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INFO   :::  Human Rights > Freedom of Expression under Threat


Freedom of Expression under Threat

Belgrade, 5 September 2006

09/05/2006 , HCHRS


Government of Serbia missed an opportunity to be a constructive negotiating partner of the international community in Vienna negotiations related to Kosovo status. In parallel its unwillingness to hand over Ratko Mladic to the Hague Tribunal led to the suspension of negotiations with EU. The government's inability to perceive and respect the reality both in Kosovo and in a broader context, resulted in a new, anti-European U turn of Kostunica-led authorities. The goal of that U turn is homogenization of the whole society in order to effect renuciation of negotiations(1) and show that resolution of status of Kosovo shall be imposed to Serbia. The foregoing was followed by new smear campaign against individuals and organizations expressing a different stand on Serbia's international committments and facing up to recent past.

Direct motive for the latest smear campaign targeting exclusively chairs of the three NGOs, Biljana Kovacevic Vuco, Nataša Kandic and Sonja Biserko, was the statement of Martii Ahtisarija of 8 August 2006 that the policy pursued by Slobodan Miloševic has to be taken into consideration when taking decision on future of Kosovo and that every nation shoulders a burden for which it must pay>. The said statement was subsequently (nearly a month later) used to kick off homogenization campaign. All relevant prime movers of the Serb society(2) assessed that statement very negatively. However it bears underscoring that the statement was wrongly interpreted, that is, Ahtisari was misquoted as saying that the Serb people are collectively guilty...and therefore should pay the price for that guilt.>

Martii Ahtisari's misinterpreted statement thus served to kick off anew demonization of the three, aforementioned chairs of NGOs, well-known for their stands on war crimes, Kosovo and the facing process. Thus tabloid Kurir(3) more or less carried correctly their comments, but nonetheless ran a sensationalistic headline Three Riders of the Serb Apocalypse Cheer on Ahtisari>. The next day Ljiljana Smajlovic, editor-in-chief of the most respectable daily, Politika,(4) in an article demonized Biljana Kovacevic Vuco and her NGO, in a sequel of smear campaign against YUCOM which started after publication of the book Vojislav Koštunica: One Career. Editor-in-chief availed herself of that opportunity to question the mode of YUCOM's financing, whereby she quoted the names of US donors of that organization, whose beneficiary she herself has been for years. YUCOM for a long time has bore the brunt of the harangue orchastrated against it by secret services and all those who had been politically involved in Djindjic's assassination, because YUCOM has been legally representing, in a number of lawsuits Vladimir Beba Popovic, a close aide of assassinated Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic.

In parallel the weekly NIN has orchestrated in the course of August 2006 a very sophisticated smear campaign against the author and editor of the publication Vojislav Koštunica: One Career. Initially that campaign bore the hallmarks of an expert debate, but later it turned into an open harangue against Sonja Biserko and Biljana Kovacevic-Vuco, branded as children of Communism. It is interesting to note that in that harangue took part a broad spectrum of individuals, some of whom even belong to circles close to NGOs and those espousing an alternative way of thinking, in contrast to the official policy line toed by Kostunica-led governmen. It is obvious that in Serbia methodology of part of civilian society dealing with transition justice by naming and shaming is considered as >the one beyond the permitted and decent.>

On September 4, Siniša Vucinic in his communique informed the media that the foreign intelligence services shall first abduct and then liquidate the three ladies in a smoke screen attempt to persuade the international community that they had been liquidated by the state leadership of Serbia for rendering support to Martii Ahtisari, the UN Special Envoy for Negotiations on Kosmet.>(5) He added that he would like to advise the three women to immediately freeze their public activities and to seek refuge in safer destinations. He allegedly informed in writing about the aforementioned plot the Interior Ministry and the Republican Public Prosecutor.

On the evening of 3 August, Nataša Kandic was a guest in a popular TV B92 talk show Impression of the Week. The topic was anew the recent Kosovo-related statement of Martii Ahtisari. However the whole program quickly degenerated into an open harangue, led by the talk-show's host, Olja Beckovic, against Nataša Kandic. Nataša Kandic espoused her well-known public stand on Kosovo and the war crimes responsibility. After her departure from the studio, three shots were heard in the vicinity of TV B92 building. The police maintained that shot-like sounds were in fact petard explosions. Olja Beckovic stated: "When Nataša Kandic entered the taxi, and closed its door, I heard three explosions. In my opinion Kandic probably has not heard those shot-like sounds, while Stojanovic and I failed to grasp what was happening. But it was clear that she was the intended target of those shot-like sounds, and they were not a coincidence. But I still think those were petard explosions.(6)

Police spokesman Dragana Kajganic told B92 that a petard was hoisted from a nearby building, and added: Policemen on duty, that is, deployed there because of a high-risk profile of that talk show, checked the scene of incident and found out that a petard had exploded. They are experienced policemen who can easily distingusih between the petard explosion and pistol or firearm shot."(7)

Editor-in-chief of B92, Veran Matic, stated that he hoped that the incident was caused by petards. But he added: "Even if it was provoked by petards, it is nonetheless a very serious incident, a serious warning, a attempt to instill fear and threaten security. But then when one reads today's "Kurir", in which Siniša Vucinic announces that Biljana Kovacevic Vuco and Sonja Biserko are targets, and that their lives may be imperiled, then one understands that it is very important to have a prompt and efficient police response. I am not satisfied with last night's reaction of the police, because our security men informed me that the police did not return to our building, failed to take statements on the goings-one inside and outside the building, and to ask to check our surveillance camera recording. Nataša Kandic told me that she had heard shots, but realized the meaning thereof only when she arrived home, where she was met by policemen from Zvezdara allegedly ordered to meet her, after having been briefed about the incident. Of great concern is the fact that we have not been properly informed of the foregoing. We shall insist that all those who failed to carry out the most complete investigation be held accountable. I don't know why we have not been informed, and I would like to be told how it was established that the shot-like sound was caused by-a petard. Our security men maintain that the sounds heard were more similar to shooting than to a petard explosion."(8)

Rajko Danilovic, prominent Belgrade lawyer and one of the legal representatives of family Djindjic in the process against Djindjic's assasins, in the radio B92 talkshow Kažirpst (4 September) commented the attack on Nartaša kandic and Vucinic's letter given to tabloid Kurir as a very dangerous phenomenon. He compared it to announcements that were given ahead of murder of Slavko Curuvija, Ivan Stambolic and Zoran Djindjic underlying that freedom of expression was more liberal during Miloševic times because his opposition had more influence then the current alternative political opinionsin Serbia.

Social -Democratic Union was the first political party or public protagonist which responded to the said incident. SDU stressed that increasingly frequent threats and calls to lynch of chairs of a number of NGOs in Belgrade, dealing mostly with protection of human rights, raises the specter of a possible return of Miloševic era mood to Serbia." SDU communiqué reads: "The attempt to-put it mildly- intimidate Nataša Kandic and statement of so-called Chetnik duke Siniša Vucinic, tantamount to heralding of killing of Sonja Biserko, Biljana Kovacevic-Vuco and Nataša Kandic, indicates that things are going in a bad direction in this country. " The said communiqué demands the Prosecution to respond swiftly and to clearly reply to the question whether death threats may be publicized in newspapers without any punishment. "A whole series of so-called respectable commentators are threatening with lynching anyone who tries to even mildly criticize the incumbent authorities. The foregoing definitely indicates that behind those threats are circles close to government of Vojislav Koštunica."(9)

According to his own acknowledgement, Siniša Vucinic has been a collaborator of military services for the past 15 odd years and has played a major role in heralding certain events.(10) He frequently publicly unveiled his connections with the Interior Ministry and the Security Services, and talked about important info received from them.(11) It is indicative that in 2005 he was among the guests celebrating the Day of the Interior Ministry in Makis.(12)

In April 2005 Vucinic and his armed escorts raided TV B92 premises, threatening that they would kill Ceda Jovanovic.(13) Also when Legija was arrested, Vucinic, several days after that arrest, disclosed that Legija would accuse Beba, Ceda (that scenario was later confirmed, as written by Legija and various tabloids).(14)

Vucinic was arrested in the Sword Action on 14 March 2003 and detained for a month in a solitary cell of the Central Prison. After installation of Kostunica-led government, he filed a damage compensation claim, demanding 1,5 million dinar pecuniary compensation for his arrest in the Sword Action, under suspicion of being a member of an organized crime group.

On grounds of "sustained psychological pains" he was given a compensation to the tune of 357,000 dinars.(15)

Added to aforementioned smear campaign, Marko Kljajevic, president of trial chamber in the trial of Djinjdic's assassins, in the face of increasing pressures on him, was finally compelled to hand his resignation. It bears saying that much pressure has been piled on Kljajevic since the beginning of Zemun Gang trial and notably before testimony of witness-collaborator Dejan Milenkovic Bagzi. As a result of continual media-patrotic campaigns and fear of renewal of institutionalized violence in everyday life, the public opinion is anesthesized.

Atmosphere of lynch and "justified anger" can be easily created for the sake of demonizing those who think differently. The best example thereof is the current campaign targeting the three "women traitors." Those women simply embody the evil whose destruction would be most welcome. In such a situation it is very difficult to implement the transition justice, or to introduce a new system of values, as imperative in any post-conflict society.



1. Nebojša Covic, President of Social Democratic Party stated that Ahtisari's words "aimed at compelling the Serb side to abandon negotiations", Danas, 30 August 2006

2. Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences in its communiqué underscored " the whole people, regardless of their identity, cannot be accused of wrongdoing committed by some members of the very people". Negotiating team of Serbia sent a letter to to Martii Ahtisari with the following message " The state negotiating team of Serbia categorically rejects such claim, for it is not based on fact, therefore its is totally unacceptable from the moral standpoint. However, that claim raises some serious issues related to your biased stand within the framework of negotiations on the future status of Kosovo and Metohija. ". Vecernje novosti, 31 August 2006

3. Kurir, Marti's Girls, 2 September 2006

4. Politika, Silence! Committee Is Listening To You, 3 September 2006

5. Kurir, 4 September 2006

6., 4 September 2006

7., 4 September 2006

8., 4 September 2006

9., 4 September 2006

10. Danas 10-11 2001, Siniša Vucinic: "I don't understand why all and sundry are attacking skinheads. They are wonderful, young people." He went on to note: "They should be permitted to legalize their organization, to freely promote their ideal-type of race of the Serb people. This country needs such people. ...".(30)

11. Through my connections in the State Security Services I learnt that afoot were the two plans for removal of Milosevic. According to the first one, Miloševic was to be abducted and sent to the Hague. The second plan, to be put into operation in case of a failed abduction, was related to Milosevic's physical liquidation. Namely he was to be gunned down by a nearby sniper-man, while saluting his followers in front of his gate. I know reliably, and I don't fear to say it that hardened criminals were first engaged to effect both plans, while only later members of so-called Special Anti-Terrorist Unit SAY were called in. The latter group was ordered to don phantom-like gear to resemble masked offenders, who had already been put in action. Then criminals were withdrawn. (

12. Internacional, 19 June 2005. The Day of the Interior ministry and Police was celebrated in educational centre, "Makiš", in Belgrade, by fraternization of the elite police units and a large number of curious citizens. There were present also the highest Interior Ministry officials as well as a large number of prominent public personalities, notably Predrag Markovic, president of Serb Parliament, ministers Zoran Stojkovic and Zoran Loncar, Vukašin Maraš, as representative of Serbia and Montenegro, Head of Chief of Staff of Serb-Montenegrin Army, General Paskaš, Rade Bulatovic, Director of Security-Informative Agency, Sandra Raskovic -Ivic, Siniša Vucinic, etc.

13. Kurir, 20 April 2005, Vucinic Threatens Ceda Jovanovic. Siniša Vucinic, president of the Serb Party of Socialists, raided with his armed escorts TV B92 premises on Monday night. Vucinic was furious because of Cedomir Jovanovic criticism of his actions in the program "Insider". According to head of informative program of TV B92 Milorad Vesic, Vucinic stated that "my men shall kill Ceda this city there is no longer room for both of us. I talked to Maka and Legija's wife. My men from Herzegovina shall kill him, and I am ready to go to jail for that murder."

14. "I call on Vladimir Beba Popovic, Cedomir Jovanovic, Zoran Janjuševic and Nemanja Kolesar to immediately surrender to the Serb Interior Ministry, in the same way Legija did it. For when on 10th of May 2004 Legija accuses them of being accomplices in assassination of Prime Minister, it shall be too late for them.". Internacional, 5 May 2004. ( several days after arrest of Legija, Siniša Vucinic announces a scenario later elaborated by tabloids close to authorities. A month and a half later, Legija at his trial, launched the tale of "drugs smuggled on orders of Beba and Ceda")

15. Glas javnosti, 6 June 2005, Siniša Vucinic, president of the executive committee of the Serb Party of Socialists, received 357,.000 dinars as compensation for sustained psychological pains, tainted honor and reputation, violated freedom and personal rights, during his unfounded apprehension at the time of the Sword Action. That judgment, passed by the First Municipal Court in Belgrade, duty-binds the Republic of Serbia and the Serb Interior Ministry to pay out that sum to Vucinic as well as additional 36, 000 dinars representing costs of lawsuit proceedings.













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