The Serbian journalist Dejan Anastasijevic, who documented his country’s descent into revanchist nationalism under strongman Slobodan Milosevic, died Wednesday in Belgrade after a long illness. A friend, colleague and intellectual guide for a generation of journalists covering the violent conflicts in the Balkans after the end of the Cold War, Anastasijevic was 57.
Anastasijevic documented Milosevic’s land grabs in Croatia and Bosnia in the early 1990s, reporting on Serb militia members’ war crimes against Muslim and Croat civilians for the Serbian news outlets Vreme, Tanjug and B92. Anastasijevic became TIME Magazine’s Belgrade-based correspondent in 1996. As an ethnic Albanian separatist movement rose in the Serbian province of Kosovo in the late 1990s, and Serbian forces cracked down on insurgents and civilians alike, he became a key voice in the international coverage of that crisis.
Respected for the objectivity of his reporting, the clarity of his analysis and the power of his writing, Anastasijevic developed and maintained sources on all sides of the multi-party fighting over the years, from officers deep inside the Serbian security apparatus to members of the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army.
He was also targeted for his reporting. During the U.S.-led bombing of Belgrade during the war in Kosovo, threats from Serbian security forces drove Anastasijevic and his family from Serbia to seek temporary safety in Vienna, Austria. He returned after the war to his apartment in downtown Belgrade. Later, his home was attacked with a hand grenade.
When Milosevic was put on trial for war crimes and genocide in The Hague in the early 2000s, Anastasijevic testified against him.
“The consequences of his policies,” Anastasijevic wrote soon afterwards for TIME, “were all too visible, in Sarajevo, in Srebrenica and in Vukovar. Almost 11 years ago, I walked the town’s muddy streets, stepping over corpses, as Serb militia members led away helpless civilians to what would be their mass grave. A year later, as part of a similar land grab in eastern Bosnia, the same men were happily torching Muslim homes and murdering their owners. The fighters were drunk with bloodlust and slivovitz, but they were also led by the invisible hand of Milosevic’s secret police, who organized, armed and supplied them. It was the link between Milosevic and these crimes that my testimony was intended to help prove.”
Compassionate with the victims of oppression and generous with novice and veteran colleagues alike, Anastasijevic was calm in the face of extraordinary danger, resolute in pursuit of the facts, and convivial after deadline.
Read Anastasijevic’s 2006 essay on Slobodan Milosevic’s passing here