Anja VLADISAVLJEVIC | BIRN, Zagreb
“High Risk, Low Return” was the headline of an article that photojournalist Paul Jenks wrote for Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper in September 1991 about his experience of covering the war in Croatia.
“While many journalists are attracted by the danger of being in a war zone, night-time bombardments and hidden snipers provide little in the way of photo opportunities,” Jenks wrote.
Around four months later, on January 17, 1992, Jenks was hit by sniper fire near Osijek in eastern Croatia and killed. He was 29.
His mother, Gilly Worth, learned from television news about the death of her son, who had arrived in Croatia at the very start of the war to bear witness to its horrors.
“He died for the truth – that’s exactly what he was doing or trying to do,” Worth told BIRN.
Jenks’ wartime friend, Christopher Morris, a photographer who covered the conflicts across the former Yugoslavia throughout the 1990s, thinks that his journalistic curiosity cost him his life.
The official explanation is that Jenks was killed by a sniper firing from Serb positions in the village of Tenjski Antunovac.
But those who knew him do not believe this. Many of them are convinced that his death is linked with his investigation into a notorious group of foreigners who came to fight in the Croatian war with dubious and sometimes grotesque motives.
‘He had the talent and the courage’
During the Croatian war, Jenks took pictures for the European Pressphoto Agency, shooting photographs from the trenches and from the streets of war-ravaged cities.
Morris described him as an “optimistic, bright and very intelligent” young man.
“He worked kind of as a photographer, but he was more a writer, a journalist. He was always taking notes. He was also knowledgeable about the region and the history of the area,” he recalled.
Toby Sculthorp, a journalist and documentary filmmaker at Sky News, who met Jenks in 1979, when they were around 16, told BIRN that they became friendly because they shared the same taste in music.
“Paul was obsessed with the post-punk bands of Manchester and Liverpool, in particular Magazine, The Fall, Joy Division, The Teardrop Explodes and Echo and the Bunnymen. In fact, he decided to go to art school in Liverpool rather than university – he was clever enough to go to any of the country’s top universities – because he wanted to be part of that music scene,” Sculthorp said.
“He was always very funny and unlike most teenagers, young men of that period, never gloomy. He enjoyed life and was always laughing. It was part of his appeal,” he added.
Sculthorp said that he and his wife were worried about Jenks’ idea to cover Yugoslav wars, recalling that “he was showing the all too familiar symptoms of a journalist caught up in the excitement and adrenaline of war coverage”.
He recalled how he heard about Jenks’ death: “On Saturday morning I went to the store. Strangely, that day I bought the Daily Telegraph – a paper I never buy,” he said. Then his brother phoned him, asking if he had heard the news about Paul.
“At that moment I looked at the front page of the paper to see the headline ‘British journalist killed in Croatia’,” he said.
“It was a great shame as he clearly had the talent and the courage to go along way,” he continued. “I used to think about him every day. Thirty years on, less frequently – but he was a lovely man and an indelible part of my formative years.”
Another British journalist, John Sweeney, told BIRN that he met Jenks in September 1991 in Osijek and that both of them were “extremely sympathetic to the Croat side” since at the beginning the Croats were not prepared for war, unlike the well-organised Yugoslav People’s Army, which was controlled by the Serbs.
But Sweeney added that Jenks had learned about war crimes on the Croatian side and was trying to investigate. Around that time, Serb civilians were killed in Osijek, an incident in which foreign fighters played a role.
‘Dying for the truth’
According to the Croatian Journalists’ Association’s records, which are not complete, 14 Croatian reporters, cameramen and technicians were killed in the country during the war.
A total of 13 foreign reporters were also killed, including Jenks. Serb paramilitary commander Dragan Vasiljkovic, alias Captain Dragan, was found guilty of an attack in the town of Glina in 1991 in which the German journalist Egon Scotland was killed – the only person to be convicted of responsibility for a reporter’s death during the Balkan wars.
Two years after Jenks’ death, in 1994, his former girlfriend Sandra Balsells went to Osijek with Sweeney to investigate the circumstances in which he was killed.
The film, entitled ‘Travels With My Camera: Dying For The Truth’, was broadcast by Britain’s Channel 4. In it, Jenks’ colleague Hassan Amini, who spent time with him during his last days in Osijek, said they were together on the front line when Jenks was shot.
“It was kind of a relaxed, sunny day but windy… We walked down the trench… People in that area were quite relaxed, we took some pictures,” Amini said.
“And then we started going back and I heard two shots in succession. It all happened so quickly, but all I remember, us falling down… I said to Paul: ‘Come on Paul, let’s go’, and there was no reply.”
Before his death, Jenks had become interested in the activities of the First International Brigade, known in Croatia by the acronym PIV, which was a paramilitary group of foreign fighters on the Croatian side.
The brigade was led by Eduardo Rózsa-Flores, who had a Hungarian-Bolivian background, and had its headquarters in Osijek.
Rózsa-Flores made global headlines many years later, in 2009, when he was killed by Bolivian police as the leader of a terrorist group that intended to assassinate the country’s socialist president Evo Morales.
Rózsa-Flores spent much of his life in Europe, first in Hungary and then, from the beginning of the war, in Croatia. When he arrived in Osijek in 1991, he introduced himself as a journalist for the Spanish paper La Vanguardia, but very quickly stopped reporting.
He had a good relationship with Croatian wartime general Branimir Glavas, who is now being retried for the killings of Serb civilians in 1991.
When Glavas was a commander of Osijek’s defence forces, Rosza-Flores came to him and asked if he could join the Croatian National Guard.
“I first saw him at press conferences, and then he decided to drop his pen and take up a shotgun. He was our first international
[fighter],” Glavas told local media outlet Glas Slavonije shortly after Rózsa-Flores death, in April 2009.
“I was not informed of his involvement in the murders of some journalists, nor that he violated military discipline,” Glavas added.
Sweeney said that he believes that Rózsa-Flores ordered Jenks’ murder.
“[It’s] possible [that the sniper was from the Serb side], but my view is that shot was actually much closer, from the Croat side,” he said.
“And the reason he was shoot was because he was getting too close to the evidence that Eduardo [Rózsa-Flores] was a war criminal,” he added.
‘Weirdos who wanted to kill’
Glavas’s comment about Rózsa-Flores allegedly being involved in murders was a reference to the deaths of Jenks and Christian Würtenberg, a Swiss journalist who was involved with the First International Brigade.
Würtenberg was brutally murdered in Osijek on January 6, 1992, and an autopsy showed he was killed with a blunt weapon and later strangled using hands and rope. As in the Jenks case, it was claimed that the Serbs did it.
Würtenberg had joined the First International Brigade, but many believe that it was because he was secretly investigating links between the foreign fighters and European fascist networks.
Morris, who knew Würtenberg, said he thought that the Swiss journalist joined the International Brigade to do a story.
Like many other foreign journalists, Morris also knew Rózsa-Flores, but added that as “the war got on and it got uglier, we stayed away from these people”.
Jenks was investigating Würtenberg’s death and that’s why in January 1992 he came to Osijek, where the press centre for war reporters was located.
Sweeney said that the International Brigade was a small group of people, foreigners and “Croat nationalists who wanted to defend the country” but had been rejected from “normal units”.
They were, he claimed, “weirdos who wanted to fight and kill”.
In his documentary, one of the prominent members of the brigade, Stephen Hancock, nicknamed Frenchie, gives Sweeney a ride around small settlements near Osijek and shows him the houses of Serbs that they had blown up.
When asked what the Serbs did to deserve that, replied: “We sort of did it, how can I put it, as an example. If the other Serbian people living here wanted trouble then the same sort of thing would happen to them.”
Both Rózsa-Flores and Hancock denied they were responsible for the deaths of the two journalists when Sweeney quizzed them about the subject.
The BBC also broadcast a documentary in May 1992 called ‘Inside Story: Dogs of War’, which focused on various members of the International Brigade in Osijek. Several members who were interviewed said they joined up because they could kill without guilt.
The Croatian judiciary did nothing about the two journalists’ deaths, which Sweeney believes is unacceptable.
“Croatia should have been investigating the murders of Würtenberg and Paul Jenks, and still should,” he said.