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February 14 2014

Bosnian Protesters Demand Bread, Social Justice and Freedom of Speech

When the citizens of Bosnia’s second biggest city, Tuzla, went out to protest on February 4, 2014, few expected to witness the country-wide riots that the world is witnessing just a week later. Whether the latest unrest in Bosnia-Herzegovina, can be qualified as the “Bosnian Spring”, as some media have named it, isn't what matters at the moment. The reasons behind the unrest and where things are headed are the topics that many locals are asking the international community and media to focus on.

Bosnia’s “Grapes of Wrath”

Protesters have drafted a set of demands, narrowing down their struggle to one about social justice [ba], the end of corruption, and freedom of expression. People have also made it clear that the protests are not motivated by a quest for identity or inter-ethnic tensions. Stefano Fait from Italy commented:

Eric Gordy, a University College of London (UCL) professor who also writes for a group blog about Balkan politics and academics, described snapshots of the recent atmosphere in Bosnia that he observed during a visit there, giving insight into what is fueling the current anti-government protests:

Conversation 1 was with the waiter in a large Sarajevo hotel [...] A colleague and I had heard that the employees of the hotel had not been paid for several months, so we asked. It was true, he told us. Most of the employees had remained at the hotel through a series of ownerships and bankruptcies, and had often faced periods of reduced pay, no pay, or something in lieu of pay. So what were they working for? They wanted to keep the hotel going in the hope that one day it might become profitable again, and they wanted the employer to keep making contributions to the pension and medical care funds. [...]

Conversation 2 was with a group of postgraduate students in Tuzla. Most of them had or were seeking work as schoolteachers. And they were only able to get short-term jobs. Why no permanent jobs in schools? Because available workplaces are distributed among the local political parties, who fill them with their members and put them on one-year contracts. The effect of this is that no young person can get a job except through the services of a political party, and no young person can keep a job except by repeatedly demonstrating loyalty to the political party. You can probably imagine the wonderful effect this has on the development and teaching of independent, critical thinking in schools.

The government has been claiming that it has no funds to provide even for its citizens’ most basic needs. Some Bosnians have responded with humor, circulating comments and images like the one below, widely on social networks:

The note reads:

The note reads: “Donations for the government”, using the word “sergija”, which is a term for donations made to religious institutions and charities. Image widely circulated on Twitter.

Media coverage

In national and regional mainstream media, the protesters are often labeled as hooligans. A textbook example of media manipulation is the spin around protesters having weapons. Serbian tabloid “Kurir”, considered a government mouthpiece in Serbia, published an article detailing a plot for the “violent unification” [sr] of the ethnically varied cantons of Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH). The article screams, through exclamation marks, images of violence and biased wording, that protesters are amassing a stockpile of weapons with which to lead the alleged “violent unification” of Republic of Srpska, the so-called Bosnian Serb Republic that is one of the two political entities in Bosnia-Herzegovina, with the other, the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Kurir’s piece generously quotes Mehmedalija Nuhić, called a “political analyst from Tuzla” in the article. On social media, people wondered [ba] who this person is, some of them clearly dismissing his claims. Tanja Sekulić, executive editor at Klix.ba, tweeted:

The peak of idiocy: Analyst Mehmedalija Nuhić claims that protesters have acquired weapons that they will allegedly use against the citizens of RS [Republic of Srpska, the Serb majority part of Bosnia-Herzegovina]. #protest

Banja Luka-based Kontakt Radio published an investigative piece [ba] researching the alleged Nuhić, “presented [to the public] as an analyst”. “Every journalist around Tuzla is wondering who this analyst is,” writes Kontakt Radio team. As Kontakt Radio's quick research revealed, Nuhić is in fact a municipal inspector serving in the city of Lukovac. “And we kid you not,” comments the author, cheekily ending the piece with some more readily available information on Nuhić, which dismisses his credibility as a “political analyst” entirely.

People from the region are used to media manipulation and the above example of such machination is one among countless others. In an op-ed [ba], Paulina Janusz reflected on the unity political parties and media in Bosnia's show against protesters. The media, for its part, was quick to report on any rumors of protesters’ bad behavior, but protesters were quick to react to such reports. Activist Emir Hodžić, who attended the Sarajevo protests on February 7, detailed to Radio Slobodna Evropa (Radio Free Europe) what he witnessed, declaring “we are neither vandals nor hooligans”.

Others have been thorough in describing their experiences on blogs as well. The following video of a young woman in tears, imploring police to join the crowd, went viral, accompanied by snarky comments on social media in the lines of “see, these are the hooligans of Bosnia”:

Dario Brentin, among others, has compiled articles from the early days of the protests in a Facebook note. Materials like this are regularly translated into English and updated on Bosnia-Herzegovina Protest Files. A collectively curated compilation of links is also available through the CrowdVoice.org platform.

Now what?

Many politicians and media representatives have already begun to play the blame game quite actively. Lord Paddy Ashdown, who served as High Representative and Europe’s Special Envoy to the country from May 2002 until January 2006, urged the European Union “to make Bosnia functional”. In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Lord Ashdown warned:

At the moment its citizens are complaining about poverty and lack of movement and dysfunctionality of the state and corruptions among politicians” [but it] “could move to something far worse very quickly.[...]

The international community has to act now. If they don’t act now, I greatly fear that a situation where secessionism will take hold could easily become unstoppable as we approach elections.

Alarmism is also present on several sides. Valentin Inzko, an Austrian citizen and the High Representative of Bosnia and Herzegovina, declared to Balkanist.net:

If the situation escalates, we will possibly have to think about EU troops. But not right now.

Regardless of whose fault it is and who is supposed to “fix” the country, one question persists: Why are so many Eastern European and Balkan countries suddenly protesting? Shortly after protests erupted in Tuzla and Sarajevo, Bulgarian independent research blog Banitza published a thoughtful post, “Waving ‘Democracy’ from Ukraine to the Balkans”:

Why now? Why not 6 months ago; why not one year ago? These are question that were directed at the protests in Bulgaria, which reached their largest numbers in the summer. Clearly, the situation is so dire that either nothing or anything could trigger public outrage. [...]

Of course violence cannot be the answer. It’s destructive. But desperation clearly takes precedence over dialogue in this case. [...] It’s simple – for the people protesting, the assumption of patience is nonexistent. And it is understandable. There is a level of tolerance that is, as has been shown over and over again in the 20th century, very flexible and malleable among human beings. But it has its limits. And within the Balkan countries this year, the sense of tolerance has been exhausted by the outright public arrogance of the Untouchables – call them mafia men, ex-communist, business elites. It makes no difference. Their capacity to flaunt their economic dominance is one thing, but their increasing ability to enforce their political and legal immunity is apparently too much. It has been, for a long time, a fact that democracy is very dysfunctional.

Writing for Balkanist, Darko Brkan formulated four suggestions:

1) Declare Victory for the Citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina
2) End all Police Investigations [against citizens having taken part to the protests]
3) Establish Provisional Governments in the Cantons
4) “Internal Lustration” Within Political Parties

What may be a game-changer is a recent decision by the Cantonal Court in Sarajevo ordering “temporary seizure” of all media property documenting the protests in Sarajevo. Pro-government protests have also been witnessed, as seen in a video from February 10.

February 11 2014

Prisoners Lists Stir Informbiro Memories in Former Yugoslav Republics

The recent publishing of lists of prisoners of Goli Otok, victims of communist purges in Yugoslavia from 1949 to 1956, has reignited dormant debates and opened some old wounds, across all the former Yugoslav republics.

Goli Otok is a Croatian island that was used as a prison camp during the so-called “Informbiro era” – the post-World War II breakdown between the communist leaderships of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. For many Yugoslavs, “Tito's historical ‘No!’ to Stalin” was a source of pride, especially because it solidified their country's role as an intermediary between the Western and Eastern Bloc. The purges that were part of the clash officially included persecution of alleged “pro-Soviet communists”. According to the victims and dissidents of the time, this was often just an excuse by the country's power-mongers to get rid of anyone they disliked for any reason and, thus, people of many other political affiliations were sent to the notorious camp.

Prison area of Goli Otok. Photo by Wikipedia (CC BY-SA).

Abandoned prison area of Goli Otok. Photo by Wikipedia (CC BY-SA).

During the last two months of 2013, Croatian portal Novi Plamen (New Flame) published two lists compiled by UDBA (Yugoslav State Security Service) from the State Archive of Croatia – the list of the 413 people [hr] who died in the camps, and the list of all 16,101 prisoners [hr] who had served sentences there. The second link spread widely through social networks and then through news portals in all six former Yugoslav republics.

Scan of the second page of Goli Otok prisoner list, displaying names, birthdates and codes for municipality, ethnicity, type of crime, dates of start and end of emprisonment... Published by Novi Plamen.

Scan of the second page of Goli Otok prisoner list, displaying names, birthdates and codes for municipality, ethnicity, type of crime, dates of start and end of emprisonment… Published by Novi Plamen.

Slovenian right-wing blogger Pavel noted [si] that the publishing of the lists coincided with the recent December 9, 2013, death of Jovo Kapičić [sr], who had allegedly been the man in charge of Goli Otok. In an August 2013 interview, Kapičić, a Serb, claimed [sr] that the Serbs had made up the majority of prisoners at the camp.

Twitter user ‏@flusteredcooler from Montenegro commented on this issue as well and, while people from all of the former Yugoslav republics often claim that their nationals made up the majority of those sentenced to serve time at Goli Otok, he noticed:

Legend says that most of the population of Goli Otok consisted of Montenegrins? The lists show that it was Yugoslavia in a nutshell [representing everybody]

A senior Macedonian blogger, among the oldest members of the local blogosphere, and a World War II anti-fascist resistance veteran, Buv (“Owl”), posted an announcement [mk] by the Association of former Goli Otok prisoners, advising caution in relation to the lists and offering first-hand consultations to all interested parties:

Темата за “голооточаните“.“информбировците“затвореници што ја издржувале казната во логорот Голи Оток е дел од пошироката историска тема за конфликтот меѓу СССР и СФРЈ.Не може да се зборува за казнениците на Голи Оток,без да се разгледуваат во комлесот на историските збиднувања.

Независно од тоа колку биле свесни/идејно свесни/за својот однос кон конкретните настани,учесниците во збиднувањата,што подоцна се нашле на Голи Оток,се учесници во еден политички судир кој има исклучително историско значење,за нив,за нивната земја,за пошироките светски движења.

Ова отклонување го направивме за да обрниме внимание на оние лесно искажани карактеристики што се даваат по повод на објавените списоци за голооточаните/информбировците/ и во други прилики.Без да се има во вид поширокиот контекст на случувањата,може паушално да се кажува се и сешто.Важноста на историската проблематика бара сериозен пристап.

Здружението Голи Оток,меѓу другото,ја има и таа задача да ја објасни,документира,да ја покаже историската вистина за настаните во кои независно од нивната волја се нашле и овие страдалници,што така строго ги казнила историјата.

The topic of the “inhabitants of Goli Otok,” the “Informbiro prisoners” is part of a larger historical topic about the conflict between the [USSR] and the [SFRY]. One cannot talk about the Goli Otok prisoners without taking into account the complexity of historical events.

Regardless of how much they were aware or ideologically involved in these concrete events, the participants who were detained on Goli Otok were engulfed in a political clash with exceptional historical importance, for them personally, for their country and the wider world movement.

We publish this notice to draw attention to the reactions that have been published with great ease after the lists of prisoners were exposed, as well at other occasions. Without taking into consideration the wider context of events, anyone can say anything without arguments. The importance of the historical issues requires a very serious approach.

The Goli Otok Association has the mission to explain, document and disclose the historical truth about the events which unwittingly encompassed these sufferers, who were so severely punished by history.

Informbiro activities left deep trauma in the collective former Yugoslav memory, parts of which were artistically expressed through popular cult movies like When Father Was Away on Business (1985) by then young Bosnian/Serbian director Emir Kusturica, and Happy New Year '49 (1986) by Macedonian director Stole Popov.

February 02 2014

Political Pressure on Serbian Media Begins to Show on TV

Deputy Prime Minister and Serbian Progressive Party leader Aleksandar Vučić addressing media after a parliament session, July 23, 2012. Photo by Nemanja Jovanović, copyright Demotix, sed with permission.

Deputy Prime Minister and Serbian Progressive Party leader Aleksandar Vučić addressing the media after a parliament session. Photo by Nemanja Jovanović, copyright Demotix, sed with permission.

Rumors and stories from insiders about increased media repression by political parties and politicians in power in Serbia have been circulating for several months. But signs of a repressed media landscape in the country are only now becoming visible, with cancellations of politically “undesirable” guests for live television shows and, perhaps, entire shows being taken off the air.

Serbia's most popular political talk show “Utisak nedelje” (“Impression of the Week”), for instance, had a highly unusual change of guest on Sunday, January 26. The show features host and author Olja Bećković interviewing high-profile political personalities and includes highlights of ten clips of the week's news as well as live calls from viewers who vote on which of the events left the biggest impression on them. It has been a long-standing fixture of Serbian television, airing every Sunday evening on B92 Television, and counts one of the most popular Twitter hashtags in the country.

Bećković was once known for putting her guests on the spot and asking tough questions, but many viewers have been commenting that she seems to have gone soft in recent months. During the week prior to the January 26 show, the show's page on the official B92 website, its Twitter account and other outlets announced now former Minister of Economy Saša Radulović as the guest for that live airing. But on Saturday, January 25, an unnamed official from the ministry announced that Radulović had handed in his resignation as minister. The resignation had been more or less expected for weeks as well as an announcement of early elections amid turmoil within the ruling coalition – made up of the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) and the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) -  due to the slow implementation of promised reforms in several sectors of government. Radulović is not a member of any party and had been Minister of Economy since September of 2013.

That same day, B92 and its affiliates announced that Deputy Prime Minister and head of the largest party in the ruling coalition SNS Aleksandar Vučić would be Bećković's guest on the January 26 show instead of Radulović. Any doubt that Radulović may have cancelled his appearance on the show himself and that the host had simply substituted him with another important political figure was soon erased on the former Minister's personal Twitter account when he began retweeting other Twitter users’ questioning of why he was not appearing on the show that night. Radulović also retweeted the disappointed comments of social media users that his guest slot had been handed to Vučić, with no explanation from B92 network or the show's host.

Many users took to social networks to complain about the unexplained and highly suspect last-minute change in programming. Journalist Aleksandra Ranković, upon hearing of the change, tweeted:

olja bećković first invited then yesterday uninvited saša radulović to utisak [the show]. so much for the integrity and character of the author of the strongest serbian talk show.

— Aleksandra Rankovic (@alex_timeline) January 25, 2014

In response to her observation, Twitter user @kombib wrote:

@alex_timeline @AtilijaDamaskin So the impression of the week is that Radulović was invited, but Vučić showed up. #utisak

— Kompjuter biblioteka (@kombib) January 26, 2014

Coincidentally, Deputy Prime Minister Vučić also called for early elections that weekend, which local and international media promptly announced on Sunday, January 26. According to press reports, the Deputy PM said that parliamentary elections had been set for March 16, 2014. Many have also commented since, including former Prime Minister Zoran Živković, who now leads a start-up political party just registered in 2013 dubbed New Party (NS), that a deputy PM announcing early elections is not only an unorthodox practice but directly in conflict with the Constitution of Serbia.

Blogger and HR professional Nikola Jovanović also tweeted the disappointment that many regular viewers of the show were voicing that evening:

so we won't be watching @SasaRadulovich on #utisak, but rather Big Boss Vučić #%&##&%”#(#”"

— Nikola Jovanovic (@PeckoPivo) January 25, 2014

Former Minister Radulović simply sarcastically tweeted before the show:

I can't wait for tonight's #utisak to find out why I resigned.

— Sasa Radulovic (@SasaRadulovich) January 26, 2014

The former minister also decided to publicly explain his reasons for resigning days later on January 28, sending his full statement to national media. The page on national news agency Tanjug's website on which this statement was first published was soon taken down by Tanjug for no apparent reason and with no explanation. Aleksandar Kokotović, International Outreach Director at libertarian NGO Libek, commented on the coincidence that quickly after Radulović's statement was taken down from the site, an article in which Minister of Finance Krstić praises Deputy PM Vučić as a reformer appeared on the same site:

45 min after taking down the news in which @SasaRadulovich explains his resignation @TanjugNews publishes this piece of news http://t.co/8OaZkuhjxi VUČIĆ THE REFORMER

— Aleksandar Kokotović (@kokota) January 28, 2014

A Facebook page supporting former Minister Radulović's reform efforts posted an image of the two different announcements for the B92 talk show in question, one announcing Radulović as a guest and the other announcing Vučić. It also called on social media users following the show to tweet #utišan (#silenced) along with the standard #utisak (#impression) hashtag used by viewers while watching the show, as a sign of protest against repression and abuse of media by the ruling coalition. Many users did exactly that on Sunday night, calling attention to the alleged bias of “Impression of the Week”, as well as to other political matters troubling the country ahead of another election.

During the live airing of the program and in reference to the deputy PM's comments regarding what needed to be done in the counrty, former Minister Radulović commented on Twitter:

Good news: now that we have slowed down, halted and set up booby traps for reforms, we are now for reforms. Only faster. #utisak

— Sasa Radulovic (@SasaRadulovich) January 26, 2014

Former Prime Minister and leader of opposition party Nova Stranka Zoran Živković also chimed in during the program, tweeting:

A more recently created show, “24 minuta” (“24 Minutes”), a satirical version of the news overview not unlike “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart”, on the same television station was supposed to return to television screens after a winter break. “24 Minutes” is usually broadcast immediately after “Impression of the Week” and has become massively popular among audiences for its satirical critique of the government and of the country's political landscape. But it did not air that evening and no explanation was given as to whether its winter break is still on or the show has been cancelled. Whatever the situation regarding “24 minutes”, the involvement of the ruling coalition in Serbian media is quickly becoming apparent.

December 23 2013

DIY Galaksija Computer, Bedrock of Serbia's IT Industry, Turns 30

Voja Antonić and his colleague Jova Regasek putting together the Galaksija prototype in 1983. Public domain.

Voja Antonić and his colleague Jova Regasek putting together the Galaksija prototype in 1983. Public domain.

The Galaksija (Galaxy) computer, created by inventor and author Voja Antonić in 1983 with detailed instructions for anyone to put together a personal computer with standard parts, is nothing less than legendary in the former Yugoslavia. The DIY home computer may not have matched the quality or high-tech readiness of most brand name computing machines of the time, but it inspired a country and a generation to plunge deeper and farther into the IT industry that was just beginning to develop worldwide.

As legend would have it, in the summer of 1983, a young journalist with a flare for all things tech and scientific, Voja Antonić, was vacationing in Montenegro. At the time, importing computers and such machinery into Yugoslavia was close to impossible for the average citizen due to complicated customs laws and licenses. Such technology didn't come cheap in the 1980s either. A standard PC in 1983 cost about an average Yugoslav worker's monthly salary, which was among the highest in Europe at the time.

Cover of the January 1984 edition of

Cover of the January 1984 edition of “Računari u vašoj kući” magazine. Public domain.

Antonić plunged into some summer reading on the Montenegrin coast that year about a new brand-name computer that had just been released on the global market. As he looked at the schematic, he realized that most of the parts of standard PCs had become readily available at most hardware stores throughout the country. Within months, the young Antonić had put together a schematic for anyone who wanted to build a do-it-yourself computer. He then contacted a few manufacturers of such parts and partnered with them to create DIY packages with all the necessary parts that any ordinary consumer could order for and put together at home.

Initially, the team involved believed they could sell as much as several hundred of the Galaksija kits, a number they thought to be highly optimistic but possible. Antonić knew he would also have to publish the schematic in a place where wider audiences could see it, for those who didn't want to order the ready to build Galaksija kit, but would rather purchase the parts on their own. He teamed up with Dejan Ristanović, who was barely 20 years old at the time and putting together a magazine about the latest in PC technology, “Računari u vašoj kući” (“Computers in Your Home”). Together, Ristanović and Antonić released the full diagram and instructions for the Galaksija personal computer in the first January 1984 edition of the magazine, published in December of 1983. Within a year or so, over 8,000 Galaksija kits were sold in Yugoslavia, while the number of those who purchased parts on their own and used the schematic to build their custom Galaksija were never recorded. That same year, Galaksija computers were introduced into elementary schools throughout the country. The year was 1984.

A tech revolution was incited. Ristanović, Antonić and their team also used radio and television to promote the Galaksija and everything computer-related, teaching average users how to customize both their hardware and tweak code here and there. The video below is one of  Antonić's countless popular television appearances in which he sat down to explain some gaming basics to Galaksija and other PC users:

Thirty years later, Antonić is a world-renowned inventor, speaker and writer, while Ristanović is the editor-in-chief of one of the country's most popular geek magazines, PC Press, and co-founder of one of the first Internet providers in Serbia. Today, Serbia is known among those in the IT industry as a place of great potential and well-rounded developers and innovators, despite the recent decades of political, social and economic troubles. In a recent post, Eurogamer.net elaborated on how the Galaksija revolutionized the use of personal computers on several levels. Radio DJ Zoran Modli came upon the idea at the time to distribute software for the Galaksija and other similar machines – through the radio ether. As the Eurogamer.net article explains:

Like the ZX Spectrum and other computers of the time, programs were loaded onto the Galaksija from an audiocassette recorder. This gave Jova Regasek, the editor of Računari, an idea for a bold experiment. He got in touch with Zoran Modli, who hosted the show Ventilator 202 on Radio Belgrade. Modli's show was a mix of local bands and contemporary chart music, but he also had an interest in computers, and Regasek's idea was to broadcast the sound of a computer program that listeners could tape and then load up on their home machines. In effect, this was wireless downloading long before the days of wi-fi.

In the year of Galaksija's 30th anniversary, every school in Serbia is equipped with computers for students, the Internet penetration rate was close to 65 percent in 2012, and visitors are often surprised to find that wifi is readily available almost anywhere in every city and town in the country. Over one-third of the country's adult population uses the Internet daily, and the statistics are just as or more impressive for Montenegro, Croatia, Macedonia and Slovenia, with Bosnia-Herzegovina lagging somewhat. With much to make up for after the turmoil of the last two decades and the global IT industry developing rapidly, the region has yet to catch up with some other high-tech markets. With the Galaxy to mark its past, many are confident that the region has a bright future ahead.

November 20 2013

Catalan Independence Debate Explained in 16 Languages

The debut video of The Catalan Project (@Catalan_Project) features Fernando de Castro, “a Catalan from Galicia and Spanish”, presenting the project and explaining why some Catalans want independence from Spain using the 16 languages he is able to speak. Subtitles are available in English, French, German, Spanish and Catalan.

The Catalan Project, an independent and non-profit association, provides an open online platform where “all citizens that work and/or live in Catalonia and that have ideas on how to create a better country” can discuss how a hypothetical independent Catalonia should be. Because “independence is not a goal, it is a starting point”. The project is collecting funds on the crowdfunding site Verkami.

November 17 2013

Online Magazine Publishes Leaked Emails of Serbian Government Agency

Online magazine Balkanist was among several media to receive over 300 leaked emails from the Investment and Export Promotion Agency of the Republic of Serbia (SIEPA) that allegedly reveal corruption, nepotism, misappropriation of Agency funds and several other malpractices of the government agency's top officials and employees. SIEPA Director Božidar Laganin warned that these emails were obtained illegally and could have been manipulated, claiming that SIEPA servers had been hacked, thus anyone considering publishing or distributing them further should be aware of possible legal consequences if they did so. Mr. Laganin handed in his official resignation as Director of SIEPA shortly after making this statement.

Balkanist staff decided to publish an analysis of a portion of the emails [sr], as well as publish screenshots of some of them. As the author of the article and co-founder of Balkanist magazine, Srećko Šekeljić, explains:

Na adresu Balkanista je u ponedeljak 11. novembra prosleđeno preko 300 mejlova visokih funkcionera Agencije za promociju izvoza i stranih ulaganja Vlade Srbije (SIEPA) koji, u slučaju da se dokaže njihova autentičnost, sadrže naznake postojanja korupcije i nesavesnog postupanja u rukovođenju ovom agencijom.

U Agenciji za borbu protiv korupcije nam je potvrđeno da “iz sadržine dopisa primljenih elektronskom poštom, proizlazi sumnja da su izvršena krivična dela za koja se goni po službenoj dužnosti”. Na pitanje Balkanista šta će Agencija preduzeti u vezi sa informacijama koje su na naše adrese “procurele” iz SIEPA-e, rečeno nam je da su primljeni materijal “prosledili Apelacionom javnom tužilaštvu u Beogradu na dalju nadležnost i postupanje”.

Over 300 emails from highly positioned employees of the Investment and Export Promotion Agency of the government of Serbia (SIEPA) were forwarded to the address of Balkanist on Monday, November 11, which, if proven to be authentic, contain evidence of the existence of corruption and irresponsible acts in managing this agency.

The Anti-corruption Agency has confirmed that “from the content of the correspondence received by email, there is reason to suspect that criminal acts have been committed that will be prosecuted by legal obligation”. When asked by Balkanist what the [Anti-corruption] Agency will do with the information that was “leaked” from SIEPA, we were told that the received materials “have been forwarded to Public Prosecutor's office of the Appeals Court in Belgrade for further jurisdiction and action”.

Does Tennis Pro Viktor Troicki's Doping Ban Go Too Far?

Viktor Troicki signing autographs at PTT Thailand Open 2009; photo courtesy of Government of Thailand, used under Creative Commons 2.0 License.

Viktor Toricki signing autographs at PTT Thailand Open 2009; photo courtesy of Government of Thailand, used under Creative Commons 2.0 License.

A Serbian world-class tennis player who was suspended by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) for missing a standard doping test earlier in 2013 was banned from entering a Belgrade arena to cheer on his teammates in the Davis Cup finals, a move that has caused fans to question the fairness of the sport's anti-doping system. 

Viktor Troicki first received an 18-month suspension from competing in any events for his missed doping test, but fought the charges, citing that he had already given a urine sample that tested negative for banned substances. He succeeded in having the penalty reduced to 12 months in early November, and the Court of Arbitration for Sport stated that there was no indication that Troicki “intended to evade the detection of a banned substance in his system.” 

The young tennis pro was also banned from attending matches, including the Davis Cup semi-finals that the Serbian national team played in September, while his appeal was still under investigation.

A New York Times special report [en] summarized the events and added some interesting insight:

Initially suspended for 18 months by the International Tennis Federation, Troicki had his penalty reduced on appeal to one year by the Court of Arbitration for Sport last week. But that qualified victory still feels like defeat to him, and his case has generated a range of strong opinions at the top of the game, with Andy Murray and Roger Federer expressing support for the antidoping system in tennis and Troicki’s close friend and teammate Novak Djokovic bitterly ripping into it.

However, even after the suspension was reduced and the investigation against him officially closed, Troicki was again banned from attending the Davis Cup finals [sr], which took place in Kombank Arena in Troicki's hometown of Belgrade on November 15, 2013. The Serbian Tennis Federation (TSS) decided to support the ITF's decision fully by banning Troicki from entering the arena even as a spectator with a paid ticket, which Troicki was planning to do in support of his teammates who were playing in the finals that evening. Some media sources even claim that the TSS distributed photos of Troicki to Kombank Arena security and at the doors to make sure the tennis player was recognized and not allowed to enter with or without a ticket.

Regardless of the suspension and doping charges, or the personal opinions of Troicki's colleagues, fans are now questioning whether both the International and the Serbian Tennis Federation have the legal right to limit one's physical movement in this manner. Many on social networks, discussion boards and in comments on online articles regarding this matter are accusing the ITF and TSS of having broken basic civil rights laws when they banned Troicki from attending the match as a spectator from the bleachers along with other fans.

Dejan Nikolić, a journalist and founder of the popular Serbian satirical news site Njuz.net, posted a public comment on the matter on his Facebook profile:

Fascinantna mi je ova situacija, ako je tacno, gde Troickom biva ograniceno kretanje kao gradjaninu zato sto ga je neka sportska organizacija suspendovala. Mislim da je to pitanje za ustavni sud, Strazbur i jos pokoju instituciju za ljudska i gradjanska prava.

Jedna je stvar ne dozvoliti da ucestvuje na turnirima, sasvim druga ogranicavati slobodu kretanja.

I find this situation fascinating, if true, in which Troicki's movement as a citizen is being limited because he was suspended by a sports organization. I think this is a matter for the Constitutional Court, Strasbourgh and a few other institutions for human and civil rights.

It's one thing to not allow him to participate in tournaments, entirely another to limit his freedom of movement.

Among the 52 comments on Nikolić's post, there were those who cited that ITF rules state that players who are penalized by the organization are also banned from any related tournaments and sporting events. Most commenters, however, questioned how the ITF or any other sports organization could have the authority to ban anyone, including sanctioned players, from purchasing a ticket and attending such events as a citizen.

Similar comments can be found on online articles in several other languages, and it isn't just Serbian tennis fans who are complaining and noting the same thing. In response to a short article on Italian tennis portal LiveTennis.it with the news that Troicki was not allowed to enter Belgrade's Kombank Arena as a spectator, reader Francis said:

allora ne dico un’altra di scemenza ribattendoti che quanto dici mi pare molto strano… nel senso che l’atp o l’itf o la federazione serba possono non considerare valido il pass da addetto ai lavori e vietare l’accesso ai settori a loro destinati; vietare l’ingresso con regolare biglietto pagato vorrebbe dire una palese limitazione della libertà individuale.

Now they say more complete nonsense that when said seems very strange to me – in the sense that the ATP or ITF or Federation of Serbia could consider a pass not valid and prohibit access to areas they are intended for, prohibit entry with a regular paid ticket would mean blatant limitation of individual freedom.

Another reader on the same article, Andy86, added:

Francamente mi pare una cosa veramente che non sta ne in cielo ne in terra… lui è squalificato piu o meno giustamente (non sta a me dirlo) per quello che riguarda la sua attività agonistica, ma che ora non lo facciano entrare allo stadio, mi pare veramente fuori dal mondo..

Frankly one thing strikes me that truly isn't in the heavens nor the earth – he was disqualified more or less justly (it's not up to me to say) for things regarding his sports activities, but now to not allow him to enter the stadium, it strikes me as truly out of this world..

Neither the ITF nor the Serbian Federation have responded to the questions raised by the public, nor have they made any statements as to what might give them the authority to ban any player from purchasing a ticket for a tennis event and not be able to use it as a spectator.

November 10 2013

Journalist Dubbed ‘Macedonian Assange’ Arrested in Serbia

Zoran Bozinovski, a journalist known as “the Macedonian Assange”, was arrested in Serbia on an Interpol arrest warrant on November 7, 2013. Bozinovski runs the Macedonian site Burevesnik.org, often referred to as the Macedonian WikiLeaks due to the fact that he and others have released documents there in the past that reveal foul play and corruption in Macedonian politics and business.

Still image of Zoran Bozinovski from an interview with Croatian Nova TV.

Still image of Zoran Bozinovski from an interview with Croatian Nova TV.

Another Macedonian journalist recently sentenced to prison for “revealing the identity of a protected witness”, Tomislav Kezarovski, was released earlier that same day to serve the remainder of his four-and-a-half-year sentence under house arrest.

Macedonian citizens and journalists on social media were surprised to hear of the arrest of another journalist on the very day that Kezarovski had been released into house arrest, with some ironically calling it “a trade off”, and others saying there was now an open witch hunt on Macedonian journalists. Comments on Twitter regarding Kezarovski's release and Bozinovski's arrest are mostly ironic, with many suspecting authorities knew this was coming.

Aco Lazarov from Macedonia asked:

There wasn't room in prison for Bozinovski so they let Kezarovski out?

— Ацо Лазаров (@AcoLazarov) November 8, 2013

Another Macedonian Twitter user, Jana, commented upon learning the news of Bozinovski's arrest:

I don't know why or how but this is a bad day for investigative journalism in Macedonia. Journalist Zoran Bozinovski arrested http://t.co/cKcPxUVXiz

— Јана (@PaliKukja) November 7, 2013

Bozinovski was arrested by Serbian authorities on charges of espionage, extortion and criminal conspiracy. He was easily located in one of the two apartments he had been renting in Novi Sad, Serbia, where he had living for the past several months. Police confiscated two computers and several yet unspecified documents from the apartment at the time of the arrest, and stated that Bozinovski will be held in a local jail until extradition to Macedonia, after the Macedonian government officially files for the extradition.

Some Serbian and Macedonian media are reporting [sr] that Bozinovski, also known as a conspiracy theorist who has dubbed himself “Crazy Milojko” on his own site and elsewhere online, is deeply involved in espionage, although no evidence has yet been put forth:

Osumnjičeni je deo kriminalne grupe koja je pre nekoliko meseci raskrinkana kada su pohapšeni visoki zvaničnici makedonske Vlade i zaposleni u bezbednosnim službama te zemlje pod optužbom da su špijunirali u korist Grčke. Prema informacijama iz istrage, oni su špijunirali za strane tajne službe, ali ucenjivali su i pojedince iz javnog života Makedonije. Takođe, pod kontrolom su imali i nekoliko medija, kao i određene internet stranice preko kojih su pretili da će objaviti poverljive sadržaje, što su i činili.

The suspect is a member of a criminal group that was cracked several months ago when high officials of the Macedonian government and employees of [national] security services were arrested and charged with spying for Greece. According to information obtained during the investigation, they spied for foreign secret services, but also blackmailed individuals from Macedonian public life. They also had several media under their control as well as certain Internet pages through which they threatened to publish confidential content, which they did.

These accusations seem to stem from Bozinovski publishing certain files and confidential information that he obtained regarding corruption and foul play within the Macedonian government and Macedonian organized crime, which Bozinovsski and some of his associates claim are closely tied.

He has also been researching these ties and alleged manipulations in Macedonian politics, as well as the tragic death of Macedonian singer Tose Proeski, who died in a car accident at the age of 26 in 2007. Bozinovski began writing a book on this subject and, after being rejected by 32 publishers in the region, finally announced that he had found a publisher in Zagreb, Croatia willing to make his research public.

In the video below, Bozinovski gave an interview to Nova TV in May 2013, during which he listed several things that he found suspicious about the young singer's death, claiming he had evidence of how the then ruling politicians and media exploited Tose Proeski and continue to profit from the singer's legacy. Bozinovski also stated in this interview that he does not necessarily believe that the late musical prodigy is dead, citing that no real evidence of his death was ever provided. The book is planned to come out sometime in 2014.

Twitter user Parg0 from Skopje noted:

#божиновски [Bozinovski] may be crazy, but I don't think he's stupid. I expect http://t.co/gwxwK000J7 to begin putting out a lot of interesting documents.

— Parg0 (@parg0) November 8, 2013

Whatever the case regarding his upcoming book and work on Burevesnik.org, several media associations have condemned the arrest of Bozinovski, including the Journalists’ Association of Serbia (UNS). In an official statement on their website, they remind Serbian authorities that this arrest has also been publicly condemned by the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), as well as Central and Eastern Europe Media Organization (CEEMO), and they add:

УНС подсећа да је суд у Македонији недавно, без ваљаних правних разлога, осудио новинара дневника “Нова Македонија” Томислава Кежаровског на четири и по године затвора „због откривања идентитета једног сведока у случају нерасветљеног убиства“. [...]

УНС због тога тражи од Министарства правде Србије да приликом одлучивања о изручивању Зорана Божиновског држави која спорним пресудама осуђује новинаре и тражи њихово хапшење, буде посебно обазриво и испита све околности од значаја за заштиту професионалних права интереса новинара.

The UNS [Journalists' Association of Serbia] reminds that a court in Macedonia recently, without valid legal reason, convicted journalist from the daily “Nova Makedonija” Tomislav Kezarovski to four and a half years in prison “for revealing the identity of a protected witness in an uncleared murder”. [...]

Due to this, UNS requests of the Ministry of Justice of Serbia that, during their deliberation concerning the extradition of Zoran Bozinovski to a country that convicts journalists under debatable rulings and requests their arrest, they be particularly wary and look into all circumstances relevant to the protection of professional rights and interests of journalists.

While there are reports that the extradition process has been started [mk], it is now unclear whether Bozinovski has obtained Serbian citizenship during his stay in Serbia and, if so, whether the extradition process to Macedonia will be able to be carried out. When asked by Macedonian media, the Macedonian Ministry of Interior could neither deny nor confirm whether Bozinovski was also a Serbian national at this time.

Curiously, Bozinovski posted this photograph of himself in handcuffs on his Facebook profile on October 11, 2013, adding the note:

fotografijata e od edno minato vreme. taka beše, dali pak ke bide – ke vidime!?

The photograph is from a past time. So it was, whether it will be so [again]- we shall see!?

October 28 2013

Serbia: Jovanka Broz, Widow of Tito, Dies Isolated and Forgotten

She was a revolutionary, a commended war veteran, a style icon and first lady to the leader of the only socialist country in the world that refused to be a Soviet satellite. Jovanka Broz (nee Budisavljević), widow of Marshall Josip Broz Tito, passed away in Belgrade [en] on October 20, 2013. On Saturday, October 23, Jovanka Broz was honored with a state funeral in Serbia's capital and buried in the mausoleum known as “The House of Flowers” [en] next to her husband, a full 33 years after his death.

President Josip Broz Tito and Mrs. Broz, President Richard Nixon and Mrs. Nixon overlooking arrival ceremony on the South Lawn from the South Balcony of the White House; photo form the  White House Photo Office Collection, public domain.

President Josip Broz Tito and Mrs. Broz, President Richard Nixon and Mrs. Nixon overlooking arrival ceremony on the South Lawn from the South Balcony of the White House; photo form the White House Photo Office Collection, public domain.

Jovanka Broz spent a lifetime being loved, hated, praised and criticized by many. Few and far apart are those who had no opinion of her at all. Born into a family of humble means in Lika (Croatia), she joined the revolutionary partisan forces at the age of 17 and soon became one of Tito's secretaries. Their whirlwind romance began sometime during the Second World War and they were married in 1952, when she was 28 and Tito 60.

Although 30 years her powerful husband's junior, Jovanka was decisive, opinionated and had tremendous influence over her husband at times. Those who met her through diplomatic and political circles claim that she was a highly intelligent woman of elegant poise. There were also those in Yugoslavia and, more recently Serbia, who criticized her spending habits, along with her husband's, who was a well-known hedonist of expensive taste. The video below shows Tito and Jovanka Broz at the height of his power in 1971, during a state visit to US President Richard Nixon.

Jovanka enjoyed a jet-set lifestyle while she was first lady of the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia, but lived the last 30 years of her life as a recluse in Belgrade in poverty, never inheriting any part of her late husband's estate or receiving much from the state. Reports began emerging in 2005 on blogs and later in media about the conditions in which the former first lady was living in – with no heat, a leaking roof, doors that wouldn't lock, in an old house in the once high-end Belgrade neighborhood of Dedinje that was, essentially, falling apart. Since her death, the blog Bašta Balkana quoted [sr] one of these reports from 2005, when they visited Jovanka, describing the poor state of the house she was living in and a conversation with Jovanka's sister, Nada. The reporter asked:

- Živi li vaša sestra ovde potpuno sama i bez grejanja?! Kako je moguće da se nadležni godinama oglušuju da joj stvore elementarne uslove za život?!

- U ovoj ledari, moja sestra živi sama i to godinama traje – odgovara Nada. – Ponekad ostane i bez struje, nekad se prekinu telefonske veze, plafon prokišnjava. Ali nije samo ona ugrožena. Njenu sudbinu dele i njene komšije. I oni su danima bez grejanja.

- Does your sister really live here all alone and without heating?! How is it possible that the [institutions] responsible for this are ignoring to provide basic living conditions for her?!

- In this icebox, my sister lives alone and it has been like this for years – Nada responds. – Sometimes she is left without electricity too, sometimes the telephone lines go out, the ceiling leaks. But she is not the only one at risk. Her neighbors share this fate with her. They are also left without heating for days.

The government then reacted fairly quickly after these reports and some assistance and reparations were provided for Jovanka and her neighbors occasionally over the next few years. Jovanka remained as far from the the public eye as she could, although media interest had been raised. In the months prior to her death, knowing that her health was rapidly declining, the former first lady of Yugoslavia decided to publish her memoirs, as recorder by author Žarko Jokanović. The book, titled “My Life, My Truth”, was released just three weeks before she died [sr] and is being sold at newsstands at the price of 449 dinars (4 euro or 5.50 US dollars).

Blogger David Bailey, a British expat living in the Balkans, quoted what Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dačić said at Jovanka Broz's state funeral on Saturday, wondering whether the PM's words were hollow or heartfelt:

The absence of a religious funeral service was the wish of Jovanka and her family.

Serbia’s Prime Minister Ivica Dacic led the tributes at the funeral ceremony, saying: “Today marks the departure of the last icon of the former Yugoslavia.” He said it was time to admit that the treatment she received after the death of her husband was a “sin”.

On social networks these days, there is no majority opinion on who or what Jovanka Broz was. Some say she was “an icon” [photos], “a heroine”, others call her “a leech” and “a fake”, while a few simply lament the country's disregard for its own history and its neglect of Jovanka Broz in recent decades. There are very few in-betweens and no particular hashtags to follow, but people are visibly talking about her passing which, in many ways, gives closure to an era that ended 30 years ago. Whatever their opinion or political affiliation, many social media users posted “Bella Ciao”, an Italian song often sung by the partisans of Italy and Yugoslavia before and during WWII, made popular by Giovanna Dafinni in the early 60′s and often tied to Jovanka Broz. Tetka, a popular Serbian portal, wrote in a post titled “Bella Ciao – The Song That Saw Jovanka Broz Off”:

A možda nam je ovim taktovima na svom poslednjem ispraćaju poslala poruku o ujedinjenju, ideji koja je sve nas na prostorima bivše zemlje razjedinila do krvavih ratova jer ova pesma u Italiji i jeste postala popularna kao pesma u kojoj je ujedinjena jedna ideja.[...]

Koliko je ova pesma popularna i danas kao himna pobune, dočaraće vam podatak da su ove godine u Turskoj, buneći se zbog planova da se na mestu poslednjih “zelenih pluća grada” u Istanbulu grad tržni centar, mladi koji su protestovali protov ove odluke premijera Erdogana pevali ovu pesmu.[...]

Jovanke Broz srpska javnost se setila tek kada je dospela u bolnicu i to onda kada više nije sama mogla da donosi odluke. Dok je mogla, odbijala je lečenje kao da je jedva čekala da ode sa ovog sveta, iz društva koje ju je stavilo u izlolaciju i zaboravilo je.

Or perhaps in her last farewell she sent us a message about uniting through these beats, an idea that divided all of us on the territory of this former country through bloody wars, because this song became popular in Italy as the song that unites one idea.[...]

A fact from this year from Turkey will demonstrate the popularity of this song as a revolutionary anthem, where young protesters, rising up against the building of a shopping center in the place of the last “green lungs of the city”, sang this song as they protested this decision by Prime Minister Erdogan.[...]

The Serbian public only remembered Jovanka Broz when she ended up in hospital and even this was when she could no longer make her own decisions. While she could, she refused treatment, as if she could hardly wait to leave this world, this society that put her in isolation and forgot her.

October 23 2013

Codeshare Request from Serbia's New Airline Met with US, EU Pushback

Airlines for America (A4A), the oldest and largest airline trade association in the United States, has submitted a response to the US Department of Transportation regarding the joint application of Etihad Airways and Air Serbia for codeshare authority, calling the request “bizarre”. 

Delta Airlines also responded with a similarly critical assessment, arguing that the application was “irrational” and “not in the public interest”. The letters from both A4A and Delta cite concerns about fair competition of privately held commercial air carriers with state-supported carriers.

Official promotional photo of Etihad-JAT (Air Serbia) partnership; public domain image.

Official promotional photo of Etihad-JAT (Air Serbia) partnership; public domain image.

Earlier in 2013, Etihad Airways, the state-supported national airline from the United Arab Emirates, purchased 49 percent of Serbian national air carrier JAT, also a state-funded company. The two partner companies then decided to shut down JAT and establish a new company in its place, Air Serbia, that would function with JAT's restructured resources and flight routes.

On September 19, 2013, Air Serbia applied for authority to place its existing code on now partner Eithad’s flights from Abu Dhabi to Chicago O’Hare, New York’s John F. Kennedy and Washington Dulles airports, as well as several European airports. As Novi Magazin reports [sr], Turkey was the first country to react, while some EU countries also lodged complaints:

Vazduhoplovne vlasti Turske oduzele su slot (aerodromsko mesto) i premestile su novu srpsku aviokompaniju na drugi istambulski međunarodni aerodrom Sabiha Gokčen koji je na azijskoj strani ovog grada.[...]

Neke (za sada neimenovane) evropske kompanije, kako pišu beogradski mediji, traže od regulatora u EU da ponište sve slotove koje je Jat imao na evropskim aerodromima i tvrde da Er Srbija ne može da ih nasledi, naročito zbog odredbi Sporazuma o otvorenom nebu (open sky) koje se odnose na suvlasništvo van teritorije EU.

Turkish aviation authorities have revoked slots (airport positions) and have transferred the new Serbian airline to Istanbul's other international Sabiha Gökçen Airport on the Asian side of the city.[...]

Some (for now unnamed) European carriers, according to Belgrade media, have asked EU regulators to cancel all slots that JAT had in European airports and claim that Air Serbia cannot inherit them, in particular due to regulations in the [EU-US] Open Skies Agreement regarding joint ownership [of airline companies] outside the EU.

In its 13-page response to the US Department of Transportation [PDF], A4A brings to light various issues regarding planned flights to the United States to be operated by Etihad-Air Serbia, but focuses particularly on the lack of business sense and commercial viability of the planned flights:

We oppose the Application. Because the service proposal can fairly be described as bizarre, at best, and JAT reportedly is receiving substantial state aid, the public interest does not support granting it. Furthermore, the Application and information in the public domain indicate that JAT, rebranded as Air Serbia, is (or soon will be) under the effective control of a non-Serbian citizen. For these reasons, the Application should be denied.

The Consolidated Answer of Delta Air Lines, Inc. [PDF] has an almost identical stance and goes on to explain:

The proposed codeshare routes are irrational and do not serve the public interest

While Delta believes that codeshare arrangements are typically in the public interest where they increase opportunities for travel and expand air service networks for the benefit of consumers, the codeshare services proposed by JAT and Etihad are not in the public interest because they have no market or consumer service based rationale and would only create confusion and complexity for consumers.

JAT and Etihad are proposing codeshare services on routings from Belgrade (BEL) to New York (JFK), Washington (IAD), and Chicago (ORD) via Abu Dhabi (AUH). These routes are so extraordinarily circuitous (nearly 5,000 miles of additional circuity in each direction) that one must question why any consumer would regard their addition to the marketplace to constitute a rational service option or to offer any consumer benefit.

Delta's main concern is the distortion of the market and confusion of travelers, as the two state-funded companies Etihad and Air Serbia seem to be planning on offering rerouted flights from Belgrade via Dubai to US cities, approximately an additional 5,000 miles (8,000 kilometers), for the same or lower prices as other air carriers who fly directly. The state subsidies provided to the new Air Serbia company by both the UAE and Serbian governments are inconsistent with international aviation policy, Delta and A4A claim, as well as tax advantages, fuel and airport fee subsidies, and government investment in airport infrastructure that Etihad and Air Serbia benefit from.

Although both documents have been made public, Serbian media have shown little to no mention of this case nor any discussion about the possible repercussions for the new national airline should the former Serbian airline JAT's codesharing not be granted to Air Serbia for US and EU-bound flights, thus there is very little discussion about the matter on social networks or public forums. No media outlet in Serbia seems to have even made these documents available to the public, while Kurir simply quoted a tweet by Vladimir Todorić, a politician and member of the Democratic Party (DS), in a short article titled “HATE: Delta More Important than Serbia to the Democrats!” [sr].

Todorić complained on Twitter in recent days:

The Association of American Airlines is against Air Serbia/Etihad. [It has been] on the web since October 4, no Serbian media has published it http://t.co/xgjXx11SjC

— Vladimir Todoric (@VladimirTodoric) October 18, 2013

When asked by another Twitter user why the A4A was against Air Serbia-Etihad, Todorić responded:

@MidzaBg @Bezdanj Who normally flies to NY through Dubai, i.e. 5000 miles more? If the price of the ticket is the same as for a direct flight then that [ticket] is subsidized

— Vladimir Todoric (@VladimirTodoric) October 18, 2013

An Air Serbia aircraft had its first test flight [sr] on October 23 under the new brand and colors at 3 p.m. over Belgrade, but it remains to be seen just how far Air Serbia's other planes will be flying.

October 20 2013

Fake Beating Stunt on Serbian TV Draws Criticism from Journalists

Image of

Image of “bleeding” journalist Zoran Šećerov on SOS Channel's live television show. Image by Nikola Janković, sports reporter for Mondo. Used with permission.

The story began when viewers tuned in for a live program about football on SOS Channel, a national sports TV network. A guest on the show, veteran sports journalist Zoran Šećerov, entered the studio late, bleeding and visibly bruised [sr]. By the end of the program, however, viewers learned that it was all a ruse orchestrated by SOS Channel to “raise awareness of the issues in Serbian football” such as organized crime and corruption, an idea they say they borrowed from Italian colleagues who did the same.

As Šećerov entered, it was explained that he had been jumped and “brutally beaten by three assailants in front of the SOS Channel building”. Šećerov had what seemed to be visible cuts on his head and appeared to be bleeding moderately from the head, arms and torso, leaving viewers, who had expected a typical weekly discussion on football-related matters, in shock.

Among the first viewers to break the news and comment on social networks was Igor Krasnić, a journalism and communications professional:

JOURNALIST SECEROV BLOODY IN THE STUDIO, BEATEN BY THREE ASSAILANTS IN FRONT OF #SOS CHANNEL. SAYS HE WILL REVEAL WHO ORDERED [the beating]

— Igo® (@IgorKrasnic) October 20, 2013

The news traveled quickly on Twitter, and soon other viewers joined the program. Many were disturbed by what they saw and heard. The journalist, approximately 60 years old, was visibly injured and covered in blood. Those watching the show began demanding that someone call an ambulance and police to the SOS Channel building to give Šećerov the treatment he seemed to need.

Šećerov said he would reveal the names of those who “ordered the beating” later in the show and, of course, the audience's anticipation grew. Once the show's host asked him to reveal who the guilty parties were, Šećeroc laughed and said, “Two lovely makeup ladies from SOS Channel.” The injuries and blood that had frightened viewers into worrying about Šećerov were nothing but well-done makeup assisted by a little acting from the journalist.

Viewers flooded social media in disgust, condemning the channel's stunt and calling it “shameful”, “unprofessional” and a “bad joke”. Željko Ilić from Belgrade directed his comment at SOS Channel's official Twitter account, writing:

@nixonbelgrade @sos_kanal If there were any courage in Serbia tomorrow there would be nothing written about sports and we wouldn't watch it on tv #Secerov

— Željko Ilić (@KonkiBasketball) October 20, 2013

Slavko Beleslin, an editor and anchorman at B92 network, commented on the matter with his colleagues:

@Nikola330 @djoca @SuzanaTrninic @AnjaDmitrovic Not relaxed at all!!! This isn't a joking matter, it's rude and ultimately distasteful!

— Slavko Beleslin (@SlavkoBeleslin) October 20, 2013

Anja Dmitrović, a former popular television host turned PR professional, commented with similar outrage:

Everything for ratings #soskanal #secerov Shameful! And then they ask me why I don't work in tv anymore…

— Anja Dmitrovic (@AnjaDmitrovic) October 20, 2013

The shock and outrage most viewers and journalism professionals showed on social networks was a reflection not only of the state of media in Serbia, but also of the dangerous sports landscape in the country, which has produced many high-quality sports teams and players throughout the past decades. In 2009, now Prime Minister Dačić was quoted as saying that “half of sports clubs [are] led by mafia” in Serbia. The situation has only worsened in the meantime, and many politicians have since promised a crackdown on corruption and crime in the world of Serbian sports, particularly football, which still yields the highest criminal profits.

Though there have been some arrests in previous years, the mix of organized crime in Serbian and regional sports has only escalated, thus people don't seem so pleased with SOS Channel's twisted joke on account of the lurking and highly possible reality.

October 16 2013

Bosnia-Herzegovina's World Cup Qualifying Win Unites Region in Celebration

Fans celebrated the historic win on the streets of Sarajevo throughout the night; image courtesy of Bosnia-Herzegovina national team's

Fans celebrated the historic win on the streets of Sarajevo throughout the night. Image courtesy of Bosnia-Herzegovina national team's “Zmajevi” Facebook fan page, used with permission.

Some 12 hours after Bosnia-Herzegovina secured its direct qualification to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, Bosnians are still celebrating this historic moment. Social networks are flooded with comments of joy from Bosnians and support from other nations.

Last night and today, October 16, 2013, no one can tell by looking at social networks and regional news sites that Bosnia still has a very troubled political life, or that the EU is threatening the small Balkan country with sanctions. The only topic on people's minds and timelines is that of Bosnia-Herzegovina's 1-0 win over Lithuania in the World Cup qualifiers. Even the official Twitter account of the OSCE Mission to Bosnia-Herzegovina dropped all other matters last night to announce the team's win:

All across Bosnia-Herzegovina, fans are emotional about their countries historical placement in the largest sporting event in the world. Twitter user @samrich_ from Sarajevo says:

My dad is crying, [I swear] on my life. #BosnaiHercegovina #Brazil #BiH #Bosnia #Football

— Morning star (@samrich_) October 15, 2013

This win came, almost “miraculously” as some on social networks put it, on the Kurban Bayrami religious holiday widely celebrated in Bosnia-Herzegovina, also known throughout the Muslim world as the feast of sacrifice. Some social media users gave the traditional Bayrami holiday greeting used to commemorate the end of Bayram and Hajj “Bayram Sherif Mubarek Olsun” (“May the holy Bayram be blessed”) a World Cup twist, and no one seemed to take offense. On the contrary, tweets like this one from Nikola Bajčetić from Montenegro were greeted with humor and good spirits:

BRAZIL SHERIF MUBAREK OLSUN ! :))) Many congratulations #BiH ! #fudbal

— Nikola Bajcetic (@Nikola_MNE) October 15, 2013

The match seems to have brought the entire troubled region together, as Serbian, Croatian and Montenegrin fans congratulated Bosnia-Herzegovina and celebrated the win with them online. After last night's 2-0 loss to Scotland, Croatia still has a slim chance of qualifying in the playoffs. Serbia, however, lost any chance of making it through to the World Cup several months ago after possibly one of the worst qualifying campaigns in its sporting history. But Serbia beat Macedonia 5-1 on October 15, 2013, thus sinking any dreams Macedonians may have had of reaching Brazil next summer. Fans from all three countries, amid their own losses, joined in celebrating Bosnia-Herzegovina's unique win. Nikola Radović from Montenegro joined in by saying:

While I'm losing my voice at Podgorica stadium for #CrnaGora [#Montenegro], I'm getting word that #BiH is off to Brazil. I'll root for them. Bravo Bosnia!

— Nikola Radovic (@NowitzkiCt) October 15, 2013

Bosnia-Herzegovina's national football team now faces the likes of England, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and other top teams in Brazil next year and has an unlikely chance of getting very far in the competition. However, many say that further results for Bosnia at the World Cup are now irrelevant, as this is the country's first time to qualify as an independent nation, a historic moment worth more than any title. The video below shows what Sarajevo looked like throughout the night as people took to the streets to celebrate:

October 04 2013

Toppled Mayor Leaves Serbia's Capital Without a City Government

Now former Belgrade mayor Dragan Djilas at the 2010 XIV Electoral Assembly of the Democratic Party; official photo of the Democratic Party (Demokratska stranka), used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license.

Now former Belgrade mayor Dragan Djilas at the 2010 XIV Electoral Assembly of the Democratic Party; official photo of the Democratic Party (Demokratska stranka), used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license.

The mayor of Serbia's capital city, Dragan Djilas, was fired from his post on 24 September 2013, after a 5-hour debate at which he was present and a secret vote of city councilors that followed. The initiative was backed by the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), its coalition partner the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), as well as the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS).

The now former mayor and notorious national media mogul [sr] Djilas, was removed as Belgrade's top official due to suspicion of several cases of corruption and abuse of power. Djilas is also a top official of the Democratic Party (DS), which was in power in Serbia until last year's elections. He held a press conference on the day he was removed from office, stressing that these allegations were false and his removal was part of “a political deal” by the coalition in power. In an interview [sr] for Novosti daily, SNS representative and President of the National Assembly, Nebojša Stefanović, responded to Mr. Djilas’ claims:

Dragan Đilas tvrdi da vi zapravo kupujete vreme kako biste njega što duže provlačili kroz medije zbog navodnih afera?

- To su potpune besmislice. Kako je moguće, ako je sve rađeno u skladu sa zakonom, otvoriti aferu i pokazati dokument koji ukazuje na kršenje zakona. Meni to deluje kao unapred aboliranje ljudi za koje se zna da su krivi i da su punili sopstvene džepove. Očigledno je bilo mnogo toga u „Vodovodu i kanalizaciji“, „Infostanu“ i brojnim drugim preduzećima i na sve to su nam ukazali ljudi koji tamo rade i koji više ne mogu da gledaju da se nešto nabavlja po tri puta višim cenama. Pa i za rekonstrukciju Bulevara kralja Aleksandra je izabrana drugoplasirana firma čija je ponuda bila za 650 miliona dinara skuplja.

Dragan Djilas claims that you are in fact buying time to drag him through the media as long as possible for the alleged affairs?

- That is complete nonsense. How is it possible, if everything was done according to law, to open an affair and show a document that demonstrates illegal acts. To me this seems like absolving people in advance who are known to be guilty and having filled their own pockets. It's obvious there was much of this in [city utility companies] “Water and Waste”, “Infostan” and many other companies and we were pointed to all of that by people who work there and cannot stand to watch more procurements at three times higher prices. Even for the reconstruction of King Aleksandar Boulevard, the srunner-up company was chosen whose offer was 650 million dinars [approximately 5.7 million euros or 7.75 million U.S. dollars] higher.

In a recent related statement Deputy Prime Minister and leader of SNS, Aleksandar Vučić, explained that Mr. Djilas would still hold his duties for the next month, after which his party would delegate “a professional team” to run the capital city and guaranteed that city elections would be held within the next six months. Djilas, however, is calling for immediate direct local elections [sr], confident that he and his party could take the polls in this round. This scenario is highly unlikely, as the mayor of Belgrade is appointed by the Serbian National Assembly and direct elections would require an extensive process to change electoral procedures.

Vučić also mentioned what many fear and what Nebojša Stefanović discussed previously – that Belgrade's debt is much higher than city authorities and former Mayor Djilas made public. During his mandate, Djilas and his colleagues claimed the city's debt was somewhere between 400 and 600 million euro, while SNS representatives are now claiming that an ongoing investigation of the financial state of the city shows the debt to be twice as much as that, from 900 million euro upwards.

Dragan Djilas’ removal has been a hot topic on social networks, with many citizens happy to see him go. The former mayor has often been referred to as “Djitler” over his 5-year mayorship and many Belgraders continue to blame him for the inefficiency of city utilities and services, shady spending of city funds, and rising cost of living in Serbia's capital. While wary of the accusations put forth and the statements of other politicians most citizens don't trust any more than they do Djilas, many of their comments indicate that people are ready and looking for a change in Belgrade. Twitter user Marti Misterija from Belgrade says:

@BrankaVookovic It depends. See that Djilas now wants direct elections in Bg [Belgrade]. The poor sap thinks he could win based on his “popularity” ;)

— Marti Misterija (@MartiMisterijaX) September 30, 2013

Shortly after his dismissal, Djilas appeared on the popular television talk show “Utisak nedelje” (“Impression of the Week”) and viewers reacted on Twitter. When the former Mayor of Belgrade proudly listed his achievements, viewer Marko Milojević from Smederevska Palanka near Belgrade tweeted:

@utisak You're proud of what you have done in Belgrade? That you shoved it into debt?! You should be ashamed, you have no shame and no pride! #Djilas

— Marko Milojevic (@MarkoMilojevic0) September 29, 2013

SNS representative in the National Assembly and Belgrade lawyer Vladimir Cvijan also reacted to Djilas’ list of achievements:

"I built two bridges" #Djilas #utisak NO, friend! That was built from the budget! And by going into debt!

— Vladimir Cvijan (@VladimirCvijan) September 29, 2013

But most citizens are simply looking for the facts and solutions to Belgrade's many on-going issues. Dragan Janjić, Vice-President of the Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia, tweeted in response to a Twitter discussion on which major political party could offer a better mayor:

@nebojsavasic83 I don't choose sides, I am tring to stick to the facts. But it's true that Djilas is the main target of a media campaign

— Dragan Janjic (@JanjicDragan) September 29, 2013

Another Twitter user, @spyEye from Belgrade, suggested during Djilas’ appearance on “Utisak nedelje”:

Hire an independent auditing company and problem solved. #djilas #utisak

— spyEye (@AustinPowerd) September 29, 2013

Dragan Djilas’ first and last tweet, for now, on this matter was on the day of his dismissal and it has received both support and criticism:

Proud of the Belgrade we developed with the support of all of you. Look at all that has been done on http://t.co/5YY0dWBWl9 These are the steps that build a better Serbia

— Dragan Djilas (@DraganDjilas) September 24, 2013

After the recent government reshuffle in Serbia, the fall of its capital's government is unsettling and brings additional instability to an already economically and politically weakened state. In a recent article, The Economist calls the dismissal of Djilas and his city regime, “the start of a bitter general election campaign” and “a nasty fight ahead”. In the meantime with Djilas and his cabinet only “technically” in office, Belgrade remains without a local government or plans to handle the many issues the capital faces daily.

September 15 2013

Croats in Vukovar Protest Use of Serbian Cyrillic on Government Buildings

In Vukovar, Croatia, Serbs comprise about 35 percent of the city's population, and have thus been granted the right for official use of their native Cyrillic script according to Croatia's constitution. A part of the ethnically Croat population of Vukovar has objected, however, staging protests this week and destroying bilingual signs that had been freshly placed on state buildings. The protests against Cyrillic script in Vukovar started on Monday 9 September 2013 after the placing of name plates in both Latin and Cyrillic scripts on public buildings. A peaceful protest was also held in Zagreb that day.

The Cyrillic script, also known as Azbuka, is an alphabetic writing system based on Early Cyrillic, which was developed during the 10th century AD at the Preslav Literary School. Cyrillic is one of the most used writing systems in the world.

The Serbian Cyrillic alphabet is an adaptation of the original Cyrillic script for the Serbian language, developed in 1818 by Serbian linguist Vuk Karadžić. It is one of the two standard modern alphabets used to write the Serbian and Bosnian languages, the other being Serbian Latin script. Although Latin script is in use as well, Cyrillic is the traditional and official script in Serbia.

Peaceful protest against introduction of bilingualism in Vukovar held in Zagreb:

Peaceful protest against introduction of bilingualism in Vukovar held in Zagreb; photo courtesy of Demotix, used with permission

Vukovar, a city of about 26,000 in eastern Croatia, remains a symbol of the Croatian-Serbian conflicts of the 1990s. For some Croatian citizens, Cyrillic remains a painful reminder of these conflicts. During Friday's protest walk, the disgruntled citizens underscored that they do no want Cyrillic script in their city, “not now, not ever, as that is not just any script, but the script under which crimes were committed against Croats and other non-Serbs during the Croatian War of Independence.”

Meanwhile, netizens on social networks were mostly angry about the fact that some were focusing on the past, which many now consider to be irrelevant matters in times of new economic and social crisis. Bosnian football player and journalist, Goran Arbutina tweeted:

Croats are going wild over Cyrillic while this is how we are doing in #Banjaluka… My street. #cirilica #latinica #sarajevo #vukovar pic.twitter.com/aiRJDWYdRY

— Goran Arbutina (@Goc1jedini) September 6, 2013

Bojan Glavašević, Deputy Minister at Ministry of Defenders [Ministry of Veterans] stated:

I am endlessly saddened by what happened today in #Vukovar. Violence is not a way to solve problems in a democracy. #cirilica

— Bojan Glavasevic (@bglavasevic) September 2, 2013

Croatian politician and member of the European Parliament Ruža Tomašić has a different opinion:

Statement for Cro. [Croatian] media in Brussels: "Crillic yes, but not in Vukovaru" http://t.co/5qnZfumtrh via @tportal #Vukovar #cirilica

— Ruža Tomašić (@RuzaTomasic) September 5, 2013

Protesters in Vukovar reaking bilingual boards; photo courtesy of Kurir daily

Vukovar: breaking bilingual board in protest PHOTO: “Kurir” daily

Serbian student and musician Stefan Josimov had a question for the EU regarding this matter:

Is it possible that the #EU still hasn't reacted regarding the breaking of signs in #Vukovar? #Srbija #Hrvatska #cirilica

— Stefan Josimov (@sjosimov) September 4, 2013

But a Twitter user from Bosnia, nicknamed Agent Tajne Sile, might have an answer to the situation, albeit sarcastic:

Luckilly, no one has an issue with numbers. Especially if they are on bank accounts. #cirilica #vukovar #lakunoc

— Agent tajne sile (@AgentTajneSile) September 3, 2013

Croatian President Ivo Josipovic announced that preparations are underway for a possible agreement on the initiative of bilingual inscriptions in Vukovar, as reported by Croatian news agency Hina. Bad news for Zagreb officials it seems – according to statistics, Croatia is fourth in terms of violation of human rights of the 47 countries that are under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Vesna Skare-Ozbolt, former Croatian Minister of Justice, told SETimes.

I believe that bilingualism introduction will contribute to normalising relations between Croatia and Serbia and progress, but also will be a positive example in the EU.

Skare-Ozbolt announced that about 20 municipalities in Croatia have accomplished formal prerequisites for official use of Cyrillic and it should begin in the near future. She added that Croatia and other EU countries have been installing bilingualism in areas where national minorities make up at least one third of the population. She also stated that the roles of local authorities and the state are crucial in the successful implementation of this process:

Croatia, as a new EU member, keeps this standard, although war consequences are still big, which can be seen in Vukovar, where some resistance still exists.

September 12 2013

UNESCO Patron of First SEE Science Promotion Conference in Serbia

The Center for the Promotion of Science (CPN), under UNESCO patronage, is hosting the First Regional Science Promotion Conference with the aim of gathering science promotion professionals, practitioners and enthusiasts from Southeast Europe. The conference program will discuss science from a scientific, but also from an educational and economic point of view.

(more…)

September 04 2013

Belgrade Philharmonic's Quirky Director is Serbia's New Minister of Culture

Outspoken pianist and conductor Ivan Tasovac is once again turning heads in Serbia, not for his wild grey hair, sharp tongue or bold choices, but for his appointment as the country's minister of culture.

Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dačić completed the reshuffle of his government on August 29, 2013 putting an end to two months of negotiations with his coalition partner and deputy prime minister, Aleksandar Vučić. The 18-member cabinet will include 11 new ministers and several independent experts. Among some of the more surprising choices is Tasovac as Minister of Culture. The very opinionated Tasovac accepted the nomination and assumed office on September 2.

Ivan Tasovac at a press conference for the premiere of the film

Ivan Tasovac at a 2009 press conference for the premiere of the film “Age of Stupid”. Photo courtesy of Media Center Belgrade, used with permission.

Tasovac has been the director of the Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra since March 2001. Under his leadership, the Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra has become one of the most respected cultural institutions not just in Serbia but in other parts of the world. He is very popular on Twitter with about 40,000 followers, and he is admired for his quick wit and vibrant personality in popular Serbian culture. Tasovac in recent years has become very popular among Serbian netizens because of his fearlessness, sharp mind and because he is among those who do things differently, break the rules and bring necessary change to the establishment.

The new minister of culture in recent years has attracted public attention with his unusual, extraordinary approach to promoting the Philharmonic: by introducing pop music to the repertoire and performing classical music and jazz on the streets of Belgrade. The video below shows an impromptu performance in which a part of the Philharmonic Orchestra plays in a downtown Belgrade street strewn with cafes and bars. This was in fact part of a guerrilla campaign under the controversial slogan “Thanks for not coming”, referring to the dwindling attendance of audiences to Philharmonic concerts in previous years. The campaign attracted a lot of attention in the entire country and that season was sold out for the Belgrade Philharmonic:

Some at the time had fierce, critical reactions to the somewhat aggressive form of advertisement. Tasovac recorded a video statement after those reactions and released it to the public on YouTube, for which he received several standing ovations on social networks at the time: 

Reactions, however, are diverse. Some believe that Tasovac will strongly contribute to the development of culture in Serbia, while others are skeptical. Popular Serbian actor, Branislav Trifunović, referring to the fact that Tasovac was being praised by the very politicians he usually criticizes, tweeted:

If Tasovac survives until the end then I can swear that all these people praising him now will soon begin to insult him because he won't be merciful!

As soon as the nomination was made public, online media and social media users began collecting the new minister's tweets in which he criticized, often humorously, the current government and many of its individual members. Igor Lazarević, a management consultant from Belgrade, tweeted one of the popular collections:

Thus tweeted Tasovac: http://t.co/0Uke5g3wLy

Others, like user @Schatzglue on Twitter, posed the question:

How will Tasovac continue to spit on the establishment on Twitter now if he will be the establishment too?

Similarly, Twitter user Nikola from the Bačka region of Serbia, wrote:

As soon as Tasovac became Minister of Culture, he handed his conductor's baton to [First Deputy Prime Minister] Vucicu.

Aside from his musical talent and excellence, Tasovac is best known for his rowdy hair and his many fans have always liked that he refused to tame his hair to fit the norm. Many took to that particular feature when commenting on his new position in the new government:

http://t.co/0wpPxAsZaf Tasovac won't have the same hairdo in 33 days – it will either be standing even higher on his head or he'll be left without any hair!! pic.twitter.com/ZTkk3YMk6u

I accidentally ran into the biggest condition Tasovac has given [Prime Minister] Dacic to become Minister of Culture. pic.twitter.com/eBIMdqi1K7

They're cute :) TASOMANIJA: This is what the government would look like if Tasovac was Prime Minister! – Telegraf.rs http://t.co/4NIcqr9OiV via @telegrafrs

Although the vast majority of users seem happy with the choice, many are still surprised and in disbelief. Jasmina Adamović is sceptical:

Watching the news… Tasovac conducted, while others played. Now he will be playing as others conduct. Indeed life is strange.

And perhaps this tweet by Twitter user @DonDragonson sums up the overall sentiment best:

Minister Tasovac. Well, I've lived to see that too. Amen.

August 29 2013

Serbian National Parachuter Ejected from Team for Disgruntled Facebook Comments

A Serbian national parachuter has been let go from the national team after he criticized officials for leaving the team high and dry at the week-long FAI European Freefall Style and Accuracy Landing Championships in Cheboksary, Russia without accommodation, practice runs and permission to use training materials.

Serbian national team parachuter Aleksandar Cvetković [sr] described on his Facebook profile how he and the rest of the team, not suspecting to be abandoned by their own at the Aeronautical Federation of Serbia, travelled to Russia only to find that the Federation had not prepared or paid for anything. The championships lasted from August 20-27, 2013.

The whole delegation experienced tremendous discomfort during their stay there, to say the least. Their accommodation in the hotel was neither registered nor paid for by officials and the Serbian athletes were finally, after explaining the situation, received at the hotel through the generosity of the championship hosts and with no word from the relevant Serbian Federation or Ministry.

Aleksandar Cvetković - From Russia With Love

Aleksandar Cvetković – From Russia With Love

On his Facebook profile, Cvetković reacted publicly, overcome with outrage and disappointment over the abasement:

Samo da znate sta se desava !!! Presao sam 4000 km i dosao da predstavljam SRBIJU na “SAMPIONATU EVROPE” u padobranstvu. Dosli smo 3 dana ranije da bi smo trenirali i spremili se za sto bolje rezultate ali… Na recepciji hotela se desava prvi sok ! Saznajem da su nas Celnici naseg Vazduhoplovnog saveza poslali bez ikakvog dogovora sa oragnizatorima u vezi naseg dolaska i trenaznih skokova i NARAVNO ni jedan jedini evro nije uplacen za nas i nase ucesce na ovom prvenstvu ! Dobrom voljom domacina smo primljeni u hotel da ne bi smo spavali na ulici…hvala bogu sto su Rusi “nasa braca” a onda sledi porazavajuca cinjenica da ako hocemo skakati trenazne skokove moramo sami placati iz svog dzepa. Naravno dok su danas sve Reprezentacije skakale i trenirale ja sam sedeo na zemlji i sve to posmatrao . Najruzniji i porazavajuci osecaj na svetu dok novaca ima za skupa putovanja ,hotele i poslovne ruckove pojedinih mi sportisti smo osudjeni na ovakve situacije koje se desavaju po ko zna koji put ! TO JE LICE SRBIJE gde se gleda Farma i gde je Ekrem Jevric glavni junak Nacije !!! Sada vi procenite s kakvim motivom i voljom cu ja nastupati i predstavljati Srbiju …

Just so you know what's going on! I have travelled 4,000 kilometers to represent SERBIA at the “European Championships” in parachuting. We came three days earlier in order to train and prepare for better results but … At the reception we received our first shock! I found out that the leaders of our association sent us without consulting at all with the organizers about our arrival and training jumps and, OF COURSE, not a single euro is paid for us and our participation in this championships! Thanks to the good will of the host we have been taken into the hotel so we would not end up sleeping on the street … thank God that the Russians are “our brothers”, then this was followed by the devastating fact that if we want a training jump we would have to pay for them out of our own pockets. Of course, while all the other teams trained and jumped today, I sat on the ground and watched it all. The ugliest and most devastating feeling in the world – while the money goes for expensive travel, hotels and business lunches of certain people, we athletes are doomed to these situations which are happening who knows how many times! THIS IS THE FACE OF SERBIA in which Farma [a low-budget "farm" version reality show similar to "Big Brother"] and Ekrem Jevrić is the top hero of the nation!!! Now you evaluate with what motivation and will I will perform and represent Serbia …

In response to his Facebook rant, this young athlete has received a number of encouraging comments, including numerous condemnations of Serbian authorities, who often seem to forget some of the nation's most successful athletes.

A couple of days later, Aleksandar showed true sportsmanship and sent greetings from Russia with smile:

Ipak ja branim boje svoje zemlje,pa kakva god da je ! Pozdrav iz Chebuksara – Cuvaska Republika ;)

I defend the colors of my country after all, regardless of what it is like! Greetings from Chebuksara – Chuvash Republic ;)

The Aeronautical Federation of Serbia did not cover any of the costs for the national team's participation in the European Championships and, due to this, the team had no opportunity for any training jumps before the competition. Despite all odds being against him, Aleksandar Cvetković finished the competition and ranked 46th out of 65 competitors. His positive attitute and previous public comments on the matter were not well received by Serbian officials, however. That same day, he received news from the national team selectors that his talent would no longer be needed on the national team:

2 2 11 2 2 3 3 3 =28 cm . 46.-to mesto od 65 takmciara, to je moj ucinak na Prvenstvu Evrope. Uz sve muke koje sam doziveo ovde i ovo je odlicno. OBAVESTENJE !!!! Uz svu bruku i sramotu koju sam doziveo ovde obavesten sam od strane selektora da cu zbog svog ponasanja biti izbacen iz REPREZENTACIJE od strane Celnika Vazduhoplovnog Saveza Srbije . Tako da je ovo ipak moje oprostajno takmicenje za Srbiju !! Ziveli

2 2 11 2 2 3 3 3 =28 cm . 46th place out of 65 competitors, that is my ranking at the European Championship. In view of all the trouble I've had to live through, this is excellent. NOTE !!!! After all the embarrassment and shame I have gone through here I have been informed by the selectors that I will be thrown out of the NATIONAL TEA due to my behavior by the officials of the Aeronautical Federation of Serbia. So this is after all my farewell competition for Serbia !! Cheers

Views of Serbians on this issue are perhaps best described in a Facebook comment by Srdjan Mitrović:

Mogu da nam “oduzmu” takmicenje…mogu da nam “oduzmu” pasose…ali ne mogu ono sto imamo…..i nosimo u srcu…..

They can “take away” our contest … They can “take away” our passports … but not what we have ….. and carry in our hearts .. …

August 16 2013

Accused Nazi Concentration Camp Leader Dies Before Trial in Hungary

Top news these days among Hungarian and European netizens is the death of László Csizsik-Csatáry, one of the most wanted Nazi war criminals who died on Saturday, August 10 while awaiting trial in Hungary.

The 98-year-old Hungarian native who topped the dwindling list of surviving Nazi war crime suspects died in a hospital as his trial for allegedly sending nearly 16,000 Jews to death camps neared. The announcement of Csatáry's death was made by officials on Monday, August 12 in Budapest.

His lawyer stated that the Nazi war crime suspect died in the hospital over the weekend after contracting pneumonia. His death came as a setback for Holocaust survivors still seeking some justice.

A file that the Simon Wiesenthal Center had prepared on Csatáry implicated him in the deportation of 300 people from Kassa (Kosice) in 1941. In August 2012, the Budapest Prosecutor’s Office dropped these charges, saying Csatáry was not in Kassa at the time and lacked the rank to organize the transports. In January 2013, it was reported that Slovak police had found a witness to corroborate other charges relating to deportations of 15,700 Jews from Kassa from May 1944.

A group of Jewish men, women and children being led to a concentration camp during WW II; photo provided by by the German Federal Archives, used under Creative Commons 3.0 license.

A group of Jewish men, women and children being led to a concentration camp during WW II; photo provided by by the German Federal Archives, used under Creative Commons 3.0 license.

Hungarian authorities have said Csatáry was the chief of an internment camp for Jews in 1944 in Kosice, a Slovak city then part of Hungary, beating inmates with his bare hands and a dog whip. He had also been charged with assisting in the deportation of thousands of Jews to Auschwitz and other Nazi death camps. He denied the charges.

Csatáry was sentenced to death in absentia in Czechoslovakia in 1948 for similar war crimes. A Budapest court in July suspended the case against Csatáry citing double jeopardy, as the charges filed by Hungarian prosecutors were similar to those in his 1948 conviction. Hungarian prosecutors appealed against the decision and a ruling was pending.

Csatáry's case and his whereabouts were revealed in 2012 by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, a Jewish organisation which hunts Nazis who have yet to be brought to justice.

Most netizens from around the globe couldn't hide their disappointment regarding his death.

Twitter user Richard S. said:

Political scientist Siniša Bundalo from Serbia wrote:

When I see how this Hungarian fascist #Csatáry got away with it I don't quite believe the saying “justice is slow but…”!

— Siniša Bundalo (@Sinisa_B) August 12, 2013

Jan Nemecek, a Twitter user from Slovakia, noted:

Hans Meijer, a communications advisor at Gemeente Hilversum in the Netherlands, shared the news:

Andrew Yurkovsky, a U.S. journalist covering Central and Eastern Europe, tweeted:

Another Twitter user echoed what many were saying online:

In response to the media announcement of his death, people from around the world responded with calls for justice:

@radiomitre #Csatary Well now he will face the worst of justices and without lawyers.

— jose luis lopez (@jossephuss) August 13, 2013

A year ago Csatáry's unknown location was discovered by reporters for British paper “The Sun”, who knocked on his door for statements. Csatáry's trial was scheduled to begin next month.

August 15 2013

Serbians Fight for Government Funds to Treat Ill Children

A proposal put forward by a citizens’ initiative that would provide government funds for medical care for Serbian children and minors with rare or potentially terminal diseases and disorders was knocked down by Serbian officials yesterday.

At a special round-table session of the Republic Fund for Health Insurance, Serbian officials turned down the idea, to the deep disappointment of the Serbian public and netizens.

Dr. Dušan Milisavljević, one of the organizers of the initiative and president of the Board of Health of the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia, was present at the session on August 14, 2013 to present the case for children with rare and possibly terminal diseases and their parents. The citizens’ initiative proposes that the government provide funding for Serbian citizens under age 18 for medical treatment outside of Serbia if the treatment these patients require is not available in Serbia, in particular for heart and other vital organ transplantation, something that Serbia is lacking.

Dr. Milisavljević, who is also a tenured professor at the Medical School of the University of Niš, has made this cause transparent and public on social networks and is rallying other citizens both online and offline. Immediately after the round table session, he wrote on Twitter:

The round table of the RFZO [Republic Fund for Health Insurance] has ended with no resolution as to sending children abroad for heart transplantation. There is no sign that regulations will be changed. TERRIBLE AWFUL

— Dusan Milisavljevic (@DusanORLDusan) August 14, 2013

The state refuses to change legislature and take on the responsibility of medical treatment for children abroad http://t.co/bYEKmHnF68 [Radio Television Serbia] report @zozast @natasajutro @NataMij

— Dusan Milisavljevic (@DusanORLDusan) August 14, 2013

As national public broadcasting network Radio Television Serbia reports in the video below, government officials cited discrepancies in the proposal that are in contrast to the Serbian Constitution as their reason for refusing to change standing regulations in the medical treatment of children. Namely, the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia states that no patient will receive preferential treatment based on discrimination, including discrimination based on age. Citizens of Serbia, however, seem to be of the opinion that providing funds to save the youngest generations of Serbian citizens, a population that is slowly but surely dwindling with one of the lowest birth rates in Europe, would not be discriminating against other citizens of Serbia, but rather making a decision based on what is right for the nation and its future in general.

A similar and related initiative, dubbed “Zoja's Law” [sr] by the parents of a recently deceased six-year-old girl named Zoja who suffered a three-year-long battle with Batten's Disease, is asking officials to also provide such funds for children with rare diseases, which often go undiagnosed for long periods of time in Serbia. “Zoja's Law”, which is a hot topic on Twitter, asks that a time limit of six months be placed on diagnosing rare diseases and disorders in children, after which the government would cover costs of either sending these young patients abroad for proper diagnosis or the cost of bringing in foreign experts for diagnosis and treatment.

Both initiatives have great support but mostly online for the time being. Dušan Milosavljević continues to talk about the issue at hand online and support seems to be on the rise:

When we talk about medical treatment abroad for children, they [the government] say it isn't possible and cite the Constitution, but when they negotiate for Kosovo? What is more important – for me CHILDREN !

— Dusan Milisavljevic (@DusanORLDusan) August 14, 2013

Snežana Jović, a nutritionist from Serbia, wrote on Twitter:

@Bobana47 It's a shame that @DusanORLDusan doesn't have wider support, the man can't do it alone when he has a gang sitting across from him.. and the media are silent… how to help.

— Snezana Jovic (@snneki) August 15, 2013

Global Voices in Serbian asked Milosavljević for a statement on Twitter as to what the next steps in pushing forward the legislative changes necessary to send children with rare and perhaps fatal diseases, often in need of organ transplantation that Serbia is unable to acquire, abroad for needed medical procedures. He responded in a telephone conversation, listing four very concrete steps to be taken that were much too long for a tweet. Here is his response to Global Voices:

Step 1 – What I have repeated daily for the past six or seven months and what is the pillar of this initiative is a change to the current Regulation (Pravilnik) of the Republic Serbia for medical treatment of patients. This procedure requires just one session during which only one sentence needs to be added to the Regulation – that the state will finance costs of medical treatment, in other words transplantation, for the citizens of Serbia [if the state does not wish to discriminate and limit this to children]. At this session, the Board of the Republic Fund for Health Insurance would bring the resolution to add this one sentence. The current Minister of Health would then have to sign the resolution and send it to the Government for adoption. This is a procedure that would take a maximum of some seven days to accomplish.

Step 2 – Signing contracts with several surgical clinics across continental Europe which would provide transplantation and treatment for our little ones. This model exists and has functioned well over the past ten years with surgical clinics in Padua and Trieste, where many of our children have been successfully treated over the past decade or so.

Step 3 – The education and training of our [Serbian] cardiovascular surgeons in the field of transplantation, a seven- to ten-year process that is necessary, as well as creating conditions in terms of equipment in our cardiovascular clinics, perhaps beginning with a clinic in Belgrade.

Step 4 – Raising awareness and educating citizens on the importance of organ donation.

Milisavljević says that he will continue with his battle with government representatives to make the above quoted four steps a reality in Serbia and also noted on Twitter that Nevena Petrušić, Serbia's Commissioner for Equality, stated the day after the proposal was turned down that:

N. P. pointed out that it is completely incorrect that laws banning discrimination based on age represent a problem in making these changes to the Regulation

— Dusan Milisavljevic (@DusanORLDusan) August 15, 2013

July 26 2013

Anti-Gay Protesters Violently Disrupt Montenegro's First Pride Parade

Montenegro's first Gay Pride Parade ended in violence instead of tolerance with clashes between police forces and anti-LGBT protesters in Budva resulting in arrests, injuries and, finally, the evacuation of parade participants by boat because police forces could not guarantee safe passage for the participants through the city center.

Only about 40 people were part of the parade itself on July 24, 2013, but of about 2,000 people gathered along the parade route, some 500 actively and physically attempted to stop the event, according to Montenegro's Police Department [sr].

Some, like Mihail Efremov, commented on what was happening at the parade at the time on social media:

While Montenegro has had fairly liberal laws regarding LGBT matters since 1977, then as a part of the former Yugoslavia, LGBT and other non-conventional lifestyles are often frowned upon in everyday life and society. In November of 2012, Montenegrin Deputy Prime Minister Duško Marković announced that the government, however, would consider some form of legal recognition of gay marriages.

Netizens from the region and the world, as well as many mainstream media channels, reacted the day after to the incident that took place yesterday in Budva, one of the most popular tourist destinations on the Adriatic coast. Twitter user Jaz commented and posted a video of the event on Twitter:

This is a total disgrace http://t.co/ewoURfsu2d #SeaSidePride #EqualityForAll #Montenegro

Owners of cafes in the old city of Budva even called in a priest to purify the plateau where the Gay Pride Parade had passed. The clergyman who performed the ritual, Father Boris Radović, stated for media that “This was not a pride parade, but a parade of shame”, causing mostly ridicule and contempt from many social media users, like this tweet from user @talambasakobasa:

hahaha http://t.co/F2nMWC94yZ what's his relation to the more famous Radović [former politician known for extremist statements]; I see their wording is the same #Budva #Montenegro #paradacg #seasidepride

— talambasamikobasa (@talambasakobasa) July 25, 2013

Nenad Memić, a journalist and linguist from Sarajevo now living in Vienna, added on Twitter:

On Facebook, under hashtag#Montenegro, many reactions can be seen, the vast majority of which condemn yesterday's attacks on the parade and call for more tolerance for the LGBT community in Montenegro.

Perhaps this tweet from freelance journalist Alex Hoegberg sums it up best:

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