Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Milosevic's People - Off On A Paranoid Hunt For Enemies Of Serbia

The state media is turning Serbs into a nation of paranoids, sending them out to hunt fifth columnists in every corner - and targeting ordinary people for the slightest of reasons.
By Vlado Mares

For twenty years Mrs Monik Beljanski taught French to primary schoolchildren in Novi Sad, throughout all the changes that have racked the former Yugoslavia, and was always highly-esteemed as a teacher and a member of the community. Until now.


She has been fired from her job at the Djordje Natosevic school in the wake of the NATO bombing of Serbia - because she is a French national. To the school authorities, as a citizen of a country that had bombed Yugoslavia, "her continuance to hold instruction in French at the school represents a political and state problem".


But the parents refuse to recognise the fact that their children are taught languages by an expert as a political and state problem. They and their children have launched a petition calling on the authorities to return "their Frenchwoman" to her job.


Mrs Beljanski's future is still in doubt, but her case is symptomatic of the increasing paranoia and tension encouraged by the media campaigns of Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic. All those who dare to publicly criticise the regime's policies and call for their departure become targets.


The principal target of the state media is the opposition Alliance for Changes, the loose alliance of parties calling for Milosevic's ouster. Then follows the Serbian Orthodox Church, which has been similarly critical, followed by teachers who struck in a bid to get their unpaid salaries made good, then pensioners demanding their pensions, students demanding even the barest hope for their futures, a few academics and journalists, and so on.


All are added to a list 'traitors' and ''foreign mercenaries' that grows daily. Meanwhile the responsibility for keeping the list supplied with fresh names appears to have been shared out between the heads of the ruling coalition.


Thus, the Socialists, headed by Milosevic, use the media to elaborate its theory that an internal enemy is intent on setting Serbia aflame again - as suggested, among others, by Dragan Tomic, speaker of the Serbian Parliament, at the opening of a makeshift river bridge in Novi Sad.


The Socialists' junior partners, the Yugoslav Left, headed by Milosevic's wife, Mira Markovic, prefer to accuse the opposition of being a Trojan Horse for NATO and its plans to trigger civil war in Serbia - as theorised by party secretary Ivan Markovic in an interview with the official Tanjug news agency.


More bluntly, the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party of Vojislav Seselj take every chance to declare foreign journalists in Yugoslavia as 'tramps' and 'scum' working for the Serbia's enemies. Even the respected and educated a re falling for this line, reporting a foreign TV crew to the police for filming in the street.


The media campaign that is causing madness among the citizens is more than just a pre-election strategy from the ruling oligarchy. It is laying deep foundations for a policy designed to encourage xenophobia and isolationism. School trips abroad, for example, were banned in Serbia in mid-September.


For the historically minded, they recall events over the border in Hungary during the days of Communist premier Macas Rakosi. The old regime would organise 'hunts for the enemy' that would even involve schoolchildren, with prizes for the best results. Photos of the 'captured enemies', usually old men in long black coast and hats, would be published for the record - all staged by the Hungarian secret police...


The Hungarian hunts found an echo during the NATO air war, when Milosevic's state media was daily reporting the downing of allied bombers in massive numbers. They called on all citizens - municipal workers, the sporting hunters' clubs, even the boy scouts - to be on the look out for the pilots of these phantom planes. To add to the tension, state TV crews were often sent out on these wild goose chases.


Finally the media announced that two spies had been caught sending information to the Western Alliance to help target NATO bombs, by a village near Novi Sad. Both were reported to be Hungarians, therefore perfect victims for the regime. Monik Beljanski from Novi Sad, being French, is also a perfect victim.


Milosevic, Markovic and Seselj have only set the pendulum in motion, for it is doubtful that they themselves would give the order for the sacking of a schoolteacher. But they have also set off an army of loyal junior clerks, vigilant in the defence of the 'fatherland'.


Like a pendulum, they will be hard to stop once set loose.


Vlado Mares is a journalist for the Belgrade independent news agency BETA.