- Bosnia's Beacon of Hope
In August 1993, Oslobodjenje—the independent daily newspaper of Sarajevo—marked its fiftieth year of publication. The anniversary bore a heavy symbolic weight, for Oslobodjenje was launched as an antifascist paper during the Second World War and now, five decades later, finds itself facing a new form of fascism. Since the beginning of the siege of Sarajevo in April 1992, our once-beautiful ten-story glass and aluminum office building has been under constant fire from Serbian forces. When the first rounds struck our walls, I called together our employees and offered to allow all those who feared for their own or their families' safety to leave. "Those of us who stay will continue to publish Ostobodjenje each morning, no matter what happens and how [End Page 134] many of us survive," I said. Just a few of our colleagues, mostly women with young children, decided to evacuate. We helped them aboard the last buses and planes leaving Sarajevo for Belgrade or Zagreb. Everyone else resolved to stay and keep the paper alive. Behind their choice lay a threefold sense of responsibility. First, to the tradition of Oslobodjenje: the name means "liberation," and we felt that we could not betray our antifascist tradition at a moment when Sarajevo and Bosnia were facing a new appearance of this evil. Second, responsibility to our profession: if hundreds of foreign journalists could risk their lives coming to Bosnia to cover the war, how could we—whose city and country were under attack—even consider giving up? Third and no less important was our responsibility to our readers: we simply could not leave them without a newspaper at a time when they were deprived of everything else.
Thus began the fight for the survival of Oslobodjenje. For all of us it was truly a unique professional experience. We had to work under life-threatening circumstances. From their stronghold in Nedzarici, just 100 meters away, Serb gunners targeted Oslobodjenje's building with all kinds of deadly fire—from the high-powered rifles of snipers, from machine-guns, from mortars, even from tanks. I happened to be in the building once when they roiled a tank into position and started shooting at us. Hit by a tank projectile, that glass and aluminum structure behaved like a living thing, as the immediate sound of the explosion was followed by a few excruciating seconds of what sounded like screaming. They scored seven hits on that occasion.
Since it was dangerous even to approach our building, I decided to organize work in seven-day shifts. A team of about ten editors would come to work each Monday and stay there for a whole week in our atomic-bomb shelter, preparing the paper, sleeping, and eating whatever we could provide them, which was not very much, of course. When our building was constructed in the early 1980s, we used to make jokes about the communist paranoia that required us by law to install a bomb shelter in such an elegant new structure. Now it was a godsend, the only place where our editors could work safely. We also rented a few offices in downtown Sarajevo for reporters covering frontline skirmishes, civilian casualties, hospitals and other public services, activities of the government and UN officials, diplomatic and cultural events, and the miseries of daily life in a city under total siege and permanent shelling.
Beside the life-threatening conditions under which we had to work, there were all kinds of other obstacles to publishing a daily newspaper in war-torn Sarajevo. To begin with, our entire distribution and sales network, consisting of dozens of vehicles and hundreds of kiosks, had been destroyed. No driver or salesperson would come to work, so journalists took on those jobs themselves. A few of them would come in their cars each morning and they would deliver the paper to Sarajevo [End Page 135] neighborhoods under fire from snipers and mortars; there, other colleagues would be waiting to take copies of Oslobodjenje for sale on the streets.
Then we faced another problem: for many months of the siege it was impossible to bring even a single roll of...