Velickovic was one of the Velickovic wrote about that Amor Mundi captures Logic would suggest that "We will be able to Velickovic is a Serbian On Nov. 3, 1996, elections "Nearly" is the "Certainly," Velickovic It wasn’t the first Velickovic resurfaced in Those conditions were heightened In this poisonous atmosphere, Alexandria ran into The Oct. 5 storming of the At the end of our phone Independents like Alexandria The answer to Velickovic’s Richard Byrne is a writer
last people to see Curuvija alive, which put him at the center of a controversy
in Belgrade last week over a surveillance report leaked to the press from the
state security service. According to the document, secret police agents followed
Curuvija on the afternoon that he was killed, almost up to the very minute that
he was gunned down. Since Velickovic ran into Curuvija not once but twice that
same afternoon, they put a tail on him as well, following Velickovic right up
to the front door of his apartment.
afternoon in his self-published book of observations on the NATO bombings in
Belgrade, Amor Mundi, which came out last year. He says that he can’t
vouch for the absolute authenticity of the leaked document, but he is emphatic
in saying that the report’s account of his encounters with Curuvija that
afternoon is entirely accurate. "Whoever wrote the report," says Velickovic
on the telephone from Belgrade, "put in things that I had forgotten."
Belgrade’s paranoia during the NATO bombings succinctly and pungently.
For instance, Velickovic writes that at the commencement of the bombing in March
1999, "The nearby ‘New York’ restaurant is still open, but the
owner has erased the old name and written the new one on a piece of paper–‘The
Velickovic would be an optimist about the revolution that has swept Milosevic
from power at last and installed a fragile democratic government under Vojislav
Kostunica. Though he is optimistic about the future of Serbia’s politics,
he’s less sanguine about its consequences for his magazine and for Serbia’s
independent press in general.
work freely," Velickovic tells me by telephone, "but I doubt it is
an end to our troubles. It will now be a matter of how to survive in a free
market. The problems will now be less political and more economic." He
adds darkly that Alexandria Biblioteka might not survive the postrevolutionary
transition and quotes to me the observation of a prominent Hungarian journalist
about his travails after the fall of the Berlin Wall and collapse of Eastern
Europe’s communist infrastructure. That journalist, says Velickovic, "told
me that ‘it was better for me to be a dissident than [it is] now in a market
independent media veteran. I met him a few years ago when the weekly that I
worked for in St. Louis hosted him as a visiting journalist. Ostensibly, I was
to impart the wisdom of American journalistic practice to him. Since Velickovic
was at that time the editor-in-chief of NIN (Serbia’s equivalent
to Time), that was a simply ridiculous notion. Not only had Velickovic
guided NIN to independent financial status during his tenure, he was
busily restoring the magazine’s journalistic credibility as well–a
tall order in the hyper-nationalistic and paranoid Belgrade of those years.
There wasn’t much the vapid alt-weekly press in the U.S. was going to teach
him. So I asked him what he wanted to do (among other things, meet writer William
Gass) and we did that instead.
were held in Serbia. Opposition parties united under the "Zajedno"
(or "Together") banner were defeated at the national level, but they
won municipal elections in a number of major Serbian cities, including Belgrade,
Nis and Novi Sad. When the regime of Slobodan Milosevic started annulling these
elections, it kicked off a three-month wave of protests that nearly swept Milosevic
from power and forced him to recognize Zajedno’s November election victories.
operative word here, especially as far as Velickovic was concerned. Zajedno
quickly fell apart in a spat of internal politicking exploited by Milosevic,
and Velickovic was among the first media victims that Milosevic targeted. The
management of NIN kicked him out of the editor’s chair that spring,
precipitating a six-week strike by the staff.
says of his firing, "it was Milosevic and his wife Mira Markovic who were
behind it. He did it in his own way, which was to make difficulties and problems
for me through the management of NIN."
time that Milosevic and other politicians had threatened Velickovic. In a chapter
of Amor Mundi titled "A Short and Very Personal History of Threats,"
he mentions threats communicated to him from Bosnian Serb general and indicted
war criminal Ratko Mladic and murdered Serb paramilitary leader Zeljko "Arkan"
1998 as the editor of Alexandria Biblioteka. He started it in an even
chillier environment for independent media with the support of the independent
weekly Vreme and help from the Open Society Institute and the Fund for
Central and East European Book Projects. "It was obvious that we missed
a magazine of its type in Serbia," Velickovic observes. "Serious but
popular. It was a challenge, too, to start a magazine about international political
and cultural matters in a country where xenophobia and isolation were at their
by two factors. The first was a draconian "Information Law" passed
by the Milosevic regime. Its most cunning and devastating provision allowed
those who merely felt wronged by an article to sue the media outlet that published
or broadcast the material. This wasn’t a libel law, but merely a means
by which offended Milosevic cronies could sue media outlets in courts rigged
by the regime. The whopping "fines" that resulted from such "trials"
stifled most independent media and put a few out of business. The second factor,
of course, was the NATO bombing and the martial law that accompanied it.
Velickovic made some gutsy choices for Alexandria, including the publication
of portions of Tim Judah’s often unflattering study, The Serbs,
and Noel Malcolm’s Kosovo: A Short History. He also chose to publish
translations of essays by economist Jeffrey Sachs and philanthropist George
Soros. A Serbian translation of Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism
was published on- and offline. "It was especially a challenge during
bombing and martial law," Velickovic says. "But I do think that we
had a very important role as a small light in dark times."
continued difficulties right up to the revolution. This past summer issue of
Alexandria, in fact, was kept off the newsstands by continuing harassment
of the magazine’s distribution network. "That group was chased off
the streets by Milosevic’s police," Velickovic observes. "They
were not able to sell many issues."
Yugoslav Parliament building was the defining moment of the Serbian revolution,
but those who know the Balkans well might point to the seizure of state media
outlets that day as even more important. State media in Serbia had a large part
in bringing Milosevic to power and it fanned the flames of nationalist hatred
that resulted in four wars in a decade. On Oct. 5, the lockstep state media
changed its stripes overnight. The daily newspaper Politika, for instance,
was a primary mouthpiece for Milosevic’s regime; it was "independent"
by Oct. 7. State television and radio were equally and instantly "flexible."
conversation, I ask Velickovic about this sudden 180-degree change in the state
media and the public’s reaction to it. He argues that "a great number
of people knew that we lived in lies. So there is a skepticism. I am a big skeptic
about Politika and state television. I doubt that they can be easily
transformed. They must be changed completely. You can keep the hardware, but
you must change all the software." He says the "new software"
is already available in independent broadcast media like Radio B92 and weeklies
will soon fight it out in a nascent capitalist economy where the major media
outlets that supported Milosevic have suddenly ditched him for a new look. "It
will be a struggle for the market," Velickovic says dryly. On the upside,
he notes that Vreme had healthy gains in circulation over the last month
or so. "But will that continue?" asks Velickovic. "Or will people
turn to more conservative and softer papers that are not so critical?"
question may decide whether Serbs have traded in the harsh isolation and misery
under which they languished for more than a decade for a milder form of the
based in Washington, DC, who has freelanced extensively in Central Europe.
Velickovic was one of the
Velickovic wrote about that
Amor Mundi captures
Logic would suggest that
"We will be able to
Velickovic is a Serbian
On Nov. 3, 1996, elections
"Nearly" is the
It wasn’t the first
Velickovic resurfaced in
Those conditions were heightened
In this poisonous atmosphere,
Alexandria ran into
The Oct. 5 storming of the
At the end of our phone
Independents like Alexandria
The answer to Velickovic’s
Richard Byrne is a writer