BELGRADE, 02.08.2018. – Traditionally, the first casualty of an election year or an election campaign is truth, but the journalists, too, have a price to pay, at least in the Western Balkans. In the region in question, such a state of affairs is an indispensable ingredient of the pre-election decorum – the alleged colored revolutions aiming to overthrow the elected governments top the hit list of the authorities struggling to ensure yet another term in office.
The special problem of such mishmash stories and cheap conspiracy theories, however, is that as of the past several years their plots have become potentially lethal, especially for journalists, but also for all those who dare criticize the powers that be.
Thus the highest state officials, such as Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik, for example, are publicly announcing the names of journalists whom they accuse of being foreign spies.
“What is the major concern is that such statements, given the high places they come from, are becoming socially acceptable,” warns Suzana Radjen Todorovic, BN TV station editor in chief.
The acceptance of untruths and manipulations coming from the authorities, supplemented with full names of their critics – is actually a verbal bullet, sometimes even a verbal burst fire, aimed at journalists. It is only a matter of time when, owing to a tense situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska, such rounds will turn real and efficiently silence the targets.
“Unfortunately, this is not the first and probably will not be the last time that he [Dodik] is treating journalists and news media in such a way. So far, we have seen and experienced quite a lot. But what is of great concern now, when their house of cards is shaking, is that such statements are becoming ever more frequent and that threats and pressure are on the rise,” says Zeljko Raljic, editor of the portal Istinito (Truthfully) and BN TV journalist.
From the Milorad Dodik regime’s long menu of colored revolutions, whose items are spiced with threats to individuals from the CSO sector as well, the most popular course has for months been the alleged threat coming from Great Britain. According to the authorities, it arrived in the form of some 40 intelligence agents dispatched to Republika Srpska to create a digital and armed chaos. As an extra, a non-existing entity – the British Business Club, dubbed the financier of the enterprise in question – is also being offered.
A journey of two reporters to London to participate in the Fellowship Program, which included visits to several most influential British news media, was labeled by the Republika Srpska ruling structures as a direct action against the Serb entity’s very foundations.
“The fact is that two senior BN TV journalists have gone for a-several-day training with certain structures in London, and it is obvious why this was done. I will tell you who they were: Mrs. Radjen and one Raljic, from here, from Banjaluka. We know all that and are aware how difficult it is to wage a political battle,” Dodik said at a press conference held on June 29 in Banjaluka.
“When the president of Republika Srpska, as the highest entity official, says that the journalists traveled abroad to be trained, and when he alludes to this being connected to traitorous activities against Republika Srpska, then it is but an attack against such journalists and the placing of a target sign on their foreheads. It is only logical that after such statements you feel unsafe,” Radjen Todorovic said.
“I would have preferred a bit more serious approach on the president’s part. He cannot be serious when he says that 40 British intelligence agents, once here in Republika Srpska, will report to me and my colleague, Suzana Radjen Todorovic! And, for God’s sake, if the 40 of them are indeed coming to Republika Srpska, it is a sad and not a funny matter. One has to be serious about that, because it is also dangerous,” Raljic said.
Calls for seriousness, however, were to no avail, since the authorities continued with their “British conspiracy” story, although the British themselves denied the allegations, pointing out that such shams intended to anaesthetize the public are endangering the lives of journalists.
In an announcement the Embassy of Great Britain said that such kind of political pressure and intimidation is completely unacceptable and is a violation of freedom of expression.
“In fact, the British-Bosnia and Herzegovina Fellowship Program has almost 250 participants coming from the fields of politics, civil society, bu siness and the media. Senior RS government officials and Republika Srpska Radio and TV (RTRS) representatives also participate in this program,” the announcement from the British embassy in Sarajevo added.
Despite the announcement which clearly states that the program participants include both RS government officials and their chief assistants in the anti-media campaign – the RTRS public service – the entity’s highest officials continue to turn a deaf ear to the facts, upping the attacks on journalists and the outlets they work for, as well as CSO representatives.
“In a society with only one officially acceptable point of view, such as exists in Republika Srpska but also in Bosnia and Herzegovina as a whole, any attempt to mention crime, corruption or everyday problems facing the ordinary people amounts to high treason. That is very unfortunate,” says Radjen Todorovic.
Apparently, calls to reason in this entity is a tradition long forgotten. Thus those 40 non-identified, alleged agents continue to figure in the stories about colored revolutions and conspiracy theories, all of them plotting against the self-proclaimed defenders of national interests, while the verbal outbursts targeting journalists are not subsiding.
“They [the journalists] were the logistics for those [the agents] that are arriving now. Regardless of their muddled explanations, my information from yesterday says that all those arriving are highly skilled professionals assigned to Republika Srpska. The question is why to Republika Srpska? BN TV comes into view as a station trying to implement the policies that are not in the interest of the Serb people and Republika Srpska,” Dodik said on June 29.
“The fact is that at one point Milorad Dodik was the hope of citizens of both Republika Srpska and Bosnia and Herzegovina, even of the international community. The international community assisted him and his option, although he would now like to erase that from history. Unfortunately, it cannot be erased. It is also unfortunate that today we have major problems precisely with the media and politicians in Bosnia and Herzegovina that at one point were assisted and promoted by the international community. That indeed is a problem. I think that the international community should change its approach,” Raljic says.
Stefan Blagic, president of the ReStart movement that was labeled as a client of the British Business Club, claims that instead of being prosecuted for breaking the law and falsely accusing media and CSO representatives, the RTRS public service is trying to present itself as a victim.
“I think this is happening as we speak. RTRS is trying to portray us as criminals and terrorists. Let me recall that they claimed that some of our members are terrorists, which is completely untrue and even preposterous. This is a classical example of placing a target sign on one’s forehead,” Blagic stresses.
Outraged by false accusations of being a criminal and terrorist, Blagic posted on social networks a message to the public service journalists: “Be careful when you meet me in the street.” As a result, he was taken in by the police.
After his release, the public service showed a document portraying him as a “person listed on the RS Interior Ministry’s criminal registry.” Publication of such documents is a serious offense.
“The document contained my personal identification number and my address, my father’s name and other data. Thus, whoever wishes to pay me a visit and do what he pleases with me is welcome to do so,” says Blagic.
The authorities also do as they please: they continue to make uncorroborated accusations and issue threats having in mind that Election Day is unavoidably coming closer. The attempt to anaesthetize the public is all encompassing and violent. Freedom of the media here has long ago ceased to mean anything.
“If we start from the premise that freedom of the media is one of the basic prerequisites for a society’s development, then it is only logical to conclude that suppressing such freedom means suppressing that society’s development. This is why I say that a country where journalists feel threatened and which they are forced to leave fearing for their safety is a very sad place,”Radjen Todorovic concludes.
Beta, Belgrade, 02/08/2018