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News 18 Aug 16

Serbian Tycoon Accuses Soros of Attempted Subversion

Continuing a campaign against NGOs and independent media, the owner of pro-government TV Pink wrote to George Soros, saying the billionaire’s “small donations” will not destabilise the country.

Sasa Dragojlo
BIRN
Belgrade
Serbian media tycoon and owner of pro-government channel TV Pink, Zeljko Mitrovic. Photo: Beta

Zeljko Mitrovic, the owner of TV Pink, wrote an open letter on Wednesday to business magnate and philanthropist Soros, the founder of the Open Society Foundations, saying that his donations to Serbian NGOs would not succeed in destabilising Serbia and its government.

“You cannot destabilise – I wanted to say help – Serbia today, not with four billion and certainly not with four million dollars in four years,” Mitrovic wrote.

He called Soros’s donations ‘tips’, suggesting that his Open Society Foundations were only giving a small amount of money to Serbian NGOs.

“I personally have no objection to you donating and helping those who are in need, but you must admit it that it is embarrassing for such a giant mogul and investor to humiliate Serbian civil society with such insufficient tipping which is not enough for morning coffee,” Mitrovic wrote.

Mitrovic’s letter was the latest in a series of verbal attacks on NGOs and independent media by pro-government outlets.

Pro-government tabloid Informer on Tuesday published a five-page-long list of NGOs funded by Soros’s Open Society Foundations from 2011 until 2014, with a front page headline claiming that “Soros paid 391,940,146 dinars [3.2 million euros] for chaos in Serbia”.

Both Pink TV and Informer are very influential in Serbia as Pink has a national frequency while Informer sells tens of thousands of copies.

Several Serbian journalists and NGOs said that the ‘foreign mercenary’ allegations were aimed at silencing government critics.

“The aim is to suppress the voice of the public that is critical of the regime. There is no question about the destruction or destabilisation of Serbia at all, but only about strengthening the position of the ruling elite that has a panicky fear of different opinions and criticism from the public,” the president of the Independent Association of Serbian Journalists, Vukasin Obradovic, told Radio Free Europe on Tuesday.

Aleksandar Popov, the head of the Novi Sad-based Centre for Regionalism, one of the NGOs mentioned on Informer’s list of "Soros's mercenaries”, said that these were old mechanisms for undermining political enemies.

"It is not the first nor the last time that various media have been trying to stamp NGOs as traitors or mercenaries, we had that in the 1990s," Popov told Radio Free Europe.

BIRN has contacted the Open Society Foundation's office in Belgrade but it declined to comment on the Mitrovic letter.

For the past two years, media outlets close to the government have repeatedly attacked NGOs and media in Serbia which are seen as not supporting the administration.

They are usually labelled as mercenaries paid from the West to destabilise the country and Serbia’s Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic.

On August 1, the newspaper Srpski Telegraf called for arrests after it published an article claiming that the Russian secret service, the FSB, had compiled a 552-page list of  “foreign mercenaries” in the Serbian NGO, media and civil service sectors.

In July this year, TV Pink and Informer accused journalists from the independent network, KRIK, and members of the campaign group Let Not Drown Belgrade - which is protesting against the redevelopment of the riverbank in Belgrade - of trying to destabilise the country and of working for Western interests.

On July 18, a controversial exhibition in Belgrade, organised by Serbia’s ruling party and entitled ‘Uncensored Lies’, was opened in an attempt to back the ruling party's claim that the media in Serbia is free to ‘lie’ about the government and that there is no official censorship.

However, critics claimed that the exhibition in fact showed that there is censorship in Serbia, since the items were all drawn from a few media outlets which do not have widespread influence, from one television station which does not have a national frequency, and from one TV show, the satirical programme ‘24 Minutes’.

Human rights groups and watchdog organisations said that by organising the exhibition, the government was undermining its claim that it accepts independent media and critical journalism, and encouraging a climate of intimidation.

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