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OSCE: New Hope Dawns For Press Freedom In Serbia, Belarus

  • Breffni O'Rourke

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) representative on press freedom, Freimut Duve, says he believes there is new hope for increased press freedom in Serbia. As our correspondent reports, Duve believes the current wave of opposition demonstrations in Serbia will help strengthen the case for free media, even though journalists there realize they are still going to have a struggle.

Prague, 22 July 1999 (RFE/RL) -- In an interview yesterday with RFE/RL from Vienna, the OSCE's Duve said the Yugoslav central authorities are likely to have a harder time now than they had previously in enforcing restrictions upon the media. That's because the political situation has become more fragmented, with various local authorities around the country not necessarily willing to follow Belgrade's line:

"I think there are some authorities who give this particular question second thoughts. Because there are many mayors, many regions, where all the non-military and non-police authorities are realizing that they could have easy contact to the West, to the international world, were it not for their Milosevic government."

But he says local journalists are still subject to intimidation and smear tactics:

"What is so terrible so far is what I call the use of the 'traitor syndrome.' We have this in many conflict areas -- that a journalist is called a traitor when he tries to give pluralistic views or tell his concept of the truth. Then he is called a traitor to the nation."

But Duve says he believes this dramatic form of condemnation of journalists is now losing much of its strength, as public demonstrations continue in Serbian cities.

He also says the OSCE would welcome Yugoslavia as a full OSCE member but that one of the conditions for this is freedom of the media:

"This is needed not only for the human rights of the Serbian citizens, to express whatever they think, but secondly, it is of extreme importance that Serbia is entering the family of those states which have accepted those two goals which (Mikhail) Gorbachev called glasnost and perestroika, that is to say a real market economy. And you can't have a real market economy without a free press."

Duve says there is much that foreign journalists can do to help their beleaguered colleagues in Serbia. He says there can be a dialogue between foreign media people and Serbians. It is important, as he put it, "to describe the future together with them; to explore what is the future."

Turning to the press freedom situation in Belarus, he said the OSCE knows that journalists there have been under a lot of pressure recently. Yesterday was the day President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's original five-year term in office had been due to expire. But Lukashenka extended that original term for two more years in a controversial referendum:

"There was a lot of harassment of journalists in preparation for this date. Some went into hiding because they were harassed to prevent them commenting on this particular day and this particular event."

The OSCE press freedom chief expressed hope that the situation in Belarus would soon improve.