Tudjman seeks to muzzle a radio that aided his rise

A retired Croatian general, critical of President Franjo Tudjman’s drive to turn this small country into a military power in the Balkans, took to the airwaves today to spell out what he said was the folly of such a course.

“We don’t have the human, material or economic resources to be a regional military power,” said the general, Antun Tus. “Our future should be in alliances, not in exhausting ourselves to build up our armed forces.”

The broadcast was made over Radio 101, the last independent radio station in Croatia. It highlighted the fight by the dwindling number of news organizations in the Balkans to broadcast views contrary to those of the ruling parties that govern the six republics in the former Yugoslavia.

But Radio 101, which often gave airtime to Mr. Tudjman when he was a dissident challenging the Communist authorities, may soon be silenced by the man who used its studios as a platform to build his political career. And its demise, many contend, would effectively end any hope for independent news media.

“There is very little diversity now in the Croatian press,” said Marvin L. Stone, a former editor in chief of U.S. News & World Report and a visiting fellow at Zagreb University. “The government has either tamed, taken over or closed nearly all independent media. As far as Eastern Europe goes, only Serbia is in the same league as Croatia. President Tudjman is always parading, talking or smiling on the state-run television. There is no room for the opposition.”

New restrictive press laws, including a decision by officials at the Interior Ministry to limit the visas of foreign correspondents to three months, have been passed recently despite requests by Croatia’s European and American allies to end a government crackdown on the press. A new press law promulgated this month, intended to bolster Croatia’s bid to join the Council of Europe, gives the government the power to force newspapers to run corrections or clarifications, and sets the qualifications for chief editors. [Editor’s note: On Nov. 6, Croatia was admitted into the Council of Europe.]

There are troubling signs that Radio 101, which for 13 years braved the intolerance of Communist and nationalist politicians alike, will be turned over to Tudjman supporters when its license expires in November. The government commission that is deciding who will be awarded the frequency now used by the radio station has been busy the last few weeks handing out radio frequencies to party loyalists.

The station, with a 32 percent share of the Zagreb audience, according to independent telephone surveys, dwarfs that of any other radio station in the city. It can be heard by nearly a quarter of Croatia’s 4.7 million people. And its listeners say that losing the station would recall the days of a dictatorship many hoped had ended when Croatia declared its independence five years ago.

“The radio is a symbol,” said Nenad Vukadinovic, a lawyer. “It has given a voice, and hope, to those of us who yearn to see this country become a European democracy.”

The governing political party, the Croatian Democratic Union, controls all television and radio, along with three of the four national newspapers. The three independent newspapers are all currently fighting several government-backed lawsuits, any one of which, if successful, would throw them into bankruptcy. The suits were filed shortly after a new law was passed this year making it illegal to criticize the president or other top government officials. Government tax inspectors have also been searching newsrooms and combing the newspapers’ record books looking for irregularities.

The radio station, which broadcasts out of a cramped two-story building in downtown Zagreb, pumps out round-the-clock programming that includes popular call-in shows and rock music, although the 800-watt transmitter strains to reach the outskirts of the city. Reporters, editors and announcers often get their pay two or three months late.

Natasha Babic, a 30-year-old producer, stood recently in the door of a small studio, equipped with antiquated reel-to-reel tape players and old sound-mixers and turntables.

“The tactics used by the Communists to try to silence us are about the same used by Tudjman’s government,” she said. “And this is because, in many cases, we are still dealing with the same people.”

This New York Times article was first published Oct. 9, 1996. Copyright © 1996 by the New York Times Company. Reprinted by permission.