“Croatian and Bosnian past was marked by a real and cruel anti-semitism. Tens of thousands of Jews perished in Croatian camps. So there was every reason for intellectuals and Jewish organizations to be hostile towards the Croats and Bosnians. Our challenge was to reverse this attitude. And we succeeded masterfully…
We outwitted three big Jewish organizations – B’Nai Brith Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Committee, and the American Jewish Congress.” – James Harff, Director of Ruder Finns’s Global Public affairs section
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Labeling the Serbs as Nazis
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The following is an extract of an interview conducted by Mr. Jacques Merlino (Deputy Director of the network TV2, Paris, France) with James Harff (Director of Ruder Finns’s Global Public affairs section), which took place in October 1993.
HARFF: For eighteen months we have been working for the Republic of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, as well as for the opposition in Kosovo. Throughout this period, we had many successes, giving us a formidable international image. We intend to take advantage of this and develop commercial agreements with these countries. Speed is vital, because items favourable to us must be settled in public opinion. The first statement counts. The retractions have no effect.
MERLINO: What are your methods of operation?
HARFF: The essential tools in our work are a card file, a computer and a fax. The card file contains a few hundred names of journalists, politicians, academics, and representatives of humanitarian organizations. The computer goes through the card files according to correlated subjects, coming up with a very effective targets. The computer is tied into a fax. In this way we can disseminate information in a few minutes to those we think will react (positively). Our job is to assure that the arguments for our side will be the first to be expressed.
MERLINO: How often do you intervene?
HARFF: Quantity is not important. You have to intervene at the right time with the right person…
MERLINO: What achievement were you most proud of?
HARFF: To have managed to move the Jewish opinion to our side. This was extemely delicate, as the dossier involved a major danger. President Tudjman was too imprudent in his book, “Wastelands: Historical Truth.” A reading of his text could find him guilty of anti-semitism. In Bosnia, the situation was no better: President Izetbegovic, in his book, The Islamic Declaration,” strongly supported the creation of a fundamentalist Islamic state [in Bosnia]. Morover, the Croatian and Bosnian past was marked by a real and cruel anti-semitism. Tens of thousands of Jews perished in Croatian camps. So there was every reason for intellectuals and Jewish organizations to be hostile towards the Croats and Bosnians. Our challenge was to reverse this attitude. And we succeeded masterfully. At beginning of August 1992, the New York Newsday came but with he affair of (Serb) concentration camps. We jumped at the opportunity immediately. We outwitted three big Jewish organizations – B’Nai Brith Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Committee, and the American Jewish Congress. We suggested to them to publish an advertisement in the New York Times and to organize demonstrations outside the U.N. This was a tremendous coup. When the Jewish organizations entered the game on the side of the (muslim) Bosnians, we could promptly equate the Serbs with the Nazis in the public mind. The dossier was a complex one. Nobody understood what was going on in (former) Yugoslavia. The great majority of Americans were probably asking themselves in which African country Bosnia was situated. But, by a single move, were were able to present a simple story of good guys and bad guys which would hereafter play itself. We won by targeting Jewish audience, the right target. Almost immediately there was a clear change of language in the press, with the use of words with high emotional content, such as “ethnic cleansing,” “concentration camps,” etc. which evoked inmates of Nazi Germany and the gas chambers of Auschwitz. The emotional change was so powerful that nobody could go against it…
MERLINO: But when you did all this, between 2 and 5 of August 1992. you had no proof that what you said was true. You only had the two articles in Newsday.
HARFF: Our work is not to verify information. We are not equipped for that. Our work is to accelerate the circulation of information favourable to us, to aim them at carefully chosen targets. We did not claim that there were death camps in Bosnia, we just made it know that Newsday claimed it.
MERLINO: Are you aware that you took on a grave responsibility?
HARFF: We are professionals. We had a job to do and we did it. We are not paid to moralize. And when the time comes to start a debate on all of this, we have a clear conscience. For, if you wish to prove that Serbs are in fact poor victims, go ahead, but you will be quite alone.”
[From Les Verites Ne Sont Pas Toutes Bonnes A Dire (The Truth from Yugoslavia is not being Reported Honestly), by Jaqcues Merlino, published by Albin Michel Paris, 1993.]