PEACE IMPERILS LAST SARAJEVO DAILY

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LJUBLJANA, Slovenia-The last newspaper in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, is in a race to sell enough advertising to stay alive.

Once the daily Oslobodenje (Liberation in Serbo-Croatian) was one of the largest-circulation newspapers in Yugoslavia. Published in Sarajevo since 1943, it printed up to 70,000 copies in the morning and 100,000 in the evening. Then, Yugoslavia broke into independent states in 1991 amid ethnic fighting.

Ironically, humanitarian aid that kept the paper alive through the war is dwindling and Oslobodenje now faces the threat of closure because there is little demand for advertising in a city with no consumer economy left.

Oslobodenje's twin-tower building has been reduced to rubble, riddled by as many as 400 rocket grenades a day during two years of shelling the capital. Bosnian Serbs surrounding Sarajevo in a drive to expel the nation's majority Moslem population made it a special target.

Today, the heaviest firing has stopped and the city remains tightly ringed under an economic siege. Yet throughout it all, the newspaper keeps publishing.

"The paper has never missed a day," said Goran Jovanovic, executive director of Oslobodenje at its bureau here in this former Yugoslav republic that is at peace. But, he said, nobody speaks anymore about a standard size or pressrun.

Since the siege, the newspaper has gone from publishing up to 64 pages-20% to 40% of them ads-to printing on every format, type and color of paper imaginable, depending on what can be found or is permitted through the lines. Ads have disappeared with the city's broken economy and pressruns at times have plunged to 3,500 copies of a four-page issue.

During the worst of the fighting, death notices filled half the pages. But because it has survived, the paper has become one of the battered city's most reassuring symbols of continuing civic life.

"People have always felt sure it will appear every day," Mr. Jovanovic said.

That is, until now.

With the cease-fire brokered last summer by the United Nations still tenuously in place, sponsors of humanitarian aid are winding down their support and putting the paper in a financial crisis.

"The humanitarian groups are as exhausted by the war as we are, and their budgets for this conflict are empty now," said Mr. Jovanovic.

Throughout the siege, groups like UNESCO, the International Federation of Journalists and the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington have covered the $90,000 a month the paper and its staff of 200 need to survive, he said.

Oslobodenje's hope for supporting the paper lies with its international circulation, and in the slim chance of selling enough ads abroad to pay the bills at home.

For almost two years, the paper has published a weekly digest of news from its Sarajevo edition for the growing diaspora of up to 2 million Bosnians who have fled. Published here in Serbo-Croatian, the 32-page international edition has grown to 20,000 copies and become the newspaper of a new, borderless Bosnia spread across what was Yugoslavia plus Europe and North America.

Ad space in the international edition appeals to Bosnian businessmen setting up companies in Germany and other countries who want to reach Bosnian consumers in exile. But few can pay standard newspaper ad rates. The international edition, selling for $2.28 a copy, has yet to earn more from advertising and circulation than the $60,000 a month it needs, spending already heavily subsidized by a Slovenian newspaper's provision of free office space and equipment.

That puts the pressure on for international edition Advertising Manager Mirza Dautbasic.

"Our international edition adrates are five times less than most newspapers in this region because Bosnian businesses abroad are still in the infancy," said Mr. Dautbasic, who served 19 months as a front-line Bosnian soldier.

A page ad in the international edition costs $720 and a quarter-page $210. Each month the number of ads increases, but the revenue remains small.

The ads, filling about two of the weekly international edition's 32 pages, offer a poignant picture of businesses and lives shattered by war. A bank still open in the industrial Bosnian city of Tuzla tells readers abroad how they can wire money to relatives in the regions where its branches remain functioning. The Bosnian government invites tenders from trading companies to carry humanitarian aid into Sarajevo. A small Bosnian company in Budapest offers videotapes of Bosnian singers. Classified ads fill two more pages, mostly asking for information about lost relatives.

"We desperately need to build a stronger revenue base," Mr. Dautbasic said. "If anyone has any ideas how, I welcome them."

It is one of the ironies of Oslobodenje's financial predicament that it comes when the logistics of publishing the newspaper have become easier. Today, the 10-member editorial and business staff at the international edition here can communicate daily by fax and telephone with Sarajevo. Telephone lines were cut during most of the war, forcing editors in Sarajevo to spell out news for the international edition through a ham radio and later a satellite telephone link.

"Now at last the offices are free to speak back and forth," said Mehmed Pajevic, the paper's communications officer. He lived for 27 months in a bunker Oslobodenje built beneath the shell of its Sarajevo building to shelter its printing presses and is here for a rest.

In Sarajevo, the newspaper sells for a few cents a copy and looks stronger than it has in months, he said, printing 9,000 copies of 20-page issues since a recent United Nations agreement with the Bosnian Serbs to permit newsprint to enter the city as humanitarian aid.

But Mr. Dautbasic worries how long it can continue. "There is no economy left in Sarajevo, not even the dream of one."

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