A popular radio station that had bedeviled Yugoslav authorities before it was seized during the NATO bombing campaign vowed today to resume independent news broadcasting despite a new threat to shut it down.
The reemergence of B-92, long a thorn in the side of President Slobodan Milosevic, represented a blow to one of the main pillars of his government: state control of most news media, especially radio and television. It came amid scattered but persistent demonstrations across Serbia, Yugoslavia's dominant republic, in which citizens have been calling on Milosevic to step down and are eager to spread their views.
The radio station started trial broadcasts of music Thursday on a new frequency and announced that it would resume news operations Monday. Milosevic loyalists took over the station April 2 and replaced the entire staff, but kept its name and slot on the radio dial for broadcasts of pro-government fare. The original name, B-92, refers to Belgrade and the station's frequency. The new name, B2-92, refers to the station's second incarnation. It also broadcast at www.b92.co.yu over the Internet.
The station's former managers said they will continue a court battle to reverse what they called a "completely illegal" takeover of the station, but meanwhile will take up the offer of a studio and a frequency controlled by the political party of opposition figure Vuk Draskovic. At a news conference, managers and editors nevertheless pledged to maintain independence and report developments that they said many Serbs have been unable to follow because of the government's tight grip on information.
"Our motto is, 'If it happens, you will hear about it,' " said Dusan Masic, B2-92's news editor. "Now things are happening and nobody's hearing about them."
In the last couple of weeks, established opposition parties such as the Alliance for Change and the Serbian Renewal Movement, as well as ad hoc groups with names like Rally Against the Authorities, have been holding daily demonstrations in Serbian cities, including strongholds of Milosevic's Socialist Party. Disgruntled army reservists have staged hunger strikes and blocked highways to demand back pay for service in Kosovo, and city councils have passed resolutions calling for political change and respect for human rights.
The government has largely ignored the protests. Police have been instructed to avoid clashes that might provoke a more widespread reaction, diplomats said. But opponents of Milosevic hope to unify their fractured ranks and gradually escalate the demonstrations in Serbian cities and towns before eventually bringing them to the capital.
In one of the few protests in Belgrade recently, about 2,000 retirees rallied Thursday to demand payment of their pensions by the cash-strapped government and the removal of officials. "Serbia must not wait for winter to come with the current authorities in power," a spokeswoman for the group said.
A key to the political opposition's strategy is spreading word of the rallies outside the capital, so that protesters in various towns get more of a sense of belonging to a larger movement.
"Not many Serbs know there is a sort of movement against the regime that is rather wide and rather persistent," said Ljubica Markovic, editor of the Beta news agency, which publishes an independent newsletter here.
In their news conference, the Radio B2-92 officials rejected a threat from the manager of their former station to obtain a court injunction and shut them down by noon Monday. "I can only hope this country and government will not lead us into another war in order to close B2-92 as well," Masic said. "If they close us this time, we won't wait four months to be back on the air."
The station hopes to obtain funding from the European Union and the United States, as B-92 had before it was seized, and to expand its range from the capital and surrounding suburbs so that it can eventually be heard across Serbia.
"We were the National Public Radio of the Balkans," said Masic. "We hope to be that again."