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Radio Brod - History

In 1991 the former communist state of Yugoslavia began to break up, with separate religious and ethnic factions each laying claim to large areas of territory and population groups. These claims were made despite over 40 years of apparent integration within and between communities and individual families and resulted in a ferocious three-sided civil war.

Serbs, Croats and Muslim forces fought each other for dominance over territory and population, in the process destroying whole towns, villages and thousands of individual lives. Any normal daily way of life ended - food, fuel and clothing supplies dried up. Although there were attempts at providing aid through the United Nations, these came too late and were prone to disruption by rival factions.

Countless attempts were made to negotiate ceasefires and agree a long term peace solution by re-defining and re-drawing territorial boundaries. Each time, however, ceasefires were broken almost as soon as they were declared and communities continued to be split, while vast numbers of people became homeless and those who were not killed in the fighting often starved to death in the ruins of their towns and villages. Those who managed to retain their homes did so by enduring the greatest of hardships - what little food and fuel there was available was in short supply and some areas had none at all. All this in a country which, at one time under communist rule, had enjoyed a relatively high and sophisticated standard of living.

In a situation like this readily accepted lines of communication were destroyed along with every other semblance of a 'normal' society and many people felt that news and information was being manipulated to provide biased and unbalanced coverage of what was really happening inside the country.

Against this background a number of journalists from former state radio and television services, as well as newspapers which were no longer able to publish, fled the country and settled in Paris during 1992. One of these, former Montenegran newspaper editor, Dragica Ponorac, set about finding a way of providing his homeland with an impartial source of news and information.

The journalists made contact with a number of French humanitarian and libertarian groups, amongst whom were some people who had  been involved with the 'Goddess of Democracy' offshore radio project, which was planned to broadcast to China in 1990.

After discussions between these various groups it was decided that the best means to provide an impartial news and information service was to establish a radio station broadcasting from outside Yugoslavia. The organisation, Droit de Parole (The Right to Speak), was formed in August 1992 and initially negotiated an option to use a land-based transmitter in Hungary, powerful enough to allow broadcasts to cover all the former Yugoslav territories. However, it was later decided to use a ship-based transmitter instead mainly for safety reasons because it was feared that the land-based transmitter could be vulnerable to sabotage.

Contact was made with Radio Caroline to see if it would be possible to hire the Ross Revenge to use as a base for the proposed station. However, the British authorities who, in November 1990 had impounded the Ross Revenge in Dover, were unwilling to lift the Detention Order on the vessel so the group was forced to look elsewhere for a base.

By early 1993 they had chartered a former Antarctic research vessel, the Cariboo,and she was re-named Droit de Parole. Using the experience of other offshore radio stations, as well as an extensive network of contacts to which the journalists had access, it was planned to start transmissions in March 1993 for an initial three month period, broadcasting objective and pacifist news to the former Yugoslavia from a position in the Adriatic Sea off Italy.

Programmes were to carry news on the war in Yugoslavia as well as reviews and analysis from the international press and the independent Yugoslavian newspapers which were still being published such as Vreme, Borba, Monitor and Oslobodjenje. The station, whose aim was "to broadcast objective news to all residents of the former Yugoslavia and combat the paranoia which is fuelled by suspicion and propaganda as a weapon of war", also planned to transmit sports news, family messages and of course music - a mixture of classical, rock and folk.

Mr Tadcusz Mazowiecki, representing the UN Commission on Human Rights in the former Yugoslavia said the station was desperately needed "to promote actions aimed at freeing information and at halting incitement to hatred on the territory of the former Yugoslavia by the local media."

Backing for the project came from three main sources:- the European Community; an organisation known as France Libertes Association, whose president was Mrs. Danielle Mitterand (wife of the then French President); and UNESCO (a United Nations based aid organisation whose Director General, Frederica Mayor, was also a member of France Libertes). Backing was also reported to have come from an un-named British organisation as well as various press groups in the USA including the Washington Post, New York Times and the Penn America Centre.

At the outset in early 1993 the project had also been promised funding by the then French Minister of Humanitarian Action, Bernard Kouchner, but after the French general elections in March 1993 brought a new administration to power that offer was withdrawn. The incoming French administration maintained that the offshore radio project was contrary to international regulations and convention agreements.

Whilst this must have been disappointing for the project's organisers it at least showed a consistency of approach which their predecessors in office had lacked. The previous administration had on many occasions invoked international agreements and regulations in their opposition to Radio Caroline and other offshore radio stations operating in Europe, but apparently had been prepared to help fund the proposed offshore radio operation aimed at Yugoslavia, conveniently ignoring those international agreements.

After being fitted out in the French port of Marseilles the Droit de Parole sailed for the Adriatic on 31st March 1993, carrying a marine crew and seven journalists from all parts of the former Yugoslavia - Serbs, Croats, Slovens and Bosnians, headed by Editor-in-Chief, Dzevad Sabljakovic.

Test broadcasts, under the call sign Radio Brod (Radio Boat), started on 7th April 1993 and regular programmes, 24 hours a day, commenced on 1st June 1993. The ship was stationed in international waters in the Adriatic Sea off Bari, Italy but she did not anchor in a fixed position as almost all offshore radio stations in the past had done. Instead, partly for safety reasons, the vessel kept on the move sailing up and down the Adriatic broadcasting to a target area which included Serbia, Montenegro, Dalmatia and Bosnia.

Radio Brod expected its broadcasts to be jammed by the former Yugoslav states and according to radio engineer Jean Pierre Grimaldi, the ship was equipped with electronic countermeasures to deal with such an eventuality.

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The Observer

19th September 1993

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Radio Brod

Information leaflet explaining the background and operation of  Radio Brod.

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