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Sign of Hope Amid Balkans Thuggery : Multiethnic newspaper belies Belgrade Stalinism

June 03, 1993

During the 1930s, as the shadow of fascism lengthened over Europe, one common American refrain was that Europe was a caldron of ancient hatreds of which the United States was well-advised to keep clear. Germany was no saint, to be sure, but, on the other hand, England had much to answer for. Let them fight their own battles.

That faulty line of reasoning is now being taken by opponents of European and American involvement in the Balkans War. Rather than look closely at the separate Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian political realities, isolationist comment tosses all into the common Balkan caldron.

But the news of the last few days comes as a reminder of differences that will not down. Harvard University's Nieman Foundation--an institution whose fellowships, in American journalism, are matched in prestige only by the Pulitzer Prize--has awarded its Louis M. Lyons Award for conscience and integrity in journalism to the staff of Oslobodjenje (Liberation), the daily newspaper of Sarajevo.

What the 1993 Nieman Fellows wish to honor, they say, is not simply courage but professionalism and the powerful symbolism of an ethnically mixed staff. The staff of Oslobodjenje "have risked, and sacrificed, their lives to inform their readers, to keep them in touch with what life remains in their city, and to help them share their grief and hope . . . . They are Muslims, Serbs and Croats working together to keep their multiethnic community alive and intact. The newspaper, appearing day after day on whatever paper is available and passed from person to person, offers a powerful message."

Meanwhile, in Serbia's capital, Belgrade, fascist thugs of the Radical Party knock unconscious Mihajlo Markovic, a deputy of the opposition coalition, on the floor of Parliament. Vuk Draskovic, leader of the coalition, leads a protest outside Parliament and is so severely beaten by the police that afterward he is unable to walk and barely to speak. None of this is even mentioned, let alone reported, on the state-owned television station that is the sole source of news for most Serbians.

Dobrica Cosic, Yugoslavia's just-ousted president, has properly called Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic "an ideological pupil of Stalin's." Milosevic has brought the apparatus of communist totalitarianism intact into the service of his own fascist vision of the Serbian future. The tragedy is that high-minded, evenhanded, almost fastidious Western leadership has allowed this son of Stalin to snatch a ghastly victory from the jaws of communist defeat.

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