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17. 07. 2019.

Author: Jelena L. Petković ???source???: UNS

Davor Lukač: Radošević and Dobričić saved by journalist solidarity

- You’re waiting and waiting, and then you realize they were missing. A few hours passed, and the panic aroused. We alarmed the police just to find out they never showed up at the police check-point. This means they took the turning to the right. They went towards Magura. The panic intensifies. The night sets and we’re checking if there was any shooting.

They say there wasn’t any shooting, which is a good news. I have launched – not only me, but some other colleagues as well – a wide action, I felt I had to save them. The vital move was made by the colleague who contacted Kati Marton, the President of the Committee for Protection of Journlaists (CPJ) and wife of Richard Holbrooke. That was the decisive moment that prevented their killing. In the evening, the problem was how to reach Radošević’s parents and wife and tell them he was missing, tells Davor Lukač for the Journalists Association of Serbia (UNS) and journalist of the FoNet agency, while recalling the kidnapping of the colleagues from TANJUG – reporter Nebojša Dobričić and photo-reporter Vladimir Dobričić, who were captured by KLA in October 1998, near the Priština airport of Slatina. 

Lukač was a reporter for TANJUG in Kosovo in 1998 and 1999. Director Zoran Jevđović sent his for the assignment from Belgrade as an experienced reporter who used to report from the war fields in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The kidnapping of his colleagues came particularly hard on him, as it was he who was supposed to be in the vehicle with the PRESS sticker, halted by KLA. 

- That morning, the police notified me, that a car full of bullet holes was found near the airport. I was supposed to go and work in the fields with Kića who has been just like me across all the war-zones and we were a tandem. At the same time we learned that the OSCE Observer Mission headed by William Walker should arrive. As that was the most important event of the day in Serbia, I stayed in Priština and told my colleague Radošević to take over the field assignment. The area I sent him to was supposed to be a safety zone. Kića hurried to make the best photos possible assuming the logic that they were safe as they were within the reach of the Yugoslav Army mortars, and the army was positioned at the airport. Radošević was not acquainted with the terrain, although he was from Priština. They rushed straight into the KLA members, tells Lukač. 

Weary because the colleagues have gone missing, Davor Lukač pulled all the strings he had as a journalist – and there were many as all – soldiers and policemen just like reporters were going from one war-field to another. Even a reconnaissance aircraft was lifted to the air. 

- The aircraft recorded the TANJUG’s “Yugo Florida” in the Sedlare village. Even more important information was – there were no bullet holes on the vehicle. A huge stone was lifted off our chest. However, they didn’t let the Red Cross to visit them, so we obtained the information in other ways. We kept pressuring Adem Demaqi and Ibrahim Rugova. At each press conference I kept asking the same question. When I went to Demaqi’s office, he told me: “Let them write a request for amnesty”. It crossed my mind that they’re alive and that he knows where they are. And then one Albanian journalist, an elderly gentleman (now deceased, unfortunately), secretly passed on to me that they will be freed on the Flag Day (28thNovember), but that I was not supposed to tell anyone as someone could then do something stupid, says Davor Lukač.

The TANJUG reporters were freed in front of the TV cameras in the Dragobilje village on the 27thNovember 1998. In the meantime, their colleagues journalists kept protesting in Belgrade, but also in Priština. A long time reporter of FoNet thinks that the level of solidarity and persistence of journalists significantly affected the decision to free them: 

- It also helped that they are not maltreated in detention as the public was aroused. Foreign reporters also supported our side. The KLA feared the finger pointing if they kill the reporters. Kića hasn’t been drinking ever since the Dayton Agreement. On the night when he was freed – he had a rakija. The police came at that moment. They said they wanted to interview him. I asked Kića if he wanted that. He replied: It doesn’t even cross my mind. I told the policemen: Gentlemen, please do come tomorrow. 

The Radio Priština crew - Ranko Perenić and Đuro Slavuj, went missing on the 21stAugust 1998. Their families and colleagues still keep looking for them. 

- I had so many topics I used to discuss with my countryman Slavuj, and so we were sitting together two nights before their disappearance. The worst thing is that the reaction in case of Perenić and Slavuj was too late. The question is whom they came across and what happened to them. In this case we faced the wall of silence. What I know for sure is that the then Director of Radio Priština, Milivoje Mihajlović, reacted immediately and without delay and raised the alarm, but it did not get any feedback. 

Daily killings

The murder of Enver Maloku, journalist, writer and chief of the Kosovo Information Centre (KIC), who was killed on the 11thJanuary 1999, was largely discussed – recalls Lukač – but the reasons for the crime remained hidden behind the veil of secret.

- As for the case of Maloku, the only fact is that the man is dead and that each side has their own story. It was the time of intra-Albanian liquidations caused by political dominance, but there were also the intra-Serbian ones. There were murders of criminals, and for them the situation was ideal to attribute the killings to the other side. An Albanian mafia guy called Tito was murdered in a Priština suburb. Everyone was aware it was the war of Albanian criminals among themselves, but they immediately said – the Serbs killed him. I was unaware of the kidnapping of Ljubomir Knežević in May 1999. Albanian reporters back then used to tell me – the guys from Drenica come here and they do not care about anything. And that’s exactly how it was. And how important was a reporter then and on top of it – in such a small place like Vučitrn. 

The reporters who witnessed crimes in the war fields of former Yugoslavia, fought against their traumas by working, by throwing oneself into the machine which leaves no room for thinking about what one has been through. 

- In Kosovo, when we were in the fields – the police was securing the roads while KLA were shooting. I was watching how the bullets cracked the asphalt behind the car. One policeman fell, he was shot. A month later I learned he died. I felt horrible. I asked myself thousands of times – was he securing that road because we were passing there? The worst thing I experienced was when a car where I was got shot multiple times near Gornja Klina. And the biggest fear I felt was when our tire got flat near the place called Careva česma in 1999 (on the Priština-Peć road). That is the spot which divides Drenica in halves, and where they leave a Serb on the road when they kill of kidnap him just in order to instigate fear in the others. It was foggy and the visibility was not even one meter in front. A colleague was driving, while I was going on foot in front of the vehicle, so that he could see me, and I could see the road. We were hoping that KLA would not spot us because of the fog. What we have is the reporters’ Vietnamese syndrome that doesn’t differ much from the one of the people who took part in combat operations. The worst thing is to remember. But not in any way and under any circumstances in front of the children. 

Rattlesnakes in Kosovo

 In addition to the risks the profession is exposed to, says Lukač, it also used to happen that the profession was sacrificed. 

- There were cases of professional and judiciary abuse such as interrogation of the Mazreku brothers in front of the cameras by then journalist Milovan Drecun and about the Klečka crime. I asked the investigative judge – aren’t you ashamed? The two of them were held there beaten up, they couldn’t even walk. If Drecun asked them if they would kill their own father – they’d say yes. In summer 1998 we were taken to the Ćafa Dulje fold and were shown how KLA had the underground shelters and bunkers. I walk a bit further on and I see these were the bunkers and trenches of the former Yugoslav Army (JNA). I realised it was a backup line position in case of an attack coming from the direction of Albania, and as KLA had among its members the ex JNA officers who knew the positions of trenches and bunkers, they just dug ‘em up and made them functional. When I said out loud what I noticed, they attacked me and said I was a traitor. On the next day, the Priština daily “Jedinstvo” ran the article titled “Captured Serbs Kept in Bunkers with Rattlesnakes”. How did the rattlesnakes find themselves in Kosovo?  

Except from situations like these, Lukač points out that there was more responsibility among reporters than today, because “they were professionals”. 

- I think that solving of murders and kidnappings of reporters remains important nowadays only for their families and none else. Those people are forgotten because the rhythm of life is such that things that happened only the day before yesterday are also forgotten, and not to mention something that had happened 20 years ago. Who remembers Milan Pantić today or the reporters killed in Bosnia? 

Bizarre moments

- When Đuro Slavuj and Ranko Perenić were kidnapped, their wives went to the Red Cross HQ which was accommodated in a villa in the Priština suburb of Grmija. The Circle of Serbian Sisters also came along to give their support, and Nebojša Radošević was there to report about the event. As the women from the Circle of Serbian Sisters were not allowed in, they started throwing stones at the villa and across the yard. And at that very moment, Radošević was holding his dictaphone as he was taking the statement of Slavuj’s wife. One of the flying stones hits him in the head. If the stone went only 20 centimetres farther – the women who came to support Slavuj’s wife would have broken her head! While I was driving Radošević to have his head stitched, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, says Davor Lukač. 


Fear from travelling 

- When Nebojša and Kića were freed, I made an arrangement with colleagues to prepare a celebration in Stara Kapetanija in Zemun. However, Nebojša had a completely understandable fear from travelling and he refused to move anywhere out of Priština. I called the then President of the Temporary Executive Council of Kosovo, Zoran Baki Anđelković, and I asked him to arrange an airplane to take Nebojša to Belgrade. In disbelief, Nebojša thought there was only one seat for him on the plane, and he told his wife that he was actually travelling by car. He was surprised to see that the transportation was meant only for him, recalls Lukač. And his wife Olivera then came by car to Belgrade to the modest celebration for a small circle of the “Tanjug folks” friends. 


News blockade for the sake of idyll 

- Irrespective of my conflict with Jevđević who though I was against Slobodan Milošević – and he was right in that respect – he provided me with everything I needed for the field work. My decent relation with my media house lasted until they appointed an ideologically impassioned person after whom – in autumn 1998 - they started appointing, as Priština branch media bureau chiefs, the people were classic spies. Accordingly, there was a man who ordered that only press releases of JUL should be broadcasted and run. But when it became critical, there was nobody there. After the withdrawal of Yugoslav Army from Kosovo, I kept sending reports to my media house about people being killed in the streets, but the state-run media never published those. For them – all was idyllic under the international administration. I even witnessed a murder, a kidnapping, but those news have never seen the light of the day, says Davor Lukač.


One man – one question 

 - Adem Demaqi was the so-called political representative of KLA. At press conferences he had two principles: the first was – one man, one question. And the second one was to answer the question in the language in which the question was asked, provided that the languages were limited to Albanian, Serbian and English. Besides daily contacts with the people from Demaqi’s surrounding regarding the disappearance of reporters, I used the opportunity once a week to ask him at the press conferences – sometimes even impertinently if I do not get the requested question – to ask again what happened to Radošević and Dobričić. “Sir, you are impertinent”, he told me on one occasion. I replied: I may be impertinent, but I will not stop until you tell me what happened to them”, says Lukač. 

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