Inside Story: Dogs Of War (1992)

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» Inside Story: Dogs Of War (1992) «

This documentary is rather difficult to get hold of, but may be of interest to those wanting to find out more about the involvement of foreign fighters in the Yugoslav Civil War, or about the death of journalist Paul Jenks, or about the activities of shady far-right Bolivian-Hungarian adventurer Eduardo Rózsa-Flores.

It was first broadcast on BBC1 on 20 May 1992, and it focuses on the various members of the PIV ‘International Brigade’ (or Company, or Platoon, depending on your sense of reality) based in Osijek and fighting on the Croatian side.

It is not clear when the filming is taking place, though there is discussion of the death of British foreign volunteer Edward White, who was killed on 24 November 1991 in Lazlovo, and there is no mention of the deaths of Swiss journalist-cum-volunteer Christian Würtenberg (d. 6/1/92) nor of British journalist Paul Jenks (d. 17/1/92).

The film features interviews with a number of foreign volunteers who fight alongside the Croats in the ‘First International Company’, a unit based in the eastern Slavonian town of Osijek. The unit is led by Eduardo Rózsa-Flores, a jovial journalist-turned-soldier (albeit one with a shadow-darkened past involving pre-Soviet collapse espionage, far right nationalism and blurred identities), who appears to have charmed his way into command of the foreigners despite throwing grenades like the proverbial girl and seemingly having little military aptitude.

Amongst the Britons we meet, the main character is Kit, a career soldier from the north-east who finds it hard to adjust to civvie life, especially after the death of his wife; in Croatia he finds meaning through instruction – putting a bunch of novices through a rudimentary boot camp, and then leading them on intelligence-gathering and sabotage missions behind enemy lines.

There is also Carl Finch, a mercenary for several years who had previously fought in Suriname during the Binnenlandse Oorlog conflict, as well as (by his own account) Sudan, Sri Lanka, West Africa and “a couple of other little things which I don’t want to mention”. As he puts it, “Croatia’s backed by the West, it’s been recognised by the West – it can’t be wrong.”

Towards the end of the film we are introduced to Welshman Stephen Hancock, who prefers to go by the name of Frenchie, because he was supposedly in the French Foreign Legion; though his military experience doesn’t seem to have prevented him from shooting himself in the foot, giving him something of a hobbling gait.

In addition there is serial killer-obsessed northern bouncer Dave, who wants to know what it feels like to kill without guilt (by the end of the film we learn that he has only half-succeeded in his goal); Roy, who claims his mother thinks he is working at Euro Disney; Andy, who claims to be absent without leave from the British Army; gun-loving Justin; and “hunting instinct” Justin. Basically, a motley collection of thrill-seekers and borderline sociopaths, mediocre people from mediocre places in mediocre times who have sought out an extraordinary situation in pursuit of the buzz of death.

As well as the Britons who are interviewed, there are also a number of foreign volunteers who are seen but not heard. One would appear to be the “one-eyed Portuguese called ‘Alex'” mentioned by John Sweeney in his 1992 Observer article.

A fascinating film in the sadly now-neglected style of let-the-subjects-speak documentary, and invaluable for connecting together dots for anyone interested in the involvement of foreigners in the Yugoslav Civil War.

Some basic information can be found at the BFI database, but there is currently no entry on IMDb.

 

Here is the crew list, as transcribed from the on-screen credits:

 

  • Photography: Michael Eley
  • Camera Assistant: Lawrence Gardner
  • Sound Recordist: Antony Meering
  • Dubbing Mixer: Colin Martin
  • Dubbing Editor: James Elliott
  • Music: David Ferguson
  • Unit Manager: Lesley Smith
  • Production Assistants: Julia Burrows, Vera Kordic
  • Film Editor: David Elliott
  • Associate Producer: Roger Courtiour
  • Producer: Stephen Lambert
  • Executive Producer: Paul Hamann

© BBC 1992

TECHNICAL SPECS

  • 49m 53s
  • 369 MiB
  • DivX 5 (video)
  • MPEG-1 (audio)
  • VHS rip
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Dogs of war or Fred Karno’s army?

The Daily Telegraph
Monday 4 November 1991
Report: Michael Smith
Pictures: AP and REUTER

Rabble without a cause takes up arms for Croatia

Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war
Julius Caesar, Act III, Scene I

COMPARISONS with the Spanish Civil War were inevitable. Pictures of guerrillas fighting a seemingly impossible cause against a well-equipped army drew young men from around the world to the Croatian cause.

“I saw some stuff on the news about how Croatia is fighting for freedom, so I thought I’d come down and see what I could do to help,” said George Patterson, a bespectacled 17-year-old Londoner who dropped out of school to join the Croatian National Guard.

Danny Kington, 24, a former British soldier from south-west England, said he volunteered to fight with the Croatian National Guard after seeing television coverage of Serbian guerrillas “laughing like a bunch of savages” and firing mortars at a church “just for a bet”.

Not every recruit to the Croat cause is so idealistic. Shakespeare’s “dog of war” is a member of one of the oldest professions. Most of the young men who sign up with his traditional regiment, the French Foreign Legion, are running from a past they would rather forget.

The first of Yugoslavia’s mercenaries was the self-styled “captain Dragan”. An Australian with Yugoslav parents who joined the war on the side of the Serbian irregulars and quickly became a media legend.

Ah yes, said the Melbourne police: Dragan Vasiljkovic, 36, alias one Daniel Snedden, a thug involved is escort agency protection and rackets on the fringes of drugs and prostitution.

The shadowy Croatian Defence Association (HOS) denies reports it is paying foreign mercenaries up to £10,000 a month, but the members of its so-called “International Brigade” are a world apart from the volunteers of the National Guard.

Patterson displayed a startling naïvety about the horrors of his profession. One week of training with a Kalashnikov automatic rifle was the limit of his experience before he was flung into action. But even this slight young Londoner qualifies as a mercenary, joining an international brigade of men who have played their part in virtual every war ever fought.

Not all those who fought in the Spanish Civil War were idealistic volunteers. Nor is every foreign soldier in Yugoslavia a mercenary.

The cry of “havoc” echoing around the Balkans has let slip the dogs of war, but they seem a pretty mixed bunch. More Fred Karno’s army than battle-hardened professionals.

Picture captions:

  • Flying the flag: the first international unit of the Croatian National Guard
  • Australian: Captain Dragan, a ‘media legend’
  • Dutch: a trained physician nicknamed ‘Doc’
  • Austrian: Christian Schubert, 21, exchanges fire with a Serbian sniper 200 yards away