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NEWS 29 Mar 17

Serbian Public Figures Deny Backing Vucic Campaign

A number of well-known public figures in Serbia, including artists and professors, have been annoyed to find their names included on published lists of supporters of Aleksandar Vucic's campaign to become president.

Filip Rudic
BIRN
Belgrade
Serbian PM and presidential candidate Aleksandar Vucic. Photo: Beta/Sasa Djordjevic

Announcements endorsing Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic’s campaign for the Serbian presidency have included people who deny ever pledging support for the ruling party’s candidate.

Well-known actor Misa Janketic told BIRN he had been included on a list of supporters without his knowledge or approval.

“I am 80 years old and have never in my life publicly endorsed a candidate … Not even [late Yugoslav President] Josip Broz, it is not my style,” Janketic said.

The actor’s name was included in an announcement from the Serbian Royal Academy, which was published on several media websites.

Another public figure listed as a supporter was the musician Zafir Hadzimanov. He has reportedly also denied supporting Vucic on his Facebook page, saying that he actually signed an appeal in support of rival candidate Sasa Jankovic.

BIRN could not independently verify the Facebook account, but Hadzimanov was one of the signatories of an appeal asking former Ombudsman Jankovic to run for president.

The announcement of the Serbian Royal Academy has since been taken down from most websites.

Another list published as an advert by Vucic’s Serbian Progressive Party listed the names of 650 intellectuals and public figures as supporters of Vucic's campaign.

Over 500 out of the 650 signatories on this list are academics.

Assistant professor at Educons University Damjan Martinovic, whose name was included on the list, told BIRN nobody had asked him to support any of the candidates.

After the list was published, he checked the internet to see if there could be another person with the same name and title, but found nothing.

On calling a newspaper that published the list, he was told to take up the issue with the Progressive Party, which he choose not to do.

Among the signatories of the list were the chancellors of universities in Nis, Novi Pazar and Pristina, as well as deans of various faculties in Belgrade, Novi Sad and Nis.

Serbia’s acting Ombudsman Milos Jankovic warned that such activity is prohibited for university chancellors and deans.

"Participating in an election campaign is not allowed for deans and chancellors, and shows that universities lack autonomy," Jankovic said on Twitter.

Serbia's Law on Higher Education bans members of higher educational institutions from engaging in political and party activism.

The proclamation has inspired an online counter-petition, organized by students and signed by over 6,600 people, that condemns academics who have sided with Vucic.

“The number indicates that students are no longer afraid of blackmail,” one of the petition’s initiators, who asked to remain anonymous, told BIRN.

He complained that the academics that apparently support Vucic did not react when it was revealed that the Minister of Interior Nebojsa Stefanovic and Mayor of Belgrade Sinisa Mali had plagiarized their doctoral theses.

"Many of our professors who then remained silent now stand proudly in support of Aleksandar Vucic - who defended the fake PhDs," the petition reads.

It also accused the academic community of remaining silent while the rule of law and freedom of the press in Serbia are being undermined.

Serbia's presidential election is scheduled for April 2, and Vucic is widely tipped to win the race, possibly in the first round.

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