AIM: start

SUN, 21 OCT 2001 22:47:21 GMT

The Socialists Attacked Journalists at the Novi Sad Rally

Conflict Practising

Whenever it disagrees with the ideas of Voivodina civil parties, which basically advocate decentralisation of Serbia, Serbia accuses "parties which are in the majority in the Provincial Assembly", of trying to subsume Voivodina under the Greater-Hungary or Greater-Croatia project". This platitude is used to scare the population frustrated with its present poverty and historic experiences; it serves the same purpose for which nationality-based censuses are used.

AIM Beograd, October 5, 2001

In late September, the Socialists, loyal to their leader Slobodan Milosevic and his work, held another rally in Novi Sad and did everything they could so as to provoke as many incidents as possible. Same as when they were in power, the excess aggression was directed against journalists. The security team of the rally, dressed in black T-shirts with slogans "That is Your Problem" printed on their chests, harassed journalists together with rally participants. It did not even try to stop the crowd from smashing windows. The police was there, but according to the opinion of Novi Sad denizens took too long to react. This was the second rally of SPS (Socialist Party of Serbia) followers organised this year in this town. It is possible that rocks were thrown because there rally-goers took literally Milena Arezina's April message ("We shall be back and give them hell"), but she probably had a different kind of return in mind.

After four hours of rallying and walking the streets, and attacking journalists, news photographers and citizens, the SPS ardent followers dispatched a delegation to the Provincial Assembly. There, President of the Voivodina Assembly Nenad Canak promised them to place their request for extraordinary elections, which was allegedly the reason they assembled, on the agenda of the next session of the Voivodina Parliament.

The SPS followers tried to compensate with conflicts for their small number (estimates mention between one and two thousand participants) and their unimaginative accusations. As usual, buses with registration plates from other Yugoslav towns could be seen in Novi Sad. Rally participants and members of their security insulted a reporter of the Radio Free Europe (RFE) and editor of the TV production "Urban NS" Marina Fratucan of being an Ustasha who used to work in Hrtkovci and should not be allowed to report. They tried to physically assault her, but other journalists stopped them. Correspondent of the Voice of America radio station (VOA), Vladimir Jesic got few punches and the rally security kicked him in the leg and twisted his arm threatening that they would "have their revenge". The police defended him from some 50 people but asked him to name his assailants!

Incidents started already when speeches were being read. When a news-photographer of the Novi Sad daily "Gradjanski list" (The Civil Paper) Dragan Gojic tried to take photos of a participant in the rally getting into an ambulance, the Socialists' security team assaulted him and using abusive language shoved aside his colleague from the Belgrade magazine "Svedok" (Witness), Ms. Mirela Petrovic. During the protest march photojournalist of the daily "Glas javnosti" (The Public Voice) Miljan Cubranovic was also attacked. A journalist of the "Urban NS" production service, Jelena Krajsic was crudely insulted. One of the more brutal incidents was the injury of a minor who had been punched in the neck and pushed off his bicycle so that he had to be taken to hospital to have his chin stitched.

The next day, Chief of the SPS Deputy Club in the Serbian Assembly, Branislav Ivkovic, said that he was "ashamed of what happened". However, his reservations and selective apology on TV Palma Plus ("If what the media have reported on the incident at the SPS's protest rally... is true") did not sound very sincere. When reporters of the Novi Sad Radio 021 asked President of the Provincial Socialists, Dusan Bajatovic why had the security allowed the attack on journalists, he replied: "I did not see any beating, I only saw different reactions of people in the column and of the security. No one was attacked and I helped wherever I could to protect the journalists".

President of the Independent Association of Journalists of Voivodina (NDNV) and editor-in-chief off the state daily "Dnevnik" (The News), Petar Petrovic invited his colleagues to boycott SPS activities because of the attack of this party's followers on journalists: "We shall ask our members to boycott SPS activities for as long as state authorities are unable to guarantee journalists safety at work. We shall also demand that in the future the attack on journalists be treated same as an attack on a policeman or a judge".

The Novi Sad daily "Gradjanski list" (The Civil Paper) already published an editorial stating that in the name of the freedom of information it would not boycott anyone. It informed that President of the Voivodina Assembly Nenad Canak had promised the establishment of a special service which would be in charge of the security of journalists in Voivodina, but it remains to be seen what would that actually mean.

Before they went to see Canak, the Socialists raised hue and cry at the Liberty Square accusing the authorities of everything: of mismanagement, of auctioning the country, of increased crime rates and corruption. To some analysts this resembled copying of ideas from notes of Federal President Vojislav Kostunica's followers. The idea on early provincial elections also corresponds with the aspirations of Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) to have political forces of Voivodina measure swords at extraordinary elections.

However, this is nothing new. At the April rally in Novi Sad Branislav Ivkovic paid several compliments to President Kostunica: "Kostunica, they used your honour to come to power and everything they do you are doing too. If you disagree with them, say so and call the elections". At that time it sounded as a poorly disguised offer. This time, although he attended the rally, Ivkovic did not speak.

The young Dusan Bajatovic, obviously wanting to present himself as "nationally aware", explained the reason why this Assembly of Voivodina was the main factor of instability" and was not voicing the true will of the people: "Today there are 70 percent of Serbs in Voivodina and its Parliament has only 50 percent of Serbian representatives. The Assembly is dangerous because its majority constitute the League of the Social-Democrats of Voivodina (LSV), Association of the Voivodina Hungarians (SVM), Reformists of Voivodina (RV) and their satellites whose programmes have separatist elements. Tomorrow they can secure a republic of Voivodina and later even annex it to the international community". Bajatovic underlined that "it will never happen, as we are very strong...".

When the Socialists' request for holding extraordinary provincial elections appears on the agenda of the next session of the Voivodina Assembly, it will mean nothing precisely because of the mentioned balance of forces. At the last year's elections they had been totally defeated: they won only two deputy mandates in the commune of Odzaci and in other places - nothing. It is hardly possible that early elections could change anything for the SPS. The public opinion is not on their side. The September public opinion poll carried out by the "Scan" Agency showed that only 5.3 percent of denizens of Novi Sad would choose SPS; 10 percent felt close to it and three fourths of pollees (74 percent) stated that SPS ideas were alien to them.

Accusations of separatism, which in the Serbian political jargon has become a kind of epithet, people of Voivodina understand as a bad joke. Whenever it disagrees with the ideas of Voivodina civil parties, which basically advocate decentralisation of Serbia and autonomy of the Province, Serbia accuses "parties which are in the majority in the Provincial Assembly", of trying to subsume Voivodina under the Greater-Hungary or Greater-Croatia project". This platitude is used to scare the population frustrated with its present poverty and historic experiences; it serves for the same purpose for which nationality-based censuses are used. According to the "Scan" Agency only 2.7 percent of interviewees want Voivodina as an independent state, whereas there are not even indications that there is a political option advocating the secession of Voivodina from Serbia. Those interviewed by "Scan" mostly (35.5 percent)think that Voivodina should get back the autonomy it enjoyed under the 1974 Constitution; a smaller number (23.4 percent) of them think that it needs greater autonomy, but not as great as the one it had in 1974; while only 6.2 percent are for Voivodina as a Republic within Yugoslavia.

The Socialists have completely forgotten their cry from the April rally of support to Slobodan Milosevic "Arrest Canak"! and that they had screamed "Canak Ustasha" in September and sent a SPS delegation to the Office of the President of Voivodina Assembly - Nenad Canak. He readily promised to initiate a procedure for reviewing the request of (both) SPS provincial deputies for extraordinary elections, expressing his surprise over their protest when they had deputies (two out of 120) in Voivodina Parliament. He also reminded them that these parliamentary deputies had been elected according to the electoral system adopted by the SPS and that during their rule they had enacted over 100 laws which additionally restricted Voivodina's jurisdiction under the valid Constitution so that Voivodina first had to be brought back into the constitutional coordinates. He repeated that constitutional amendments should resolve Voivodina's status within democratic Serbia once and for all, without any separatist ideas.

The Serbian Radical Party (SRS) announced a rally in Novi Sad for October. (According to "Scan" Agency some 7.2 percent of Novi Sad denizens would vote today for the Radicals.) It seems that the opposition has decided to practice non-parliamentary struggle in Novi Sad. Perhaps, so many years later someone is wishing a "new happy 1988".

Milena Putnik