Dejan Kozul in Belgrade -
These are still testy times in the Balkans, but a sign of how far the thaw in relations between Serbia and its former foes has come is that Pink TV, Serbia's leading broadcaster which is owned by an ally of the late dictator Slobodan Miloseivic and his weird widow Mira Markovic, is in talks to enter the Croatian television market.
According to Pink International spokeswoman Tatjana Vojtehovska, the firm's owner Zeljko Mitrovic is currently negotiating with at least nine local television stations in Croatia. "The plan is to finish negotiations at least with six of them by the end of September, when we plan to create a local TV network. That way we will cover 70% of the territory," Vojtehovska says, without elaborating about which stations are being targeted.
Local Croatian reports say that Pink TV is aiming high and is looking to buy Croatia's first private television channel, Nova TV, for around €30m. That would make it the single biggest Serbian investment in Croatia since the Balkan wars in the 1990s and one of around just 10 Serbian companies that operate in the erstwhile Yugoslav state. By contrast, Croatian investments in Serbia have reached more than $400m over the past 10 years and there are more than 200 companies from Croatia that operate in Serbia.
Why the acceptance of this Serbian investment in Croatia, especially one with such close ties to the hated Milosevic regime? The same reason the channel is so popular in its native Serbia and other former Yugoslav states like Bosnia Herzegovina and Montenegro: a diet of light entertainment programmes and so-called "turbo folk" - a kitschy, commercial (and often tawdry nationalistic) form of folk music that symbolised the depression and isolationism of the 1990s.
In the pink
Rade Veljanovski, professor in the Faculty of Political Sciences in Belgrade and a member of a working group that drafted the Broadcast Act in Serbia, explains why Pink TV is so popular in Serbia and other former Yugoslav states. "The basic idea of Pink is almost the same as it was during the 1990s: lots of easy and low-quality music, a populist concept without any news... The main function was a virtual decoration of life and that was its main purpose during the 1990s."
Veljanovski says that TV audiences in the Balkans tend to watch programmes uncritically, making them ideal viewers of Pink TV. Also, many folk singers from Serbia whom Pink TV launched are just as popular in Croatia as they are in Serbia.
Certainly, the signs look good for Pink TV in Croatia. The Croatian daily Jutarnji list, carried out a poll recently asking the public which station would be the most popular in the country: more then 50% of Croats expect that Pink TV would take the top spot.
However, Croatian newspapers are highlighting the station's unsavoury ties between Serb nationalists and members of the ruling Croatian Democratic Party. The most interesting connection is with Branimir Glavas, a Croatian army general suspected of war crimes against Croatian Serbs. Glavas owns a local television in Slavonia, the eastern part of Croatia, and reportedly Mitrovic appears ready to buy it for more than €2.5m.
Veljanovski says that business is business: "There are no emotions at all - why should there be? They could sell their television stations and earn 50% more money than their real value. I don't think that anybody can refuse that offer."
Veljanovski argues that big Serbian investments in Croatia should be welcomed and are, by and large, a good thing. But when the biggest investments come from Mitrovic, it leaves a bitter taste, as many had hoped that the new democratic government would expropriate the assets, especially those related to the media, of those who had slavishly served the Milosevic regime. "It is positive, but I can't feel satisfaction when I know that Mitrovic and all the others who served Milosevic are still allowed to work and invest."
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