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MIRKO, from edition...

By Maj. Richard C. Sater
First published in
SFOR Informer#122, September 19, 2001

His name is Mirko. He likes music and movies. That's him in the baggy jeans and baseball cap. He could be any other teenager - and that's exactly the point.

Mirko gives a face to a magazine named after him, a monthly publication specifically targeted to teenagers in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). The glossy, colorful pages include interviews with celebrities (singers, writers, film stars), both national and international, Britney Spears side by side with Boris Maric, a young poet from Brcko. Fashion, sports, films, the pop charts, reader letters … just like any other teen magazine.
In the upper left-hand corner of the cover, however, is the familiar blue and white logo of the Stabilisation Force. A small box placed discreetly inside the magazine tells the rest of the story: published by NATO's Psychological Operations Task Force, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers, Europe.
So what is SFOR doing in the magazine business?
Mirko is indeed sponsored by SFOR - written, produced, and distributed for free throughout BiH. The magazine is a tool, and a very effective one. A quick look at the contents reveals the subtle message: we share common interests, and we can get along. Tolerance is a key message, and Mirko is a forum aimed at a specific audience.
With a monthly circulation of 160,000, the publication has a devoted readership. Three versions are published each month; 90 percent of the run is Serbo-Croatian, with half printed in the Roman alphabet and half in cyrillic. The third version alternates each month between English and German.
The current editor, German Chief Master Sgt. Ingo Kulot, will spend the next six months at the helm of Mirko from its office at Camp Butmir, Sarajevo. The staff also includes two bilingual writers, Ivana Stipic and Damir Duran. Approximately two-thirds of the magazine's copy is locally written, with the remainder done in Germany.
In addition to music, movies, and sports, the staff writes about "everyday young people." Their lives, what they do - positive examples of how they take initiatives to get things done. Examples of co-operation and multi-ethnic tolerance," Duran says. Reader feedback is important as well; many boys and girls write to their friend Mirko with suggestions about what they'd like to see in his pages.
The name of the magazine has no special significance - it's simply a boy's name - but "Mirko" was chosen because the name is common to all three of the primary ethnic groups in Bosnia: Bosnian-Croats, Bosnian-Serbs and Bosniacs. "We try to speak the language of young people; 13 to 18 is our target audience," Kulot says.
Drafting stories is the easy part. Artwork and design, however, are sometimes problematic. The production crew takes care to be all-inclusive, never to offend. The approval process for articles, photos, and layout is a painstaking but essential step in the production each month. "It's a bit tricky, but this is what we're trained for." Once the issue has been approved for release, it is printed in Sarajevo and readied for distribution.
The magazine has enviable name recognition. "It's estimated that 89 percent of the young people know it," Kulot says with pride. "That's something no other magazine has accomplished."
Since its beginning five years ago, the Mirko project has been in the hands of the German armed forces - appropriately, Kulot believes, since many Bosnian refugees settled in his country. Forty-six issues have appeared so far with no end in sight. He hopes the magazine will always continue, perhaps as a commercial publication.
Changing a culture is not an expedient process. Today's adolescents were children during the war. "They're growing up. We … (have) the task of educating them. It can't be done in a year or two years. It has to be ongoing," Kulot says.

...to distribution

Related link: SFOR at Work