THE WORLD FROM Tuning In to `Slobovision'

On the small screen of state-run TV, the world is on the verge of lifting sanctions against Serbia

THOSE people who daily ingest the Orwellian cavalcade of half-truths, outright lies, and distortions produced by state-run Belgrade television may well believe that United Nations sanctions against Serbia and Montenegro will end any day now.

At least, that is what President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia wants its audiences to think.

With his Socialist Party of Serbia pulling out all of the stops to recapture a Serbian Assembly majority in Dec. 19 polls, Mr. Milosevic's main campaign appeal is that only an SPS victory will bring an end to the sanctions and the economic hardships they have created. Shelves are empty and inflation is out of control.

Only through the SPS can rump Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) defeat the international ``anti-Serb conspiracy'' and win a reprieve from further economic duress, assert the propaganda mandarins molding public opinion on state-run television.

To vote for other parties, the line goes, risks further suffering, more war, and a continuation of the sanctions imposed in May 1992 for Belgrade's sponsorship of the Bosnian Serb ``ethnic cleansing'' and conquest of 70 percent of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

There seems little doubt that the strategy will be a hit with the voters come election day.

Never mind that the United States has made it clear it has yet to see any reason to end the sanctions, blocking a bid by Russia to win UN approval to sell natural gas to Belgrade for use this winter in schools and hospitals.

Never mind the silence that greeted Milosevic's warning that his further cooperation on a Bosnia peace plan depends on the lifting of the oil and trade embargoes, the ban on international air traffic, and prohibitions on sports and cultural exchanges.

Never mind the total gridlock in the international peace process and the fading interest and lack of new ideas among the Western powers, particularly the US.

The perception of the world outside held by most of rump Yugoslavia's 10.5 million people is one that is shaped, molded, and modeled by the lenses of what critics call ``Slobovision.''

That image entirely depends on Milosevic's political priority of the moment. Right now, it is the elections.

So, for Belgrade television audiences, there are growing prospects for the lifting of sanctions.

First, the propaganda machine has vaunted the fact that Greece, Serbia's only remaining friend and an opponent of the sanctions, will assume the rotating chairmanship of the European Community in January.

Greek Prime Minister Karolos Papulias, during a visit to Belgrade on Nov. 8, told President Milosevic that Athens would push the international community to lift the embargoes.

Then there is an intensive diplomatic offensive by Yugoslav leaders to convince anyone who cares to listen about the ``injustice'' of the ``unfair'' sanctions.

Just about any statement opposing the measures, no matter the obscurity of its author, is given prime billing on the nightly news.

Finally, Milosevic has been earnestly laboring, with massive assistance from TV, to cultivate a new image for himself as a man of reason who is eager to work for peace, including arresting on war crimes charges the Serbian paramilitaries he once insisted never existed.

All this may ensure an election victory for the SPS. But viewers' memories are short.

Watch for a new programming lineup after Dec. 19 passes and the sanctions do not.

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