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Photojournalists chronicle war's toll on 'Children of Kosovo'

By Dave Yanovitz


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ARLINGTON, Va. — People all over the world saw pictures from Kosovo in the spring of 1999, when NATO planes conducted 10 weeks of air strikes in an attempt to expel the forces of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Two years later, the headlines have disappeared, but the violence continues.

"It's important to know that this is still going on, and it's not going to go away any time soon," Maria Mann, North American director of photography for Agence France-Presse, told a Newseum audience on June 16. Mann spoke during an "Inside Media" program about a joint project by 13 AFP photographers called "Children of Kosovo."

"These are the people who are born into conflicts like these and who lose their families and who stay there, and we (journalists) come and go," Mann said of those featured in the AFP photographs. The AFP photographers included Serb, Kosovar, French, German, Turkish, Peruvian, and U.S. photojournalists, she said.

"You have to have the mentality and the makeup to want to go (into a war zone) and do a tough story like this," said Mann. "Some people end up living in the field for a month or two at a time and not having a lot. They did an incredible job."

The "Children of Kosovo" project was conceived when Mann found that many of the AFP photographs taken during the conflict depicted children. "It was very evident that this was a story within a story," she said, estimating that "around 90 percent" of the approximately 5,000 images she viewed were of women and children.

One of the more emotional photographs shown to the audience during the program depicted a large group of Albanian Kosovars packed into a rail car, piled on top of one another. The similarity to a past example of mass killing and torture was not lost on Mann.

"The first time I saw this, it just reminded me of Jews being exported (to concentration camps) by the Nazis during World War II," she said, adding that the train depicted in the photo had crossed into neighboring Macedonia but was forced back into Kosovo. "We don't know what happened to these people. It's the same thing. History is repeating itself, and we don't learn very many lessons."

Mann told the audience that the experience in Kosovo was emotionally draining, but said that the atrocities she witnessed also made her determined to tell the story to the world.

"You get emotionally involved. You can't separate yourself from this," she said. "When you see this day after day after day for months, it does two things to you. It depresses the hell out of you, but it also motivates you to do more, to document more.

"I become angry when I see things like this, and the anger converts itself into the absolute conviction that this needs to be seen," she said.

The program was held in conjunction with the Newseum's War Stories exhibit, which runs through Nov. 11.


War Stories events coverage
Coverage of discussions relating to Newseum's War Stories exhibit.  07.31.01