Politics, organized crime and the media in Serbia and Croatia
Unlike their neighbours in the region, who were quicker to introduce change in the wake of 1989, democracy in Serbia and Croatia was delayed by war. The war ended in 1995, yet in both countries democratic change was further postponed under the autocratic rule of Slobodan Milosevic and Franjo Tudjman respectively. Only with the death of the former in 2000 and of the latter a few months earlier in December 1999, could things move forward.
Progress on the media front in that first decade was nil: on the contrary, the media became an active part of the “war effort” as the old state-owned media became accomplices in “forging war”.1 Journalists who stood out against this lost their jobs, were forced to leave the country – or stayed and suffered the consequences: continual harassment, independent newspapers and radio stations closed, censorship by law and the bullet.
While things have improved significantly over the present decade, the effects of this period cast a long shadow: government intervention in the media is still a problem, laws are passed only to remain a dead letter, investigative journalists remain subject to criminal prosecution for libel. While Croatian media laws have been harmonized with European standards and in July 2006 underwent EU screening as part of membership negotiations, this has had little practical effect. Corruption is pervasive and persistent; economic pressure from the top takes its toll.
Moreover murderous attacks on media personnel persist – 60 journalists have been injured or threatened in Croatia alone between 1991 and 2008. The murder of newspaper editor Ivo Pukanic in October 2008 signalled what appears to be a new phase of violent intimidation of journalists. The involvement in the media of organized crime, linked to structures that emerged during the war, is commonly known though not officially acknowledged. The ongoing trials of former commanders of both the Croatian and Serbian military, both in national courts and at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), raises taboos and places witnesses and journalists (often one and the same) quite literally in the firing line.
As far as media concentration and ownership structures are concerned, Croatia, largely ignored by monopoly commissions, faces more of a problem than Serbia. In both countries, however, the commercialization of the media is at an advanced stage. This, together with the convergence of media owners, advertisers and politicians and a residual tendency to indulge in nationalist (or “patriotic”) journalism, means that the prospects for the media in Serbia and Croatia are, at best, mixed. J.V-H., H.R.
1989 Break up of Yugoslavia
(May) Slobodan Milosevic elected President of Serbia. B92 founded as independent youth radio channel in Belgrade.
1990 Beginning of media privatization
(January) NDNV (Independent Journalists’ Association of Vojvodina) founded, the first association of its kind in Serbia.
(October) NTV Studio B, first private, independent TV channel starts.
1991 Start of Balkan War
Law on electronic media: foreign media investors allowed no more than 49 per cent in joint ventures.
(March) Public Prosecutor orders 36-hour blackout of B92 radio and Studio B TV to prevent broadcast of demonstration against government.
(April) Federal Republic of Yugoslavia declared.
Formerly state-owned broadcaster RTB changes name to RTS (Radio Televizija Srbije).
Foundation of first independent private news agency Beta.
ANEM (Association of Independent Electronic Media) founded.
(March) NUNS (Serbian Independent Journalists’ Association) established.
(April) Dada Vujasinovic, journalist at the weekly Duga, killed at home in Belgrade.
(July) Srebrenica Massacre: 8000 Bosniak men and boys killed by units of Army of Republika Srpska (VRS) under command of General Ratko Mladic.
(November) Dayton Agreement signed by leaders of FR Yugoslavia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Croatia.
Daily Blic bought from Austrian and German owners; becomes one of first opposition newspapers.
(July) Slobodan Milosevic elected president of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
(December) Milan Milutinovic, political ally of Slobodan Milosevic, elected President of Serbia.
(October) Public Information Act established and quickly followed by a draconian new “Law on Information”, with fines up to US$ 80 000.
(April) Slavko Curuvija, founder and owner of daily Dnevni Telegraf and weekly Evropljanin, killed in Belgrade. The murder remains unsolved though the investigation leads to the State Security Service as instigator.
(May) Slobodan Milosevic indicted by UN’s ICTY for crimes against humanity in Kosovo.
(March) B92 closed down because of its critical reporting of government. Continues to broadcast on Internet.
(September) Vojislav Kostunica replaces Milosevic as president of Yugoslavia after a mass demonstration forces Milosevic to acknowledge his defeat in the 24 September election. Start of democratization process.
(October) B92 starts TV channel.
(January) Zoran Djindjic becomes prime minister of Serbia. He plays a key role in sending
Milosevic to the ICTY in The Hague.
(June) Milan Pantic, journalist, correspondent in Jagodina, central Serbia, for the Belgrade daily Vecernnje novosti, killed in his hometown.
(July) Two Serbian journalists – Radio Free Europe reporter Natasa Odalovic and Vladimir Radomirovic, editor of the Belgrade weekly Reporter – arrested in connection with articles they had written about crime and spying operations.
Radio Broadcasting Act of 2002 established but not applied until 2006. Under the new law, RTS becomes a “public service broadcaster” independent of government and an independent body is appointed to assign frequencies to new media, most of which currently broadcast without a licence.
(January) Milan Milutinovic voluntarily goes before ICTY and is prosecuted on four counts: deportation, murder as a crime against humanity, murder as violation of laws or customs of war and other inhumane acts during the War in Kosovo. He is acquitted on all charges in February 2009.
(February) Vojislav Seselj, founder of the Serbian Radical Party and former member of parliament, surrenders to the ICTY.
(March) Assassination of the first democratic PM Zoran Djindjic by members of mafia group known as the “Zemun clan”. Natasa Micic, acting President of Serbia, declares a state of emergency. A decree restricting media reporting on state of emergency and its implementation banns publication of news on Djindjic’s murder other than that approved by government and imposes fines up to 500 000 dinars (8200 euros) and suspension of media concerned. Deputy PM Zarko Korac advises the editors of several Belgrade media on how they should operate under the state of emergency.
(March) Death threats against two journalists with the independent weekly Novine Vranjske in the city of Vranje in south east Serbia in letter signed by two hitherto unknown groups, the “Serb Liberation Movement” and the “Serb Liberation Front”. It threatens to eliminate editor Vukasin Obradovic, reporter Goran Antic and their families, and to destroy the newspaper’s offices. It takes issue with a series of reports in the newspaper in early-January accusing Bishop Pahomije, the Orthodox bishop of Vranje, of sexually abusing minors.
(April) Public Information Act.
(April) Arrest and detention of journalists Milovan Brkic, Dragisa Petrovic and Dragoljub Milanovic, former chief of RTS, as part of an investigation into Djindjic’s assassination. Milanovic sentenced to 10 years in prison on 21 June 2008 for not evacuating the RTS building during the Nato bombing in 1999, thereby allowing 16 employees to be killed. He did not turn up at Belgrade prison to start his jail term.
(April) Dusko Jovanovic, publisher and editor of the daily Dan, charged by International Criminal Court for the former Yugoslavia for revealing the name of a protected witness in the Milosevic trial. Prosecution dropped in April 2004.
(March) Bomb found under the vehicle of crew from B92 television returning from reporting in Kosovo.
(May) Dusko Jovanovic gunned down outside newspaper headquarters in Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro. Jovanovic, a former member of the Montenegrin parliament, had often criticized the ruling coalition led by prime minister Milo Djukanovic, who had tried to sue him and the newspaper that published his opinions.
(June) Vojislav Kostunica becomes prime minister. Boris Tadic inaugurated as Serbia’s first president since December 2002.
(February) One-year suspended sentence for libel on former Podrinski Telegraf editor Milan Milinkovic in the western city of Sabac. This was the result of a libel action brought by Nebojsa Jovanovic, the owner of Medikom, over a March 2002 article about Medikom’s links with the former president Slobodan Milosevic’s Socialist Party of Serbia and the Yugoslav Left Party of Milosevic’s wife Mirjana Markovi.
(August) Slavoljub Scekic, deputy chief of Montenegro criminal investigation police and head of team investigating the Dusko Jovanovic murder, is gunned down outside his home in Podgorica.
(September) Vladimir Mitric of the daily Vecernje Novosti is brutally beaten by an unknown attacker close to his home in Loznica, south east of Belgrade. He believes the attack is linked to articles on criminal cases.
(September) Veran Matic, director of the media group B92, is sent letter signed by “Serbian Liberation Regiment” containing death threats to members of his family and associates. A similar letter is sent to Momcilo Veljkovic, a member of student movement “Otpor”. Matic lodges a complaint with prosecutor’s office in Belgrade.
(October) EU opens preliminary negotiations with Serbia on EU membership.
Licensing of the broadcast media starts after long delays. Radio channels cut down from over 1000 to six nationwide channels (Radio Belgrade, Radio B92, Radio Index, Radio S, Roadstar Radio and Radio Fokus).
(March) Former President Slobodan Milosevic found dead in a prison cell.
(May) RTS changes from being a state-owned to a public broadcaster. Its two channels are divided into the Public Service of Serbia and Public Service of Vojvodina.
(June) Montenegro becomes independent.
(August) Slavko Savic, director of TV Kursumlija, sentenced to four months imprisonment for slander and libel.
(August) Director general of the national police, Vladimir Bozovic, announces the opening of an internal police investigation into conclusions reached by police in the murders of journalists Slavko Curuvija and Milan Pantic, killed in 1999 and 2001 respectively.
(October) Start of free daily 24 sata, owned by Swiss media conglomerate Ringier.
(February) Vojislav Kostunica begins a second term as prime minister.
(February) The International Court of Justice (ICJ) rules out Serbia’s direct involvement in genocide during the Bosnian war.
(April) Zeljko Bodrozic, editor-in-chief of Kikindske from Kikinda, forced by a local court to pay huge fines after suits brought by local politicians and nationalists whose activities he was reporting. The UN Committee for Human Rights had ruled against the verdict in late 2005, but the Ministry of Justice refuses to act on ruling.
(April) Serbian War Crimes Court sentences four members of paramilitary group “Scorpions” to 58 years in prison for their role in Srebrenica massacre.
(April) Hand grenade explodes on window of prominent journalist Dejan Anastasijevic, attacked for his criticism of the verdict of Serbia’s War Crime Court in the case of five Serb commandos exposed in taped execution of six Muslims in Bosnia in 1995.
(September) Former JNA officer Mile Mrksic sentenced by ICTY to 20 years imprisonment for murder and torture in Ovcara (Vukovar). Former JNA officer Veselin Sljivancanin sentenced to five years imprisonment on charges of torture (he has already served five years in custody and is released).
(September) Enes Halilovic, the local correspondent for the news agency FONET and Blic, banned from a press conference given by EU and Swiss ambassadors because he gives “too negative a view of the city of Novi Pazar”.
(February) Kosovo declares independence. During protests in Belgrade, several journalists and reporters are injured.
(February) A video montage posted on YouTube shows two B92 presenters being shot dead. B92 also receives a bomb warning by email. Around 200 demonstrators try to force their way into B92’s offices.
(February) Boris Tadic elected to a second five-year presidential term on a pro-European ticket, his Democratic Party forming a coalition government with the Socialist Party of Serbia, founded in 1990 by Slobodan Milosevic.
(June) Mirko Cvetkovic elected prime minister.
(July) Radovan Karadzic arrested in Belgrade and sent to the ICTY.
(July) B92 journalists and BETA news agency reporter attacked and injured while covering pro-Karadzic demonstrations.
(November) Vukasin Obradovic, owner and editor of regional weekly Novine Vranjske, placed under police protection following renewed anonymous threats against him and his family. He had reported on links between local politicians and criminal groups.
1989 Break up of Yugoslavia
(June) Croat Democratic Association (HDZ) founded; Franjo Tudjman at its head.
1991 War with Serbia
(June) Declaration of independence. Constitution guarantees freedom of press, bans censorship and entitles journalists to report and to access information; guarantees legal redress if rights are violated by published news.
(January) Croatia recognized by EU and UN.
With EU help and the cooperation of the Croatian Journalists Association Hravtsko Novinarsko Drustvo (HND), the “Law on Public Information” formulates basic principles of free and public speech and incorporates a code of media ethics, pluralism, the private sphere and objectivity of information.
(June) The foundation of the independent weekly Feral Tribune (FT), formerly part of the daily Slobodna Dalmacija, which was “privatized” in 1993 to group close to Tudjman. Feral Tribune is led by editors from Slobodna Dalmacija who refused to toe the Tudjman line, namely Viktor Ivancic, Predrag Lucic, and Boris Dezulovic.
The foundation of weekly magazine Nacional by, among others, Ivo Pukanic, its first editor-in-chief.
(March) Articles 71 and 72 of the Croatian Penal Code is amended to allow public officials greater freedom in charging media outlets with libel. It forbids journalists to “offend” leading officials by publishing or broadcasting information deemed untrue and which can injure the “honour and reputation” of senior public officials. Article 71 also mandates up to three years’ imprisonment on conviction. The Editors of FT are the first to be prosecuted under this law for defamation of Tudjman. Judge acquits editors in September.
(May) Nevenka Kosutic, Tudjman’s daughter, sues FT for 3.5 million kuna (US$ 635 000); FT had claimed she set up a profitable business using government connections.
(September) HDZ brings charges against Veljko Vicevic, editor-in-chief of independent newspaper Novi List, columnist Tihana Tomicic, Ivo Pukanic of Nacional and columnist Srecko Jurdana. The charges against Novi List stem from a recent column by Tomicic that compares the political climate in Croatia prior to its first 1990 elections to the situation in Germany before Adolf Hitler was elected to power. Although no issues were specified, the charges against Nacional singled out Jurdana, known for his frequent columns criticizing HDZ leaders.
(November) Nacional publishes special edition on Tudjman, who was in hospital at that time. Forced to stop production by order of the ruling elite.
Thousands of people demonstrate in Zagreb against closure of independent radio station 101 by Tudjman on grounds that it is “too political”. Croatian Telecommunications Council refuses license to Radio 101 but later reverses decision.
(June) Tudjman re-elected president.
(March) Stjepan Mesic, co-founder of HDZ, makes a statement to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) against Croatian general Tihomir Blaskic.
(October) “Radio and television law” passed. The public broadcaster HRT is remodeled on the BBC with a supervising body, the Vijece, elected by parliament and intended to represent a broad mix of society. HRT is to be fully financed by public fees and not by state. On paper, it is one of the most independent PBS in southeastern Europe, but disputes over abuses of the system by political elites continue.
(December) Tudjman dies; a more democratic, liberal era begins; the market opens to foreign investors.
(January) The opposition wins the presidential elections; end of autocratic HDZ dominance. Stjepan Mesic of the Croatian People’s Party (HNS) becomes president. Ivica Racan of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) is PM.
(January) Ex-general Vladimir Zagorec flees to Austria with money from illegal arms trading during the war; ceases to be vice minister of defence.
(January) FT and other media produce evidence that Croatian army was involved in Bosnia (Operation Star) in 1994.
(May) NOVA TV, the first commercial television with national coverage founded by Central European Media Enterprises (CME), starts to broadcast.
(March) FT‘s bank account frozen following imposition of 200 000 kuna (27 183 euros) fine for “moral damage” and “cosmopolitan opinions and views”. Indictment based on an article in 1993 by art historian Zvonko Makovic and another from 1996 by Viktor Ivancic. The latter criticized the anti-Semitic and pro-fascist remarks of Zeljko Olujic, an attorney closely related to Tudjman.
(December) Two-month suspended prison sentence for Ivo Pukanic of Nacional for threatening Ivic Pasalic, former political advisor to Tudjman.
(January) Law on Croatian Radio and Television passed: the formation of a new Programme Council appointed not by public but by political parties seen to endanger HRT’s independence.
(March) Attempt to kill Croatian press magnate Ninoslav Pavic, head of Croatia’s biggest media group Europa Press Holding (EPH). Two EPH papers, daily Jutarnji list and weekly Globus, regularly publish reports on organized crime.
(May) New law forces journalists to reveal their sources of information.
(July) Law on electronic media limits cross-media ownership.
(July) Change in criminal law has serious repercussions for journalists who now face prison for slander or libel.
(October) Law on Freedom of Information gives citizens the right to ask and receive information from public bodies. In practice, law is routinely ignored. Jelena Berkovic, journalist with Radio 101, sues prime minister for failure to respond to a request for information. She wins her case.
(December) Ivo Sanader (HDZ) becomes PM.
Media Law passed limiting concentration in print media and establishing transparency rules for all media.
HRT selects new television leadership among politically unaffiliated professionals. Ivo Pukanic publishes an interview with absconding ex-general Ante Gotovina. He met him while secret services were allegedly searched for him.
(April) German TV channel RTL launches Croatian outlet.
(June) EU grants Croatia candidate status.
(July) Miroslav Juric, former chief editor of local daily Novi brodski list, sentenced to 70 days prison for publishing an article on corruption, naming the attorney Stjepan Haramustek and the judge Mirko Svircevic. Justice minister Vesna Skare Ozbolt pays his bail saying she does not want to see a journalist in prison while she is minister.
(January) Stipe Mesic re-elected president.
(January) Jan Zuzul, minister of foreign affairs, resigns. He was accused of corruption, after the Internet News Site Index.hr reported on corrupt business relations between Zuzul’s wife and the businessman Ivan Karin.
Europapress Holding (EPH), belonging partly to the German WAZ media group, takes over 70% of the daily Slobodna Dalmacija.
(March) Styria Medien AG starts tabloid 24 sata.
(September) Journalist Josip Jovic fails to appear before ICTY in The Hague and criticizes the ICTY in press conference.
(October) Jovic arrested on the order of the ICTY charged with contempt of court. He and colleague Marijan Krizic, managing editor of the far-right weekly Hrvatsko Slovo, are charged with revealing, in 2000, the names and statements of witnesses, including protected witness President Stipe Mesic during the case against general Tihomir Blaskic in 1997. Krizic appears before the ICTY and is discharged. Also accused are Stjepan Seselj, editor of Hrvatsko Slovo, Ivica Marijacic, editor of Hrvatski List and Domagoj Margetic, journalist with Novo Hrvatsko Slovo. They face up to seven years prison and a fine of 100 000 euros.
(November) Well-known author Predrag Matvejevic sentenced to 5 months prison for defamation. He wrote an article entitled, “Our Taliban” in the daily Jutarnji List, in which he accused other writers of spreading nationalist hatred in the Balkans. Sanader publicly criticizes sentence, calling it “unacceptable”.
(December) Drago Hedl, editor of FT, receives anonymous death threats by mail for his reporting on abduction and murder of Croatian Serb civilians in Osijek in 1991 and 1992.
(December) Ex-general Ante Gotovina, head of “Operation Storm” in 1995, arrested in Tenerife, Spain. He was officially indicted by the ICTY on 21 May 2001 for crimes against humanity – plundering, displacement and killing of Serbs in Krajina – and had been in hiding since.
Change in defamation law, transferring burden of proof to the prosecution.
(March) Ivica Marijacic (above) fined 15 000 euros for obtaining from the former head of the SIS (Croatian intelligence service) the name and a transcript of the testimony of another protected witness in the Blaskic case, this time a Dutch army officer.
(June) Carla del Ponte, chief prosecutor of the ICTY, decides against prosecuting Marijan Krizic, Stjepan Seselj and Domagoj Margetic.
(August) ICTY fines Jovic 20 000 euros for his part in the Blaskic case; it fines Margetic 10 000 euros and sentences him to three months prison.
(November) Croatian Journalists Association adopts “Codex of Honour of Croatian Journalists”.
This outlines a code of ethics covering professional rights and responsibilities.
(December) Journalists Danko Druzijanic and Goran Rotim return to work after suspension by the HRT director Mirko Galic for “lack of professionalism”. They reported on comments Mesic made to a gathering of Croatian émigrés during a visit to Australia in the early 1990s: “We were twice victorious in the Second World War and we have no apologies to make […] The first time was on 10 April 1941 [date of the proclamation of an independent fascist state] and the second at the end of the war, when we were again on the side of the victors.”
(March) Austrian media group Styria takes over 75% of leading business paper Poslovni Dvevnik.
(March) Start of ICTY process against Zagorec (see Jan 2000) in absentia.
(April) Branimir Glavas, a founder of HDZ (which he left in 2006 when he founded the Croatian Democratic Assembly of Slavonia and Baranja) and member of Croatian parliament, indicted and arrested for having killed Croatian Serb civilians in the town of Osijek in 1991.
(June) FT announces its bank accounts have been blocked because of VAT debt; numerous court rulings against FT impose an additional strain on their accounts. FT accuses government of favouring government and nationalist media by writing off their VAT debts and creating unfair competition.
(June) The ICTY orders prosecutors to find out how classified documents leaked to the Croatian media. This could lead to prosecutions. Journalists have until now only been prosecuted by international courts for allegedly revealing the identity of protected witnesses. International media organizations claim this poses a new threat to journalists covering the ICTY and could constitute a violation of press freedom and the right to critical and independent coverage of international tribunals.
(October) Croatia becomes non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for the 2008/2009 term.
(October) Journalist Zeljko Peratovic arrested for publishing “state secrets” – for which the maximum sentence is three years in prison – on his blog. He revealed names of Croatian secret service agents allegedly connected to war crimes in the southeastern village of Gospic in the 1990s. He refers to the existence of a video of witness accusing former defence minister Gojko Susak (now dead) and a parliamentary deputy president of involvement. He is released one day later.
(November) Journalist Dusko Miljus receives a threatening message in the form of an obituary with his name and photo in daily Vecernji List; the paper later apologizes. He had written on arms trafficking between the EU and former Yugoslavia, naming people with alleged links to the criminal underworld.
(November) Parliamentary elections: the strongest party is again HDZ; Sanader remains PM. Glavas (see above) re-elected to parliament; this restores his immunity from prosecution and he is released from detention.
ICTY rules against eight journalists for revealing classified information in cases of Ante Gotovina, Ivan Cermak and Mladen Markac. They are the vice-editor-in-chief of HTV Goran Rotim; HTV journalists Djurica Drobac and Josip Saric; print journalists Davor Ivankovic (Vecernji list), Sinisa Pavic and Jasna Babic (Slobodna Dalmacija); and Snjezana Pavic and Ivan Zvonimir Cicak (Jutarnji list).
Concentration of print media ownership reaches unprecedented level. Austrian Styria group owns approximately 46% and EPH (Europa Press Holding) 43% of overall print sector sales. Media Law criticized as too imprecise; however, it clearly states that no entrepreneur should be allowed to control a market share of more than 40%.
(March) ICTY process against Gotovina, together with generals Ivan Cermak and Mladen Markac for their involvement in Operation Storm opens.
(March) VCP (Vienna Capital Partners) acquires 75% holding in Nacional.
(April) Attack on Ivo Pukanic, co-owner and columnist of Nacional, who narrowly escapes death when a gunman fires at him outside his home in Zagreb.
(May) Around 40 HRT journalists sign a petition against programming director Domagoj Buric who wrote a memo encouraging more “patriotic” emotions in a new TV show.
(June) FT closes because of financial problems after negotiations with EPH fail.
(June) Dusko Miljus, Jutarnji List ‘s crime correspondent, hospitalized after two men on motorcycle beat him with a baseball bat.
(June) Trial against Glavas adjourned until September because of poor health of one of co-accused.
(July) Nato members sign accession protocols for Croatia, signalling final stretch of its quest for membership.
(September) Corruption in Zagreb University: more than 100 arrested over the sale of university diplomas. Twenty-one professors, including the head of a parliamentary anti-corruption committee, among those detained. Croatia’s biggest corruption case since independence.
(September) Austria extradites Zagorec to Croatia. He comments: “This will open a Pandora’s box.”
(October) Ivana Hodak, daughter of Zagorec’s lawyer, gunned down in her home. Sanander appoints new minister of justice, Ivan Simonovic, a new minister of interior, Tomislav Karamarko, and a new police director, Vladimir Faber.
(October) Car bomb kills Nacional‘s Ivo Pukanic and marketing executive Niko Franjic. According to editor-in-chief Sina Karli, Pukanic had intended to give evidence against Zagorec. He also intended to testify against the Italian-based cigarette mafia.
(November) New death threats against journalist Drago Hedl, who had acted as a witness in the trial of Branimir Glavas (see above).
(November) Zagorec, accused of abuse of his former position as vice minister of defence, pleads not guilty in court.
(November) Hrvoje Appelt, journalist at weekly Globus, threatened with a fake bomb under his car.
Timelines compiled by Hanna Ronzheimer
- See: Mark Thompson, Forging War, Avon: Article 19 1994. On the subsequent role of the Serbian media in "Forging peace", see Mark Thompson in Eurozine: http://www.eurozine.com/articles/2001-11-30-thompson-en.html