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04 Nov 16

Vicious Attack or Freedom of Speech?

Slobodan Georgiev

It was my mistake and I’m sorry for what I’ve done. After I put my children to bed I sat in the front of TV and started to watch a talk show on Serbia’s national broadcaster.

Aleksandar Vulin, the Minister for Social Affairs. Photo: Beta

It was Tuesday evening, the time for Champions League matches, but something forced me to spend some time listening what the guests in the studio would say about the latest events in Serbia connected to security of Prime Minister Vucic and overall security in the country.

The Minister for Social Affairs, the former director of the Serbian security agency and the state secretary of the Ministry of Interior were all on RTS, explaining what was happening with national security, after police found a large quantities of weapons hidden close to the PM’s home on October 29.

It seemed like it was going to be one more boring debate among people who share exactly the same values and follow the same politics - but Aleksandar Vulin, the Minister for Social Affairs, made sure it was more than that.

Vulin stated that the US embassy in Belgrade was connected with the threats to the PM’s security and criticised those who, as he put it, were constantly trying to make jokes about serious issues.

Even more, Vulin implied that “Georgiev” and “Masic” had said they wanted to see something happen to the Prime Minister in terms of an assassination, and we need to talk about whether there was any serious threat to him or not.

Who are those who underestimate the seriousness of the information that some groups are trying to assassinate Prime Minister Vucic?

As said, Vulin mentioned two surnames, Georgiev’s and Masic’s, although most people watching the talk show probably did not understand what this meant.

Neither is present in the Serbian mainstream media. Neither is a leader of a political party. Nor they do participate in Serbian political life, nor are they owners or editors of mainstream media in Serbia or abroad.

Dusan Masic is a former B92 reporter and editor who has worked in London for years while I am a journalist for BIRN who publishes also in the Belgrade weekly Vreme. We are also very “active” on Twitter – whatever that means.

Vulin mentioned us as people who were trying to “destroy” official information about potential attacks on Vucic by posting humiliating comments on our Twitter accounts.

 That was just one of dozens of attacks on people who comment on social networks “against” Vucic and his style of governance.

It was an attack, not a freedom of speech exercise, because Vulin put us in the same context as members of unnamed criminal or terrorist groups who have apparently tried to kill Vucic.

Masic and myself and others who criticize Vucic on Twitter - because you cannot hear a voice opposite to Vucic’s in the mainstream media - have been under constant attack, directly from the Prime Minister and from other ministers and officials of the ruling Progressive party, for the last four years, ever since Vucic came to power in 2012.

The whole list of foreign agents installed by international security agencies or the mafia [which is also controlled by the CIA or some other powerful agency] has been drawn up and presented to the Serbian public through defamatory articles published in the tabloid Informer and supported by some other print and TV stations - and through the special exhibition prepared by the Progressive Party, called “Uncensored lies”.

Vulin told a lie because I did not make any jokes about such serious issues, having in mind the trauma Serbia underwent in 2003 when Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic was killed.

I know what the role of the tabloids was, who prepared the atmosphere in which this assassination could be understood also as a final result of a war between two gangs.

Once you are criminalized in the public you become an easy target for those who want “to save Serbia” from your bad influence.

On the other side, Vucic and his associates say that WE want to present HIM as a criminal, just as Djindjic was presented by the tabloids, and by his political opponents led by Vucic’s former Radical Party, so that he could be more easily removed from power without elections.

It is not true, because WE do not have any power and are just trying to survive in a very hostile media environment.

First, they called us critics, then haters and liars. After that we became spies. Now, in the last incarnation presented by Vulin and supported by Informer, we are members of an organized criminal enterprise that wants to eliminate Vucic and his family.

The truth is that journalists who do not support Vucic‘s politics do not have space to work. That is the situation in Serbia’s mainstream media, which has been documented and reported on in annual EU progress reports and in other reports of organizations that deal with censorship and freedom of speech.

The truth is that real “debate” about many things that are happening in Serbia today takes place only on Twitter or Facebook. That is why Vucic, during his legendary extraordinary press conferences, regularly refers to things mentioned only on Twitter, never in the “regular” media.

He made me famous because he is arguing with something I wrote on my Twitter account many times in last two and a half years. It is funny but it is also dangerous because he promoted me, as Vulin did also, into an enemy of the state, a person who has been installed to destroy Serbia and its values.

So, is this freedom of speech, like he says, or a vulgar display of power? That is how it looks to me.

Slobodan Georgiev is a BIRN Serbia editor, journalist and programme coordinator.

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