Obituary: Slavko Curuvija

ON 11 April at 4.51 pm, two masked men killed the journalist and newspaper proprietor Slavko Curuvija in front of his own house in Belgrade. Few political killings in wartime Serbia measure up to the loss of such a prominent and respected public figure. And the symbolic value of the act is even more ominous: if the sacred cows of the Serbian elite are not safe, then who is? The threat to Belgrade's intelligentsia comes not simply from Tomahawk missiles, but from what will happen after the Nato bombing of Yugoslavia.

Curuvija, who owned two Yugoslav publications, Dnevni Telegraf ("Daily Telegraph") and Evropljanin ("European"), was not a man to be scared easily. A crackdown on the Serbian independent media in mid-October last year put many off, but not him. He continued to publish blunders perpetrated by both the opposition and the government. The story goes that in closed sessions of the Serbian parliament Curuvija and his newspaper were almost continuously on the agenda.

Media legislation was hastily passed with a specific clause condemning criticism as "attacks on the constitutional order" of Yugoslavia. A few private papers folded while others - to say the least - toned down their reporting. But not Dnevni Telegraf. Curuvija didn't back off even though he was fined four times in October and November 1998, amounting to a total of some pounds 200,000. His office was emptied and sealed - he found another office. Printed copies of the paper were seized - he started printing it in Montenegro.

Born in 1949 in Zagreb, Croatia, Slavko Curuvija was a striking figure in every sense of the word: authoritative, courageous, successful. He graduated from the Faculty of Political Science in Belgrade in 1976 and spent the next two years studying political sociology. Between 1977 and 1984 he was a junior assistant at the Centre for Social Research in Belgrade. What then followed was a meteoric rise in the fourth estate, from career journalist to press baron. The first article he submitted to the influential weekly NIN in 1983 made a cover story.

Curuvija spent a large part of his career (1986-94) at the Belgrade daily Borba, working his way up from staff journalist to foreign correspondent and editor-in chief. From the early 1980s he regularly contributed to other major Yugoslav publications, such as Danas and NIN, as well as to those abroad, including The European, The Guardian and The Independent. He wrote Ibeovac (1990), a study of political persecution in Yugoslavia. He was everything a young apprentice would look up to.

Media coups were common in socialist Yugoslavia. Up to the mid-1990s the state financed each and every publication, and officials decided when they felt they were too critical or conspicuously anti-regime. This is precisely what happened to Borba in 1994 when Curuvija was the editor- in-chief. The all-too-liberal Borba was forced to change its outlook overnight, so Curuvija and his colleague Momcilo Djorgovic decided to establish their own weekly, called Nedeljni Telegraf ("Weekly Telegraph"). It was the first privately owned paper in Yugoslavia, and was an overnight success. Unlike most of the 1990s Serbian nouveaux riches, who dealt with straightforward merchandise, Curuvija and Djorgovic earned their fortune with an idea.

In a couple of years, Curuvija earned enough money to retire. But he decided instead on an even bigger venture: a political daily. He left his partnership with Djorgovic and in 1996 launched Dnevni Telegraf. Its motto was "sensational, exclusive, scandalous". Such a combination helped to create a circulation of 75,000, the third largest in the country. While Nedeljni Telegraf had been a commercial venture, its successor strove to be respectable. When I asked Curuvija if would he describe his tabloid paper as a Yugoslav Sun, he was almost offended. "No, it's more like The Independent," he said. In fact, it was both: Dnevni Telegraf published political scandals and at the same time had a think-tank of the best columnists in the country on its payroll. Together with the news magazine Evropljanin, it was part of a company that was worth more than pounds 3m.

Curuvija never discouraged gossip about his connections in high places. "That way they leave me alone," he used to say to his confidants. In fact, the furthest he got involved with political hierarchy was exchanging a few words with Mira Markovic, Milosevic's wife, over the telephone and going sailing with Radoman Bozovic, a member of the ruling Serbian Socialist Party. And that is as close to the Serbian regime as he ever wanted to be. In 1984 he had had a job as an analyst in the Federal Police - but he was kicked out after two years for speaking his mind.

In late 1998, however, sly political manoeuvring or mere bluff wouldn't work. In William Randolph Hearst style, Curuvija engaged in direct confrontation with the Serbian oligarchy. Together with the journalist Aleksandar Tijanic he published the most daring critique of President Milosevic ever to appear in the Serbian press, calling on him to resign and siding with the Montenegrian liberal Milo Djukanovic. He appeared in the US Congress and before the Political Affairs Committee Council of Europe.

Under the circumstances, this was enough to be accused of high treason. On top of it, Curuvija printed quantities of stories about politicians that nobody else dared to print. With these actions he created some powerful enemies: Vojislav Seselj, leader of the nationalist Radical Party, and the Vice-Premier Milovan Bojic, to name but two.

Today, it is the same Western countries Curuvija asked for help that are bombing Serbia. It is no time for heroes: Serbs who want to defend their homeland end up in trenches facing cluster bombs; while those who, against all odds, fight for a better, more democratic and prosperous tomorrow, end up with a bullet in the back.

Jan DeVries

Slavko Curuvija, journalist and publisher: born Zagreb, Yugoslavia 9 August 1949; (one son, daughter); died Belgrade 11 April 1999.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
Gary Lineker at the UK Premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Bale as Batman in a scene from
film
Arts and Entertainment
Johhny Cash in 1969
musicDyess Colony, where singer grew up in Depression-era Arkansas, opens to the public
Arts and Entertainment
Army dreamers: Randy Couture, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tvReview: It's not going to set the comedy world alight but it's a gentle evening watch
Arts and Entertainment
Umar Ahmed and Kiran Sonia Sawar in ‘My Name Is...’
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
This year's Big Brother champion Helen Wood
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Full company in Ustinov's Studio's Bad Jews
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Harari Guido photographed Kate Bush over the course of 11 years
Music
Arts and Entertainment
Reviews have not been good for Jonathan Liebesman’s take on the much loved eighties cartoon
Film

A The film has amassed an estimated $28.7 million in its opening weekend

Arts and Entertainment
Untwitterably yours: Singer Morrissey has said he doesn't have a twitter account
Music

A statement was published on his fansite, True To You, following release of new album

Arts and Entertainment
Full throttle: Philip Seymour Hoffman and John Turturro in God's Pocket
film
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie Minogue is expected to return to Neighbours for thirtieth anniversary special
tv
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be Lonely Island's second Hollywood venture following their 2007 film Hot Rod
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
    Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

    But could his predictions of war do the same?
    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

    Young at hort

    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

    Beyond a joke

    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

    A wild night out

    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

    It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
    Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

    Besiktas vs Arsenal

    Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

    The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

    Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment