Belgrade sacks anti-Milosevic journalists

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WHEN Gordana Djurdjevic turned up on Monday at the Serbian television building where she has worked for 37 years, in the classical music department, the doorman snatched her card away and told her never to show her face again.

Ms Djurdjevic was one of 1,500 journalists sacked this week without warning from the state-controlled television and radio network in the biggest single purge of political opponents of Serbia's President, Slobodan Milosevic.

'It wasn't being thrown out that hurt but the manner, which was heartbreaking,' she said. 'They would not allow me to finish off my special programme on Rachmaninov. But I knew it was coming. I was active in the opposition, so I was finished.'

The media squeeze follows in the wake of last month's crushing victory at the ballot box by Serbia's ruling Socialist Party, led by Mr Milosevic. The purge was not unexpected. Television and radio have long been regarded as by far the most important weapon in the arsenal of the ruling Socialists. Almost non-stop coverage of the fighting in Croatia and Bosnia has played a key roled in diverting the attention of the voters from their plunging living stahdards.

Among the victims of the purge were all the journalists and cameramen who held leadership positions in the unofficial independent trade union, set up to combat overt political interference in Serbia's state media.

One young fired journalist said: 'They say we are not patriotic enough, but I am patriotic. I am ready to die for my country. The problem is I am not ready to lie for it.'

Filip David, former editor of the film section, and well known as an activist in the independent union, complained that the sacked journalists were not even allowed into the building to take their things away. 'This is an ethnic as well as a political purge,' he said. 'Most Muslim and Croatian employees have also been thrown out. They are settling accounts with anyone opposed to racial discrimination and the manipulation of the media.'

The sacked journalists all shared a reputation for holding unwelcome political views.

'I was well known as a journalist who opposed the nationalism of Slobodan Milosevic,' said Olivija Rusovac, fired as radio commentator from Serbia's parliament. 'I joined the independent union, so I expected to be fired,' said Dragan Nikitovic, another sacked sports journalist. 'I am an old dissident, and now I have got to pay for it.'

Some leaders of the independent union blamed the rapid growth in influence in the state media of the ultra-nationalist Radical Party of Vojislav Seselj for their abrupt expulsion.

Mr Seselj has led public campaigns against alleged CIA and Vatican-backed traitors working in the media. After the recent elections brought his Radicals one-quarter of the vote, Mr Seselj is better placed than ever to pursue the struggle for ideological purity in the Serbian media.

The official union, closely allied to the ruling Socialists, defended the sackings. In a statement, the union blamed Western sanctions against Serbia for what they call the 'necessary rationalisation' of the number of employees.