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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

MEDIA WATCH: Serb Media Needs U.S. Help

Once again, another round of media cleansing is in full swing in Serbia. Slobodan Milosevic must be preparing for elections, a new Balkan war or both.

Since the beginning of his authoritarian rule in Belgrade as president of Serbia and Yugoslavia, Milosevic has continuously waged a crusade against the independent media. Now it looks as though this war is entering its final stage.

In the past couple of months, more than 20 television and radio stations have been closed in Serbian cities and municipalities where the local governments are in the hands of the opposition.

At the same time, the Milosevic regime is trying to impose media darkness in the capital, Belgrade. The major opposition television outlet, Studio B, recently managed to avoid being closed down only by paying a hefty fine of $1 million, imposed by the federal authorities for a nonexistent breach of law.

Independent radio B2-92 and other members of the Association of the Independent Electronic Media are under government pressure and police surveillance. Independent dailies such as Danas, Blic, Glas javnosti and many local outlets are being fined and ordered to lower their selling price and have had their journalists threatened by the police.

"Repression over independent and opposition media in Serbia is old news. But, since the beginning of the new year, this repression has reached an unprecedented level,'' stated Reporters Without Borders, an international organization.

"Sophisticated despots are today adopting more subtle methods to muzzle the press,'' said Ann Cooper, director of the Committee for the Protection of Journalists, announcing that Slobodan Milosevic had made the committee's 10 Worst Enemies of the Press list in 1999.

By the end of this year, municipal and federal elections are scheduled to be held in Serbia. Under fair conditions and with international supervision, they probably would have an encouraging outcome - with a defeat for the ruling "red and black coalition'' (which includes socialists, communists and right-wing radicals). Independent media outlets are one of the major obstacles on Milosevic's path to the elections.

Besides the election factor, Milosevic's media offensive presents a clear warning signal of the probability of another armed conflict in Yugoslavia. Two years ago, before the "ethnic-cleansing'' campaign heated up against Kosovo Albanians, the flagship of the Serbian independent media, Nasa Borba daily of Belgrade, was closed, as well as other media outlets that had warned of the catastrophe into which the Milosevic regime was pulling Serbia.

Kosovo is history. It's Montenegro's turn now.

While the Milosevic propaganda machine rages, accusing Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic's administration of betrayal and alliance with NATO, the Belgrade regime is imposing an economic blockade on Montenegro, closing border crossings and increasing military presence on the territory of the republic.

"The international community must not allow itself to repeat in Montenegro the mistakes made in Bosnia and Kosovo,'' warned Gareth Evans, president of the International Crisis Group, during a recent visit to Washington.

Evans requested an initiative from the administration of U.S. President Bill Clinton and the U.S. Congress for preventive measures conducted by NATO, with a clear warning to Milosevic of the retaliation Serbia would face should the Yugoslav army attempt to overthrow Milo Djukanovic's government in Podgorica.

Because this is also a year of presidential elections in the United States, international crises are being viewed with restraint in Washington. Milosevic will attempt to take advantage of that situation unless he is warned or stopped in time.

And here we return to the beginning of this story: A small, but important step in this direction would be for the United States to fully support the independent media in Serbia. Attempts to strangle them are warnings of yet another explosion looming in the Balkans.

Slobodan Pavlovic is the U.S. bureau chief for the South-East News Service Europe. He contributed this comment to The Washington Post.