MON, 26 DEC 1994 22:00:04 GMT
A coup of the state in Borba, the only independent journal in Serbia
AIM, Belgrade, December 25, 1994. On Sunday, in the centre of Belgrade, almost in all busy marketplaces, in Knez Mihajlova street downtown, certain new colporteurs were selling the special edition of Borba, which was until recently designated as the only independent daily in Serbia. Borba was sold by parliament deputies, journalists, readers of this journal. From early in the morning, these people queued in the printing-works ABC Glas where each one of them took fifty to one hundred, or even two hundred copies of the journal to sell it, since noone wants to distribute it any more. Within two to three hours, 10 thousand copies of the special edition of Borba were sold out. One of the most successful colporteurs was Zaharije Trnavcevic, the renowned former TV journalist, a parliament deputy now, who managed to sell about 200 copies of Borba at the usual price of one dinar in the Kalenic marketplace.
On Monday, readers of Borba will be offered two parallel editions. One of them, the special edition prepared by the editorial staff headed by its Editor-in-Chief, Gordana Logar, and the other which is being made in the building of the Federal Government, in the offices of Dragutin Brcin, Secretary of Information, who was appointed Acting Director and Editor-in-Chief of Borba by a decree of the Government. The latter Borba resembles the real one only by its logo. The contents is something completely different. One after the other, only reports of Tanjug (there is neither Beta, nor Reuter, nor AFP, which Borba regularly uses), unsigned information. The editorial was written by Brcin himself, trying to convince (whom?) that it is all just the matter of ownership. The contents of the first volume of the journal made under his rule denies him best.
It all started a month ago when the Government, one of the share-holders of the company DD Borba with 16 per cent, announced a complaint due to the allegedly illegal registrition of Borba as a share-holding company way back in 1990. At the time, the former Federal Government enabled Borba, which had been financed from the budget as a federal Yugoslav journal founded by the Government, that is the Assembly, to become independent and form a new share-holding company. Now this was contested, and on December 19, the Economic Court passed judgement on annuling the four-year long existence of Borba as a share-holding company and returning it under the rule of the Federal Government. The authorities waited for a convenient moment, on Friday afternooon, a day before Christmas eve, a couple of hours before the football game between Yugoslavia and Brasil, right after the end of the session of the Paliament, and only then did they send the newly-appointed commissar, as the editorial staff call him, D. Brcin, to take over the only independent daily in the country.
The editorial staff and the collegiate body refused to cooperate with the new commissar who appeared in the building of Borba on Friday evening and immediately made the first move in the capacity of the Editor-in-Chief - he notified the printing works that he banned any changes in the Belgrade edition, wishing to prevent publishing of the statement of the editorial collegiate body. That is how the weekend volume (Nedeljna Borba) came out without any new information, among other, it was unable even to publish the score of the mentioned football game Brasil-Yugoslavia, which was treated here as a major national event. The editorial staff and the collegiate body decided to prepare and print some kind of a special edition of Borba in another printing works, in order to inform the readers about what is happening. However, the new acting administration also stated that the usual volume of Borba would be published on Monday, with all its columns.
It is interesting that it is still a mystery who Mr. Bricin is making Borba with. A big part of the editorial staff is decisive not to cooperate with the new editor, aware that the state had not taken over this journal for economic reasons, but in order to silence the only daily journal which does not follow the dictation of the ruling party, which does not enforce the ordered blockades of the media, which leaves room to different political options, shortly - the only daily which informs in accordance with professional, and not political and newly-composed- "patriotic" criteria. It should be noted that Borba is a journal with small circulation, printed in about 30 thousand copies, it is in a difficult financial situation, and due to all that, three times more expensive than, for instance, Politika which enjoys state privileges.
Knowing that the journalists in Borba can hardly survive on small salaries, Brcin is already offering them much bigger income. They say that, offering cooperation to a technical editor, to a question "What will my salary be", he answered: "Much larger than now". The editor insisted: "But, you do not understand, I want to know exactly". "Double", the Federal Secretary offered, who was an official of the youth organization and never had anything to do with the press, but got the followong answer:"For cooperation with you, I demand a salary of 10 thousand German marks". The other technical editor demanded a three bedroom apartment... These stories, even if they may not be authentic, illustrate the atmosphere in Borba at the moment. But, the question is what will happen next, because the republican Minister of Information, Ratomir Vico, stated to Politika that two Borbas cannot be published. Only one, signed by Brcin, is legal, according to what Vico said. Based on that, it is assumed that the state will not hesitate to ban the special editions signed by the Editor-in-Chief Gordana Logar. On Sunday already, Tanjug's ticker was cancelled, and fear is present among the editorial staff concerning what will be happening with the telephone lines, the possibility of entering the building...
Foreign and domestic reactions on the occasion of the latest and the most vehement strike of the authorities on independent journalism are prompt and intense. The European Union immediately adopted a declaration which condemns "the attempt of Yugoslav authorities to interfere with the work of the media and warns the Federal Government that whether it will return into the international community will be decided, among other, on the basis of the extent of freedom of the press in the country."
However, despite these sharp words, for quite some time now, there is a fear among the domestic public that the attacks of the authorities against the few independent media (a similar court trial was instigated against Studio B, Belgrade city authorities demand more than one third of shares in this informative institution, and they announced that they would open the issue of lease of premises where this radio and tv station operates) are a sign that Milosevic who, at the moment, enjoys the support of the world, has started a campaign against all those who think differently. On the occasion of the events around Borba, university professor and deputy, Zarko Korac, says that "by killing Borba, Serbia is on the way to get Orwell's ministry if truth. From now on, in the media, there will be room only for 'checked and safe' information which will protect us against the truth which is difficult and gloomy for the regime in Serbia. But how will the hungry and frozen through citizens of Serbia believe it, who, even without truthful information, feel for themselves the results of the work of belligerent, nondemocratic and above all incapable authorities". "I think that this is a typical example of introducing state ownership of the media, of placing them under control, which once again shows that the authorities do not wish to have a different opinion heard. In view of the difficulties in the society, the failure of Avramovic's program, the lack of electric power, of food... the authorities have plenty of reason to fear the independent media - this is the only logical explanation for such panic-stricken moves of the authorities" , Trivo Indjic, a sociologist, says.
The opposition parties, aware that they are losing space in independent media, reacted sharply, just like various independent porfessional organizations. However, the key issue is - what next, is there any chance to preserve the journal or, like so many times before, will everything remain on the personal acts of journalists who have less and less opportunity to do their jobs and live on it. Will the reactions from the world remain on declarations, letters of protest. Is it possible to find ways, but primarily money, to preserve the editorial staff which, as the experience of state television, Politika... shows, can easily be broken to pieces and replaced by an apt one. Will Serbia be left without a single professional independent daily journal? As it is now, only thanks to Studio B, a part of Serbia outside Belgrade (Radio B 92 can be heard only in the capital) can get information which have not passed censorship of the authorities, and should this radio and tv station be lost, which is already badly shaken by the last-year's purge of its best journalists, Serbia will remain in total darkness, even if it solves the problems with elecric power distribution. It may sound pathetic, but it is true.
State television has the greatest power among the media in Serbia. In relation to the three-million auditorium of its central daily news program, the influence of independent journals, one could say, is quite negligible. That is why, it was believed that Milosevic was using the existence of independent media as a screen for the world and as a harmless safety valve for domestic opponents. The question is what has changed to have induced the authorities to start this offensive against the independent media. Is it a sign that the authorities are panic-stricken because of growing internal dissatisfaction, or is it just a demonstration of force with which settling of accounts with those who do not share their views will continue.
The destiny of Borba, how ever certain it may seem, because it is very well known how journalism fares in conflicts with the state, will not be decided in a courtroom, of course, although its current management announces a series of complaints for violation of law. Namely, renowned lawyers who have offered their services to Borba, claim that the state has violated the laws and that the decision of the Economic Court is a farce. Once again it was proved that the authorities can do what they please, and that those on the other side unreadily accept their moves which are quite expectable. The readers can only choose between the two offered Borbas. At least for the time being this is still possible.
The latest news from Borba is that the Court has refused to register D. Brcin as Acting Director and Editor-in-Chief, because the Federal Government is not authorized to make such nominations. According to interpretation of the Court, only the federal parliament can do it, according to the state of affairs in 1990. It is interesting that this document from the court arrived addressed to NIP Borba (Newspaper Publishing Enterprise), which is the old name before the share-holding company was founded. According to the words of the lawyer, this decision finally verifies that the edition of the daily made by Brcin's team in the building of the Federal Government is - illegal. This, however, does not mean that the decision to annul legal existence of the share-holding company has been changed.
People from Borba stress that they are still expecting a decision of the court on registration of the share-holding company Borba, which they have still not received.
Out of the 120 journalists, only 4 have agreed to be in the state team. All the others are making the special editions. Two editions of Borba will, therefore, continue to be published. Both trade unions have reached a preventive decision on strikes, which will become valid if the journalists should by force be prevented to make the newspaper.