By Ivana Jovanioic
Months after a controversial article was posted on the internet, Serbia’s intellectuals and the political elite remain locked in a battle over freedom of speech.
IIn a January 11th posting on the Analitika website, Andrej Nikolaidis — advisor to Montenegrin Parliamentary Speaker Ranko Krivokapic — wrote an article titled, “What Is Left of Greater Serbia.” Referring to a visit to Banja Luka to celebrate the Day of Republic Srpska, Nikolaidis wrote, “It would have been a civilised step forward if dynamite and rifles had been brought into the room where the 20th anniversary of Republika Srpska was recently celebrated.”
The article prompted Serbian officials to start a showdown with local intellectuals.
“In the heated atmosphere, members of the Forum of the Writers — as well as numerous others who signed their appeal — have been challenged, insulted and accused of all sorts of things,” Serbian writer and translator Vladimir Arsenijevic told SETimes.
Shortly after Nikolaidis’ article was published, Belgrade requested his removal. Krivokapic refused.
The Serbian Writers Forum compiled a petition demanding the suspension of the media campaign against Nikolaidis. The petition was signed by Nikolaidis and Sreten Ugricic, director of the National Library of Serbia.
By his signature, Ugricic became the first representative of the intellectual elite to be punished for publicly expressing his views.
Ugricic, who left the country this month, was removed at an emergency meeting of the government on January 20th, by the initiative of Ivica Dacic, the internal affairs minister, and Zarko Obradovic, the education minister — both senior officials with the Socialist Party of Serbia.
“In America, anyone who expresses support for a terrorist act would be arrested in two minutes. Such statements are a way of arrogance, and I can not understand that someone is complaining because nobody was killed. It is terrorism support. I can’t believe that directors of public institutions can talk like this and not realise such political connotation,” Dacic said.
By the initiative of the Forum of the Writers, with support from academics, artists and others, the appeal for the withdrawal of Ugricic’s dismissal was signed by more than 1,000 local and foreign citizens.
Sasa Mirkovic, president of the Association of Independent Electronic Media, said that with the replacement of Ugričić, the interest of political actors in Nikolaidis is ended.
“I do not believe that, after the change of Ugričić, any of the signatories will be threatened by the government,” Mirkovic told SETimes.
Borka Pavicevic, writer and director at the Belgrade-based Centre for Cultural Decontamination, believes that Ugricic’s removal can’t be separated from political continuity, and that it represents the destruction of the public library and continuous development.
“It shows an attitude towards ‘critical culture’. The difference between political elites and the critical potential in this country is increasing on a daily basis and it is the central problem,” Pavicevic told SETimes.
Branka Prpa, associate of the Institute for the Newer History of Serbia, supported the petition for freedom of thought and speech, as well as the one for Ugricic.
The former head of the Historical Archive of Belgrade, she said that Dacic, as well as others from the Milosevic regime, aren’t people who have moral credibility or rights for any questions on civil society.
“The procedures of the Serbian government do not only insult our intelligence, but all our sacrifices in the fight against the Milosevic regime. After all these deaths, we are not afraid of them anymore. It seems that they are, still, afraid of us,” Prpa told SETimes.
A list of forum members has been checked in a search for potential new victims of this “attempted” purge.
“Imagine, all this is happening in a country whose capital city is working to get a nomination for European Capital of Culture in 2020,” Arsenijevic said.