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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russian TV Shows Other Side of Kosovo




For people watching CNN and reading The New York Times this week, images of desperate ethnic Albanians crossing Kosovo's borders to seek refuge from Serbian atrocities have become all too familiar.


But people getting their news from Russian television or newspapers are being shown an entirely different picture - one in which the Albanians figure in only slightly, if at all.


On Monday's 6 p.m. news on ORT television - the station that reaches most Russians beyond Moscow - anchorwoman Alexandra Buratayeva introduced a piece about refugees saying, "The NATO bombings are forcing Belgrade residents to seek a calmer place to live."


Indeed, the word "refugees" in Russian reporting on Yugoslavia comes up most often in connection with Serbian residents who find themselves in the middle of NATO's airstrikes.


On NTV - the station considered the most objective - the coverage has differed only slightly. Monday's evening news brought a segment about Albanians in Kosovo, but it was brief and came toward the end of the program.


Western media coverage from Kosovo has been alarming, with reports of mass killings and entire villages being burned. Serbian forces have been accused of carrying out "ethnic cleansing" in the southern Yugoslav province, where ethnic Albanians made up 90 percent of the 2 million population.


But with Western journalists banished from the country, the reports of atrocities remain unconfirmed.


The United Nations, however, said Tuesday that 550,000 refugees had fled Kosovo, nearly 90,000 of whom had left since the NATO airstrikes began a week ago, The Associated Press reported.


On Tuesday refugee issues took second billing both in Russia and the West to Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov's visit to Belgrade for talks with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.


Most Russian media focus heavily on domestic affairs, so the generally pro-Serb reaction of Russian politicians to the events has gotten the most coverage.


But even taking into account Russian opposition to the NATO bombings, it is striking that the media have chosen to skip over the Kosovars' plight. For many Western opponents of the strikes, a main argument has been that the strikes exacerbate hostility between Serbs and ethnic Albanians. Grigory Yavlinsky, the Western-oriented leader of the Yabloko fraction in the State Duma, is practically the only public figure to voice this argument, and he has been echoed by only a handful of newspapers.


Monday's issue of Komsomolskaya Pravda - the daily with the largest Russia-wide circulation - carried a feature about Russian citizens being evacuated from Belgrade, and Tuesday's paper told of Serbian families who have hunkered down in a factory to act as a "living shield" against bombings.


But there has not been one mention of Serbs taking revenge on Albanians in the paper since the NATO airstrikes began last week.


The daily Izvestia has been one of the few to mention ethnic conflicts. On Tuesday, they took up a good chunk of a front-page article about the situation as a whole.


"To the accompaniment of NATO bombings, Serbian soldiers and police are forcing Albanians into the south of the province and neighboring states. According to data of international organizations, the number of refugees exceeds half a million. That's a quarter of the population of the province," the paper wrote.


"Izvestia and Kommersant are being more objective, but not many people read newspapers," said political analyst Yevgeny Volk of the Heritage Foundation. "Moscow papers don't even make it past the Urals. The main source is television, and it is biased."


Volk attributed the bias to the stations' dependence on the government for financial support. Of the main stations, RTR is completely state-owned and ORT is believed to be controlled by the government.


He said the biased coverage was fueling the anti-American anger of ordinary Russians.


"People are protesting because they don't know the real situation," Volk said.


But Pavel Sheremet, ORT's editor in charge of correspondents outside of Moscow, said his station's sympathetic coverage of Serbs was a natural outcome of the historical relationship between the two Slavic nations.


"I, of course, acknowledge that Russian and Western media coverage of Yugoslavia differ," he said. "For Russia, the Serbs are Slavic brothers, and Russians sympathize more with the Serbs and worry about the bombings."


He said that part of the reason the Albanian side had been less well covered by ORT was that the station's crew in Kosovo had been forced to leave because of threats from Albanian terrorists.


"ORT out of principle makes commentaries that Milosevic is bringing harm to Yugoslavia, that Milosevic is a dictator, that Russia shouldn't get involved in a war," he said.NTV spokeswoman Tatyana Blinova said her station was not trying to put any particular spin on its coverage.


"We try to objectively show the bombings, the military action and the people's situation. Naturally, the campaign against Yugoslavia is going to exacerbate the conflict between the Serbs and the Albanians," she said.


"For us, propaganda in news is absolutely out of the question," she added.