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Watch List: April 8, 1999

8 April 1999, Volume 1, Number 13

MILOSEVIC'S "CLEANSING" OF SERBIAN MEDIA COMPLETE. Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has cleansed the Serbian news media of independent reporters, and the majority of Serbs in the former Yugoslavia are being fed a monotonous diet of Belgrade propaganda about worldwide opposition to NATO bombing and daily losses of NATO aircraft. The exodus of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo, if mentioned at all, is attributed to NATO raids.

"Strict controls by the Yugoslav government are severely limiting information on the Kosovo conflict" available to Serbs, "The Washington Post" reports. The paper recalls that Milosevic's first act after assuming power as president of Serbia in 1988 was to purge the top ranks of state-run television; since then he has made sure that "his most loyal supporters" control the airwaves. Last fall, when NATO first threatened to attack, he closed down four major newspapers and some half-a-dozen broadcast outlets. According to "The Washington Post" sources, when the Trade Ministry last week assigned priorities for the allocation of scarce gasoline and heating oil, the state's radio and television were listed just behind the army and federal and state authorities, and ahead of power plants, health services, industry, and civil defense.

In Yugoslavia as well as in Bosnia's Republika Srpska, the Serbian media produces "classic Goebbels-esque propaganda," says an official of the international agency administering the Bosnian peace settlement, as quoted by "The Washington Post."

On March 24, the government cut off Belgrade's last source of directly independent radio broadcasts by confiscating B-92's transmitter. The last message that went on the air was: "Keep the faith." The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) condemned the silencing of B-92 as a "manipulation and censorship" by the Milosevic regime. The week before, the police detained for eight hours B-92 editor-in-chief Veran Matic. The government also fired station director Sasa Markovic and transferred control to Aleksander Nikacevic, a Milosevic supporter. "Milosevic has taken his opportunity and snuffed out the flickering light of decent journalism," said IFJ General-Secretary Aidan White.

Additional protests were lodged by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, which took note of the shutdown of four other independent stations � Radio Jasenica in Smederevska Palenka; Velika Kikinda and Hungarian-language Radio Senta, both in Kikinda; and Independent Television Station Cacak in Cacak. All four stations are members of Association of Independent Electronic Media (ANEM) whose flagship station was B-92. On April 2, Serbian police entered ANEM's offices without a warrant and expelled all employees.

To counter these developments, RFE/RL along with other international broadcasters, including the Voice of America, have stepped up the number of hours broadcast to the people of this region. RFE/RL has also expanded its Internet activities, with the number of visitors to its website rising almost 30 percent since the crisis began and its "Balkan Report" issuing special supplements. (Charles Fenyvesi)

SERBS SET PEC ON FIRE, KILL 15 ON MAIN STREET. With no Western reporters filing from Kosovo, the press is gathering information from refugees. According to one typical account, by London's "Sunday Telegraph" on April 5, "80,000 ethnic Albanians who until a week ago lived in Pec have been systematically cleared out of their homes." "The Sunday Times" described the ethnic cleansing in Pec as following "a well-orchestrated plan" reminiscent of the early days of the Bosnian war: shelling first, then tanks enter and set houses on fire, starting at the edge of town and moving to the center. On the longest street, Dardania, 15 young men were massacred "because they did not have money to bribe the Serbs." In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan used unusually strong language in informing the Security Council about "brutal persecution of refugees" and "shocking violations of human rights of the Kosovar population." (Charles Fenyvesi)

RUSSIAN JUSTICE MINISTER PLEDGES JAIL REFORM. On April 2, Russian Justice Minister Pavel Krasheninnikov told Reuters that he plans to improve the grim conditions in jails and overcrowded pretrial centers where people may wait for five years for lack of bail and judges. Prodded to make changes after joining the Council of Europe in 1996, last August Russia transferred control of prisons from the Interior Ministry to the Justice Ministry. Russia has Europe's largest prison network, with a million people behind bars, tuberculosis affecting one in ten, and a daily budget of 4 cents per inmate. While hoping to bring about "normal conditions in line with our economic realities," Krasheninnikov told Reuters that Russian prisons "will never be like those in Europe. Russia is nothing like Europe." (Charles Fenyvesi)


By Charles Fenyvesi

The refugee's dilemma is whether to remain near the homeland, even if the location is as desolate as a refugee camp, wait for a chance to return, or to move thousands of miles away and perhaps start a new life, preferably in the United States, Canada, or Australia, where acceptance and prosperity are realistic options.

For ethnic Albanians from Kosovo, a neighboring country such as Albania, largely pro-Serbian Macedonia or even mostly Serbian Montenegro seem to promise a reasonable approximation of the home landscape. Albania may be Europe's poorest country, yet its citizens invited 130,000 Kosovar refugees to share their homes. Writing from the Macedonian capital Skopje for "The Balkan Crisis Report," published in London, Kosovar journalist Gjeraqina Tuhina delights in the presence of ethnic Albanians and notes: "The streets belong to another town, but the feeling is that we are walking in the middle of Pristina." Tuhina reports that many have even called up their homes but received the same response, in Serbian: "I don't know whose home it was before, but it's mine now."

Those familiar with the lands and the peoples of the Balkans think it is unrealistic to believe that a mass of Kosovar refugees--who may eventually number more than a million--can be resettled, even on a temporary basis, on the Balkan peninsula.

According to Kris Janowski, spokesman for the U.N. High Commission for Refugees, the number of refugees is growing by 30,000 a day. As of April 5, UNHCR reported 855,400 Kosovars displaced, or more than 42 percent of the province's prewar population, with more than 390,000 of them having fled since March 24. On April 6, "The New York Times" quoted a U.N. refugee agency official as saying that Macedonian officials are "barely cooperating with the relief organization" and that Macedonians are "intentionally putting the brakes on the influx." On April 5, the Boston-based Physicians for Human Rights reported that "the current situation for refugees in Macedonia is horrific...The Macedonian authorities are making the delivery of humanitarian assistance extremely difficult."

Even after American armtwisting, Greece and Romania would not accept more than a few thousand refugees. Bulgaria turned down requests.

Many Kosovars believe that relocating as far as Norway or North America, even if for a stay that is supposed to be temporary, means giving up the hope of returning home. Emigration is tantamount to conceding Kosovo to Milosevic; to patriots, it is a betrayal of the homeland. On April 5, Britain's Foreign Secretary Robin Cook declared that after witnessing "a mass deportation on a scale that Europe has not seen since the days of Stalin or Hitler," the West will not allow Milosevic "to condemn the people of Kosovo to a life in exile."

If ethnic Albanians disperse, NATO may face problems in collecting large numbers of them, even if the objective is to escort them to their ancestral towns and villages, as U.S. President Bill Clinton has pledged. That possibility weighed heavily on the minds of officials in Tirana who expressed objections to projects of even temporary safe havens as far away as army barracks in Guam or Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. On April 5 Emma Bonino, the European Union's Commissioner for Humanitarian Affairs, said that airlifting Kosovars to Western Europe and North America would help Milosevic with his ethnic cleansing and break up families. She said that camps should be set up in the Balkans and Central Europe. British Prime Minister Tony Blair attacked the idea of European countries resettling ethnic Albanians as a "policy of despair."

But interviews suggest that like other refugees, Kosovars too harden into skeptics quickly. Many of them already doubt if NATO will carry out its promise of escorting them back home. They know only too well that an effective escort must be military, which is another way of saying "ground forces." Unlike professionally optimistic diplomats and politicians, refugees have had direct experience with the Serbian army, and they are certain of stiff Serbian resistance.

In NATO countries, historical experiences as well as practical considerations play a part in the decisions individual countries make about refugees. The first airlift of Kosovars was to Turkey, the heir to the Ottoman empire ruling Albania for centuries, and one that feels an obligation to help the descendants of imperial subjects, most of them fellow Muslims. The first head of government to announce that his country would provide safe haven to a large number of ethnic Albanians--20,000--was German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. His offer was courageous, as a large proportion of Germans object to having neighbors as foreigners, especially Muslims, even on a temporary visa. But for another segment of the German people, alleviating the consequences of ethnic cleansing is a special responsibility, even a form of expiation.

NATO's objective, as defined by the State Department on April 3, is "the return of all the refugees and therefore the deployment of an international security force," and "the withdrawal of Serbian military, police, and paramilitary forces." But in the meantime, what will happen to the 70,000 refugees camping out on a muddy field on the Serbian-Macedonian border?