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Balkan Report: October 14, 1998

14 October 1998, Volume 2, Number 40

Serbia Bans Rebroadcasting. Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj told independent Radio B-92 on October 6 that the government would soon take tough measures against Serbian radio and television stations rebroadcasting the programs of Western stations "that carry out hostile espionage propaganda against our country." He suggested that the authorities could close, seize the equipment of, or start legal proceedings against the offending Serbian stations. Seselj added: "I guarantee you personally that you will not [re]broadcast [the programs of] Radio Free Europe." Seselj and Serbian Information Minister Aleksandar Vucic had previously threatened legal measures against those who rebroadcast the programs of RFE/RL, VOA, BBC, Deutsche Welle, or Radio France International (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 September and 6 October 1998).

Together with Vucic, Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Milovan Bojic then told the editors-in-chief of independent radio and television stations on October 7 that "public information services in conditions of immediate war must adapt their behavior" accordingly and not spread "fear, panic and defeatism." Bojic added that "this is not an appeal, this is an order." He said that the authorities will soon issue a formal ban on the rebroadcasting of programs of RFE/RL and the other foreign broadcasters.

Reactions to the crackdown came quickly. Already on October 6, Montenegro's Secretariat for Information issued a statement in which it blasted Vucic's "extremely crude" charges against the journalists. The secretariat stressed that domestic and foreign journalists in Montenegro work in keeping with the law and that the law guarantees their right to go about their business. The next day, Belgrade's Association of Independent Electronic Media (ANEM) issued a statement, in which it said that "such orders represent the most dramatic form of state censorship in Serbia and direct intolerable interference into editorial policy of the media. Therefore, they should be considered... unconstitutional and illegal." ANEM also put out a text describing recent harassment of independent journalists by the police and other authorities.

David Burke, the chairman of the Washington-based Broadcasting Board of Governors, United States of America, said on October 8: "The decision [to ban rebroadcasting] dramatizes the Serbian government's determination to restrict the Serbian public's access to uncensored news, analysis, and responsible discussion of the current crisis in Kosovo. My colleagues and I believe this ban is an intolerable form of press censorship. As we did during a similar situation in Serbia in late 1996, VOA and RFE/RL have expanded their Serbian language programming. We will also pursue additional creative ways of providing the truth to the people of Serbia."

VMRO's New Message. (Continued from our last issue.) The opposition VMRO approaches the October 18 Macedonian parliamentary elections with two important changes in its image. First, it has put nationalism -- its former trademark -- into the background and is anxious to remove national tensions as an issue on the political landscape. Chairman Ljubco Georgievski told "Bosnia Report" in Skopje recently that as prime minister he will ask European authorities to prepare a study of minority rights in Macedonia as compared with those of other countries, including the rights of the Macedonian minority in Greece. Georgievski indicated that his government would take seriously any recommendations by a competent European body. He even said that he would be willing to let the ethnic Albanians have their own university, provided that they and the EU would then agree to put the "minority rights question [in Macedonia] to rest once and for all."

To underscore this change in approach, Georgievski has formed an electoral coalition with Vasil Tupurkovski's Democratic Alternative, which is committed to the principles of a civil society. The DA's membership contains persons of many ethnic backgrounds including prominent Albanian intellectuals. Tupurkovski, who first made his name in Belgrade during the last years of the former Yugoslavia, is widely regarded as a possible successor to fellow Belgrade-veteran President Kiro Gligorov in next year's presidential vote.

The second change in Georgievski's message is to stress economic issues above everything else. His point is that the current coalition led by the Social Democrats has crippled the economy through overregulation and corruption. He promises to do away with both burdens, as well as to cut taxes and customs rates. He also pledges to encourage foreign investment and set up three free-trade zones.

Many observers have long noted that prosperity is the key to peace and stability in the Balkans -- demagogues and war came to the former Yugoslavia only after a decade of economic decline. It will be interesting to see if a Georgievski-led government could boost Macedonia's standard of living so that all its citizens would feel that they have a stake in that state and its future.

Frustration in Munich. The "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" reported on October 6 that the Bavarian Interior Ministry has stopped deporting Kosovars back to Milosevic's Yugoslavia. The reason: following the EU's decision to ban JAT from landing in EU countries, there is no easy way left to send back the Kosovars. That is because Belgrade accepts deportees only if they arrive by JAT. (Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel had earlier warned against banning JAT precisely for that reason.)

But officials in Munich were resourceful and arranged for the deportees to be carried home on a JAT flight out of Zurich. The Yugoslav authorities, however, would not accept this arrangement and sent the Kosovars back to Switzerland. Meanwhile, German groups supporting refugees and asylum seekers hope that the new government in Bonn will take a different attitude toward Kosovars, Bosnians and other foreigners than did its predecessor, whose views were similar to those of the Bavarian authorities.

Quotes of the Week. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, of Slobodan Milosevic, on October 5: "We are dealing with someone we never trusted."

On October 8: "Time and again, Milosevic has promised us to do things he had no intention of doing."

Veteran Bosnian peace negotiator Lord David Owen, in Geneva on October 6: "In the last eight to ten years, there has been a tendency for NATO to speak loudly but never actually to use the stick...Having uttered these threats, I think they have got to make good on them" to maintain the alliance's credibility.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, in a television interview on October 5: "There is no solution by force to the Kosovar problem. Its source lies in an ethnic conflict, and bombs cannot solve ethnic conflicts."

Ethnic Albanian displaced person, quoted by Reuters on October 12: "There will be no solution without bombing because history shows the only way to negotiate with Serbs is with a gun."

The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," referring on October 7 to Serbian television's penchant for showing footage of reported victims of UCK massacres: "a permanent festival of necrophilia."

The U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo, responding on October 8 to charges by Serbian supporters of Radovan Karadzic that NATO air strikes against Serbia would be an attack on all Serbs: Any NATO intervention "would not be directed against the Serbian people or the Republika Srpska. It would be against those whose operations have led to the death of over 1,500 people and the creation of some 400,000 refugees and displaced persons."