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Balkan Report: July 1, 1998

1 July 1998, Volume 2, Number 26

Taboos in the Media. Senad Pecanin, the editor of the independent Sarajevo bi-weekly "Dani," and Davor Butkovic, the editor of the new independent Zagreb daily "Jutarnji list," recently talked to RFE/RL's South Slavic Service about taboos in the media. Both men agreed that touchy topics exist in their respective republics, and that the most delicate theme involves connections between money and power.

Butkovic's paper aims at being independent in the sense that it is not allied with any party, including those in the opposition. His criticism of media taboos in Croatia was therefore more muted than one would expect from an editor of an overtly opposition paper like Rijeka's "Novi List" or Split's "Feral Tribune." This is despite the fact that Butkovic's paper is part of the publishing empire of "Globus," a muckraking weekly that became famous for its war reporting at the beginning of the decade and that has frequently published revelations embarrassing to the government or to President Franjo Tudjman.

"Jutarnji list's" editor denied -- perhaps not altogether convincingly -- that he has ever practiced self-censorship. He said nonetheless that there are indeed taboo themes in the Croatian media. Butkovic added that such topics involve issues directly opposed to the interests of the governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) or to powerful business personalities, who, it might be added, often have links to the top echelons of the HDZ.

Butkovic also noted that part of the problem for those seeking to uncover corruption is the lack of independence of the judiciary. He cited a case from last year in which civilian and military police uncovered a car-theft ring that was led by a senior officer of the military police. Butkovic added that, despite the fact that the investigators carefully prepared their case, the authorities held the ring-leader only briefly. He then emigrated.

Pecanin was even more blunt in his criticism of the links between crime and the governing Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA). He recalled a police raid on his magazine's offices earlier this year in conjunction with an article "Dani" ran on the links between the Muslim political leadership and corruption and crime. The intruders behaved very badly, but a court fined them only 60 German marks.

"Dani's" editor added that this was but one example to illustrate his point that the independence of the judiciary in SDA-controlled areas is a joke. He added that no investigative journalist who runs afoul of the SDA can expect a fair trial, regardless of what a professional police investigation may turn up to support his position.

There are also various dubious practices in the official media that Pecanin feels should be noted. The SDA media present successes, such as an aid donors' conference, as an SDA achievement, while problems are identified as belonging to all Bosnia-Herzegovina. Such media often describe opponents of the SDA as "national traitors," "Western paid agents," "foreign spies," or "Soros' journalists."

In light of such practices, he continued, it is not surprising that many journalists practice self-censorship and avoid topics like dubious privatization practices involving the SDA and criminals. Pecanin lamented that truly independent journalism in Muslim Bosnia is limited to Sarajevo and Tuzla.

Plavsic Talks About Kosova. Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic recently visited Athens, where she warned that the Bosnian experience teaches that "war is very easy to begin and very difficult to end." Referring to Kosova but without going into detail, she added that "no one has the right to experiment so much with the peoples who live in this area ... Whatever has happened and is happening in the Balkans can be a lesson that preventative measures are the main factor for the achievement of stability and peaceful development in the area." Plavsic added that she is optimistic that there are "enough logical politicians" to prevent Kosova from going down the road that Bosnia did in 1992.