Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
The Witch Hunt Continues
Judging by official rhetoric and the accolades heaped on regime reporters, it seems that the state of Serbian journalism has never been healthier or more patriotic. Thus while the killing of renegade media mogul Slavko Curuvija remains unsolved, the state media have launched new attacks on other key opposition figures.
Belgrade media and political analysts interpret the killing and the failure of the police investigation as a warning to all potential opponents of the regime of what awaits them if they dare challenge Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Moreover, they fear that the regime will maintain today's heavily-censored and jingoistic journalistic scene even after the bombing campaign is over.
Gunned down just in front of his home a few days into NATO's bombing campaign with 15 bullets in the back, Curuvija, the founder and owner of the daily Dnevni Telegraf and weekly Evropljanin, had been an influential member of Serbian society, an insider critical of the regime and the course Milosevic had set for Serbia. Even before the official investigation was launched, however, the authorities ruled out the possibility that this crime may have been politically motivated.
Although the police refused to follow up any leads pointing to a political assassination, the Belgrade daily tabloid Politika Ekspres was happy to describe the murder as a "contract killing". In a commentary read out on state television, the newspaper also named Curuvija as someone responsible for the bombing of Serbia and appealed to patriotic elements to settle scores with other "traitors" of his ilk.
The killing and the commentary have been more effective than any censorship or reporting instructions from the Interior Ministry in bringing would-be critical editors and journalists into line, reaffirming in their minds the risks inherent in their profession.
Those individuals who have tried to build independent media in Serbia during the past decade wonder how in current conditions and whatever emerges after the war they can ensure that views other than those of the state are aired; that journalists are protected; and that laws brought in during the state of emergency are not abused to settle scores with the handful of opposition political activists.
These have become burning issues since state television turned against what it terms the "fifth column" of internal traitors, personified by the opposition politicians Zoran Djindjic and Vuk Obradovic, leaders of the Democratic and Social Democratic Parties, respectively, as a result of statements they allegedly made to foreign media.
Television viewers do not know what Djindjic and Obradovic actually said, since the statements themselves have not been broadcast. They are just aware of the interpretation of the statements presented by state television, one which both Djindjic and Obradovic reject.
According to the television commentary, the electorate have turned their backs on Djindjic and Obradovic who "cannot grasp what is left from their so-called democratic opposition, that walked the streets of Belgrade two years ago under American and German flags". As a result, state television alleges, they are encouraging NATO to maintain its bombing campaign.
The commentary continued: "Some leaders of the so-called democratic opposition, after returning from abroad, suddenly found themselves in modest shelters in Podgorica, as was the case with Zoran Djindjic, ready to offer their services when NATO has completed its democracy of bombing."
Djindjic is calling for three more weeks of bombing, the commentary alleged, by which time he believes that the country will be completely destroyed. Moreover, Djindjic already sees himself as the new post-war president of Yugoslavia. "Is the destruction of the country, the price that he is prepared to pay for being a presidential candidate?" state television concluded.
Obradovic, a former general, is, according to the same commentary, no "less co-operative" in his relations with NATO. He too would be delighted, the commentary alleged, to see the deployment NATO troops in Kosovo.
Seen in conjunction with the on-going attacks on Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic, the perennial target of Serbian media anger, the witch hunt may not be over.
The author is an independent journalist in Belgrade.
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