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March 27, 1995
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 182
The "Borba" Case

The Independent Media in the Federal Parliament // Foreign Conspiracy

by Milan Milosevic, Zoran Jelicic and Ivan Mrdjen

There were no doubts that Federal PM Radoje Kontic's Government which has been accused of violating the Constitution in the "Borba" case, and which, as Srdjan Darmanovic of the SDP CG said: "showed ruthlessness and malice in the political attack against the independent media", that this Government, thanks to a simple count of votes by the ruling coalition, would remain in office. In defending the Federal Government's behavior, the Socialists kept to a simple formula, trying to prove that the matter didn't concern "the strangling of the media, but the protection of property". The opposition called this stand stark cynicism, considering that the privatization of Borba was investigated but not that of the ultra-rightist "Novosti", which were also founded on the property basis of the former Newspaper Publishing House "Borba".

Several opposition deputies said that the regime had not investigated many cases of "suspect privatization" and that it had not prevented the enriching of Boss Jezda (Jezdimir Vasiljevic, businessman and banker) and Mme Dafina (Dafina Milanovic, private bank owner) and many others. Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) deputy group leader Milomir Minic announced, however, that the authorities would look into the property of the newly rich, and then start a regular ownership restructuring of the economy. Some SPS officials have made similar statements, and this means that at least one current in the SPS wants a new "expropriation of the expropriators" and the building of a new corporate body.

It hasn't been stated explicitly, but the fact that the investigation of affluence has been announced by the stifling of the press and the demonization of pro-Western sympathies and a new persecution of pro-Western groups, leads to the conclusion that the spirit of the new expropriation carries a communist hard-line dogmatic stamp which is not followed with the persecution of war profiteers, but with a renewal of xenophobia and self-isolationism.

In the past few months the old theory of a foreign conspiracy has been repeated here - starting with Serbian Vice-PM and Constitution drafter Ratko Markovic via the regime official in the Association of Journalists Dusan Cukic to Yugoslav United Left (JUL) leader Mirjana Markovic (also Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's wife). Thanks to this a new and systematic persecution of the independent media has been conducted, and isolationism, an anti-European stand and nationalism have reared their ugly heads all over again.

Democratic Party (DS) deputy Miroljub Labus demanded that the Federal Assembly distance itself from a statement by SPS deputy Vlajko Petkovic, who said that Chairman of the Executive Board of the Soros Foundation for Yugoslavia Sonja Liht "didn't have a Serbian name". Vlajkovic is well known as one of the spearheads of the 8th session of the League of Communists of Serbia (when Milosevic rose to power) and as one of the executors of the editorial staff of Student in 1987. Speaker Radoman Bozovic did not find it necessary to react, even though he did try to limit the debate, and the next day, when rebel-radical MP Mr. Golubovic read out the surnames of "Nasa Borba" editors whose names didn't have a Slavic -itch ending, he just mumbled a caution.

Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) deputy Milan Komnenic and several other deputies pointed out that the scandal over Borba had damaged Yugoslavia's international reputation and that it compromised all attempts at making a turnabout towards peace.

Regime representatives didn't even bother to explain the purpose of strangling a paper which had always urged peace, during the turnabout towards a peace policy, nor why the present Borba, a paper controlled directly by the Government is conducting a hate campaign.

The SPS either didn't know how, or didn't wish to explain what they had done, but continued to nurture an atmosphere in which all that becomes possible is also unimportant (M. Komnenic), which is the principle of their rule. Leader of the Socialist deputy group Milomir Minic said cynically that the paper Nasa Borba had in fact "betrayed" the opposition by coming out, and that by being printed it denied claims that there was no free press. DS deputy group leader Ivan Vujacic compared this stand with the situation in which a man is caught in the act of strangling his victim and then starts excusing himself by pointing out that the victim is still breathing.



A Monstrous Public

by Zoran Jelicic

Does the Government intend to administer the media founded with private means

Federal Assembly Speaker Radoman Bozovic's frequent "mumbling" (according to the notes) and his verbal interruptions of Democratic Party (DS) deputy Miroljub Labus, cut short on Wednesday a brief but very important polemic on the authorities' eventual intentions of putting some order in the domestic media.

It all started with Federal PM Radoje Kontic's report, or rather that part in which the PM explains the Federal Government's intentions in the controversy over "Borba". Labus reacted the next day, saying that the use of intentions and not arguments was difficult to discuss, and that PM Kontic had not made the debate any easier, all the more so as he spoke of the Federal Government's intentions which were based on a draft Law on Information which had been withdrawn because of the great number of proposed amendments. Labus went on to say that the Federal Government's intentions could not be assessed on the basis of draft laws sent before the Assembly, and that among them one of the most important was the draft Law on Firms, in which public companies were defined according to activities - independently of the type of ownership - so that privately-owned firms could find themselves under state control and administration.

Article 402 of the draft law says that information comes under the group of activities which are of public interest. In the following article methods of "protecting public interest" are given, but only some of them refer to privately-owned firms or those with a majority of privately-owned shares. In this way public interests will be protected in the field of information, regardless of the type of ownership, with the approval of statutes and acts which establish the price policy, and by delegating one third of the supervisory board's members. By introducing approval of the statute, Labus believes that the issuing of permits for the founding of public media has been introduced, including stricter forms of control as foreseen in Article 404 in which the state organ, and not the court, is given the right to assess if a firm is working in accordance with the law. We can believe that only good laws will be proposed and adopted, said Labus, but that is no reason for the state to take over judicial competencies. If the draft decrees remain, the state organs will have the right, along with a number of other measures, of taking over the administration of privately-owned public media, under Article 60 of this law.

And this is where the real danger for the freedom of information lies. Namely, the above mentioned article regulates when the state takes over the administration of socially-owned firms, so the connection with the previously interpreted decrees of the law really mean that private firms in some fields of public interest have been made equal with socially-owned firms. I don't wish to say that the Government will resort to property law suits in order to stifle freedom of the press, said Labus, but the draft law does allow for such a possibility, so that the danger must be removed.

Federal Vice-PM Nikola Sainovic reacted to Labus's warning, saying it represented a monstrous accusation, and that he was familiar with deputy Labus's qualifications and his abilities in interpreting the law. Then followed what can be found at the beginning of this text: Labus barely managed to state the decrees of the law which give reason to doubt somebody's good intentions. After this no Government member was willing to enter the polemic, even though they probably wouldn't have had to outshout the Speaker.


A Contribution to the Debate Over "Borba"

by Ivan Mrdjen

Ex "Borba" director explains how former "Borba" employees could have "robbed" the state, and if this "robbery" has now been avoided

If it has become the fashion to cite Nobel Literature Prize recipient Ivo Andric, then we would do well to quote the following sentence from his novel "Omer Pasha Latas": "In times such as these, when many people are frightened and confused or humiliated and endangered in their interests, evil is easily accepted and believed, and it spreads further. (...) In the endless retelling and whispering, all add some of their personal worries and hatred."

In this week's endless Assembly debate on a vote of no confidence in the Federal Government over events linked to "Borba" at the end of 1995 and the beginning of this year, it was obvious that a whole series of wrong procedures had been easily accepted and that some explanations were believed to such an extent that some deputies, especially those who defended the Government, did not find it necessary to add any personal comments. By repeating persistently that the "matter concerned a controversy over property" and "preventing the robbery of state property", i.e. "preventing the acquisition of 18,000 sq meters of business premises in the city center for a small sum of money", gentlemen of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DPS) and the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) were busy persuading themselves and the public of the appropriateness and validity of cadre and other changes in "Borba".

The problem however, lies in the fact that very few of their opponents made an effort at tackling the problem at this level, but the "endangering of the freedom of the media" was repeated ad nauseam, so that the debate developed along two, different levels. Those who commented that the paper "Borba" was the least important issue in the whole affair were not far from the truth. That is why there probably won't be much point in repeating some facts again:

18,000 sq meters: This is the entire space of the building in Nikola Pasic Square and in Kosovska St. Of this, "Borba" d.d. used only 1050 sq meters or 5.8%. It is true that "Borba" d.d. has registered itself as the owner of the entire space, but this has to be proved though court suits with firms which sprang out of the former NIGRO "Borba". Even if "Borba" d.d. were to win these suits, it would not be able to use the entire space, because the socially-owned firm "Stamparija Borba" (Borba Printing Works) occupies 10,000 sq meters, while the remainder is divided up between the other firms ("Novosti", "TV Novosti", "Nada", "Revijalna stampa" - whose ownership transformation is not being brought into question, even though the matter also concerns "small money");

state property: state property, or rather, that which the former state invested in the paper "Borba" was not to be found in "Borba" d.d., nor is it now under the control of minister/director/editor-in-chief Brcin. It is in great part to be found in the "Stamparija Borba" (the new building in Kosovska St., and in machines which were acquired during different periods) and in "Borba Plasman" (newsstands, vehicles, facilities in the provinces). The division of assets among the former OOUR (basic organization of associated labor) of the once single "Borba" was never carried out, and this is the source of the problems which will follow all firms which sprang from this house for a long time. Unless of course, the law that all firms involved in the field of information - are public, so that they are all part of state property anyway;

"In the hands of individuals.": even if "Borba" d.d. had managed to win all the law suits and by some miracle managed to move out all the present inhabitants of these buildings, greedy individuals would not be able to lay their hands on the 18,000 sq. meters, since the capital structure in "Borba" d.d. is state, social and private. Thus, 17% (about 3060 sq meters) would still be state- owned, 4.4% (800 sq meters) would go to C market, Trgovacka bank, the "Slavija" COOP company and KMS, the Podgorica Tobacco plant and Kreditna bank, while YUBMES and the Union Bank would also have something. "Borba" d.d. employees would get 11%, i.e. a little under 2,000 sq. meters. Dusan Mijic who is criticized of having an insatiable appetite would be left with 6,600 sq. meters. This is not a little, but he wouldn't be able to do much with it without the approval of the other owners, including the state. A SPS deputy said without batting an eyelid that 18,000 sq. meters added up to 3,000 apartments, which means that Mijic would own 1,100 flats. True, they would have an average 6 sq meters, but then, jail cells aren't much bigger.

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