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Commission releases Chairman’s statement on the assassination of Slavko Curuvija

WASHINGTON — Today the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe released the statement of the Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) on the assassination yesterday of Serbian journalist Slavko Curuvija. Full attribution follows:

Mr. Speaker, yesterday Serbia lost a courageous citizen – one committed to an open society, to a free press, to reporting the truth. Slavko Curuvija was gunned down in front of his Belgrade apartment on Sunday by two men, dressed in black with black face masks. Branka Prpa, who was with him at the time, said that the murderers were certainly professionals. I extend my deepest condolences to her and to all of Slavko’s family and friends.

Slavko Curuvija was editor of the independent Serbian newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, as well as the news magazine The European. Though he had ties with Serbia’s establishment, this last year he sought his own independent course, and became a leading critic of the Milosevic regime.

Mr. Speaker, last December Slavko Curuvija testified before the Helsinki Commission which I chair. In his testimony, he said:

“I come from a country where there is no rule of law… By making an example out of me, the regime sends a message to all who would oppose it, intimidating and bullying all the independent media in the process… The crackdown on my publications and other media organizations has jeopardized the right to free speech in Serbia. The crackdown on the universities jeopardizes another basic human right, freedom of thought. Belgrade University has been deprived of autonomy, its professors have been sacked for failing to sign loyalty oaths, its students jailed for protesting… After all his other wars, Slobodan Milosevic appears to be preparing to wage war against his own people in Serbia and Montenegro.”

More recently, on March 8, Slavko Curuvija, was sentenced along with two of his journalists to five months in prison by a Belgrade court for “spreading false reports with an intention to endanger public order, ” dictator-speak for telling the truth. The three remained free on appeal. When Milosevic used NATO’s action against his forces as an excuse to eliminate any remaining independent media, Curuvija chose to shut down operations rather than succumb to state censorship. A week ago, according to today’s issue of The Washington Post, a pro-regime newspaper accused Curuvija of supporting NATO bombing and said that “people like him” will neither be “forgiven nor forgotten.”

People like Slavko Curuvija, who act upon their rights and freedoms and promote the protection of those rights, have fought for what is best for their country. Their patriotism is expressed in their opposition to a regime which does not want any independent voice, nor criticism. They see that Serbia only has a future if it becomes a democracy.

I ask the people of Serbia, and Serbs in this country and around the world, to think hard about what has just happened. If this Milosevic regime is willing to do this to an independent thinker in Belgrade, a Serb, why is it not possible that this same regime can be responsible for the genocides in Bosnia and now in Kosovo?

Is it worth rallying around Milosevic, who is President of Yugoslavia only through ruthlessly undemocratic means and who brought this upon Serbia? Can’t you see that Milosevic, not Curuvija, wants Serbia to be bombed, because he believes this will enhance his power and somehow justify getting rid of those who advocate freedom? I ask the people of Serbia to take a close look around you. Who has isolated you from a Europe more free and united than ever before?

Who has caused your living conditions to be so much less than they had been, or could be? The answer should be clear – Slobodan Milosevic. You must no longer allow his propaganda to succeed in convincing you otherwise.

Mr. Speaker, while we may have differences regarding what the U.S. role should be in stopping the genocide in Kosovo, we should be able to agree on one central point: Slobodan Milosevic is the problem, and he must account for his crimes. In my view, the cold-blooded murder of an independent journalist, Slavko Curuvija, is the latest crime to add to the list.

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