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Feature: Balkan Busts, Bloodshed Continue

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6/26/99

While the bombs might have stopped falling, the casualties in Yugoslavia's war on independent media are still coming in. In fact, the military respite Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic has is giving him more energy and resources to devote to rooting out any remaining opposition and consolidating his power.

It is not a war of words, either. Central to the conflict is radio station B92, a 200-watt free radio station in the capital city of Belgrade. After ten years on the air (and two busts during that time), a third - and possibly final - one happened shortly before NATO bombs began to fall on Serbia and Kosovo.

The Yugoslav central government raided Radio B92, seizing its equipment and briefly detaining its chief operators. After maintaining firm control over the hardware, authorities apparently upgraded it, assembled a new "management team," and opened up a "new" Radio B92 a few days after the raid - with a signal five times stronger than the original B92 ever put out.

During the air campaign, word about what was happening in Serbia and Kosovo was sketchy, as more and more Western journalists fled an increasingly dangerous assignment and the native independent media were driven underground.

Now, the dust has settled, but the fires still burn. The Serbian government has co-opted B92 and is using it as a propaganda tool.

Meanwhile, B92's original staff, who previously went underground to avoid arrest, have begun to resurface and reorganize. While still off the air, they have established a new Internet home, and are working reestablish links with the network of other free radio stations in Yugoslavia.

This is not an easy job, containing several risks to both life and property - more independent radio and television stations have been silenced in the past week. Others in Serbia's free media movement have been murdered for pushing too hard for the truth. And people can now be shot for misdemeanor crimes in Yugoslavia.

Staying true to the word "independent," Radio B92 is placing blame equally; while they've never been shy about critiquing their own government, the station has had very sharp words for NATO actions and allies. It's been practically the only group to publicly challenge the accuracy of the coverage and interpretation from both sides on the past few months' events.

While the Western media's spotlight has focused recently on Radio B92 and its plight, the attention has actually made it more difficult for them to rebuild. The founding staff are under continual government surveillance and just breaking free long enough to get a few words out to the rest of the world is hard enough right now.

It's tough to find a "victory" in this story - ethnic cleansing of Albanians has apparently ceased in Kosovo, and the Serbian government is licking its wounds from a vicious NATO spanking. But it's come at the price of the entire free media scene in Serbia. Even though bombs didn't fall on B92's transmitter, the station's just as silent now as if they had.

It certainly puts the potential for two FCC agents in ties showing up at your door in a completely different light, doesn't it?