The Comics as an instrument of propaganda in the Yugoslav wars

14.06.2021

The original article was published on the Balkans in-site.  Any reprints of the article only with the permission of the author and the Balkans in-site.

By Kateryna Shymkevych

Propaganda has become one of the main methods of forming a negative image of the enemy during inter-ethnic conflicts in the former Yugoslavia. With the help of newspapers, TV, and magazines, the situation escalated, events were distorted, and hatred between different ethnic and religious groups was inflamed. Because of this, the division of people into “own” and “foreign”, enemies and friends was fixed in the minds of the population. Comics, which were an integral part of military propaganda in the military and post-war societies of the former Yugoslavia, played an important role in this division.

Comics in Yugoslavia, unlike other countries of the socialist camp, were very popular in the second half of the XXth century. Therefore, the use of this type of graphic art as a tool of propaganda was not accidental. The peculiarity of the comics was that the main characters in them were superheroes, endowed with extraordinary strength and capabilities. The authors of the graphic stories were inspired by stories about Captain America as a hero who fought against the Nazis in World War II.

 The SuperHrvoje (1992, Croatia), Bosman (1994, Bosnia and Herzegovina), Knindže are Vitezovi Srpske Krajine (1991, Republika Srpska Krajina, Croatia) were based on similar motifs. SuperHrvoje and Bosman were created based on Western European and American graphic stories. The main protagonists of Knindže are Vitezovi Srpske Krajine was a real person named Dragan Vasiljković or Captain Dragan. He formed a paramilitary formation in Knin, the capital of the self-proclaimed Croatian Serb Republic of Republika Srpska Krajina. The name of the detachment is created from two words – Knin and ninja.

 Since 2012, the comic book Šćiponja (ie, Eagle) has been published in Kosovo, in which the main character also has superpowers and fights against evil. The Gani Sunduri from Prizren claimed that Šćiponja had nothing to do with SuperHrvoje and Bosman, who spoke of the need to destroy specific ethnic groups. Šćiponja is a superhero of modern times, created under the influence of Flash and Phantom which are popular US comics. Gani Sunduri said in an interview that his superhero fights against the evil of the modern world, including corruption and injustice.

In each comic, there is an intertwining of real and fictional events. For example, Bosman had his extraordinary powers with the help of an imam. Similarly, SuperHrvoje got his extraordinary abilities by accidentally touching the magic stone. Both comics tell of real events in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina in the early 1990s. Emphasis is placed on the coexistence of different ethnic peoples in Yugoslavia before the break-up, the friendship between Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks, and the inability to believe that they can kill each other on religious and ethnic grounds.

In the comics SuperHrvoje and Bosman the Serbs were depicted as Chetniks of World War II. They were wearing trousers, boots with a cartridge belt, and had beards worn by Serbian chetniks-guerrillas during World War II. A characteristic feature of the appearance of Serbs is the presence of šajkača on their heads (a traditional Serbian hat with a cockade in the form of a double-headed eagle).

Interestingly, the Serbs in the Knindže are Vitezovi Srpske Krajine looked different. These are young men in good physical shape, dressed in modern camouflage uniforms. Such a juxtaposition of images should have aroused readers’ appropriate treatment of enemies. The authors of the comics used specific words. Among them are Ustasha, Chetnik, šahovnica (Croatian chessboard flag pattern). Also, the authors used other visual means of propaganda – dogfight between enemies, in which the main characters must defeat rivals, flags of self-proclaimed republics.

This was to give readers a correct understanding of the events that took place in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and The Republic of Srpska. The comics showed readers about what was evil, and who was good. In Bosnian and Croatian comics, Serbs were represented as the evil ones. And in Croatian Serbs graphic novels evil is represented as Croats. All superheroes are noble, honest, and just warriors who do not lose in battles with the enemy. This was one of the key messages of propaganda. The defenders of the Homeland will definitely win, so ex-Yugoslav superheroes are synonymous with victory and heroism. Propaganda graphic novels were published by the government or the army. The first issue of Bosman was printed by the non-governmental charity Merhamet, several Bosnian companies, and the Army of the Republic of BiH. Knindže are Vitezovi Srpske Krajine was printed with the financial support of the government newspaper Politika (Belgrade, Serbia), and SuperHrvoje was published by the newspaper Slobodna Dalmacija (Split, the publication until 1992 was state, and then became private, retaining a nationalist orientation).

Thus, comics were a simple and, at the same time, effective tool for propaganda and ideological treatment of the population. Understanding the enemies of their homeland was ingrained in the minds of children and adolescents during the war. Graphic novels helped army soldiers maintain an appropriate level of patriotism and devotion to the state for which they fought.

References:

SuperHrvoje (lipanj 1992), broj 1, izdavač Slobodna Dalmacija, Split, 94 str.

Bosman (oktobar 1994), Prvi BiH crtani strip, broj 1, Patriotska liga Bosne i Hercegovine, Sarajevo, 40 str.

Knindže –  Vitezovi Srpske Krajine (1991), broj 2, Politika, Beograd, 31 str.

Šćiponja – novi albanski superheroj koji štiti svoj narod (2012), Retrieved from https://www.nezavisne.com/kultura/vizuelna-umjetnost/Sciponja-novi-albanski-superheroj-koji-stiti-svoj-narod/144143.

Milanovilć  M.  (2015) Nacionalistički strip superheroji Balkana. Retrieved from http://kulturkokoska.rs/nacionalisticki-strip-superheroji-balkana/.

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