Anja VLADISAVLJEVIC | BIRN, Zagreb
On July 26, 1991, in the early months of the war, German reporter Egon Scotland was travelling by car to the central Croatian town of Glina.
He and his colleague Peter Wuest, a radio reporter, went looking for some fellow journalists – two Austrians and one German who had gone out into the field but hadn’t returned.
But when they arrived in the village of Jukinac, they came under fire from Serb paramilitaries. One bullet hit Scotland, and by the time he made it to hospital, he had bled to death.
He had only arrived in Croatia to report on the war for German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung two weeks before he was killed.
Almost 150 journalists and other media workers were killed during and just after the wars in the former Yugoslavia. Scotland was the first to be killed in Croatia – and his case is the only one so far in which anyone has been convicted.
Former Serbian paramilitary commander Dragan Vasiljkovic, widely known as Captain Dragan, was found guilty by a Croatian court of war crimes against civilians and prisoners of war, including the attack on Glina and the surrounding villages in July 1991, when civilians including Scotland were killed and property looted and destroyed.
Scotland’s widow, Christiane Schloetzer-Scotland, told BIRN that before the Yugoslav conflicts started, a war in Europe was unthinkable for her.
“We are the generation born after the Second World War, Egon was born in 1948, I was born in 1954. We could not imagine… a war in Europe,” Schloetzer-Scotland said.
“Yugoslavia was a neighbour, I spent holidays there, it was not like Iraq or Syria, much more close,” she added.
‘Maybe you will be killed tomorrow’
Scotland had been working as a political reporter in Bavaria, but had a special interest in the Balkans, Greece and Turkey, his widow said, adding that he spoke Greek and Turkish.
“We both learned Serbo-Croatian as it was called that time, when we had a journalistic fellowship in Stanford, California. That was from 1989 to 1990,” she recalled.
While they were in the States, they had two language teachers, one of Serbian descent and the other of Croatian origin, who both warned them that there would be a war in Yugoslavia, although they could not believe it.
Schloetzer-Scotland said that there “clearly was a lot of war propaganda” before the conflicts started. “For us it was unbelievable but then Egon was in the country and he searched for answers to the fundamental question: why neighbours became enemies,” she said.
After returning from the US and before going to Croatia, Scotland went to Iraq, Syria and Turkey to cover the First Gulf War.
But his friend and former colleague, Hans Holzhaider, who worked with him from 1986 onwards at Sueddeutsche Zeitung, explained to BIRN that Scotland “wasn’t a war correspondent”.
“He didn’t go to the frontline. He was supposed to cover background [during the First Gulf War] and most of his time he spent in refugee camps in Turkey, Kurdistan, Iran, and he mostly reported on the situation of the refugees there,” Holzhaider said.
Holzhaider said that when Scotland was sent to the former Yugoslavia to report, “he was not supposed to go to the frontline and cover the actual fighting places”.
Both Holzhaider and Schloetzer-Scotland said that Scotland’s interest was in telling ordinary people’s stories and reporting on the plight of the victims.
“He was meant to explain to our readers how it was possible that people who have lived for decades as neighbours together were suddenly cutting each other’s throats,” Holzhaider said.
He said that Scotland was one of the nicest people he ever met.
“He was a perfect listener. When you were talking to him, he looked into your eyes and he listened so intensively. Everybody who met him considered him as a friend, not only a journalist,” he said.
After Scotland’s death, Schloetzer-Scotland found a piece of paper with a poem typewritten on it in English one of his notebooks, apparently entitled ‘To the Reporter’. It was credited to ‘Slavko Bronzic, Osijek’ – a city in the country’s eastern Slavonia region, where Scotland had just been.
Holzhaider said that the poem “shows what kind of journalist” Scotland was.
To the Reporter
Write down as much as you can,
But tell the world not only
the number of those who were killed
on the golden fields of Slavonia
Because numbers have no names
and no stolen future
tell the world
it was Johann and William
and Victor and Francesco
who were killed
in the heart of Slavonia
and that Gabriel, and György
and maybe you
will be killed tomorrow
The trial of ‘Captain Dragan’
When her husband was sent on assignment to Croatia, Schloetzer-Scotland was working for DPA, the German news agency. She planned to go to Zagreb and to spend the weekend with him there, but that never happened.
It was a Friday, when Scotland and radio reporter Peter Wuest left their hotel in Zagreb, and headed to Glina to search for their three colleagues.
Testifying at the trial of Serbian paramilitary chief Dragan Vasiljkovic, Wuest said that they were driving in a car that was marked with signs saying “Press” and “TV”.
When they arrived in the village of Jukinac, they saw a bullet-riddled car that had gone up in smoke at the side of the road and decided to turn back because there was shooting.
As the trial verdict said, Wuest told Scotland to lie down, lowered his seat, and turned the car around. The shooting continued. When they got to a safe place, they found that Scotland had been wounded.
In a neighbouring village, they met Croatian journalist Senad Pasic, who had warned them just 15 minutes earlier not to go towards Glina “because members of Serbian paramilitary units shoot at anything that moves”.
Scotland was put into Pasic’s vehicle.
“We were driving to [the nearby town of] Petrinja for some 20 minutes. I talked to him. He was in a bad way. He squeezed me, and I hugged him… The man was really in a bad way,” Pasic told Vasiljkovic’s trial in February 2017. Shortly after that, Scotland died.
In July 2018, Vasiljkovic was sentenced to 13-and-a-half years in prison for the abuse of imprisoned Croatian policemen and soldiers in the town of Knin, and the attack on Glina and nearby villages which resulted in the deaths of Scotland and another civilian.
Schloetzer-Scotland also appeared as a witness in the trial and gave the court a recording of an interview with Vasiljkovic in 1992, in which he admitted that he commanded the attack on the day her husband was killed.
She said that she felt a sense of relief after Vasiljkovic was convicted.
“I was relieved because it was a verdict because it was a guilty verdict. I think it is important that war criminals cannot get away, everywhere,” she explained.
Vasiljkovic had been extradited to Croatia in 2015 from Australia, where he had been working as a golf instructor under the name Daniel Snedden.
He had moved to Australia at the age of 14 but returned to Yugoslavia before the start of the 1990s conflicts and was then sent by the authorities in Belgrade to be the commander of a training centre for a Serb special paramilitary unit in Croatia in 1991.
He became well-known enough to feature in a war propaganda comic entitled Knindze (a portmanteau of Knin and Ninjas), and even ran as a candidate in Serbia’s presidential election in 1992, although he got fewer than 30,000 votes.
Vasiljkovic was freed in March this year after serving his sentence and expelled from Croatia. He then ran as a candidate in parliamentary elections in Serbia in July, but failed to win a seat.
Death in Croatia inspires solidarity campaign
According to incomplete records held by the Croatian Journalists’ Association’s records, 14 Croatian reporters, cameramen and technicians were killed in the country during the war. A total of 13 foreign reporters were also killed, including Scotland.
Shortly after his death, Schloetzer-Scotland and her husband’s friends set up an independent, non-profit organisation called Journalists Help Journalists in Munich to help colleagues in need and their families in need in zones of war and conflict..
“We founded it because we heard about the killing of other journalists and we heard about their families who had mostly great financial problems and often there was no help for the families of killed reporters… After the war in Croatia, there came the war in Bosnia… and there were again reporters killed, especially in Sarajevo,” Schloetzer-Scotland explained.
The Balkan wars also inspired the foundation of the German branch of international media freedom campaign group Reporters Without Borders with which Journalists Help Journalists has collaborated.
“At the beginning, we collected some money in our group of journalists for these families of the killed reporters. Mostly men were killed and there were women and children without any help,” Schloetzer-Scotland recalled.
She explained that there are now more than 150 media workers involved in Journalists Help Journalists, mostly from Germany but also from Italy and Austria, helping journalists and their families in several places around the world, from Iraq to Turkey to Africa.
“At the beginning, we thought we would stop after the war in Yugoslavia… but the solidarity work goes on,” she said.