Yugoslav Journalist Sees The Other Side

Posted: April 06, 1999

You might remember Dragan Janjic.

He's a journalist from Belgrade who visited Philadelphia a couple of years ago and wrote a column in these pages declaring that our city was more violent than his entire country of Yugoslavia.

He's not about to make that argument these days. Not with Albanian refugees streaming out of Kosovo. Not with missiles raining down on Belgrade.

We checked in on Dragan by phone yesterday at the Beta News Agency in Belgrade. That's a news service similar to the Associated Press, though on a much smaller scale, and Dragan's the deputy editor-in-chief there.

He and his co-workers try to be as independent as possible, though that's not easy with the government censorship - what he refers to as "the rules."

Anything his agency reports about military operations - and war casualties - must come from the Yugoslav government. And he's not allowed to send reporters to Kosovo.

This does not surprise Dragan. "There are no circumstances for democracy in a state of war," he says.

Most people in Belgrade think the refugees are leaving their homes in Kosovo because they want to, says Dragan. It doesn't matter that many in Belgrade get CNN. "The majority of people believe that CNN is lying," says Dragan. "They think that CNN is making stories worse than they are."

For his part, Dragan tends to believe that people wouldn't leave their homes unless they were forced to. But he does think that many of the stories of atrocities we're reading in America are wrong - propaganda put out by the Kosovo Liberation Army.

"I personally believe that not so many people have been killed. NATO says that well-known Albanian journalists and politicans are dead, and then we see them alive. So what is that?"

Dragan admits its hard to remain objective, particularly when your city is under attack. He worries a lot about his wife and 12-year-old son.

But he is also frustrated because, like most people in Belgrade, he thinks it's wrong for NATO to attack Belgrade because of what's happening in Kosovo.

"I am against this kind of solution to any problem."

When Dragan visited Philadelphia and other U.S. cities, he found Americans were a much warmer people than he had expected. He still likes Americans, despite the war.

'It does not change my opinion," he says. "Not in my soul."

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