Friday, 15 December 2017 | News today: 7

Robert King, war photographer: The world was looking but kept silent in Bosnia, now it does the same with Syria


Independent American photographer, Robert King, who has documented the most volatile places in the world at their most violent times, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Rwanda, Cecenia, Albania, Kosovo, Russia, Afghanistan, Iraq and who is following the conflict in Syria at the moment. His photographs and videos have been published in the well known “Time”, “Guardian”, “CNN”… There is also a documentary movie about his life called “Shooting Robert King”. The world public met him through the photos of the war in Sarajevo.

Mister King, when was your first time in Bosnia and Herzegovina? 

King: I came to Bosnia in 1993 and I stayed until 1996. That was the first war that I have been following in my career. In 1994 I did not pass much time in Bosnia because I was in Africa at the time. I followed the genocide in Rwanda. I arrived in Bosnia with a UN plane through Italy and Split. At the end I came to the surrounded Sarajevo.

Where is Bosnia, when it comes to all those brutal wars?

King: The Bosnian War is the worst war I have ever seen. That was the most dangerous war to all of us, the journalists, who were there. That was not just a war, but a religious conflict, sometimes tribal and extreme conflict, which got an international character. One could even tell that by Karadžić’s conduct. He knew what kind of war would that be.

Have you ever met Karadžić?

King: No because I came too late, in 1993. There was no way to reach him at the time.

Is this your first time in Bosnia and Herzegovina after the war? How do you feel?

King: This is my first coming to Bosnia and Herzegovina since I left in 1996, and this is my first interview that I give to a media from former Yugoslavia. The lest memory I have from Sarajevo are the photos on which the Bosnians and the Serbs were killing each other and fell dead on the ground. Now that I have came back, I see million of new faces, which are 17 years older. I have been walking alone. I wanted to see my old friends. I went to the hospital. Everything is still fresh. I remember the situations when we took people to the hospital, and there a chaos, and you have a dying man there. Now if you go back there, you will see how actually the Bosnians and the Serbs were close to each other in the war and how close was the barrier between them.

Then it seemed so far away…

King: Sometimes we had to walk for hours to some places, which actually were in just a few meters from us. That is interesting to me. Now that I came back I have a better preview to everything that happened then. I was never able do that because I had snipers, tanks, and military quarters in front of my eyes.

What did you know about Yugoslavia before the war?

King: Almost nothing. I knew some things related to Tito, but only about him. I knew that World War I had started in Sarajevo with the assassination of Franz Ferdinand. When the war in Yugoslavia started, many people were disappointed of the new war, because they thought that nothing like that would ever happen on the Balkans. Also, I did not knew much neither about Croatia nor about Serbia. An important moment of all of that is that Yugoslavia was a communist state and religion was tolerated, but not much promoted. This is why I say that that was a religious conflict as well because they were killing each other because of churches and mosques. After everything, I remember a slogan that was here: “Fraternity and equality, which are not best applied among the nations”. When communism fell, people started to look towards their national identities. They wanted their own identity. And that national identity disabled Yugoslavia to continue to work as a country.

How did you see all that? 

King: I saw it as a human. I did not want to see as a journalist. All of that was on the cover of the world media. You have to be prepared mentally first for that.

Why did you even come in Sarajevo? Why not some other place?

King: Well we tried. We wanted to go to Mostar and then they caught us. They took our car. We tried to go to Bihać , but we failed. We tried to go everywhere where there was a conflict going on. We also went to Jablanica and Kiseljak during the conflict between the Bosnians and Croatians. Tuzla was a shock for us. There were NATO headquarters and then the Tuzla Massacre happened.

How did the journalists cooperate among each other?

King: It depends about who are we talking about. I was new in the job. And that is not very common. The journalists and photoreporters were not very polite and opened for cooperation. They knew each other and so when one is new, they do not want to take the chances. New-comers make a lot of mistakes. That is a huge responsibility when we talk about independent journalists. We try to eliminate the risk as much as possible. That is not a responsibility that lasts in the competition for information between the media. It is a war. There are other responsibilities. War kills people even if one is still alive, it does mean that they are not marked not to be killed. Journalists are very hard and that was a media war. We tried to survive what we were going through.

Did the military prevent you in crossing the border?

King: I could be mannered. I also could behave nicely. I could show my press card so that I could pass without a problem. At the past, they were looking me a pass and I accept it, but I have never been caught for information. I never wanted to break the military’s position in which it was. I have never hurt their ego. I was walking on the streets of Sarajevo.

Was it dangerous because of the snipers?

King: Yes, but I was looking for a piece of bread, sugar, water, coffee. I was happy when I eat kebabs. It was a real hunger and survival. We were happy if we found a liter of clean water. It was difficult indeed.

Did you have support from the medias? You made photos from all of that and sending it to the world.

King: Yes, everyone was seeing it, but no one supported us. No one supported our work. Nobody wanted to hear or to see. Finally, I found an agency in London that wanted to hear us. If was not coming from the Western Medias, then they do not even wanted to give me a support. At that time back, those were hard stories, and if you did not have any hard story, then it will not pass in the Medias. They were psychic hard stories. Those situations are very difficult for independent journalists. I do not want to talk about western publicity, but here people were dying. In Sarajevo civilians were brutally murdered. It happened while people take water, which was necessary for surviving. They were killed in front of the doors of the markets. These were top news. It filled the front pages. Murders.

It filled the front pages?

King: Front-pages filled with brutal stuff. Definitely, ethnic cleaning plus Karadzic and Mladich, plus religious war, there you go, your front page. These were huge documents that we were collecting.

Where we are now from your perspective?

King: I personally think that Bosnia is not on the right track. But, who am I? As well as during the war, people were not on the right track. I do not know how it is in Serbia and Croatia, but I think everything is just like in the nineties.

Then what is the problem with the war?

King: At the end of the war there is no winner. Nobody gained from this war. Everyone is now divided. You have Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Croatia and Kosovo. In BiH you have something that I can’t understand – three education systems, 14 governments. I am not relevant to speak who is Serb, Bosnian or Croatian, but I would be responsible if the war did not stop, because I was part it. I was watching all of that. I would like for you  to live in peace, but today it is simply impossible. Today there is no place without blood. Maybe we do not want to hear that, but we should, because we are all people.

How many Americans know about the genocide in Srebrenica?

King: They know that it was a UN protected zone. There are many books on Srebrenica In the U.S, there are documents about that. I can say that it was huge and unjust massacre. However, in Rwanda was much more worse.

During the war in Bosnia, you were at Rwanda too?

King: I arrived in Rwanda very late, because I was in Sarajevo. The independent journalists almost could not enter in Rwanda. Then I worked for NGOs. These were huge massacres of children, their bodies were transported in trucks. They were killed with machetes. There are two people in Rwanda – Tutsi and Hutu. Tutsis had support from France and Hutus from the Belgians. It is important to emphasize here that Belgians radio played the key role which stimulated genocide. It is responsible for the liquidation of each Tutsi’s member. They were killing their neighbors because the radio said so. Everything was bloody and massacred. There was blood on the both sides. Here were as well as in Bosnia it was UN’s fault. When you look, there are no major differences either in Syria.

Today you are in Syria?

King: Those are most brutal pictures I ever made. These are women, children … Syrians story is very interesting , as well as the story of those who died in Sarajevo. The world even now is keeping silent about Syria. There are two sides, two genders, Shiites and Sunnis and everything else is in the sign of the number two. It is not a religious war as in Bosnia, but the problem is that Bashar al-Assad inherited his father’s place. There was no choice. Everything is very much like the war in Bosnia. Syria is losing the  support from the world because of its Jihad. It is very dangerous, because now  no one wants to help Syria. It is a big problem. Till today, UN has not protected anyone. I really do not know what they are doing and what is their job. They carry water in places where there is blood everywhere. It is horrible, but that’s my opinion.

Bosnia through your eyes today?

King: A lot of time has passed from my last visit. Nothing has changed. People who fought for water, today are selling ice cream in Sarajevo. People who had power during the war, today have political power. The same supermarkets, exist even today. However, everything is very clean. When I arrived I saw a very beautiful city. It all became very nice. Many Serbs that escaped from the city, today have hotels there although they have not returned yet. It is very interesting. Otherwise, I’m not going back to the old places because once i tell my story, I’m leaving the place. I am not doing any other projects about Bosnia. But Bosnia is an exception to all of us  in everything.