BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: World: Europe
Front Page 
Middle East 
South Asia 
From Our Own Correspondent 
Letter From America 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Thursday, 24 May, 2001, 07:08 GMT 08:08 UK
Witness to Balkans bloodshed
The Tigers and their victims during the attack on Bijeljina (C) Ron Haviv/Saba
Haviv captured a moment of brutality (C) Ron Haviv/Saba
By BBC News Online's Kate Milner

Ron Haviv's photograph of a Serb gunman about to kick a bleeding woman in the head, is one of the most striking images to come out of the Balkans in the last decade of violence.

It was spring 1992 in the small Bosnian town of Bijeljina - and the first mass killings of the Bosnian war were taking place.

I was just trying to document what was happening

Ron Haviv
The paramilitary 'Tigers' of Zeljko Raznatovic (alias Arkan) were killing unarmed civilians.

Gunmen had just shot two Muslim women and a man. As they lay there dying, taunted by their killers, Ron Haviv was able to take the photo he had vowed to take if he got the chance.

(C) Ron Haviv/Saba
Haviv witnessed a Muslim man begging for his life after capture by Arkan's men (C) Ron Haviv/Saba
"It's a horrific thing to see someone killed in front of you," he said. "The first time it happened I wasn't allowed to take a photo.

"I couldn't have saved them, but it made it worse that I could not tell the world about it.

"I made a promise to myself that if I was in that situation again I would at least be able to take a photo."


Haviv, an American photo-journalist, chronicled the long, painful break-up of Yugoslavia throughout the 1990s.

Click here for a photo gallery of Ron Haviv's work.

He was in Slovenia when it broke away from Belgrade, witnessed the wars in Croatia and Bosnia and the conflict in Kosovo.

His pictures show the raw agony of a land torn apart by ethnic hatred: a Muslim captive pleading for mercy minutes before Serb gunmen threw him from a window, a Croatian child weeping at his father's funeral, a field of snow stained with blood.

He thought he had the ability to control his own image

Ron Haviv
Haviv, 35, a contract photographer for Newsweek, has won several World Press awards, Picture of the Year awards, and numerous others. He has gone right to the front-line of the Balkans conflict, risking his own safety.

But Haviv, who first went to the Balkans when he was just starting his career in 1991, sees his work as something he has to do.

"I never looked at it as courage," he said. "I was just trying to document what was happening.

"It's a cliche but it's important that the photojournalists and journalists are out there, documenting what's happening and holding people accountable.

"The work does become evidence."

'Arkan's ego'

That Haviv was able to get close enough to take the photo of Arkan's militiaman kicking a dying woman, was because of an invitation by Arkan himself.

Arkan was furious when that picture was published and put out a death warrant on Haviv, stating publicly that he looked forward to drinking his blood. But Arkan had personally invited Haviv to photograph what he called the "liberation" of Bijeljina from Muslims.

"It was a combination of luck and playing to Arkan's ego," said Haviv. "He was a very smart man, fluent in several languages and he thought he had the ability to control his own image.

"Each time I photographed him and his men it was by his invitation.

"But it backfired for him"

In January 2000, Arkan was shot dead - gunned down in the lobby of a Belgrade hotel.

Making a difference

And Ron Haviv is still going back to the Balkans - he was in Macedonia for the start of the fighting earlier this year, and was outside former Serb President Slobodan Milosevic's house when he was arrested in April.

He believes his work in the Balkans has made a difference, and that is what he hopes to carry on doing.

"Journalists were showing more and more images from Bosnia, and finally the politicians had to act," he said. "When it came to Kosovo the politicians reacted much faster.

"I don't believe photo-journalism alone can change anything, but I think the world would be very different without it."

Ron Haviv's work is published in Blood and Honey: A Balkan War Journal (Umbrage Editions/TV Books, 2000).

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
See also:

Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Europe stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Europe stories