By Brigitte L. Nacos
Whether you consider the perpetuator of violence for political reasons a terrorist or a freedom fighter matters: terrorists are loathed; freedom fighters are admired. Zvenko Busic, the mastermind of a 1976 hijacking and bomb explosion, is a case in point: For the family and friends of New York City police officer Brian J. Murray who was killed by an exploding bomb that Busic and his comrades had planted in a locker at Grand Central Terminal, he is a ruthless terrorist; for many fellow-Croatians he is a heroic freedom fighter. Given the different connotations here, it is particularly important what terms news organizations choose, when they report or comment on those who carry out political violence.
The other day, Busic was paroled and deported to Croatia.
This is the lead in the story that The New York Daily News published yesterday: “A Croatian terrorist has been freed from a life sentence and shipped to his homeland - to the disgust of relatives of the city cop he murdered more than 30 years ago.”
In today’s New York Times, the lead is quite different: “After more than three decades in United States prisons — a term punctuated by a brief escape and recapture — a 62-year-old Croatian independence fighter returned to his native country on Thursday, having served his time for a 1976 hijacking and a bombing that killed a police officer. The fighter, Zvonko Busic, led a group that planted a bomb at Grand Central Terminal that later exploded, killing a city police officer, Brian J. Murray.”
I underlined three words in the above leads to contrast the different descriptions of Busic in the two newspapers—for the Daily News he is a terrorist, for the Times an “independence fighter” and a “fighter.” As far as I am concerned, a terrorist commits or threatens violence for political ends—precisely what Busic, his wife Julienne, and three other Croatians did in September 1976, when they hijacked a TWA airliner en route from New York to Chicago with 92 persons abroad. They threatened to blow up the plane unless their conditions were met: prominent publicity for the plight of Croatian independence from then communist Yugoslavia.
During a stop in Gender, Newfoundland, the terrorists released some of the passengers together with a large quantity of their manifesto in form of leaflets. The explicit demand was that these leaflets had to be dropped over major American and European cities and printed in major newspapers (The New York Times, The Washington Post,The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times, and The International Herald Tribune). The publicity scheme worked: Leaflets were indeed dispersed over Montreal, Chicago, Paris, and London. And the four U.S.newspapers published the team’s lengthy statement explaining Croatians’ grievances and goals. Obviously in touch with compatriots and content that their conditions had been met, they surrendered after their plane landed in Paris.
In the meantime, however, a deadly drama had unfolded in New York City. Although the hijackers did not bring explosives aboard the TWA airliner, they had informed the authorities about the bomb they planted at Grand Central Station—probably to back up their threats to blow up the hijacked Boeing 727. When the police bomb squad tried to disarm the bomb at a disposal site in the Bronx, it exploded killing one police officer and blinding another. Busic, sentenced to life, was the last of the terrorist group to be freed from prison.
A terrorist or independence fighter? I opt for the “t’