June 9, 2001
BOB GARFIELD: The War in Serbia has been over for two years. The Slobodan Milosevic regime for six months. But the echoes in Serbian society still resound, in the media no less than anyplace else. One such reverberation involves B92, the independent radio and TV network that alone among Serbian broadcast media defied Milosevic to report on the systematic destruction from within of the Serbian nation. A hero of that journalistic struggle is Boyana Lekic who risked death as B92's highest-profile reporter and interviewer. Among those she exposed were the notorious Karic brothers -- a family of war profiteers who fabulously wealthy working hand in glove with the Milosevic regime. But recently the Karic family's connection to Boyana Lekic took a new turn in the form of a cash journalism prize and she has left her job as a result. Joining me now to discuss the situation is Nejbusha Sammardjic, a lawyer representing the Association of Electronic Media in Belgrade.
NEJBUSHA SAMMARDJIC: It's nice to talk to you.
BOB GARFIELD: Let's talk about the Karic brothers for a moment. These men are unabashedly war profiteers, are they not?
NEJBUSHA SAMMARDJIC: There is no doubt they are war profiteers. They started as poor musicians from Kosovo 11 years ago and became enormous millionaires. You can't become millionaire in a state which, which is undergoing sanctions and economic problems without being very close to Milosevic himself.
BOB GARFIELD: And in the post-Milosevic era they're trying to re-invent themselves as entrepreneurs and freedom fighters?
NEJBUSHA SAMMARDJIC:They tried to wash their hands of everything that has to do with Milosevic, in cooperation with Milosevic. They want to show off as people who have gained their wealth according to the law. That's why they founded few years ago Karic Foundation-- which is giving all sorts of money awards. Sometimes these go to academics; sometimes to scientists, sometimes to journalists.
BOB GARFIELD: Now tell me about Boyana Lekic.
NEJBUSHA SAMMARDJIC:Boyana Lekic for sure was a symbol of B92's struggle against Milosevic's regime and she is a good journalist, very popular. She--interviewed almost all opposition politicians, but also politicians within the Milosevic's regime. She was not afraid to question them. She for sure is a symbol of independent journalists.
BOB GARFIELD: And lo and behold, one of the latest recipients of a large cash award care of the Karic Brothers Foundation was-- Boyana Lekic.
NEJBUSHA SAMMARDJIC:Yeah. Boyana was one of three people awarded, and she decided to go there and to receive the award. The fact that Boyana received the Karic award for independent and professional journalism had an enormous reaction from all sides of society. A, a lot of journalists within B92 thought that in a way that was a treason. And finally after ten days of various public statements, TV shows, interviews, Boyana have come to a decision that she would, for the time being, leave the post of editor in chief and B92 television.
BOB GARFIELD:Now it has often been observed that in Serbia, particularly through the Milosevic era, hardly anybody was pure. There were always connections to people who were in one way or another doing business with the regime. Isn't that the case?
NEJBUSHA SAMMARDJIC: Yeah, I would agree with that. I mean the basis of Milosevic's regime is to form a criminal society in, in which every citizen would in a way be criminal because in order to survive he or she would have to broke some laws, so the reaction over this Karic award this year was so huge because if there are people who are clean, Boyana Lekic is one of them.
BOB GARFIELD:The fact that Boyana Lekic, this hero of independent journalism, has decided ultimately to accept the award in the first instance and then not to return it after the controversy, what does that tell us?
NEJBUSHA SAMMARDJIC: Well I can tell you what Boyana explained as her reason to accept the award. She told the public, she told me personally that the reason to go there and receive the award in public is that she wanted to show the hypocrisy of the society, because-- so many public figures are involved in Karic Foundation, and so many public figures were present when he awards were given, and nobody has criticized them. That was her idea. I really don't understand why she did it. I would prefer if she never received that award.
BOB GARFIELD: What effect will it ultimately have for journalism in Serbia?
NEJBUSHA SAMMARDJIC:Well-- the fist immediate effect it could have was the possible destruction of B92 credibility and-- B92 itself, but I think even Boyana has helped a lot that all other B92 journalists stay together in this and-- I think-- after all it would only have impact on Boyana's personal and career in life.
BOB GARFIELD: And what about that impact? Will she work as a journalist in Serbia after this?
NEJBUSHA SAMMARDJIC:She is a journalist [...?...] and she will always have the audience, whatever she decides to do. Personally I, I really - I admire Boyana. She is a brave woman. She faced Milosevic's regime and she was in a lot of trouble and she has never been scared and she continued fighting. I say I'm very sorry that she has decided to receive that award. I am not judging her. And I hope that she will return as-- a journalist very soon to--Serbian [...?...].
BOB GARFIELD: All right. Well thank you very much.
NEJBUSHA SAMMARDJIC: Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: Nejbusha Sammardjic is a lawyer representing the Association of Electronic Media in Serbia.