By: Larry Luxner
Small bilingual paper is clearinghouse for Balkan news p.
A BRONX, N.Y.-based ethnic newspaper is not quite two years old but has become an important source of information on Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Balkan conflict.
Illyria, published twice a week in English and Albanian, is the brainchild of Harry Bajraktari, a 35-year-old Albanian businessman who immigrated to the United States in 1970 from his native Kosova.
That region, populated mostly by ethnic Albanian Muslims, recently declared its independence from Serbia and is expected to be the next flash point in a war that has taken 100,000 lives and has devastated the former Yugoslavia.
“”We’re the only source of information that comes twice a week on Kosova,”” said Bajraktari in a recent interview in New York. “”We get calls from all over the country. Our voice is heard by senators, the State Department and on Capitol Hill.””
Adds Deborah Jo Angus, the paper’s managing editor, “”We pride ourselves on being the most comprehensive publication on the Balkans. We run on average between 10 and 15 articles an issue, more than anyone else. You might see one or two stories a day in the New York Times, but we try to delve a little deeper.””
Illyria, which means “”freedom”” in Albanian, was born in June 1991, the same week James Baker attracted a crowd of 300,000 people in Tirana and became the first U.S. secretary of state to visit Albania in more than 50 years.
The 24-page newspaper has appeared every Wednesday and Saturday since then. Some 4,000 copies circulate in the United States and another 5,500 are mailed to Europe and elsewhere.
For the moment, Illyria faces little competition. The only other newspapers serving the 250,000-member Albanian-American community are Liria ? a four-page monthly opinion paper published in Boston ? and the newly established Albanian Herald in Detroit.
Bajraktari declined to say how much he invested to launch the paper, but he does expect Illyria to break even in six months.
Angus says at least 40% of every issue is devoted to the Balkan crisis.
A typical recent issue of Illyria contained articles on President Clinton’s peace plan for Bosnia, the expulsion of 2,000 Albanians from Greece, growing Serb tension in Macedonia and Albania’s efforts to attract foreign investment in oil-drilling ventures. There is also strong local coverage of community activities, with news on everything from the latest Albanian Orthodox Church controversy to New York’s All-Albanian soccer team.
The paper also serves another function: It helps Albanians in their homeland and in the United States to learn English.
Advertisers ? mainly restaurants, travel agencies and immigration lawyers ? cater specifically to the Albanian community in New York.
In addition to subscribing to Inter Press Service, Reuters and the Associated Press, Illyria has two full-time staffers in Tirana; three in Prishtine, Kosova; one in the newly independent Macedonia, and one in Montenegro, which along with Serbia forms the greatly reduced Yugoslav Federation.
Correspondents file by fax, though that is not always easy to do in such countries. Until three years ago, Albanians could not even make overseas phone calls.
Another challenge, says Angus, is deciding what to print and what not to print. That is because of the “”disinformation oozing out of the Balkans,”” especially about reports of Serbian ethnic cleansing and Nazi-like atrocities against Croats, Muslims and other minorities.
Perhaps the strongest endorsement of Illyria comes from Albanian President Sali Berisha, the first democratically elected leader in Albania’s history. According to Angus, Berisha reads every issue and has publicly stated that the paper does a better job covering the news than any paper in Albania.
Angus adds that Illyria, which backs the self-proclaimed Republic of Kosova and refers to its leader as President Ibrahim Rugova, nevertheless resists emotional appeals for the reunification of the Albanian “”diaspora”” scattered throughout Albania, Kosova, Macedonia, Greece and Turkey.
“”We’re more interested in pursuing the idea of fairness and objectivity than we are in Albanian unification,”” she explained. “”We’re news reporters here, not newsmakers. Our editorial policy is democracy and freedom for
all ethnic groups in the former Yugoslavia.””
Angus says the paper’s most famous editorial was “”Bush’s Baker Blunder,”” an attack on the Bush administration for having pushed Baker to resign his post as secretary of state in order to head Bush’s re-election campaign. Baker had been instrumental in getting all sides of the Balkan conflict to sit down and talk.
“”We argue that the United States has missed the boat. If there were oil interests involved, there would be no question of involvement,”” she said, adding that unless Washington takes some drastic steps soon, the war between Serbs and Bosnian Muslims will spill into Kosova and Macedonia and possibly draw Albania, Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey into the conflict.
Besides the day-to-day fighting, Illyria also covers efforts by Eastern Europe’s formerly communist nations to bring democracy and free-market reforms to their people. Articles on Poland, Romania, Hungary and the former Soviet republics regularly appear because events there have an indirect bearing on the formerly communist Balkan states.
Without a doubt, the world’s focus on the Bosnian bloodshed has put Illyria in an enviable position as far as small ethnic newspapers go, but, as Bajraktari says, “”Even if the war stopped tomorrow, Illyria would still have lots of work to do.”nE&P
* “Our voice is heard by senators, the State Department and on Capitol Hill.””
*(Luxner is a free-lance journalist based in San Juan, Puerto Rico.)
*Albanian Continued from page 14
(See Albanian on page 37)