Government shuts Belgrade paper

January 22, 1995|By Dusko Doder | Dusko Doder,Special to The Sun

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- After four weeks of valiant struggle, the only independent Belgrade daily died Friday.

The cause was strangulation by the Serbian-dominated government.

The staff of the newspaper Borba had done its best to defy the government's decision to seize the paper, as punishment for the paper's criticism of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic.

The journalists continued to publish and prevented new managers from taking command.

So until Friday, two versions of Borba appeared every day: One was prepared by editor-in-chief Gordana Logar and her staff.

The other was produced by the government, under the editorship of the minister of information, Dragutin Brcin.

Mr. Brcin's editions featured headlines that would have done the Communist era proud: "Happy, Quiet, and Rich Yugoslavia."

Mr. Brcin prevailed, because Ms. Logar and her staff could no longer obtain paper on which to publish.

The only producer of newsprint is owned by the state, and it choked off supplies.

"We were slowly strangled economically," Ms. Logar said. "I think our greatest sin was to follow the New York Times slogan and print all the news that's fit to print.

"That is inadmissible in a country where there is manipulation of LTC the news such as you can't imagine."

Since the collapse of communism in 1990, when Borba was privatized, the newspaper has played a significant role in Serbia.

Its circulation was small and confined mostly to Belgrade, but its balanced reporting -- in contrast to the undisguised nationalism of the state-run media -- was a safety valve for intellectuals to let off steam.

Ms. Logar cited the coverage that she believes enraged President Milosevic.

State-run papers and television ignored Bosnian Serb attacks on Bihac, but Borba reported them.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter's talks with the Bosnian Serbs were barely mentioned in the state-run press, but in Borba the talks were reported on the front page.

Diplomats in Belgrade suggest that Mr. Milosevic moved against the newspaper because he believed he could deal with domestic critics without being criticized by either the European Union or the United States.

Journalists at Borba hope the newspaper will be saved under a new name -- but a license must be obtained from the government.

"What can you do?" said Ms. Logar. "We are dying a slow death."

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