Travels With My Camera: Dying For The Truth (1994)

From Travels With My Camera: Dying For The Truth (1994)

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Journalist John Sweeney met photographer Paul Jenks in a hotel in Osijek in September 1991. Osijek was a Croatian town in eastern Slavonia, an interface between Croat- and Serb-identified forces during the Yugoslav Civil War, and just down the road from the better-known Vukovar. The two teamed up and worked stories together for a while, before Sweeney left.

Christian 'Chris the Swiss' Würtenberg in his First International Company uniform

On 17 January 1992 Paul Jenks was shot dead. Initial reports pinned the blame on a Serb sniper, but it was not long before other, less prosaic possibilities were mooted – Jenks had been covering the First International Company, a ragtag bunch of foreign fighters who had thrown their lot in with the Croats and who were based in Osijek. He had also been looking into the death of Christian Würtenberg, a Swiss journalist who had recently joined the Internationals whilst secretly investigating links between them and European fascist networks.

This is a film made by Sweeney in 1994 about his return to Osijek to investigate his friend’s death, a follow-up to his 1992 article in The Observer, ‘Who Killed Paul Jenks?‘. Sweeney also wrote another Observer article, ‘The Killer Who Loves ET And Mary Poppins‘ (published 26 June 1994), to lead up to the broadcast of the film on 25 July 1994. I have scanned both articles in, and they are available on this blog.

From Travels With My Camera: Dying For The Truth (1994)

As with the earlier documentary about the ‘First International Company’ of foreigners fighting for the Croats at Osijek, Inside Story: Dogs Of War, we meet Bolivian-Hungarian commander Eduardo Rózsa-Flores and the supposed former Legionaire Stephen Hancock AKA Frenchie, both of whom are believed to have been involved in the deaths of Paul Jenks and Christian ‘Chris the Swiss’ Würtenberg. Neither seems particularly happy with Sweeney’s line of questioning, and both make barely-veiled threats against him.

From Travels With My Camera: Dying For The Truth (1994)

In addition Sweeney, half-heartedly pretends to be making a travelogue and persuades right-wing politician Branimir Glavaš (at the time Osijek’s military commander and Flores’ local sponsor, subsequently convicted of war crimes) to take him on a tour of the area whilst asking questions about what went on during the war. Some of the most chilling moments of the film come from Sweeney’s time with Glavaš, a provincial power-broker in a bad suit with a friendly smile and a convivial manner.

By this point in the film we know already how a brutal, internecine war is characterised less by monochromatically-drawn good and bad than by violent banality, incompetence, half-baked idealism, a thirst for adventure. To quote Paddy Considine out of context, “You were supposed to be a monster… Now I’m the fucking beast.” As if to emphasise this Sweeney visits the Serb police post on the outskirts of Osijek, from which a sniper – according to the official Croat version – shot Paul Jenks. There Sweeney enjoys the hospitality of a bunch of people characterised previously only as ‘Chetniks’, off-stage villains, black-hat-wearing bad guys without any lines.

From Travels With My Camera: Dying For The Truth (1994)

Finally, there are sequences with Paul’s girlfriend Sandra Balsells and his colleague from his time in Yugoslavia Hassan Amini, looking for answers, peace, closure – whatever they were looking for, though, it wasn’t really on offer.

Again, there is nothing on IMDb, but there are some skeletal production details on the BFI database.

Here’s the crew list based on the on-screen credits:

  • Reporter: John Sweeney
  • Research: Sandra Balsells
  • Music: Jay Paine and Michael Bluemink
  • Dubbing Mixer: Colin Martin
  • Production Manager: Phil Robertson
  • Editor: John Mister
  • Executive Producer: David Henshaw
  • Director: Chris Curling

Hardcash Productions for Channel Four
© Channel Four 1994

TECHNICAL SPECS

  • 53m 34s
  • 627 MiB
  • DivX 5 (video)
  • MPEG-1 (audio)
  • TeleCine
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The Killer Who Loves ET And Mary Poppins

Article by John Sweeney in The Observer, 26 June 1994.

Who Killed Paul Jenks?

Article by John Sweeney in The Observer, sometime in 1992.

Inside Story: Dogs Of War (1992)

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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

Lean times for the dogs of war

The Independent
Friday 29 November 1991
From Marcus Tanner in Zagreb

Strolling down Tkaliceva Street, in Zagreb’s old town, you are almost bound to overhear the words “geezers”, “plonkers” and “shites” wafting from one of the bars where khaki-clad Croatian fighters sip beer on their days off.

At night, there are hotel bars in Zagreb which are pure Casablanca. A piano tinkles in the corner, cigarette smoke coils up to the ceiling and expensively dressed Croatian women smile silkily at a group of lads with South London accents. They glower back, cradling their sub-machine guns. “Would you mind leaving your machine-gun outside, sir?” asks the bow-tied waiter. Sir replies with an expletive that cannot be printed. “You didn’t mind me holding this gun at the front do you, you daft plonker!”

According to the Serbian media, the Croatian army has tens of thousands of highly-paid mercenaries, mostly Germans. In reality, there are a couple of hundred bona fide foreigners who are not of Croatian descent in the ranks of the republic’s armed forces and most are English, Scottish or Irish. A visit to National Guard headquarters in Zagreb revealed 15 Britons in the queue of volunteers. At least two volunteers from Britain are reporters to have been killed so far in the Yugoslav civil war.

The Britons in Croatia are bitterly divided by allegiance, military experience, age and motives. Some serve in the National Guard, while others are in the HoS, the paramilitary wing of the hardline Party of Rights. The Britons in HoS do not talk to the Britons in the Guard.

Tom is a typical English guardsman. Nineteen years old, the son of a gentleman farmer from Cornwall, he has two years’ experience in the Territorials. He shudders at the mention of the HoS. “They stick to themselves and are rather frightening. You never know if they will shoot you in the back.” He says he never considered joining the HoS, because of their political extremism. “I am not fighting for Greater Croatia, but for democracy and the right of Croatians to choose how to live.”

Terry, a 30-year old Irishman who serves in the HoS and had five years’ experience in the French Foreign Legion, snorts at the mention of his fellow-countrymen in the Guard. “They are plonkers and shites, cannon-fodder with no experience. It’s a disgrace they are allowed to come here at all.” Terry is in Croatia because, he engagingly admits, “I like fighting. It’s pure adrenalin. All that stuff about Croatian freedom is shite, politicians’ talk.”

Down at the Guards headquarters the Britons talk less about the adrenalin and more about democracy. They are mostly young, with a knowledge of Croatia culled from press clippings. “Basically if the Croats want their freedom they should have it,” says Bob Morgan, a guardsman serving at Vinkovci. Tom and his colleague Dave, both Church of England, wear rosaries round their knocks. “It’s almost compulsory if you serve in the Karlovac district,” says Dave. “You get given it with your gun and your uniform.”

Terry, a Roman Catholic, sighs at the mention of guardsmen wearing rosaries. “A rosary won’t stop a bullet, will it?”

Almost the only thing the Britons n the HoS and the Guard share is a lack of any substantial financial remuneration. The HoS and the Guard both reportedly employ a handful of highly-paid foreign experts to train their forces. But the rank-and-file like Terry and Tom, in spite of military experience, get the humble wages of any other Croatian fighter – about £28 a month, in dinars.

Tom and Dave were helping a friend on the eastern front who had wasted two days in Zagreb trying to get hold of his wages. “In Vinkovci they told me to come to Zagreb. As soon as I got to Zagreb they told me to go back to Vinkovci,” the man sighed. “I just want a day off with a decent meal, some cigarettes and a couple of drinks.”

Financially Terry is no better off. The appearance of lavish spending in ritzy Zagreb bars is deceptive. Drinks flow, but they are mostly on the house. The pressed shirts come from a team of kindly hotel cleaning ladies, who do it for free. At the end of the day, home is a stretcher in a cold crowded dormitory near Zagreb railways station. There is no shower. “Great hotel!” says Terry. “It’s enough to make you want to go to Angola.”

BELGRADE – Evidence of tensions emerged yesterday between Serbia and local Serbian leaders in Croatia, when Serbia said it did not want independent Serbian militias to launch an all-out assault on Osijek, writes Tony Barber.

The defence of Osijek, capital of eastern Croatia, has assumed vital importance for the Croats since the fall of the nearby town of Vukovar on 17 November.

No significant incidents were reported yesterday around Osijek, and it appeared both sides were trying to observe a ceasefire ahead of the deployment of UN peacekeeping troops. The worst fighting occurred at Novska, near the Belgrade-Zagreb highway.

Despite moving towards Osijek after the fall of Vukovar, the federal army has shown little inclination for another big urban battle so soon. But the leaders of the self-proclaimed Serbian autonomous region of Slavonia, Baranja and western Srem, have vowed that their militias will press on and capture Osijek.

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