Putin’s Serbia

A friend writes:

The front cover of Wednesday’s Blic, a wide-circulation Belgrade daily, ran a big photo of openly gay actor Goran Jevtić, who played a leading role in the film Parada and in Angelina Jolie’s film In the Land of Blood and Honey:

Blic Oct 22 page 1The front page reads “The Actor Goran Jevtic Had Sex with My Son,” and accuses Jevtić of sexually molesting a minor in a bathroom several months ago. The other front page story — which takes up less space than this one — is about tennis star Novak Djokovic’s wife giving birth to a baby boy. Under normal circumstances, the Djokovic story would be the entire front page. People in Serbia’s entertainment industry (film, TV, theater, etc.) think the trumpeting of the Jevtić story is politically motivated.

The alleged event occurred several months ago. The police have made no arrest, nor has an indictment been brought. In the meantime, Jevtić is now at risk. He dares not leave his home without security, for fear of being attacked and killed. He appears to have gone into hiding. Were he to be detained for even 24 hours, the chances that he would leave prison alive are slim. Blic has proclaimed him guilty without trial.

Blic has continued to run front-page pieces on Jevtic for the two subsequent days. I can’t recall the last time I saw such an unprovoked and flagrant media lynching in Serbia. This hits home on many fronts: rule of law (due process), right to privacy, LGBT rights, human rights, presumption of innocence, hate speech, incitement, etc.

Blic is owned by the German media house Ringier. They have been under pressure from the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) as of late and have become increasingly sensationalist in their coverage. The former ruling Democratic Party (DS) also brought pressure to bear on the media. If a paper spoke out against the DS, then their advertising revenues would dry up. Since SNS has come to power, it is also able to control the media via placement of advertizing and appointment of editors, even in privately-owned papers. The latest (2013) European Commission progress report on Serbia says:

media reporting was insufficiently analytical and was influenced by the political parties in power, including through public funding, which led to widespread media self-censorship.

The OSCE has documented increasing pressure on the Serbian media, as have others.  There is little doubt that the attack on Jevtic would not occur without political backing.

For all his abuses, Milosevic permitted at least token opposition media in the form of B92, Studio B, and Danas and Nasa Borba. Today, B92 TV has been sold, Studio B is under the control of SNS, Danas has been privatized to a government friendly, and Nasa Borba went out of business. The current government wants little or no dissent.

Prime Minister Vucic will be speaking at LSE on 27 October. The event is organized/chaired by Dr James Ker-Lindsay, Eurobank Senior Research Fellow on the Politics of South East Europe. Balkanistas in the UK should show up to the event and hold Vucic’s feet to the fire. An email-writing campaign to the chair might also help.

Is there anything you can do on your end to activate people and institutions to send signals to the Serbian government that international attention is being given to 1) how the media handles this; 2) how the police and prosecution handle this; and 3) how Jevtić will be able to move about without fear of being killed?

On this last point: I am reacting by publishing this note on www.peacefare.net, which is often heavily covered in the Balkans press, including the Serbian media. I don’t know Jevtić. But I am concerned that he and others be safe, indicted or not. I am also concerned with the crescendo of reports that the Serbian media are under increasing government pressure to sensationalize and politicize their coverage.

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One thought on “Putin’s Serbia”

  1. Homophobia should be opposed in all forms.

    It should also, therefore, not be used as a tool to forward a particular perspective.

    I’m pretty sure that the Serbian authorities and members of Serbian society have evidenced such prejudice in the past. Why give them a free pass by blaming such noxious behaviour on Putin? By what machination did he introduce homophobia to German tabloids or Serbian state authorities?

    No connection is made in the post and no matter Putin’s own prejudices – I fail to see how agency can be removed from tabloid publishers and Serbian authorities for their own actions.

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