an area of the map for world news.
the October 2001 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 48, No.
an independent journalist in the Balkans during the past decade was
more than just an interesting line of work; the occupational hazards
included imprisonment or even death. Anyone tackling the job during
that period ran a gauntlet of brutal ethnic wars and authoritarian
post-communist and extreme nationalist regimes.
unsparing gaze: Perica Vucinic (Photo courtesy Reporter)
Perica Vucinic, founding editor and now manager of the independent
weekly magazine Reporter, has been a leader among those who
have endured these hazardsfirst as an independent journalist
reporting on wars and ethnic conflicts, and later as an editor establishing
an independent, unbiased magazine that brought to light the most sensitive
issues in the former Yugoslavias postwar societies, such as
war crimes, human-rights violations, and corruption.
Reporter was founded in May 1997 in Banja Luka, capital of
Republika Srpska, the Serb-run entity of Bosnia. Every individual
has to have a mission. I thought something positive should be done
in a war-devastated country. It appeared that this task was a huge
struggle, and I started to fight, Vucinic recalls of Reporters
editorial beginnings. Independence and professional journalism standards
were principles Vucinic fully respected as a young journalist, says
Vladimir Radomirovic, Reporters editor, who worked with
Vucinic at the independent Belgrade weekly newsmagazine Vreme in the
mid-90s. He wrote if not the best, then among the best
reports in the former Yugoslavia at the time, covering such conflict
areas as wartime Bosnia and Kosovo, Radomirovic recalls. Many
of Vucinics colleagues agree, adding that his investigative
reports about Serb concentration camps in Bosniaamong the first
stories of their kind in Serbiaprompted a storm of reaction.
It was very brave to report it then, as much as it was to leave
Belgrade and go into post-war Bosnia, risking his life, to found the
magazine [Reporter]. He created an outstanding magazine, promoting
peace and tolerance in an extremely intolerant postwar society, deeply
divided along ethnic lines and burdened by horrible war crimes,
says Aleksandra Niksic, a journalist with Agence France-Presse in
Belgrade who was a free-lancer in Bosnia during the war.
It was crazy from the very beginning, Vucinic recalls.
We were constantly under surveillance. Whenever I was about
to complete an issue [of the magazine], suddenly phone lines would
be cut off, e-mail passwords broken. I would find footprints in my
apartment, or I would hear from the police that they were planning
to beat up my reporter, he said. Even now, the magazine faces
such pressures in Bosnia.
In the late 1990s, the mounting repression of Serbias authoritarian
ruler Slobodan Milosevic compelled Vucinic to train his journalistic
sights on his homeland. During his rule, Milosevic waged war against
Serbias free media. Journalists and editors were routinely arrested,
tried, imprisoned, intimidated, and harassed. Some of them were forced
to leave the country, while Slavko Curuvija, editor and publisher
of Dnevni Telegraf, paid for his commitment to the truth with
his life in April 1999. A number of independent media were closed
either by brutal police actions or by crushing fines for trumped-up
With the onset of NATOs bombing of Yugoslavia in spring 1999,
Vucinic began to distribute the Bosnian edition of Reporter
in Serbia. Reporter became the most sought-after magazine
in Serbia because it had independent information, free of [the Milosevic
regimes] censorship, thanks to our Banja Luka location,
he says. We transported the magazine in boats, ferries, and
rafts over the Drina River separating Serbia from Bosnia, he
Reporter was the only light in Serbias darkness,
defying the repression of Milosevics regime, says Zoran
Mamula, of Belgrades independent Radio B92.
Reporter became a prime target of the regime in September 1999
after it published a cover photo of Mira Markovic, Milosevics
wife, with a cover line stating, Ten families rule Serbia, and
they are all ruled by the Godmother. The next issue, reporting
about Milosevic at the top of Serbias 10 wealthiest families,
was confiscated at the border. The articles authors, Vladimir
Milovanovic and Zeljko Cvijanovic, were charged with offending
state symbols of Yugoslavia.
When, a few weeks later, Reporter ran a commentary calling
Milosevic a dictator, Vucinic, as the responsible editor, was charged
with the same offense. He was unable to return to Belgrade, and distribution
of Reporter was banned in Serbia. Police confiscated copies
of the magazine smuggled from Bosnia, and later from Montenegro, at
newsstands, from newsboys on the street, even from readers. The Feb.
16, 2000 Reporter editorial explained the dilemma: If
a magazine becomes dangerous both for those who sell it and those
who buy it, what is left? The Internet. Due to regular confiscation,
Reporter is temporarily forced to become written electronic
media in order to avoid being a magazine read only by idle policemen
at border crossings.
The role of free media is to be a check on power, because only
then does their existence make sense. Reporter follows and
will keep following that principle. The problem in Serbia is that
the regime wants to control the media, which it is not able and will
not be able to do with Reporter, Vucinic wrote at the
time. By May 2000, the magazine had some 6,000 e-mail subscribers
and 430,000 hits on its Web site.
As Milosevics repression intensified, so did the need for independent
information. In April 2000, Vucinic re-launched Reporters
Belgrade edition as an underground publication, distributed at opposition
demonstrations, mainly by activists of the student movement Otpor.
People who were selling the magazine, and even readers in Belgrade,
Pozarevac, and Kragujevac, were beaten by Milosevics police
and paramilitary units, Vucinic says.
Eventually, the independent media prevailed: With Milosevics
ouster the ban on Reporter was lifted. By spring 2001, Milosevic
was behind bars while reporters and editors were free to do their
job without risk. Those were difficult times, I would say heroic
times. Luckily, we do not have to be heroes anymore, but we still
need a persistent, objective, and neutral stand to perceive what is
happening around us, Vucinic says.
Under Serbias freely elected democratic government, Reporters
role remains unchanged, says Vucinic. Now we are focused on
what the new authorities are doing. That independence and unsparing
vigilance makes Reporter a rarity among media in post-Milosevic
Reporter has also remained the leading independent magazine
researching and uncovering war crimes in the former Yugoslavia, particularly
by Serbs. Explaining his decision to cover this most unpleasant issue
in Serbia, Vucinic says: Besides the need to inform people,
to sell magazines, and to earn a living, the press has a mission:
to see who we are, what we have done, and who did it, so it will be
much easier some day to look at each other face to face. It is very
difficult for people here to admit that among us there have been war
criminals, but it is something that must be done.
Vucinic believes that Balkans journalists cannot afford complacency.
Regimes throughout the region will certainly not be grateful
to media, so we will have to fight again to bring the
Balkans into the democratic world. I am determined to
go on, he vows. I have to keep going; I do not know
any other way to work.