February 10, 1997 in Nation/World

Opposition TV May Be Best Tool For Milosevic Foes

Chicago Tribune
 

The new directors of Yugoslavia’s first opposition-controlled television station must have an inkling of what lies ahead. Their nightly news broadcast is introduced with theme music borrowed from “Mission Impossible.”

With a total of two cameras, a budget that exists mostly in theory and a staff of about 30 that works mostly for free, Kragujevac’s city-owned TV station faces an uphill struggle just to stay on the air, but at least its mission is clear:

“We have to show people what democracy is. We have to help them liberate themselves from their fears,” said manager Vidosav Stevanovic.

The possibility of gaining control of local television stations is probably be the most significant aspect of the opposition coalition’s victory in 14 municipal elections last November.

That’s because in Serbia’s highly centralized system of government, municipalities have little authority.

But they do control a number of local broadcast outlets, and if Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic makes good on his commitment to restore the election results, it would mean the first serious challenge to the monopoly of state-run TV Belgrade.

Before the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, Kragujevac was the Motor City of the Balkans. Its auto industry employed 45,000 workers who produced 250,000 cars a year, including the Zastava and the Yugo.

Today the place is a wreck. A staggering three-quarters of the work force is unemployed or, as the Socialists prefer to put it, on “mandatory vacation.”

The new mayor is Veroljub Stevanovic, 50, who was a manager at one of the auto plants. He readily admits there is little he can do about the economic mess.

As mayor, he is lord of the parks, the cemeteries, the sewers, the library and a few small enterprises. “We’re talking crumbs, really.” The police department is controlled by the central government, as are the auto factories, the utilities and any other enterprise that employs more than a handful of people.

The only real asset left to city administration is the TV station.

“In this country, few people read newspapers, but everyone watches TV, and its influence is critical when we are talking about forming public opinion,” said Borivoje Radic, the new City Council president.


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