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South Slavic: December 2, 1999

2 December 1999, Volume 1, Number 1

The Fall Of The Berlin Wall Ten Years Later And Its Impact On Yugoslavia

The first issue of the "South Slavic Report" begins with a special edition of the RFE/RL South Slavic Service's program "Direct from the Scene," by Branka Mihajlovic. It was broadcast on 10 November to mark the tenth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and to discuss the impact on the former Yugoslavia of the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe.

Good evening. Tonight, "Direct from the Scene" is dedicated to the fall of the Berlin Wall ten years ago. We will talk about the way the media in the former Yugoslavia covered the event. And why was Television Belgrade the one to broadcast live the most exciting media coverage of an Eastern European event after the fall of the Berlin Wall--the Romanian revolution? As to Yugoslavia, what was happening in a country that, having taken a non-dogmatic line in the socialist world and finding itself between the West and the East for decades, was the best candidate for reforms? When the Wall started crumbling, this country had been already building walls of its own. Today, after the bloodshed, the former Yugoslav states are lagging behind in the transition process. According to many analysts, in one of these countries--Milosevic's Yugoslavia--the disintegration process is not completed yet and the country remains isolated as it continues its spiritual and material collapse. Some respected historians speculate that the Serbs might disappear as a historical people. With you tonight--Branka Mihajlovic.

The night of 9-10 November. Mihajlo Kovac was then a foreign affairs correspondent of Television Belgrade. When the Berlin Wall started falling, he was on the scene:

(Kovac): I remember that night we were in West Berlin, in a Serbian restaurant not far from the Wall. We were having dinner with our friends making fun among ourselves of an older couple. The two were tirelessly dancing to the music of a piano player. At one moment, the lady said perfectly calmly, as if she were selling potatoes at a market: "We are supposed to dance now that the Berlin Wall is falling." We jumped up in the middle of the dinner, took our car and went to Checkpoint Charlie, which was already crowded with the West Germans at 11 p.m.

Soon after I was told that the East German Politburo had announced an hour before that all the border crossings between East and West Berlin would be open at midnight. The event was unforgettable. The most impressive thing showing how different the two governments were is that while people on the west side of the Wall were drinking champagne, singing and shouting, those on the East, only few hundred meters away, were deadly silent, as if they were afraid to make a wrong move and spoil the dream they thought would never come true. They formed a line with their cars, maybe a kilometer long, waiting for midnight to bring the realization of the news that, after 30 years, many of them would finally be allowed to cross the border.

(Mihajlovic): Misa, did you resist the temptation, did you break off a piece of the Wall with your own hands?

(Kovac): Of course I did! But I did not break off my piece that night, I found one later. That piece is my dearest, I like it more than the one I was later given by the German authorities.

(Mihajlovic): Where is it now?

(Kovac): I keep it at home as my best souvenir of all. But let me also say that, when we crossed over to the East side, we ran to the Brandenburg Gate. The two of us were the first to jump over the low fence some 200 meters away from the Gate. We were running towards the Wall and I remember two platoons of the elite Feliks Dzerzhinskii regiment standing under the trees... This was an historic moment since they were armed and for 30 years nothing else was heard in that forbidden place but heavy soldier's boots walking. And now there were thousands of sneakers and blue jeans in front of some 60 uniforms and boots! Those soldiers did not shoot that night and I am sure that they joined the celebration the day after.

(Mihajlovic): When you came back to Belgrade with the story, did you face any kind of censorship regarding your reporting?

(Kovac): No one actually imposed any kind of censorship on me. I was completely free to present to our viewers in Serbia what was going on the way I wanted.

Ines Saskor, then editor-in-chief of the news program of Television Zagreb, recounts how the decision was made to broadcast live the fall of the Berlin Wall:

(Saskor): The big demonstrations in Berlin were going on already for several days. We were reporting about it daily in our news programs. Then a foreign desk reporter, Tomislav Jakic, came to me with a proposal that we follow the example of other European televisions and broadcast the event live, since it was a European event. At a ten-minute meeting we discussed the change in our evening program schedule, booking of the studios, and other technical issues. We then started to broadcast live for two consecutive days.

(Mihajlovic): When exactly were you broadcasting live?

(Saskor): On 9 and 10 November 1989.

(Mihajlovic): How did your audience react?

(Saskor): It was very exciting. People were watching it and the streets were empty. People were very excited watching this Europe, these Germans crossing the border to meet each other.

(Mihajlovic): Did you have problems with authorities?

(Saskor): None whatsoever. It was a time when television people were already making this kind of decisions autonomously. We had our teams on the spot, and we were in Prague during the Velvet Revolution some 20 days later. I remember the very beginning of the Warsaw Round Table in June since I was there for a week preparing a special program about it. It was like a miracle for us: we saw those people sitting at the same table, those practically just released from prison like Lech Walesa and other intellectuals. They were discussing the future of the country in a very responsible manner.... That was very impressive for us. We made special programs about that, and those programs were offered to other Yugoslav television centers. But during the Bucharest events [in December] we rebroadcast the program of Television Belgrade, since they had it live.

(Mihajlovic): Television Belgrade will be remembered as a TV center that rebroadcast the program of Television Bucharest, sending the pictures of those exciting Romanian events to the world. The rebels' headquarters was in the state television building. Omer Karabeg was deputy editor-in-chief of the news program of Television Belgrade:

(Karabeg): I was in my office. I think that we had just had a meeting when they called me in the middle of the news program that started at 3:30 pm. I was told that a strange signal had been picked up. When we recognized the Romanian language, we realized that something strange was going on in the central studio of Romanian television. We saw people in uniforms, and proclamations being broadcast. Then we realized it was a revolution, a coup. "Turn it on!" I said--and we had it live in our news program. Then I informed the director and the editor-in-chief and they agreed with my decision. From that moment on we were continuously broadcasting the Romanian TV program on our second channel. All the European television networks were taking it from us; we were the ones who sent those pictures to Europe. I think that those were the last glorious days of Television Belgrade, before it started falling into an abyss.

Later we decided to make a special program that would represent us in TV festivals. The program was named "TV coup in Romania." The events in Romania created a completely new role for television, and I am not the only one who thinks so. Television was the medium that commanded the revolution. Generals would sit in front of a camera and say: "Ceausescu was seen in his white car. Whoever sees him should stop him..." The television was used for the coup and to help arrest Ceausescu.

Our special one-hour program was prepared but never broadcast. I remember a Sunday, not long before New Year's Eve. The program was scheduled for broadcast at 8:00 pm, right after the evening news. The director of Television Belgrade, Dusan Mitevic, called me to his office and said: "You know, the special program tonight, I do not think that we should broadcast it." "Why not?" I said. "That is the pinnacle of our work!" "Well, you know, why broadcast it now.... No one is really interested." "Come on, Dusko! Let's do it. It is the best thing we have made." "Well, let me be frank with you. We were told by a very high official to forget it. We had enough Romania. You know, a delegation of our eminent revolutionaries visited Sloba [Milosevic]. They were complaining about our Romanian broadcast because the Romanians cut out the red star from their flags." This is why the program was never broadcast.

(Mihajlovic): At that time Nijaz Durakovic was president of the Central Committee of the League of Communists of Bosnia-Herzegovina:

(Durakovic): The first elections in 1990 showed that the so called anti-communist forces were winning in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. One cannot regard the communism in the former Yugoslavia as identical with that in the Soviet Union, but still, for ordinary people it was the same thing. We had an anti-communist atmosphere then, a general dissatisfaction in Europe and around the world, but especially in Europe. Elections in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and elsewhere showed that national and nationalistic forces were winning.

Reformed Socialists were successful only in Serbia and Slobodan Milosevic was hoping for support from the Soviets. We now know that during the Yugoslav Army intervention--if not aggression--in Slovenia..., Croatia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina...Milosevic was calculating. He thought that the Soviets would take the Yugoslav side in case of a Western threat. This is why Yugoslav General [Veljko] Kadijevic secretly went to meet with the head of the Russian military, General [Dimitrii] Yazov, without informing the [eight-member federal Yugoslav] Presidency about it. Yazov would later [help] stage a coup against [Russian President Boris] Yeltsin. Yazov guaranteed that the Soviet Union would directly and militarily support a coup by the Yugoslav Army in case of a Western threat against such an action. This is why all these events concerning the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union had direct consequences in the former Yugoslavia.

Unfortunately, it all ended in bloodshed here. But one should not blame these historical events for what has happened to us here. We should seek the reasons in ourselves, in our structural misfortune, our tradition, our national and political relationships. All of these things were boiling at least ten years before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Many different elements came together....

(Mihajlovic): Zoran Pirolic was a foreign affairs analyst of Radio Sarajevo:

(Pirolic): The most interesting issue was how would all that was happening in Europe--the collapse of communism, the reunification of Germany, the disappearance of a bipolar world after the end of the Warsaw Pact--influence Yugoslavia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. It was unlikely then that communism might be reformed in Yugoslavia, that a transition into a new social order might be peaceful. Nationalistic movements were growing stronger, the famous [street pressure] meetings were taking place all over Yugoslavia, organized by Milosevic and his political party. The question I was asking myself as a journalist was how could those historical changes in Europe influence this region. Unfortunately, I was quite a pessimist and could not see any possibility to transform the Yugoslav one-party system into a multi-party democracy, oriented towards Europe and with an open economy. Unfortunately, I was right.

(Mihajlovic): What was the atmosphere like in Serbia at that time, with Slobodan Milosevic in power for two years? What were the consequences of the events in Eastern Europe? Was there ever a chance for Serbia to catch that train? Dragos Ivanovic, than a journalist for the Belgrade daily "Politika":

(Ivanovic): We had quite a tempestuous time in Serbia then. On the one hand we had a nationalistic movement and Milosevic's [street] revolution going on. On the other, the people of Serbia were offered an alternative through [Yugoslav Prime Minister] Ante Markovic's program of reforms.... The fight between the nationalists and the reform movement carried on through 1989.

(Mihajlovic): The expression "non-party pluralism" was popular in Serbia in 1990, since a multi-party system was a taboo although new parties were in fact emerging.

(Ivanovic): The party top officials refused at the time to accept the multi-party system and they created the notion of a "non-party pluralism." The party's ideologue Mihajlo Markovic was the most zealous advocate of the idea. But party members were not the only ones against the multi-party pluralism: there were also advocates of the non-party pluralism among the intelligentsia. Let me remind you that the then president of the Academy of Sciences and Arts, Dusan Kanazir, said in 1989 that the multi-party system failed to bring results in Latin America and therefore one should not expect positive effects from it here.

(Mihajlovic): What was the official interpretation of the events in the Eastern Europe, such as the fall of the Berlin Wall and events in Czechoslovakia and Romania?

(Ivanovic): The official interpretation was that Europe was losing its identity.

(Mihajlovic): Croatia was already preparing for multi-party elections, expecting its first step towards democracy. Ines Saskor:

(Saskor): Political parties were being created, changes were demanded by the parties but also by human rights organizations and by individuals like Ivan Zvonimir Cicak, Zdravko Puhovski and others. The pressure was strong on the authorities to allow multi-party elections. The first big public demonstration took place in Zagreb in the autumn to demand the return of the monument to [Habsburg-era] Ban Josip Jelacic to its traditional place on the central square. [The communists had removed the monument after World War II.] The action was welcomed by a big number of people and some 70,000 signed a petition in two days.

The action had a symbolic character, but it was also a form of pressure on the authorities--and the authorities felt it very strongly. The then-governing League of Communists was in flux at that time as well. There were many different currents inside the party, and there was also an awareness that changes were needed. There was, however, no consensus on what kind of changes. Many party people did not see that changes might lead to the disintegration of the country.

They simply wanted democratic transformation. The prime minister was Ante Markovic, and he offered a program of liberalization and a market economy, far before it happened in Eastern Europe. The idea was that the program could save the state and bring about the transition. The League of the Communists of Croatia decided to declare publicly that multi-party elections were needed, and they did so at a party congress in December.

(Mihajlovic): What was the effect of the fall of the Berlin Wall on the events that followed in Croatia?

(Saskor): Today we can talk about the effects of the events such as the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Prague Velvet Revolution, and the bloodshed in Bucharest on a country that was neither in the West nor in the East. Back then, if I may talk in the name of those who lived in that country, we did not believe that it would be the end of our country. Now we can say that it was an irreversible process. That night was exciting in Berlin but it also brings back [other] memories.

(Mihajlovic): Croatia believed that democratization and reforms were coming...

(Saskor): Yes, that was the general feeling.

(Karabeg): I think that Romania was a big lesson for the authorities. I think that it helped Slobodan Milosevic understand the power of television. He realized what can be achieved with television. Soon after the Romanian events, a severe control over programming and censorship followed. Nothing could be said [without prior approval]. Television was gradually becoming an instrument of Slobodan Milosevic's personal power.

(Kovac): The fall of Berlin Wall was a sign that the Germans took their destiny in their own hands, while the Serbs have meanwhile lost it. I received the annual award from the Television Belgrade that year, but I was also sentenced to the ten years of tragedy that I have been witnessing.

"South Slavic Report" continues with two recent RFE/RL broadcasts on the explosive social situation in Croatia, which has received scant attention in Western media. The first report comes from Zagreb:

(Sabina Cabaravdic): Zlatko Matesa has been Croatian prime minister for four years now, but his government did not meet to mark that occasion. Our correspondent Milan Gavrovic offers a possible explanation:

The fourth anniversary celebration has been postponed [allegedly] because of the illness of the head of the state. "All the ministers want President Tudjman to preside over the meeting as he did before," Minister Ljerka Mintas-Hodak said.

But there may be other reasons. Prime Minister Matesa claimed this time last year that the standard of living in Croatia was rising. The latest statistics show, in fact, that retail sales have decreased by 7.6 percent since then. The figure demonstrates a decrease of purchasing power and thus a decline instead of an improvement in the standard of living.

This year's poor economic results thus indicate that the session might have been postponed for other than purely sentimental reasons. President Tudjman's presence would have pushed into the background unpleasant figures and even less pleasant questions that can be heard in public these days. Is there much to celebrate in the economy when the industrial production for the nine months in 1999 has fallen by 2.8 percent compared to the last year? Government officials recently claimed that the worst problems are behind us and that production figures are on the rise. It is clear now, however, that production is decreasing faster than before.

The number of unemployed, moreover, has increased since last year's anniversary by 40,000. Some 330,000 people in Croatia are now listed as unemployed. Exports and imports have fallen, too, as a result of reduced production, and consumers have become poorer.... The government cannot afford to be proud of its foreign policy, either: Croatia has not yet made even the very first steps towards European economic integration...

If Dr. Tudjman had presided over the meeting of the government, he could have blamed "dishonest individuals" for all the problems. He could have demanded that the government fight against those suspected of being involved in the abuse of power regardless of their place in the state hierarchy. This would have sounded great in the run-up to the election. The only trouble is that Dr. Tudjman had already said that last year.

The second report comes from Split:

The first organized strike of the Split shipyard Brodosplit started on 9 November. It was over the very next afternoon when the government partly fulfilled its promise to provide financial aid for the company and pay the workers their wages.

(a worker): The chief accountant has just arrived from the post-office with the checks for our wages.

The brief strike held back production in the shipyard, but president of the Independent Trade Union, Zvonko Segric, said:

(Segric): Workers will resume working this afternoon and we will do our best to catch up and meet our deadlines.

But many workers remain bitter despite having finally received their pay after a delay of 15 days:

(a worker): It is a scandal! This should not have happened. We are not to be blamed for this. There is our director's office, Take him with you and go to Zagreb to find those responsible.

(a worker): The latest soccer players' transfer was more important for the state-run TV news than the fact that some 3,000 workers were not paid for 15 days.

(a worker): They have it all up there in Zagreb, but here in Dalmatia we have nothing. A new stadium is being built [there]. Even my little kid knows about those things.

(a worker): It would have been better if they had not given us those wages, because we would have gone out to the streets. We would have overthrown them just like the former Yugoslavia collapsed.

Brodosplit is a state-owned company that wants the government to provide $4 million to cover wages, the subcontractors' fees, and energy suppliers. The company was given half the amount. This is why the director, Vinko Rosic, remains unsatisfied:

(Rosic): What has just happened here is not good at all. The workers will be satisfied with the wages they have finally received, but this is just a part of the problem. Presenting the government [with the request for the $4 million], we also sought the amount we owe to our subcontractors and to our energy suppliers. Now we have our workers paid, but we are still not able to meet our deadlines without the rest of the money. As far as I am concerned, the problem is not resolved. And one more thing. The money was given to us for this month's wages, but we want confirmation that we will also receive the money we need for the rest of the year, as we agreed with Finance Minister Boris Skegro.