The German OPINFO battalion developed MIRKO, A monthly youth magazine designed to appeal to the teenage audience. Publication began in June 1996 and production increased to reach 100,000 copies per edition in fall 1997. MIRKO, the title chosen for the publication, is a common male first name used in Bosnia as well as in Serbia. It contains the word MIR (peace).
Why bother to publish a youth oriented magazine in war torn Bosnia? Some personal observations of a member of the German OpInfo battalion explains it best.
"The youth of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Republik of Serbska have survived a bloody war, but they felt as Europeans, they wanted to live and share interests just like every teenager in the western world.
The editors received some thousands of letters to MIRKO written by the children. The children wrote what they liked and disliked in the magazine, they told about their hope, dreams, and their sorrows. They also sent in poems and other contributions to share with the staff and in some cases for consideration to be published. It was amazing!
MIRKO was a magazine in progress. The first issues where made very carefully, in the meantime, as MIRKO became better established, the editors were given more freedom in the way they presented the topics (eg. the use of colors, the professionalism of the layout etc.)
MIRKO was not only a magazine. There was also a weekly MIRKO radio show at a local broadcasting station, and MIRKO parties with the latest MIRKO charts - a kind of "product-family". These projects were not isolated - to realize them, SFOR established and worked with youth centers, social workers, teachers etc to better understand the concerns and feelings of the youth in Bosnia.
It is an interesting point that among the editor's staff of MIRKO were not only professional soldiers, but also draftees, who were not much older than the target group. Input from these younger soldiers also help guarantee that the magazine' focus was always close to the target group. As new draftee replacements arrived in Bosnia, they brought new knowledge as to what was "in" or "outs". It also helped that these draftees were very familiar with the war in Bosnia having followed it on the news on German television or in some cases, having met children of refugees when they where students at school (Germany hosted many refugees of this war)."
The following is an article published in August/1998 in a newsletter for the OpInfo reserve-corps.
MIRKO - a German Youth Magazine Wins Bosnia
For almost two years the German Bundeswehr has published MIRKO, a very unusual magazine. It is handed out free of charge to teenagers between 13 and 18 years in Bosnia-Herzegowina and the Republik of Serbska, helping to accomplish a series of difficult tasks of the SFOR mission, eg. implementation of the Dayton-treaty and stabilization of the political situation.
MIRKO is being offered to the young readers in the country by order of the SFOR Information Campaign, a multinational corps under NATO command. Concept, text and layout are made by members of the German OpInfo Bn 950 in Mayan, Germany, with an additional editor's staff in Bosnia. The monthly magazine has 16 pages (4c) and attained a circulation of 125000 copies. 5000 of these copies are handed out on approval or as teaching materials in German or in English (monthly change). Meanwhile the magazine is used in schools in the countries as reading for foreign-languages courses. Indeed the major parts are printed in Serbo-Croatian, 70000 copies in Latin characters and 50000 in Cyrillic characters.
Printing is made in the stationary printing platoon of the battalion. The technical capacity of the two biggest printing presses allows (theoretically) the printing of 96000 4c pages per hour on each press. The editorial staff and the 1st editor are located in Mayan. But even in future the battalion has a regular correspondent in Bosnia. Many members of the battalion served in Bosnia during the mission and from their own experience they know about their reader's interests.
The magazine's sections are sports, music/pop-scene, computer/internet, youth, events and movies. Very much desired by the youth are the posters (centerfolds) of every issue, showing international soccer-teams or famous pop-stars. The range of topics correlates with the interests of the teenagers. There are reports on local bands as well as on rock-festivals in Bosnia-Herzegowina.
According to the information-campaign the magazine likes to show the young readers different tasks, from which definite rules of conduct and attitudes can be deducted. For example, it should become obvious that peace is a joint process of all groups of the population. Therefore SFOR-activities should not be disturbed or obstructed, but supported.
To be credible in the meaning of the mission it is necessary to take care of several rules which are typical for a multi-ethnic country with many areas of conflict. Not only special symbols and topics but also forms of greeting and colors may cause problems of religious or ethnic reasons. It was imperative that not only a peaceful coexistence be stressed but also that the western system of values be presented in a positive and acceptable way. This effort could not be accomplished solely through songs of pop groups or articles, but had to be accompanied by photos or articles geared to make the youth think and draw their own conclusions. For example, if the US basketball-star Michael Jordan appeared on the cover-page, their might be a related story with a message. It was found that important messages were more easily understood through the use of sports, because sports symbolize non-violent competition, internationality and tolerance. All goals we wanted to achieve in Bosnia.
Although not overtly evident, MIRKO helped spread the word of a new understanding, that would form the basis for the permanence of peace.