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Papers honored for independence during and after Bosnia’s war

June 2, 1997

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) _ Three newspapers from the former Yugoslavia received the prestigious Gold Pen of Freedom award today for their independent voices and refusal to be muzzled.

Sharing the prize, awarded by the World Association of Newspapers at its 50th annual congress here, were Oslobodjenje of Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina; the Feral Tribune of Split, Croatia; and Nasa Borba of Belgrade, Yugoslavia.

The Paris-based World Association of Newspapers, known by its French acronym FIEJ, said the three newspapers were singled out ``for their courageous and often heroic struggle to keep objective journalism alive.″

Though the war is over, newspapers, radio and television stations across the region are locked in a struggle against government authorities trying to curb an independent and often critical press.

Oslobodjenje has received several other international awards for surviving fire, bombs, snipers and newsprint shortages to publish every day during the 4-year siege of Sarajevo. It has become known as ``the newspaper that refused to die,″ and its staff of Serbs and Croats, Muslims and Christians has inspired many in Bosnia and around the world.

``Oslobodjenje was the daily target of shells, bombs and bullets _ but it was not prevented from coming out every day of the 1,003-day siege,″ said Oslobodjenje’s editor-in-chief, Mehmed Halilovic.

The anti-war Nasa Borba, which means ``Our Struggle,″ was Serbia’s first non-government daily and remains the country’s most reliable newspaper. It was set up by journalists who defied Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic’s 1994 takeover of the Borba publishing company.

Nasa Borba, the first Serbian paper to ditch the old communist-style, pro-government approach in favor of independent reporting, is harshly critical of Milosevic and his regime.

His administration, bowing to public opposition, last month reluctantly dropped proposed restrictions that would have restricted private ownership of newspapers and limited the broadcast range of Serbia’s independent radio and TV stations.

``Our newspaper has tried to create an atmosphere where tolerance and democracy can flourish,″ said Nasa Borba’s publisher, Dusan Mijic.

The Feral Tribune astonished many when it first hit the stands in 1993 at the height of the war. Breaking ranks with many other Croatian newspapers that are either controlled by the government or support it, the satirical biweekly has become known for its biting criticism of officials in Zagreb and elsewhere in the former Yugoslavia.

Though satire remains a staple, the newspaper mixes in serious political stories and news analysis. Seeking to silence it, the Croatian government has brought about 50 lawsuits against the paper.

``We work in a country with only one political party,″ said Feral Tribune deputy editor Heni Erceg. ``We’ve been called state enemies.″

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