Paris, Tuesday, April 4, 2000Beware, Milosevic is going after Serbia's free media again
By Slobodan Pavlovic
WASHINGTON - Another round of media cleansing is in full swing in Serbia. Slobodan Milosevic must be preparing for elections, a new Balkan war or both.
Since the beginning of his rule in Belgrade as president of Serbia and Yugoslavia, Mr. Milosevic has waged a crusade against the independent media. Now it looks as if this war is entering its final stage. In the past couple of months more than 20 television and radio stations have been closed in Serbian cities and municipalities where the local governments are in the hands of the opposition.
At the same time, the regime is trying to impose media darkness in the capital. The major opposition television channel, Studio B, recently managed to avoid being closed down only by paying a fine of $1 million, imposed by the federal authorities for a nonexistent breach of law. Independent radio B2-92 and other members of the Association of the Independent Electronic Media are under government pressure and police surveillance. The independent dailies Danas and Blic have been fined and ordered to lower the selling price, and have had their journalists threatened by the police.
"Repression over independent and opposition media in Serbia is old news. But, since the beginning of the new year, this repression has reached an unprecedented level," the international organization Reporters Without Borders says.
"Sophisticated despots are today adopting more subtle methods to muzzle the press," said Ann Cooper, director of the Committee for the Protection of Journalists, announcing that Mr. Milosevic had made the committee's list of 10 Worst Enemies of the Press last year.
By the end of this year municipal and federal elections are to be held in Serbia. Under fair conditions and international supervision, they probably would have an encouraging outcome, with a defeat for the ruling "red and black coalition" (Socialists, Communists and right-wing radicals). Independent media are one of the major obstacles on Mr. Milosevic's path to the elections.
Besides the election factor, Mr. Milosevic's anti-media offensive presents a warning signal of the probability of another armed conflict in Yugoslavia.
Two years ago, before the "ethnic cleansing" campaign against Kosovo Albanians, the flagship of the Serbian independent media, Nasa Borba in Belgrade, was closed. So were other media which had warned of the catastrophe into which the regime was pulling Serbia.
Kosovo is history. It is Montenegro's turn now.
While the Milosevic propaganda machine rages, accusing President Milo Djukanovic's administration of betrayal and alliance with NATO, the Belgrade regime is imposing an economic blockade, closing border crossings and increasing military presence on the territory of Montenegro.
"The international community must not allow itself to repeat in Montenegro the mistakes made in Bosnia and Kosovo," Gareth Evans, president of the International Crisis Group, warned during a recent visit to Washington.
Mr. Evans requested an initiative from the Clinton administration and Congress for preventive measures conducted by NATO, along with a clear warning to Mr. Milosevic of the retaliation that Serbia would face should Yugoslav forces try to overthrow Mr. Djukanovic's government.
Because this is an election year in the United States, international crises are often viewed with detachment in Washington. Mr. Milosevic will try to take advantage of that situation unless he is warned or stopped in time.
A small but important step in this direction would be full American support for the independent media in Serbia.