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16.01.2019

Serbian journalists under pressure as protests swell

by Jane Whyatt

Thousands of Serbs have been out on the streets again for the seventh Saturday running. They are protesting against propaganda, pressure on independent journalists and President Aleksandar Vucic’s strongman style of government.

Serbian journalists under pressure as protests swell Thousands of Serbs are protesting against propaganda, pressure and attacks on independent journalists, and against President Vucic’s strongman style of government. Photo: Visekruna Djordje

Threats and attacks against media workers are intensifying. Milan Jovanovic, editor of Zig INFO news portal, and his wife narrowly escaped with their lives when arsonists threw Molotov cocktails into their home. Later there was an intruder at their new temporary home, though that incident is not believed to be linked to Jovanovic’s work.

On 16. January 2019, Zig INFO reports a series of attacks from false accounts in social media.

Smears in print and TV 'blockade'

Government-owned magazine Illustrated Politics has published hate speech against critical and independent journalists, including Ljiljana Smajlovic, an ECPMF Board Member. (Read her response here.) And at the latest Saturday rally in Belgrade, actor Branislav Trifunovic accused the government of imposing a ’blockade’ on RTS, the national public service broadcaster, according to a report by Deutsche Welle.

On that march in Belgrade, journalist Biljana Stepanovic, editor-in-chief of New Economy magazine, also tweeted photos recalling the demonstrations against former president Slobodan Milosevic in the 1990s. Milosevic was accused of genocide in the Balkans conflict and sent to the United Nations Tribunal at the Hague, where he died in prison before his trial could be concluded.

In Stepanovic’s tweet she says, “Is this a matter for laughing or crying? 22 years ago, I brought my daughter to the protest against Milosevic. Now she came to Belgrade and took me to protest against Vucic.“

There are long memories in Serbia.

After the fall of Yugoslavia, a humanitarian refugee crisis in Kosovo and war crimes committed in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo triggered the intervention of NATO bombers and United Nations peace-building forces. Yugoslavia’s republics became independent nations. Slovenia and Croatia are now EU Member States and Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia and Kosovo are recognised as 'potential candidates' for EU membership. Serbia and Montenegro have opened negotiations. 

Yet the Balkans war still casts its shadow on today’s politics and the work of journalists.

#iComment: Ljiljiana Smajlovic's response to attacks in Serbia

Slavko Curuvija’s former colleague, journalist and editor Ljiljiana Smajlovic, has campaigned for many years to get justice for him. She has recently published a column in the weekly Nedeljnik about the hate speech, smears and attacks on herself and other members of the commission to investigate circumstances surrounding the murders of journalists in former Yugoslavia.

Smajlovic is a founder and Executive Board Member of the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom.

She will not be silenced. This is her commentary on recent verbal and visual attacks against her and other journalists.

On 16. January, protestors commemorate one year since the 2018 murder of Serbian politician Oliver Ivanovic in the disputed Serb-Kosovo territory of Mitrovica. Ivanovic had been an outspoken opponent of President Vucic’s policy on Kosovo.

Meanwhile in a courtroom in Belgrade, the 20-year-old murder of Slavko Curuvija, Dveni Telegraf and Evropljanin founder and editor-in-chief, is being examined in a controversial court case that has already lasted for four years. Curuvija was killed on Easter Sunday 1999, after political opponents had accused his newspaper of allegedly “welcoming NATO bombs” in Serbia. Vucic, Serbia's current president, was the Milosevic government‘s Information Minister at the time.

In 2013, fourteen years after the killing, the government set up a journalist commission to investigate Curuvija’s case, as well as the cases of other murdered journalists Milan Pantic and Dada Vujasinovic.

The trial of three of the four men accused of killing Curuvija (the fourth is still at large) has been going on for almost five years and is due to end in the first few weeks of 2019.