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Interview 22 Jun 16

Serbian Satirist Says Threats Won't Silence Him

Satirical journalist Zoran Kesic says the doctored video clips of his show - designed to show him as anti-Serbian - were all part of a broader campaign aimed at blackening his name.

Sasa Dragojlo
Serbian satirist Zoran Kesic in his TV show "24 Minuters". Photo: Facebook

Ever since he hit the media scene in the mid-1990s with his Monty-Pythonesque humour, full of wacky wit and absurd twists, the Serbian satirical journalist Zoran Kesic has been seen as one of the country's most provocative TV hosts – but never as a danger to the regime.

However, since he launched his latest Jon Stewart lookalike TV project “24 minutes”, in 2013, in which he makes fun of politicians' numerous gaffes, Kesic has gained more attention.

For many Serbs, Kesic’s TV show is a rare oasis of smart, humorous and well-calculated critical thinking, which takes aim at both government and opposition parties.

When many serious “politics and society” talk shows have started disappearing from the screen, it seemed as if  “24 Minutes” had left alone to champion the art of political criticism.

Many have wondered how long it will take until the show is shut down.

However, while Kesic’s show has not been pulled for so-called “commercial reasons”, in the last few weeks, the satirist has faced serious attacks from the pro-government media.

They have started calling him a traitor and a foreign mercenary, paid by the West to topple the government.

On Sunday, someone posted online edited video footage of a “24 minutes” show in which Kesic allegedly ridiculed Serbs from Republika Srpska, Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity.

The video outraged Serbian nationalists and Kesic even started receiving death threats on social media.

Kesic told BIRN that the threats have been made because someone wants to incite people against him and his show.

“These are someone's obvious evil intentions and tendentious attempts to muddy me and the show and even endanger me,” Kesic said. “God forbid some lunatic or a drunkard whack me on the head,” he added.

Among the most vivid threats he read were: “You should be hanged”, “If you cross the Drina [the river border between Bosnia and Serbia], you will never come back”, “You should be executed without hesitation”, and “We will violently extinguish your family line”.

In the original “24 minutes” video, broadcast in 2014, Kesic actually said: "Today the Crimea, now Scotland, Catalonia tomorrow, the next day, why not, the Republika Srpska... although, perhaps better not Republika Srpska; I don't know if you saw how it looks on the map? What does this look like? Greetings to our viewers in Banja Luka."

However, in the altered video, someone deleted the greeting to "viewers in Banja Luka," and matched this segment to the second part of the show, in which Kesic is heard saying "Fools", which is followed by laughs, a false apology and, at the end: "But they are [fools]".

Kesic did not wanted to say who might be behind this malicious action, but said it was strange that both the doctored video clip and the pro-government media attacks had all come in the last few weeks.

“I have no specific knowledge as to why it happened....I can only guess that it is in someone’s interest to present me and my show as malicious Serb-hating traitors and mercenaries, which is the usual rhetoric of all those who do not agree with their opinion,” Kesic said.

He added that those behind the attacks do not have anything solid against him, and so had to pull out a two-year-old video and doctor it.

The satirist and his screenplay crew from Njuz.net were targeted two weeks ago by pro-government media –  Pink TV and the tabloid Informer - as mercenaries for supporting recent street protests in Serbia.

Kesic showed up at a rally organised by the group “Let’s not drown Belgrade”, which has protested against the demolition of the riverside Savamala district in Belgrade in order to make way for the state-backed Belgrade Waterfront project.

The “24 Minutes” crew have also spoken at “Support RTV” protests held against the wave of dismissals from Radio Television of Vojvodina, RTV, the public broadcaster of Serbia’s northern province.

Kesic said his support for the protests was his personal decision, adding he will continue to support his journalist colleagues because he feels it is the right thing to do.

“Me and my friends that I work with showed up at a protest against the thuggish demolition of Herzegovacka Street [in Savamala] because of our basic sense of conscience,” he recalled.

“We disagree with nocturnal phantom demolitions [of buildings in Savamala] and also with phantom dismissals of journalists on RTV. It is wrong in any regime for this to happen and we will continue to support the protests,” Kesic said.

He added that he does not blame the people who are threatening him, claiming these are just reactions by naive people who are being manipulated.

“Nine out of 10 people who are threatening me change their opinion when I show them the original video. Then they apologize and even call me to their family lunch in Banja Luka [the main town in Republika Srpska],” Kesic said.

“The object of my anger is not them, but those who have made me target and caused such threats,” he added.

Meanwhile, he said he will not hesitate to make fun of apsurd phenomenona in Republika Srpska once again if the time is right.

“We will make fun of Republika Srpska whenever we have an opportunity to do so, just like we make jokes out of Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia… and whoever deserves it,” Kesic concluded.

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