into account in her analysis both the visual and textual coverage.

Chapter 6, “January 1999: The ‘Račak Massacre,’” examines events from the vantage point of a Kosovo-Albanian village, Račak, where 45 people were killed. It deals with the violence and the response of German publications. As the researcher notes, “In spite of this increased international interest and the importance of Račak attributed by the secondary literature, this controversial incident has not received much attention in the field of media analyses” (p. 245). This chapter examines in further detail the coverage of the Račak incident, the autopsy examination and the domestic debate surrounding the German involvement in a potential NATO intervention.

Chapter 7, “March-May 1999: Reporting ‘War’ – The NATO-Intervention in Kosovo and Serbia,” is the last chapter of the dissertation. Like the Dayton agreement in the Bosnian war, this chapter deals with the intervention of the international forces and, in particular, with the German military’s response to the conflict. It takes into account the public opinion and political debate regarding the intervention, which was without UN mandate, and the German print media’s coverage. The author also discusses the depiction of Milosevic and the language used by the press.

Based on a sound methodology and using primary and secondary sources, this dissertation is a major study on the interplay of media, politics and the history of wars. It paves the way for the further media analysis in conflict zones, where the cobweb of conflicting interest often overshadows the truth. Wunsch has skillfully presented and analyzed the German press’ varied interpretations of the conflict. This valuable work will be of interest to scholars, media practitioners and the general public alike.

Arvind Das
ITV, Senior Researcher, New Delhi

Primary Sources

Die Welt
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ)
die tageszeitung (taz)
Der Spiegel, etc.

Dissertation Information

The London School of Economics and Political Science. 2012. 377 pp. Primary Advisor: Maria-José Rodriguez-Salgado.

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