Radio Free Yugoslavia

Last winter Serbian opposition leaders called on Slobodan Milosevic to respect their parties’ victories in the local elections held in November. Milosevic ignored them, and announced that the politicians loyal to him would remain in office. Night after night protesting crowds assembled in Belgrade chanting “Democracy.” While the government stations paid little attention to the demonstrations, Radio B-92, a small independent FM station, broadcast them live; no one doubts that B-92 had much to do with keeping the demonstrations going. Intent on stopping the antigovernment protests, Milosevic banned B-92. The government charged that the station was operating without a license and disconnected B-92’s transmitter.

The station, whose signal hardly reaches beyond Belgrade, was organized in 1989 by Veran Matic, one of the present writers, as a politically independent alternative to Belgrade’s radio and TV stations, which are largely controlled by Milosevic and his allies. B-92 regularly broadcasts reports on the corrupt and dictatorial practices of the Milosevic regime, and Milosevic was waiting for a chance to close it down. By using the Internet, however, the station was able to fight back. Not only in Belgrade but throughout the world listeners could find B-92’s website and hear its broadcast in Serbian or English through the software program Real Audio, which makes it possible to hear reports on the Internet. “Virtual” protesters kept the non-violent demonstrations alive, even pelting cyber-eggs at state-run web pages.

International radio broadcasters augmented the domestic protest. The Voice of America, the BBC, and Radio Free Europe, all of which already had Serbian or local language services of their own, rebroadcast the reports carried on B-92 from transmitters abroad. The local Belgrade radio suddenly could be heard across Serbia.

Immediately after the station was banned, Ivor Roberts, the British ambassador, showed his support by visiting its offices on the fifth floor of a run-down socialist-style building in downtown Belgrade. Carl Bildt, then the international High Representative in charge of the civilian side of the Dayton peace agreement in Bosnia, the US State Department, and Kati Marton of the Committee to Protect Journalists also made protests on behalf of the station.

Internet technology and international pressure proved to be effective weapons against Milosevic. After two days he withdrew his edict forbidding B-92 to broadcast. It seems likely that he was convinced that lifting the ban would win Western praise and deflect international attention from his electoral fraud. Immediately afterward, B-92 was able—through funds provided equally by the BBC, the British Foreign Office, USAID, the European Union, and George Soros’s Open Society Foundation—to gain access to a satellite that linked twenty-eight independent local radio stations, covering 70 percent of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which is now made up of Serbia and Montenegro. Its broadcasts by satellite continue.

B-92 is now also starting a television network linking the small private TV stations that have been broadcasting throughout the former Yugoslavia. It will again make use of a satellite, the easiest way to hook up …

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