Albanian News Breaks in New York

Article excerpt

A Bronx, N.Y.-based ethnic newspaper is not quite two years old but has become an important source of information on Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Balkan conflict.

Illyria, published twice a week in English and Albanian, is the brain-child of Harry Bajraktari, a 35-year-old Albanian businessman who immigrated to the United States in 1970 from his native Kosova.

That region, populated mostly by ethnic Albanian Muslims, recently declared its independence from Serbia and is expected to be the next flash point in a war that has taken 100,000 lives and has devastated the former Yugoslavia.

"We're the only source of information that comes twice a week on Kosova," said Bajraktari in a recent interview in New York. "We get calls from all over the country. Our voice is heard by senators, the State Department and on Capitol Hill."

Adds Deborah Jo Angus, the paper's managing editor, "We pride ourselves on being the most comprehensive publication on the Balkans. We run on average between 10 and 15 articles an issue, more than anyone else. You might see one or two stories a day in the New York Times, but we try to delve a little deeper."

Illyria, which means "freedom" in Albanian, was born in June 1991, the same week James Baker attracted a crowd of 300,000 people in Tirana and became the first U.S. secretary of state to visit Albania in more than 50 years.

The 24-page newspaper has appeared every Wednesday and Saturday since then. Some 4,000 copies circulate in the United States and another 5,500 are mailed to Europe and elsewhere.

For the moment, Illyria faces little competition. The only other newspapers serving the 250,000-member Albanian-American community are Liria - a four-page monthly opinion paper published in Boston - and the newly established Albanian Herald in Detroit.

Bajraktari declined to say how much he invested to launch the paper, but he does expect Illyria to break even in six months.

Angus says at least 40% of every issue is devoted to the Balkan crisis.

A typical recent issue of Illyria contained articles on President Clinton's peace plan for Bosnia, the expulsion of 2,000 Albanians from Greece, growing Serb tension in Macedonia and Albania's efforts to attract foreign investment in oil-drilling ventures. There is also strong local coverage of community activities, with news on everything from the latest Albanian Orthodox Church controversy to New York's All-Albanian soccer team.

The paper also serves another function: It helps Albanians in their home-land and in the United States to learn English.

Advertisers - mainly restaurants, travel agencies and immigration lawyers - cater specifically to the Albanian community in New York.

In addition to subscribing to Inter Press Service, Reuters and the Associated Press, Illyria has two full-time staffers in Tirana; three in Prishtine, Kosova; one in the newly independent Macedonia, and one in Montenegrol which along with Serbia forms the greatly reduced Yugoslav Federation. …