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Kosvo Conflict Stirs Embers of Hatred in Yugoslav Federation

By Lee Hockstader
The Washington Post
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia

When sectarian violence shook the province of Kosovo recently, Serbian lawmakers bowed their heads to commemorate their own: four dead Serb policemen, slain in the line of duty over a single weekend. At least 16 ethnic Albanians also died, but they were ignored by the Yugoslav parliament.

The small independent Belgrade newspaper Danas duly recorded the event on an inside page with a small headline: "A Minute of Silence for the Police Only."

That's when the death threats started.

One man faxed a letter declaring he would make known his displeasure with the headline by visiting the newspaper's offices in the company of an automatic weapon. Another wrote to inform the editor that "the next minute of silence will be for you."

This was of some concern to the directors of Danas, or "Today," whose pockets are so shallow that reporters have not been paid since December and the notion of hiring a security guard is simply fantastic.

However, the reaction was also not a complete surprise. The crisis in Kosovo, a secessionist province of Serbia overwhelmingly populated by ethnic Albanians, has unleashed a rising tide of extreme Serbian nationalism and ethnic hatred. Serbia is the dominant republic of Yugoslavia.

The virulence of the public rhetoric in Belgrade, and the difficulty of dissent, is reminiscent of the prevailing political mood during the catastrophic wars in Croatia and Bosnia.

"A lot of Serbs grew up with the myth of Kosovo and don't want to listen to anything the news has to tell them," said Dusan Simic, publisher of Danas. "What they know is that the Serb nation was born there, and that we should not [give up] the soil of our ancestors."

The official media's influence on public opinion remains strong despite the birth of a handful of struggling independent publications and an aggressively nonpartisan radio network.

The few newspapers that have tried to present some semblance of a balanced account of the bloodshed and police crackdown in Kosovo have been hauled before the police on the orders of the state prosecutor. Their offense, they were told, is to have referred to "Albanians" as having suffered casualties in paramilitary police attacks. In fact, say Serbian law enforcement people, the correct word is "terrorists."