Lost in America

By: Bret Senft Serb journalists virtual exiles in U.S. while war rages

Sitting in the offices of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in midtown Manhattan last week, Nikola Djuric's unshaven face registered both shock and resignation as he spoke of his situation as a virtual exile from Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's regime.
On March 24, when NATO forces began bombing his country, Djuric and five other independent Serbian journalists were in CPJ's offices, the final stop on a three-week tour sponsored by the United States Information Agency. CPJ staff immediately turned over their phones and e-mail system to the journalists to contact family and friends back home, and within days, four of the group had left the United States - two to Serbia, one to Sarajevo, another to a location in Europe.
Two remained in New York: Djuric, a former television news director and anchor who bought and managed an independent radio station in Nis, Serbia, and Vesna Radivojevic, a reporter for an independent daily newspaper in Belgrade.
CPJ staff contacted Freedom House in Washington, D.C., a nonprofit human rights group promoting U.S. foreign policy and free-market reforms, which promptly enlisted the two in its Visiting Fellows program: 10-week internships that will send Djuric to the Voice of America in Washington, Radivojevic to the Toledo Blade. The internships provide a much-needed stop gap while they plan their next move. Both fear persecution should they return to Serbia - certainly while a state of war exists.
Djuric was already facing two months in prison, he says, for operating without a broadcast license (never issued by the government despite his efforts to apply for one). When war was declared, all men ages 16 to 60 were mobilized for armed service. Being out of the country, and unable to respond to the draft, Djuric could be accused of being a deserter.
"This is not for everybody," he says. "I am very worried that my case is specific. Can you imagine the situation if I go back? I will very probably be accused of being a foreign agent," along with his wife, who freelanced for Radio Free Europe. At press time, she and their four-year-old daughter had traveled by bus from Belgrade to Budapest, applying for a visa at the U.S. embassy to join Djuric during his internship.
For now, Djuric can only proceed to Washington and hope his wife and daughter will join him. "What's next?" he asks, somewhat dazed. "I am not sure exactly. In Nis, I had some influence, with many friends who are business partners. Now, I am nobody here - in another country, with nothing."
Contacted at the Toledo Blade, Radivojevic echoed such sentiments, although she was determined to return to Serbia. "I have no such charges against me. Still, it is dangerous in our country. Even before war started, if you were a member of the free press, you were constantly labeled as a traitor, Western spy, enemy of the state. It was hard to work a normal job."
When the bombing started, she appeared at a CSJ press conference in Washington, speaking out against Milosevic and his silencing of independent media. Since then, she has appeared on the Jim Lehrer Newshour, CNN, and NPR.
"So, yes, I was concerned that I would be arrested if I go back. And now, with the killing of Slavko [Curuvija, a publisher of an independent Belgrade daily newspaper and weekly magazine who was shot to death outside his Belgrade home on April 11], the situation has become even more serious."
Her immediate plans? "I will be a kind of guest at Toledo Blade for the next few weeks. I have no plans because the situation in Yugoslavia is very unclear. I would like to go back to my country. I didn't have any plan to stay here in America. Only three weeks and a half, because I have a friend in New York and had planned to stay a few days more, and then go back to Belgrade. But it seems someone else is arranging my life, not me. It's not a very comfortable situation."

?(Editor & Publisher Web Site:http:www.mediainfo.com) [Caption]
?(copyright: Editor & Publisher April 17, 1999) [Caption]


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