The perils of Sonja and Jelena

Ratko Dmitrović, Director and Editor in Chief of Serbia’s daily Večernje Novosti, writes (translation courtesy of the Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies):

How are the views of Kristijan Golubović [a convicted armed robber, extortionist, drug and arms trafficker] and his biography more dangerous for Serbian society than the views and biography of Sonja Biserko?

What are Sonja Biserko’s sins?  This is what Dmitrović cites:

…she testified at the Hague in order to prove the genocidal proneness of the State of Serbia, making lists snitching Serbian intellectuals, professors, public figures…

Dmitrović  puts Jelena Milic in the same category.  Her sins?  According to him, she

…claims that Serbia should have been bombed in 1999. That was, as she explains, the only way to prevent Milosevic’s crimes in Kosovo in 1998/1999.

These allegedly odious views make the two women as morally repugnant to Dmitrović  as Kristijan Golubović, a notorious convicted criminal. Dmitrović can’t abide the two women having more access to the media than Golubović does.

Let’s leave aside whether Jelena and Sonja, both of whom I know and esteem for their courage and conviction, actually did and said what Dmitrović claims.  They can answer better on that score than I can.  The question is whether the editor of a major Belgrade newspaper is unable to distinguish between the moral effect of criticizing the (Milosevic) government’s behavior and the violent criminal activities of Golubović?

I imagine he can.  But he doesn’t want to.   He is using his freedom of speech–to which he is as entitled as Jelena and Sonja–to make their lives even more perilous than they already are.  The implications seem clear to me.  If they are endangering Serbian youth, shouldn’t someone do something about it?  If they are more corrosive to Serb values, as he suggests, than the Russian-killing Rambo, shouldn’t someone stop them?  Dmitrović is not alone in thinking this way.   The Serbian People’s Movement Naši (NSP Naši) lists them among the 30 greatest Serb-haters and traitors among public figures.

I’ll leave it to the Serbian government and courts to decide whether these particular uses of constitutionally protected freedoms violate Serbian law.  They certainly violate American sensibilities, which makes little difference under the circumstances.  But both the international community and the Serbian government should be stating clearly that they dislike what Dmitrović is saying and regard the safety of Sonja and Jelena, both of whom live and work in Belgrade, as paramount.

Serbia has come a long way in the 13+ years since Milosevic fell.  The recent election confirmed its future lies in Europe, where those who know Jelena and Sonja regard them as among Belgrade’s finest.  They should not be made martyrs to a European Serbia, or asked to sacrifice their homes in order to be safe and secure.

PS:  For more on what Jelena’s organization has to say about Serbia’s relations with Russia, see this.  I find it amusing that a former prime minister has forgotten about Russia sanctioning Serbia, but I understand those who take it more seriously.

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3 thoughts on “The perils of Sonja and Jelena”

  1. The ultranationalist forces, including those making lists of “Serb-haters and traitors”, might grow increasingly aggressive over the coming period, at least on a rhetorical level, due to their frustration of being largely sidelined from the political scene. It is the first time in Serbia’s modern history that all the parties opposing European integration are left unrepresented in the parliament, which is forcing them to resort to noninstitutional methods of political fight. If these parties and movements – the most notable of which are the Democratic Party of Serbia and Serbian Radical Party – had formed an election coalition instead of running separately, they would have won at least 10 percent of the vote and thus secured some seats in parliament. And while the absence of hardline anti-European nationalists from the regular political life may appear to be an encouraging sign, it is also potentially dangerous given, among other factors, these organization’s inclination for violence.

    1. According to a recently published poll, approval for the idea of joining the EU is rising – it’s now over 50% – so the DSS and the Radicals may be seeing their support base shrinking. If politicians want to be elected in the future, they may find it worthwhile moderating their stances on the EU (while continuing to push for wider, legally-mandated use of Cyrillic, for example.

      It’s interesting, and perhaps hopeful, that the pensioner’s party doesn’t have a representative in the new government. If the country is going to have a future, it’s going to have to make difficult choices between the generations, and the pensioners (the generation that urged on Milosevic) may have to accept less than they think they have earned. Serbia isn’t the only country facing the choice, of course.

      1. Yes, the support for EU integration is above 50 percent, but the composition of the parliament still does not reflect the overall public mood on the issue, given that no anti-EU party is represented even though the number of people opposing EU membership is considerable, standing continually at between 25 and 35 percent (the rest are undecided). Also notable is the fact that significant portions – albeit not a majority – of SNS and SPS voters and lower-level members are Euroskeptics despite their parties’ leaderships’ pro-EU stance. Reasons why these people nevertheless vote for these two parties are related to their domestic agendas (such as social and economic policies), and have nothing to do with the country’s European perspective. People simply want to live better and are growing largely indifferent to everything else, including the EU.

        As for the elimination of the pensioners’ party from the government, that’s perhaps the best thing that has happened following the elections, given that the pensioners were the biggest stumbling block to crucial economic reforms.

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