By Sarah Stuart
Yugoslavian journalist Mirjana Stefanovic felt less than hopeful as she left for an exchange program in Salt Lake City three days before the country’s presidential election.
Today Stefanovic, 28, has high expectations for the future.
Stefanovic, who is currently working at the Deseret News, said that in previous elections, low voter turnout plagued presidential results. Citizens have now shifted the trend. A large turnout resulted with close to a majority of the people voting against President Slobodan Milosevic.
“I feel great joy and happiness because I know Milosevic is finished,” Stefanovic said.
However, the race is not complete because it is unsure if Milosevic will step down from office, she said.
“Now the only thing I fear is the possibility of the price people might have to pay for him to leave,” Stefanovic said. “When Milosevic came to office, blood was spilt, and blood may be spilt when he leaves as well.”
Stefanovic said citizens of Yugoslavia are coming together to let Milosevic know they will not put up with him anymore.
“At this very moment in towns all over Serbia people are on the streets, they are stopping the traffic and electricity, they are stopping their whole life until their votes are given back to them,” Stefanovic said.
“For the youth of my generation, we finally see some hope, and have a chance to organize our lives,” she said.
Stefanovic said life has been tough for the people in Yugoslavia emotionally, economically and socially.
“The worst thing of all is I have lost friends in war, and my country was completely destroyed by war,” she said.
Stefanovic said even with her meager salary as deputy editor of Blic, a private independent daily newspaper, she makes three times more than her mother who has worked 26 years for an insurance company.
“I still don’t have even $10 in my savings,” Stefanovic said. “My monthly salary as a professional journalist is the equivalent of $130, and my monthly rent is $150.”
The country used to be under communist rule, but Stefanovic said that now there is no system at all.
“Most of our factories are not working, and most of our schools spend half the school year protesting because the teachers don’t get paid,” she said.
Stefanovic said the options are open for the country’s future, but only God knows when Milosevic will be out of office.
“The situation could lead to a civil war, or Milosevic could decide to leave peacefully and try to avoid the courts,” she said.
Stefanovic stays close to the issues with her job.
Stefanovic said the continuity of the independent paper is vital in keeping the people informed, so the newspaper staff obeys strict laws over news providers.
“We are a watchdog for the people,” she said.
Stefanovic said she feels life in Yugoslavia will improve with changes in government.
“One day my country will be back to normal again. We will not have wars filling our papers,” she said. “Hopefully we will have really simple news on the front page instead of new people dying.”
Stefanovic said she wanted to come to the United States to learn how American press is organized, and dreams of having her own private newspaper in Serbia someday.
Stefanovic is working at the Deseret News on a Freedom Forum fellowship, providing an insider’s point of view on the result of elections in Yugoslavia.