Accessibility links

Breaking News

Balkan Report: June 9, 2000

9 June 2000, Volume 4, Number 43

Kosovar Journalists Slam Kouchner's Closure Of 'Dita.' Kosovar journalists are angry about the UN's temporary closure last weekend of an Albanian-language newspaper. The UN says the paper's reporting was irresponsible and may have contributed to the murder of a Serbian UN employee. Local journalists, however, are calling the UN response undemocratic.

Shortly after the Albanian-language daily "Dita" ran a story naming several UN employees that the paper said had been Serbian paramilitaries during last year's war, one of the Serbs named was murdered.

The UN administration in Kosova, UNMIK, says the newspaper crossed a line in reporting and indirectly encouraged vigilantism. On 3 June, the UN sent in police and peacekeepers to "Dita's" office to close the newspaper down for eight days as punishment.

The president of the Journalists Association of Kosova, Haqif Mulliqi, rejects the ban. He says it is a misguided move by UNMIK chief Bernard Kouchner. "We all agree that Kouchner himself has now broken the law by very arbitrarily banning the newspaper 'Dita' without any court procedure," Mulliqi stressed.

The story in question, printed on 27 April, alleged that Kosovar Serb Petar Topoljski had been a paramilitary during the fighting last year. The story said Topoljski had returned to Kosova from Serbia, changed the spelling of his first name--to Peter--to help avoid detection, and secured a job as an interpreter with the UN. The article revealed details of Topoljski's family life, his address, and his daily routine. In early May, shortly after the story appeared, Topoljski was kidnapped, and his dead body found a week later.

"Dita" particularly angered UNMIK by publishing an open letter on 19 May to Kouchner pledging that it would continue to publish the names of people suspected of war crimes. "Dita" editor Behlul Beqaj says the point of publishing the story was to end what he says is UNMIK's practice of employing former Serb paramilitaries who are alleged to have committed war crimes.

UNMIK spokeswoman Nadia Younes defends the ban on "Dita." In her words: "UNMIK believes that there is a major difference between the broad responsibility of the media to tell the news as they find it and the responsibility of any society to treat suspects and accused persons fairly and as innocent until they are proven guilty."

The order for the temporary ban accused "Dita" of violating UN Security Council resolution 1244, which made possible the UN administration and NATO-led occupation of Kosova. Younes says UNMIK invoked resolution 1244 because there is no legislation yet to deal with this sort of case.

UNMIK is now finalizing emergency legislation that Younes says is intended "to ensure that the print media refrain from acts of endangerment, such as publishing personal details on any suspected or accused person, which could pose a serious threat to the life, safety or security of any such person through vigilante violence."

Journalists Association President Mulliqi predicts the ban will backfire. He says restrictions on press freedom will provoke some journalists to do the opposite of what the United Nations is demanding. But he says other reporters may engage in self-censorship. And Mulliqi says that would mean "the Bolshevization of Kosova."

In Mulliqi's view, Kouchner should have let the courts decide whether "Dita" had acted correctly, rather than taking the law into his own hands. He says UNMIK has condemned and punished journalists without due process. Moreover, he accuses UNMIK of holding Serbs and Albanians to different standards. He says that last week the UN failed to respond forcefully when the Serbian National Council, the main representative body of Kosova Serbs, sent an open letter to Serbian President Milan Milutinovic asking Belgrade to send police and soldiers back to Kosova. Mulliqi terms the letter a public appeal for war and terror against Kosovar Albanians, as well as an expression of hatred and racism. The Hague-based war crimes tribunal indicted Milutinovic last year for crimes against humanity, and UNMIK has ignored the letter.

UNMIK spokeswoman Younes declined to comment specifically, saying: "The Serbian National Council must have their own reasons for it...but there has to be a way in which some form of communication can be done with the Serbs at some level."

Meanwhile, "Dita" editor Beqaj says he intends to continue printing detailed stories about the current activities of alleged war criminals when his paper resumes publication next week: "'Dita' will continue to publish the names and the stories if Mr. Kouchner fails to take any action against people suspected of having participated in war crimes. And that means investigating or expelling them."

Beqaj insists that the two authors of the story consulted all possible witnesses and sources, including UNMIK police, before writing it. And he says UNMIK has not contested the facts in the story. In Beqaj's words, "Instead of jailing a suspected war criminal who was working for UNMIK, Kouchner shut down the newspaper that published the proof."

Beqaj says Kouchner seems to be trying to foster ethnic coexistence by, in the editor's words, "rehabilitating suspected war criminals." Such a policy, he says, seriously damages the chances for peaceful coexistence in the troubled province. (Jolyon Naegele in Prishtina. The author is a veteran correspondent of RFE/RL's News and Current Affairs.

Dalmatia Enters The Postwar, Post-Tudjman Era. One of the many casualties of Slobodan Milosevic's wars was Croatia's once-booming tourist industry. It nearly disappeared as frightened foreigners shunned the Balkans and refugees clogged the hotels. But if the people working in the tourist industry have their way, a new era in Croatian tourism may be in the offing.

During May, the route from Karlovac to Split was closed for one hour each day because mines had to be removed in the area along this important road from the hinterland to the Croatian coast. Before the first considerable groups of tourists arrive in mid-June, these traces of Milosevic's war against Croatia between 1991 and 1995 are slated to disappear.

In the region of Knin--the former center of the Serbian uprising--ruins of houses can still be seen. There are Croatian homes that were blown up by rebel Serbs, and Serbian houses that were shot up or dynamited during and after the Croatian offensives in 1995. Reconstruction work is under way almost everywhere in this area.

This year's tourist season will be the first since independence without former President Franjo Tudjman's nationalistic Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) in power. Croatia's new government has ended a period of growing international isolation that lasted almost 10 years.

Only a few months after the new government took office, Croatia became a member of NATO's Partnership for Peace. Membership in the WTO is only a question of some weeks, the weekly "Nacional" reported on 31 May. Croatia has signed an agreement with Italy, Slovenia, and Hungary regarding border traffic. Croats can use a regular ID card to enter these countries now without a passport. Such regulations will promote tourism and bring Croatia one step closer to its integration into Western and Central Europe.

The Croatian tourist industry is also hoping for a boost following the radical shift in foreign policy. Between 1991 and 1995, traffic to Dalmatia was practically cut off thanks to the presence of Serbian forces and artillery dangerously close to the coast. The once-booming tourist industry all but disappeared. Then in 1999, the war in Kosova prompted many foreigners to cancel plans to visit southern Croatia. Most of the potential visitors to Croatia were either unable to understand that Kosova was a few hundred miles away from Croatia or feared that the Kosova war could spill over and spread across the whole southeast European region.

The 2000 season will certainly be helped by Croatia's newly-found positive international image. But a threat remains in the background. According to the German weekly "Die Zeit" of 25 May, a civil war within Serbia or a conflict between Belgrade and Montenegro are not to be ruled out. This would certainly adversely affect Croatia again.

But so far the signs are positive. Croatian Radio and Television reported recently that hotel reservations up to May are up 30 to 40 percent over the previous year. The leaders of the tourist industry are determined to have a successful season, even if there will be no credits before fall. Although the new government promised a restructuring of the credit system for tourist enterprises, it seems that the hoped-for billion dollar credits won't be available just yet, "Slobodna Dalmacija" reported on 27 May.

Dalmatian Radio Nautik reported that money for smaller modernization projects, such as the one on the island of Vis, will be provided by the government in any case. Vis is an interesting example of what a new era in Dalmatian tourism could mean, different from the mass tourism of earlier decades.

In ancient times Vis was a Greek colony. The Venetians left traces of their architectural styles in the two cities Vis and Komiza. In 1944, Tito hid from Hitler's troops in a cave in the island's highest mountain, known as Hum. But Yugoslavia's communist leader and his followers were not very grateful to the people of Vis. From 1976 until 1989, the island was a military area strictly closed to tourists.

For Vis, that meant virtually an economic catastrophe. But now, after so many years, tourism will finally be established on the island. The decades of isolation can even have a positive side, because now tourism can adapt to the people of Vis and not vice-versa. This kind of "soft tourism" is booming in Europe at the moment, because more and more tourists prefer a clean and unspoiled environment over swimming pools in milk-white hotels with a pulsating night life.

On the Dalmatian island of Hvar, preparations for the upcoming summer season are visible everywhere. There are no more displaced persons or refugees from Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina accommodated in the island's hotels, as was the case from 1991 onwards. Tourists, most of them elderly people from the Czech Republic, filled the streets and squares in May.

People in the tourist industry are now more upbeat than at any time in the past 10 years. They hope that Croatian tourism can become competitive on a global basis. This dream is most likely to come true if the Croats keep in mind that today quality tourism and economic success are linked to a sound ecological approach. The bad experiences of mass--almost industrial--tourism in Spain and Italy in the 1970s and early 1980s should not be repeated in Croatia. (Christian Buric. The author is a freelance writer and copy editor based in Munich.

Tudjman's Party Coming Out Of His Shadow? Ivo Sanader, who heads the late President Franjo Tudjman's Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), told "Vjesnik" of 8 June that it is time for the HDZ to become a "democratic, European, and open party." He added that the party wants to become a more effective opposition in the parliament and will form 11 specialized working groups to analyze and propose legislation regarding specific issues. Sanader called for a "cleaner" approach to assigning government posts, arguing that officials should not be forced out of office after each election. (Patrick Moore)

No Interest In Izetbegovic's Job? None of the three Muslim political leaders recently mentioned by outgoing Muslim presidency member Alija Izetbegovic as his possible successor seems enthusiastic about taking the job, "Oslobodjenje" reported on 8 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 June 2000). Veteran Muslim leader Haris Silajdzic says that he "does not intend to be a candidate" for the presidency as long as the election takes place by a vote in parliament and not in a general election. Deputy Prime Minister Edhem Bicakcic said that he is "a man of the Party of Democratic Action (SDA) and can only accept what the party I belong to offers me." Mostar Mayor Safet Orucevic stressed that he has no intention of leaving that city. (Patrick Moore)

Quotations Of The Week. "When allegations are made against the tribunal that it is anti-Serb and that there is an imbalance in the indictments issued, the fact that I am unable to gain access to the victims and evidence [in Serbia] makes such allegations [ring] rather hollow." -- Hague tribunal chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, in New York on 2 June. Reported by RFE/RL's Bob McMahon.

"Would we ever have defeated Hitler if Roosevelt and Churchill had to answer to NGO lawyers?" -- Unnamed Balkan analyst, referring to an Amnesty International report charging NATO with "war crimes" in its 1999 campaign to stop atrocities in Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 June 2000).