Zarana Papic on Wed, 13 Oct 1999 02:58:36 +0200

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Syndicate: [Fwd: [Fwd: Don't Shoot the Messenger]] Don't Shoot the Messenger































				Don't Shoot the Messenger


				by Ljiljana Smajlovic


				7 October 1999



BELGRADEâ??As soon as the bombs stopped falling, Serbia's small band of

democracy activists, independent intellectuals, and journalists felt the

ideological wrath of longtime donors and supporters from the West. In

private Budapest sessions held in July and August, financed by

international nongovernmental organizations, serious charges were made.

Yugoslav journalists from respected independent media organizations were

flatly told that they had failed in their commitment to a free press and

civil society. Because they continued to publish under strict state

censorship and failed to inform the Serbian public of atrocities committed

against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, it was implied that the funders'

investments hadn't paid offâ??that Serbian proteges had let down their

Western patrons. According to one participant in the Budapest meetings, who

declined to be identified, it sounded as if only publisher Slavko Curuvija,

slain by two gunmen in front of his Belgrade apartment on 11 April, had

entirely fulfilled Western expectations.


illustration: Ladislav Belica

The 50-year-old publisher of Belgrade's daily Dnevni telegraf and

bi-monthly Evropljanin magazine had come to personify resistance to

Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's regime after the government cracked

down on his publications last fall. Even before the first bombs fell,

Curuvija had ceased to publish in protest of government-imposed censorship.

On 5 March he was sentenced to five months in jailâ??although the

sentence was suspended due to the warâ?? for offending the "dignity and

honor" of Milovan Bojic, deputy prime minister of Serbia. Ten days into the

war, Curuvija was denounced on Serbian state television as a traitor who

supported NATO bombing. Five days later, on Orthodox Easter Sunday, he was

shot dead.

Curuvija's death was widely mourned by the international NGO community as a

tragic and heroic example of the cost of free speech. But his fans were

overlooking one small fact: he was no supporter of the bombing. At his last

staff meeting with Dnevni telegraf and Evropljanin

journalists, on the eve of NATO's first bombing runs, Curuvija said, "We

shall not publish, because we shall not submit to censorship. At the same

time, we shall not forget that we are patriots. NATO's intervention against

our country is illegal, illegitimate

and immoral." And in the run-up to the war, Curuvija had been forced to

print his publications in neighboring Croatia (Evropljanin) and

Montenegro (Dnevni telegraf) and then smuggle them into Serbia.

During the warâ??with tighter border restrictions in placeâ??there

was no question of smuggling newspapers into the country.


The tension among Serbian NGOsâ??as well as the displeasure of the

international funding communityâ??was evidenced by the experience of two

women. Sonja Biserko, director of Belgrade's Helsinki Committee for Human

Rights, left town in a hurry, a week after NATO began bombing. She spent

the remainder of the war abroad, campaigning for a NATO-led ground invasion

of Yugoslavia and the subsequent "denazification" of the country. Her

five-step proposal was quoted in a 9 May article in The New York

Times: indict Milosevic; defeat and demilitarize Serbia; put the

leadership on public trial; take over all mass media; and introduce a new

Marshall plan for the Balkans.

While Biserko urged U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to seriously

consider the occupation of Yugoslavia, other human-rights and democracy

activists in Belgrade were issuing statements condemning both NATO's

bombing and the ethnic cleansing of Kosovar Albanians.

On 6 April, 17 Belgrade NGOs, including Biserko's Helsinki Committee for

Human Rights, called for an "immediate stop to the bombing campaign and all

armed movements." In addition, the group called for "an end to the ethnic

cleansing and immediate return of all refugees," claiming that NATO

military intervention had undermined all the progress of civil society

organizations and endangered the very survival of the civic sector in

Serbia. They also asked for the support of international NGOs. The

Norwegian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights and the International

Helsinki Federation for Human Rights wrote back on 18 May, in an open

letter that Biserko co-signed, saying they were "deeply disturbed by the

appeal of 6 April, and subsequent open letters from intellectuals in

Belgrade," and that they "considered it intellectually and morally unsound"

to equate NATO bombing with ethnic cleansing. The Serbs were told to

address their appeal "properly" to the Serbian authorities.

While Biserko traveled west, Natasa Kandic, director of Belgrade's

Humanitarian Law Center, headed in the other direction: to Kosovo, where

her six local employees were in grave danger, and where human-rights

activists were desperately needed. Kandic says that was no more than her

"human and professional" obligation, although most opposition-minded people

in Belgrade kept their heads down at the time. When she first entered an

ethnic Albanian village where Serb forces had committed a mass crime, she

apologized to the survivors. "I believe in collective responsibility, and I

consider myself responsible," she says. "That's why I asked for

forgiveness. I did it in my own name, not in the name of Serbs as a


Parallel condemnations of both bombing and ethnic cleansing did not satisfy

Kandic. "All of Serbia went along with the official position on the war,

and Serbia's civil society was either silent or acquiescent," says Kandic,

who was not a signatory of Belgrade NGOs' frantic appeals. "One could not

hear voices assigning responsibility for the bombing squarely where it

resides, with the sole culprit, Slobodan Milosevic."


Kandic also turned her criticism on local media. Together with the

Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Office for

Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, Kandic's Belgrade Center

organized a roundtable in Milocer, Montenegro on 10-12 September about the

"role of the media in Serbia, Montenegro, and Kosovo in 1999." At the

roundtable, Dragoljub Zarkovic, editor in chief of the Belgrade political

weekly Vreme, walked out in protest after Montenegrin radio

journalist Zoran Ljumovic suggested that Serbian independent media were as

much in need of "denazification" as the rest of the Serbian nation. Other

Belgrade journalists reported feeling extremely uncomfortable in Milocer as

well. They said they had been put on the spot to recant and confess their

wartime behavior, when they themselves felt they'd made the best of a bad


Veselin Simonovic, editor in chief of Belgrade's leading tabloid,

Blic, does not mince words: "I was shocked by the Milocer meeting.

Blic is Yugoslavia's highest-circulation newspaper: in a normal

economy, it would be a rich paper. In this economy, it is merely

self-financing. It has never received any donations from international

NGOs. In Milocer, for the first time, I was deeply thankful for that."

At Milocer, Kandic presented journalists with a short summary of

press-related events over the past year, which contained the  assertion

that there were "no significant editorial differences between

government, pro-government, and [anti-government] media during NATO's

intervention." In a separate Belgrade interview, Kandic later

offered what she considered additional evidence: "Serbian government

officials themselves bragged that there was no difference between different

media organizations, that they all toed the same line."

Her remarks were bitterly resented and contested in Milocer by some

Belgrade editors. Blic's Simonovic later said: "We all had to

operate under the same constraints, but unlike Kandic, I felt there were

major differences between newspapers even during the war. Some of us pushed

the envelope a bit more, took more risks, or were more imaginative. No one

could force anyone to use demeaning, despicable language, if they chose not


Prominent media analyst Jovanka Matic, a researcher at Belgrade's

prestigious Institute of Social Sciences, says that despite the

government's insistence that all copy be submitted for its perusal before

going to print, and even though all media spoke out against the bombing,

there were tangible differences evident between state and private media.

"While hate speech pervaded regime papers, independent media were

scrupulous in refraining from spewing hatred against NATO countries and

their leaders," she says. "State media patriotism was of the nationalistic,

jingoistic kind, while independent media promoted patriotic sentiment

focusing on resistance to aggression. ... State media sought to present

this homogenization [against the bombs] as identical to support for the

Milosevic regime, or indivisible from it, other media maintained a dividing

line between the regime, the leader[s], and the national interest. Like it

or not, national interest was widely perceived in wartime Yugoslavia as

resistance to bombing and defiance of bombers."

Dragan Bujosevic, editor in chief of Curuvija's magazine

Evropljanin, goes a step further. "The independents won a victory

against the regime during the bombing, and a new reality has been created,"

says Bujosevic, who still owes the Serbian government most of the $40,000

fine he was slapped with in court last October when Evropljanin was

put on trial. "The regime's accusations [of treason] against independent

media now ring hollow even to regime supporters. This was an opportunity to

show that independent media would stick to their professional guns and

would not sell out, not to their own government, and certainly not to

donors' governments. No one calls us anti-war profiteers any longer."

Along the same lines, Simonovic adds, "Blic restored its circulation

of 200,000 copies a day within a month after censorship was lifted. That

would not have been possible if we had ceased publishing under the bombing.

Our readers would have felt we'd abandoned them at a critical juncture. ...

Does anyone really believe that Milosevic would have fallen if independent

media had

stopped publishing? No, the only thing that would have happened is that our

readers would have stopped trusting us. They would have thought the regime

had been right all along, and that we were indeed quislings and traitors."


Other than Biserko and Kandic, very few people in Western-funded

organizations in Belgrade openly sympathized with NATO's point of view.

Censorship and propaganda seem to have had precious little to do with it.

In the words of Stojan Cerovic, Vreme magazine columnist and

internationally respected anti-Milosevic writer and activist: "Even without

censorship, independent media would not have had anything to say in favor

of NATO intervention. It is just impossible to tell people who are being

bombed that those bombs are good for them."

Vreme editor Zarkovic says, "Someone from the Organization for

Security and Cooperation in Europe suggested in Milocer that we should

perhaps have gone underground, like the Russians with their samizdats in

the 70s. That is such nonsense. First of all, whoever thinks that the

Serbian people did not have enough information during the war is a fool.

There were satellite dishes, FM stations broadcasting foreign news, the

Internet. ...Whoever wanted information in Serbia was able to get it. The

fact that Serbs did not accept the version and the interpretation broadcast

over satellite television is another matter."

Zarkovic dismisses the notion that independent media and NGOs could

overthrow a regime. "That is not the role of the media. That kind of

thinking had already led some people in the West to believe that the

independent media in Serbia would have needed no more than three days of

war to convince the people to accept NATO bombardiers."

Some Serb journalists and human rights activists feel that the West's

present bout of unhappiness with Serb journalists and activists stems from

its unease over the outcome of the war. "The more it becomes clear that

Kosovo will not turn into an oasis of multiethnicity and civil

society, and that Slobodan Milosevic has not been bombed right out of

office, the greater the need to find scapegoats inside Serbia," says Veran

Matic, founder of Belgrade's B92 radio station.

But most Serbs can barely refrain from saying, "We told you so." An OSCE

representative asked journalists in Milocer how they would behave if civil

war broke out in Serbia, "considering that [they] acquiesced to censorship

so readily." Blic's Simonovic responded, "We'll deal with the

Milosevic regime. Just do not bomb us again under the pretext of helping


Ljiljana Smajlovic is foreign editor of Evropljanin and former

foreign editor of Vreme.

We want your feedback. If you have comments on this, or any other TOL

article,  please email us at

The 1998 U.S. State Department Human Rights Practices Report for

Serbia-Montenegro is an interesting, if U.S.-biased, survey

that includes sections on

media and press


Press Now, based in the

Netherlands, is an organization dedicated to monitoring the progress and

development of independent media throughout East Central Europe. Of

particular interest is their up-to-date links to articles concerning the

media in Serbia.


International Federation of Journalists

has several programs in place for monitoring and advancing independent

media in Central and Eastern Europe. It also provides bi-monthly bulletins

of the European Federation of Journalists' activities (online in English,

French, and German).

Free Serbia Net modestly

proclaims itself as the only non-Milosevic controlled Serbian news source

on the web. The site carries the usual articles and  editorials from a

variety of western (BBC, CNN) and local sources (such as Beta) in English.

Antiwar.comâ??founded by U.S.

libertarians who, according to their literature, are devoted to the cause

of noninterventionismâ??has compiled and annotated a list of

Yugoslav opposition groups that have a

web presence.

OMRI articles about Serbian media:


Radio B-92 has long been a

symbol of Milosevic's repression of independent media. Stan Markotich

commented on one of the first incidents of

government intervention

in the station in OMRI's Analytical Briefs from December 1996.

>From the same author (Transitions):

In the July 1998 edition of Transitions magazine, Ljiljana Smajlovic

looks at the growth of Belgrade-centered

independent media.

Her November 1998 piece,

"Enemy From Within" follows the deteriorating situation for media in Yugoslavia.










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