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Broadcasting to Serbia - 2003-03-04



Serbian broadcaster Nikoleta Ilic says that throughout the nineteen-nineties, as Yugoslavia disintegrated into its component ethnic entities, the Voice of America’s Serbian-language broadcasts continued to "tell it like it was," reporting on events evenhandedly.

“During the fall of Yugoslavia everybody was showing his or her side, not the overall side of the whole thing. So the Voice of America tried to show all sides of the events – so it’s not what Slovenians did, or Croatians did, or Serbs did, but in general what all of them did – the total picture.”

For Nikoleta Ilic, who had immigrated to the United States from Belgrade only ten years previously, reporting on the war in Yugoslavia required separating her private emotion from her work as a journalist. This was particularly so during the 1998 NATO bombing of Serbia, which many people in Serbia viewed as a U.S.-led attack on their country.

“It was difficult, it was very difficult, and a person had to level the feelings for the old country and the new country. We had to deal objectively – I mean that’s one of the items in the VOA charter. And that’s what we did. We had to forget about our feelings, and just report the truth and events as they evolved in the country.”

As a reporter for the Serbian service, Nikoleta Ilic volunteered for some assignments that took her into the heart of the action.

“I went with a US military plane, a Hercules C 130, we flew to Sarajevo in the middle of the war. It was very difficult to land because it was war there. But we managed, and we stayed there for some short period of time, because the plane was bringing some equipment and some food and some necessities for the area.”

Some time later, Ms Ilic accompanied a humanitarian flight bringing warm winter clothing to war refugees in Bosnia. The plane landed in Split on Croatia’s Dalmatian coast, from where the group continued on to Bosnia in trucks. It was then that Nikoleta experienced first-hand some of the changes in her native country.

“It was very sad, because a lot of houses were destroyed, and there was one small village where they had all the refugees. They didn’t have a lot of food or clothing. And also it was sad that – I liked that part of the country, Dalmatia, and I felt like a foreigner there. Before the war I would go there freely, and spend summers there, but when I came they told me to keep a low profile, because I was a Serb and it was Croatian territory, and it wasn’t very advisable to show your origins.”

Nikoleta Ilic grew up in Tito’s Yugoslavia. Since her family were not communist party members she could not aspire to work as a journalist. But after graduating with a degree in English language and literature from the University of Belgrade, she found work in state-run television as a translator for movies, cartoons and cultural programs. Nikoleta Ilic’s father, an artist who had been imprisoned for illustrating some brochures for the American Embassy in Belgrade, eventually was granted political asylum in the United States. His wife and two daughters joined him. Nikoleta remembers what struck her most when she came.

“It was a huge difference in culture. Really, I had to start almost from the beginning to learn to adapt to the new life here in the United States. Technology, fast thinking, I mean you couldn’t be slow and inattentive, you had to be active and keep your brains working all the time.”

Friends advised Nikoleta Ilic to find work as a sales clerk, but before she could do that she learned that there was an opening in VOA’s Yugoslav service. She passed the test with flying colors, and has since worked in the field of journalism to which she aspired as a youngster.

“I adore my job, and I think it’s great to be at the horse’s mouth, that you’re the first to learn what’s going on in the world. I like my job also because it’s different from day to day. Sometime, when nothing’s happening in the world, it’s very peaceful and calm, but then sometimes it’s very nerve-wracking, and then I come home and I’m good for nothing, just going to sleep. But I think it would be too boring if you would always have the same pace and the same rhythm.”

Working in the Serbian service of the Voice of America, says Nikoleta Ilic, allows her to serve both her new country and her native land. She says she considers herself both Serb and American.

“I still keep my roots, of course, and I still celebrate my ‘slava’, which is a saint patron’s day. I celebrate Serbian Christmas, which is 13 days later – but I also celebrate all the holidays here in the United States. I think that I’m managing to balance both worlds, and I think that I’m enriched, because it’s not only Serbian culture and customs, but now I also know American culture and customs. And I’m married to a Portuguese, and so I know Portuguese culture and customs. So, I think I’m very rich.”

Nikoleta Ilic – writer, reporter, program host in VOA’s Serbian service.

English Feature #7-37231 Broadcast March 4, 2003