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Home > International Journalism > Reading Room > SPJ Profile: Croatian journalist and professor Dorde Obradovic

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Dorde Obradovic, journalism lecturer at the University of Dubrovnik, poses by a stack of newspapers. Photo by Zeljka Borovic, student.

SPJ Profile
Croatian journalist and professor Dorde Obradovic

By Lee Anne Peck
Member, SPJ International Journalism Committee


Dorde Obradovic: I shared an office with this busy man for three months before I knew the complete story about his life as a journalist. I learned bits and pieces about him over the weeks, but our conversations were always cut short because he was, and is, constantly interrupted or otherwise distracted.

We both teach journalism students at the University of Dubrovnik, Croatia. He is a permanent fixture; I am a guest for one term. Until recently, he told me only snippets of information about his life since — and during — the siege of Dubrovnik by Serbian forces in the early 1990s. A time comes, however, when one needs the whole story.

Obradovic’s story is one of family man, journalist, seaman, and, now, university lecturer — soon to be professor. All in all, his is an inspiring story of an ethical, responsible journalist whose life was affected by a war in which he and many others suffered from its consequences.

Born and raised in Dubrovnik
Dorde Obradovic was born in 1959 in the small city of Dubrovnik, Croatia — a UNESCO world heritage city since 1979. The city (named Ragusa centuries ago and recently part of the former Yugoslavia) has been in existence since the 7th century and sits on Croatia’s southern Dalmatian coast.

Lee Anne Peck has taught English, journalism, and communications courses since 1988. Currently she teaches journalism courses at the University of Northern Colorado. Before UNC, she was an assistant professor of international communications at Franklin College Switzerland, Lugano. Over the years, she has advised three student newspapers.

Peck's professional experience began in 1976 as a correspondent for the Moline Daily Dispatch. After graduating with her bachelor's degree, she edited and then managed the regional Choice Magazine of the Front Range. In the mid-1980s, she edited and wrote for publications in Indiana and Delaware; she has worked for the Fort Collins Coloradoan as an editor, a columnist and writing coach and for the Rocky Mountain News as a copy editor. Peck has also worked at the Tampa Tribune's online product, Tampa Bay Online, and for Microsoft's online publication, Denver Sidewalk. Peck began free-lance work in the late 1970s and continues to do free-lance editing, writing, and public relations work.

Her research focuses on all aspects of media ethics. She has received a Fulbright to teach at the University of Croatia in Dubrovnik for spring semester 2007.

Its old city is literally picture perfect, and Dubrovnik is sometimes labeled “the pearl of the Adriatic.” Obradovic grew up in this beautiful setting of water and palm trees, playing with his friends in front of or on top of historic landmarks in the Old City.

While a gymnasium (high school) student, the Dubrovnik newspaper Dubrovacki Vjiesnik asked Obradovic to help with a local magazine for young people titled Laus. He reported on “the problems of youth,” Obradovic says. He also wrote stories for the newspaper itself, and when it came time to begin his college education, he decided to continue writing for the newspaper. However, what he studied was quite different. He learned all things nautical at the maritime college in Dubrovnik (which still exists as the University of Dubrovnik and where journalism classes have been held since 2003).

After his coursework was finished, Obradovic did one year of practical experience at sea and received his officer diploma. From 1982-1983, he did his obligatory stint with the Croatian army and was based at the maritime department in the city of Split, but his main duty became writing and editing for the Croatian army’s newspaper. After his responsibility to the army was fulfilled, he returned to Dubrovnik and went to work full time as a journalist for Dubrovacki Vjiesnik.

The journalist in Dubrovnik
For the next 10 years, Obradovic reported for the local newspaper. He also began freelancing for publications based in cities such as Sarajevo in Bosnia, and Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. He started studying with the faculty of journalism at the University of Sarajevo, too. He was half-way through his master’s work when the Serbian war stopped his studies. The war did more than stop his studies, however. The war changed his life.

In October 1991, the Yugoslav People’s Army took over the area south of Dubrovnik and also occupied the foothills above the city. The siege on the city that Obradovic loves so much lasted until mid-1992. What did Obradovic and his newspaper colleagues do? They continued to put out a newspaper. And it wasn’t easy. “You never knew when or where you might be hit {by gunfire or bombs],” Obradvoic says — among other things.

Unable to use the newspaper’s press because of the lack of electricity, the staff resorted to hand-setting type and printing the news with an old manual press. They found people in shelters and distributed the news. This was the only way Dubrovnik citizens and refugees knew about the war — or about one another. Eventually, however, the newspaper staff was able to use typewriters, and, in the basement of a bank that had electricity, the journalists were able to photocopy their paper, which was obviously a cut-and-paste job, Obradovic says. Six pages was the maximum size of their efforts.

Then a bomb hit the building that housed the newspaper staff. The small staff had just finished their typing at 5:30 p.m. and were on their way to the bank basement. At 6:30 p.m. the building was bombed. “Nothing was left except a leather bag,” which luckily had some photos and other usable material. But Obradovic lost everything he kept in that office — including all his clips, so dear to a journalist. The journalists had to work from home or elsewhere and meet at the bank.

The famous book
Obradovic began writing a book about the war titled The Suffering of Dubrovnik. He explains about the word “suffering”: “There is no English word I could use for the title [in the English translation] that can come close to the Croatian word, which is much more powerful.” The book is neither historical or chronological. It consists of stories from real people who lived through the war in Dubrovnik in the early 1990s.

During the war, Dorde’s son Zoran (or Zoki) spent much of his time in the basement of the family house under a table. He drew pictures of what he knew: lines of people waiting for water, the destruction of the old city. The boy’s primitive, yet telling drawings are included in the book as are many photographs.

The first edition was printed in March 1992 in Sarajevo. Because of Dorde’s free-lance connections and his graduate work in the city, he was able to ask Petar Skert of Oslobodjenie publishing to print it. Skert printed the first 1,000 copies for Dorde at no charge. The books sold out in Dubrovnik in three days. The second printing and third printing also sold out quickly.

The fourth edition included new photos and additional text. Translations of the book were done in English and German. The book is dedicated to photographer Pavo Urban, who was killed on Dec. 6, 1991, at age 23. All told, six Croatian versions of the book were published — the last two editions in color, with two editions in German and two editions in English. The book was also featured at the annual Frankfurt International Book Fair in 1992. The proceeds from the book first went to the reconstruction of the school for the handicapped then later went to the St. Valo for the Salvation of Dubrovnik fund.

But the book that was so important to Obradovic became the reason that ended his career as a Croatian journalist. When the worst of the war was over, those from Dubrovnik who had escaped to Zagreb returned “to help,” Obradovic says. Because of the popularity of his book, some of these people, members of the still controlling government, wanted to take Obradovic’s book and change it into a chronological, political statement about the siege of Dubrovnik. Obradovic refused.

“[These people] were so powerful,” he says. “I said, ‘This is my book; I will not change anything.’” This did not go over well with the party. But he stood his ground. But those in power told him that he could no longer write. “They told me, you cannot work as a journalist any more.” So he didn’t. The book needed to be kept “as views from Dubrovnik only,” he explains. Then “because a powerful politician” decided this book was too popular, the publication of additional editions of The Suffering of Dubrovnik was stopped.

To the sea
“I am a writer,” Obradovic says. “I was forbidden to write, so I decided to use my first diploma, and I started sailing. “I thought I would do this [sailing] for two years until the situation became better, but I was 12 years at sea.” After eight years, he became a master mariner, sailing the cruise ship Walrus, based in Hong Kong. “I began to think, I will do this until I retire. It was a good job and a good salary.” He also published two books: both about the stories of seamen.

But Obradovic’s life was about to change again. In 2004, he was invited to teach in the newly created media studies program at the University of Dubrovnik. The university needed someone with his experience and qualifications. His passion for journalism, which had been stifled for years, returned, and he quit sailing and started teaching. His sailing salary was 12 times the amount he would make at the university. But he was happy to stay put, and his wife, Silvana, and son, Zoran, were happy to have him home permanently, he says. “Everything came into place.”

Journalist as academic
Today, the program chair of media studies, Stjepan Malovic, says Obradovic is “the good soul of the department.” Because the media in Croatia are still in transition from the communist era, Obradovic remains passionate about teaching democratic ideals. He does not want his students to go through what he did. “It is important to explain important issues to the public,” Obradovic says. “It is also important to learn how to write — and not from the Soviet media model.

“We insist here that our students check with different sources, to compare thoughts, to investigate the truth.. ... what they write should not be what the politicians want them to write. They need to write what the public needs to know.”

Most importantly, he wants his journalism students to take their work seriously and be ethical. ‘This is a serious job!” he says. “They need to know they can do a lot of damage — which is very dangerous.”

And his students respect that. Professor Obradovic is strict and critical — and he needs to be, many students say — but they also report he is very entertaining and enthusiastic and has a sense of humor. “You listen to him no matter how tired you are,” second-year student Emina Demiri says. “He’s so interesting, you’re going to listen to him no matter what.”

Student Ana Vritikap says, “ [He] has colorful methods to make his point. ... his humor makes us remember [his lectures] more easily.”

Romana Dubravcic and Iva Molanovic-Litre wrote in an e-mail that Obradovic “pushes us to study and write all time, and that is good for us.” They also mentioned that “he doesn’t like us to smoke.” Although Obradovic tells his students to “do this, do that, read this,” student Ivana Andelinic says, “he’s good!”

Since 2004, Obradovic has finished his requirements for his master’s degree and is almost finished with his Ph.D. requirements. He also has started writing news again. He writes about interesting visitors to and residents of Dubrovnik for the online news site www.dubrovnikportal.com, a site that is read by not only local people but by Croatians living abroad. He also recently edited a 29-chapter book about the now-deceased , most-famous journalist in Croatia, Rudmir Roter.

His life is full, he admits, but he wouldn’t have it any other way; he is both idealistic and realistic: “Knowledge is most important,” Obradovic says. “If you know many things, you won’t be afraid of the future.”
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