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Balkan Report: March 18, 1998

18 March 1998, Volume 2, Number 11

Brcko Decision Put Off Again. U.S. envoy Roberts Owen, the chief international administrator in the disputed northern Bosnian town of Brcko, announced on March 15 in Sarajevo that he will not decide on the town's future until some point between the Bosnian general elections in September and the beginning of 1999. He said that the delay will give the new Bosnian Serb leadership an opportunity to move ahead with promised reforms. In Washington, a State Department spokesman also linked the announcement on Brcko to growing Western confidence in the leadership of Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic and Prime Minister Milorad Dodik.

This is the third time that the international community has postponed a decision on Brcko's status, which was the one territorial issue so thorny that it was not settled by the Dayton agreement. Bosnian Serbs say they need to keep control of Brcko because it connects the eastern and western halves of the Republika Srpska. The Muslims and Croats, who constituted the pre-war majority of the town's population, argue that failure to return Brcko to them is tantamount to rewarding ethnic cleansing.

Reactions to Owen's announcement were not long in coming. Ejup Ganic, the president of the mainly Muslim and Croatian Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, blasted the decision. Ganic said in Sarajevo that "justice delayed is justice denied." Federal Prime Minister Edhem Bicakcic put it bluntly: "We want what is ours and we will take it. Brcko is ours."

In Banja Luka, Plavsic and Dodik stated that Owen's decision not to take Brcko from the Serbs reflects the confidence that the international community has in the Bosnian Serb leadership. In Pale, however, hard-line spokesman Momcilo Krajisnik called on Plavsic and Dodik to resign. He reminded them that they recently said on several occasions that Dodik's government will fall unless Brcko is assigned to the Serbs.

"Patriotic Reporting." The role played by language manipulation and the media in the Croatian and Bosnian conflicts has been well documented. Some familiar patterns are now reemerging, this time in relation to Kosovo (see "RFE/RL Bosnia Report, March 11, 1998).

A spokesman for the Serbian state prosecutor's office said in Belgrade on March 6 that the authorities would take unspecified measures against several independent newspapers and radio and television stations because their reporting allegedly "encouraged the actions of terrorist bands [i.e. the Kosovo Liberation Army - UCK] in Kosovo." The newspapers include "Nasa Borba," "Blic," "Dnevni telegraf," "Danas� and " "Demokratija," an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Serbian capital.

Within a few days, representatives of these papers were called in for what in President Slobodan Milosevic's Yugoslavia is politely called "an informative discussion" with the authorities. Among the charges against the editors was that they referred to the persons killed by Belgrade's security forces as "ethnic Albanians" and not as "terrorists." Serbian Information Minister Radmila Milentijevic on March 15 defended the authorities' position, saying that the dead were terrorists and should be referred to as such. She added that journalists should be more "patriotic" in their reporting at such difficult times.

Such views of "patriotism" and its role in "new journalism" are common to all the ruling nationalist parties throughout the region. On March 15, an independent Croatian media expert told RFE/RL that what irks him most about the Croatian authorities is that they have bought promising journalists and turned them into propagandists. Unfortunately, he added, in recent years many people in the former Yugoslavia have come to believe that journalists should become propagandists if "it is in the national interest to do so."

Quotes of the Week. Albanian opposition parties in Tirana, in a joint statement on March 10, referring to the just-completed London conference on Kosovo: "The first signs of the Bosnia syndrome were seen in the London meeting, that is, the weakness of the international community in defending with determination and efficiency the principles of the agreements and conventions on which international order is based."

Dutch Liberal leader Gijs De Vries, urging the European Parliament in Strasbourg, on March 12, to send a preventive force to the Balkans: "The lesson still has not been learned [from the Croatian and Bosnian wars]... that violence can only be combated by military means. Take off your blinkers. The conflict in Kosovo is more dangerous than the others were."