In a surprise raid yesterday, the Serbian government seized control of Belgrade city broadcaster Studio B, closing down its news program. The attack also pulled the plug on independent Radio B292 in Belgrade, which is situated in the same building. A statement released this morning over the signatures of Deputy Serbian Prime Ministers Vojislav Seselj, the leader of the Serbian Radical Party, and Milovan Bojic, a prominent member of the Yugoslav Left, said that the Republic of Serbia had taken control of Studio B because the station had repeatedly called for the overthrow of the Serbian government. [includes rush transcript]
Large demonstrations are underway throughout Belgrade. Some have said the country could quickly move into a state of emergency.
- Natasa Kandic, is executive director of the Humanitarian Law Center in Yugoslavia, which has offices in Belgrade and Pristina
In a surprise raid yesterday, the Serbian government seized control of Belgrade city broadcaster Studio B, closing down its news program. The attack also pulled the plug on independent Radio B292 in Belgrade. That’s the opposition radio station. A statement released yesterday over the signatures of Deputy Serbian Prime Ministers Vojislav Seselj, the leader of the Serbian Radical Party, and Milovan Bojic, a prominent member of the Yugoslav Left, said that the Republic of Serbia had taken control of Studio B because the station had repeatedly called for the overthrow of the Serbian government. The director and editor-in-chief of Studio B, who’s a member of the Serbian Renewal Movement — that’s an opposition movement — described the act as completely illegal. He added that it demonstrated that the government is virtually introducing a state of emergency in Yugoslavia.
Right now in Belgrade, mass demonstrations are beginning throughout the city, and scores of people are being arrested.
We’re joined in the studio in New York by Natasa Kandic. She is director of the Humanitarian Law Center in Belgrade. Usually there, she’s here now, and we’d like to get your response to this latest news.
Welcome to Democracy Now!
NATASA KANDIC: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think? Is this a surprise to you that they’ve closed down these independent media outlets?
NATASA KANDIC: Personally, me and many people from Belgrade and in Serbia expected some more repressive measures of government, because, you know, the end of — all people see that Milosevic’s power is close to end. But he will try to do everything to keep power. And closing the most important opposition media, Studio B and B292 and Radio Index, is the most serious attack on independent media in Serbia.
AMY GOODMAN: Why is this happening now?
NATASA KANDIC: I think that the regime of Milosevic is in big panic. They will try to do everything to stop democratic forces in Serbia, to stop changes, to stop — to see Serbia closed to European countries and to international community. He’s accused for war crimes. And he’s the only president of state in the world accused for war crimes. And everything is in connection with war crimes committed in Kosovo and in the former Yugoslavia.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think that Slobodan Milosevic should be tried at The Hague as a war criminal?
NATASA KANDIC: I don’t believe. I cannot imagine that Milosevic will be in the front of tribunal. Something will happen before that, probably. Probably. Yeah, I think, as many analysts in Serbia, that Milosevic will disappear in one moment.
AMY GOODMAN: Yesterday on Democracy Now!, we spoke with Jovan Ratkovic, who is one of the founders of Otpor, the student opposition movement that’s certainly more than a student movement at this point. He was talking about the — being very critical of Milosevic, but also being opposed to the NATO bombing. What is your stance?
NATASA KANDIC: You know, I always am asking myself why the international community didn’t bomb and stop Milosevic in ’92, because all people from the former Yugoslavia remember what’s happened in Vukovar, Croatia’s city Vukovar. At that time, it was the time to stop Milosevic. But the international community continued to support.
AMY GOODMAN: What happened in Vukovar?
NATASA KANDIC: Vukovar, the whole city is destroyed. It is a city without one house in path. Everything is destroyed.
AMY GOODMAN: Who lived there?
NATASA KANDIC: Serbs and Croats lived together. And during three months Serbian forces’ action towards Vukovar, every individual house was destroyed by Serbian and Yugoslav army forces.
AMY GOODMAN: Any people killed?
NATASA KANDIC: Yes. Many people were killed, but all Croats were expelled by Serbian and Yugoslav army forces. And at that time, everybody saw that Milosevic, as president, as politician, is danger, not only for other people, other nations, that he is danger for the peace in the world.
AMY GOODMAN: What did the NATO bombing do to, or for, Slobodan Milosevic?
NATASA KANDIC: You know, I think that NATO bombardment stopped Milosevic, stopped killing Albanians in Kosovo, and it was the main result of NATO. But after the end of war in Kosovo, international community didn’t have really strategy what to do after the war, how to improve situation, how to show Albanians that they are free, without, you know, laws, without infrastructure in Kosovo. Ordinary people expected from international community big changes, spent one year without electricity, without freedom to move to Kosovo, because, you know, minorities were attacked by extremists, but Albanians were attacked by some criminals and by lack of order and normal life.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Natasa Kandic. She is director of the Humanitarian Law Center in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. She is just in the United States right now as a major crackdown is taking place. Many people are calling it a state of emergency in Yugoslavia, where the independent media stations closed, radio and press, as well, people taking to the streets. Scores of people have been arrested. Protests everywhere.
Natasa Kandic, you are known for being the leading Serbian advocate documenting what happened to Albanians in Kosovo. What happened to Albanians? And also, then, what happened to the Serbs and the Roma since?
NATASA KANDIC: I note what happened to Albanians is the same thing what’s happened to Muslims, to Croats, during the armed conflict in the former Yugoslavia. Milosevic always attacked people from the former Yugoslavia. You know, he has a responsibility for thousands and thousands of missing people in Bosnia. He has a responsibility for thousands and thousands killed people, Albanians, in Kosovo and a few thousand missing Albanians. And I was in Kosovo because my human rights area is the whole of former Yugoslavia. Albanians, after Rambouillet Conference, Albanians were left to be alone. All international organizations left Kosovo, expecting NATO bombardment. In those situation, I could only to bring decision to go there and to be not only with myself, but with friends, with people without any protection. And I was there to see killing, to see humiliation, to see expulsion. And every time, after my returning to Belgrade, I was witness to see that people in Belgrade, Serbs, are without information what’s happened in Kosovo. And, you know, the war in Kosovo and the killing of Albanians is stopped, but Kosovo is part of Balkan region. Serbia is part of Balkan region. Nobody succeeded to stop Milosevic until now.
AMY GOODMAN: Did the bombing escalate the killing of Albanians?
NATASA KANDIC: No. I think that Milosevic took NATO bombardment as a explanation to organize expulsion of Albanians. It was, you know, planned. It was punishment. It was a strategy how to try to keep Kosovo. You know, a few hundred thousand of Albanians were expelled during the NATO bombardment. After the first day of NATO bombardment, Serbian forces began to expel Albanians, with killing, with robbery, with destruction of property, killing especially the young people, young boys.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think this would have happened to the extent that it did if the NATO bombing had not taken place?
NATASA KANDIC: You know, I never seen before, for the short time, thousands and thousands killed people. But, you know, it was — Milosevic took only NATO bombardment to try to keep Kosovo, and it was very useful for him to try to expel Albanians. And he thought that NATO will stop to bomb and expelled Albanians will stay abroad without possibility to return their houses. It was clear, because, you know, probably 300,000 Albanians left without their identity cards. Serbian forces, policemen, used to take them on the border, their passports, identity cards. It was clear that somebody, somebody from officials, ordered them to destroy, to destroy evidence that Albanians are the citizens of Yugoslavia and Kosovo.
AMY GOODMAN: What about what’s happened to the Serbs and the Roma people since? And for an American audience — I think most people never even heard of the term Roma — if you could explain who these people are?
NATASA KANDIC: Albanians are majority in Kosovo. Probably ten percent of population are Serbs, Roma, Muslims and Turks. And in practice, in the field, Romas are very close to Serbs. Muslims also are close to Serbs, because they speak the same language. You know, it was —- I was very surprised after the end of war when I saw that Kosovo Liberation Army began to expel minorities, especially Serbs and Romas. And I saw in the field -—
AMY GOODMAN: Are Romas gypsy?
NATASA KANDIC: The Romas are gypsy. And, you know, Roma succeeded to — they had really good social and cultural life in Kosovo, much better than in Serbia or in Montenegro or in the former Yugoslavia. They had schools in their own language. They had houses. They had small businesses. And I think that Kosovo will have a future as a democratic state if they establish conditions to return, especially Romas, and accept Roma as a part of Kosovo community. And at the moment, this situation probably is too early to think about returning of Serbs. But Roma, Roma is not only a minority in Serbia, in the former Yugoslavia; Roma are European minority without, you know, adequate protection.
AMY GOODMAN: What is happening to the Serbs in Kosovo right now?
NATASA KANDIC: I said that in situation, in presence of international administration, international forces, some part of Kosovo Liberation Army began to conduct expulsion, expelled Serbs, killing them, threatening them that they should leave Kosovo because their country is Serbia, not Kosovo. And, you know, 100,000 Serbs left Kosovo in accordance with a peace agreement, I think on police and members of Yugoslav Army and paramilitaries and armed Serbs. But 100,000 Serbs decided to stay in Kosovo, to live in Kosovo in different conditions, to see Albanians as government in Kosovo under the international protection.
And I am so sad to say, but Kosovo Liberation Army decided to change Kosovo, to change and establish Kosovo without minorities. And international community was not prepared to see and to deal with this situation. They came to Kosovo to protect Albanians from Serbian forces and Yugoslav Army and Serbian paramilitaries. They didn’t expect relation against civilians and minorities. And they spent one year in Kosovo watching what’s happened in the fields. And after one year, I think that international community has enough knowledge to improve situation in Kosovo, to show Albanians that they can achieve independency only showing a respect of minorities’ rights.
AMY GOODMAN: Natasa Kandic, can you talk about the Albanian poet Brovina, now in prison in Serbia?
NATASA KANDIC: Flora Brovina is a very simply, but very important Albanian woman. She’s a doctor, but she’s human rights and humanitarian activist. She’s only person in Kosovo who decided to stay during the NATO bombardment and to continue to work with refugees, with children and displaced persons from Kosovo. She spent, in April, a very dangerous time in Kosovo, working in her office and her center for refugees and children. And Serbian police arrested her to show that they had — they have power to do. Flora Brovina is only Albanian prisoner in Serbia who is willing to talk as a person who is worried for whole world. She is important not only for Albanian communities, from Serbian community; she’s an important person with her thinking for whole world.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you very much for being with us, Natasa Kandic, director of the Humanitarian Law Center in Belgrade.