Dragan Markovic Palma overplayed his hand about ten days ago when he organized a “gauntlet” for Marinika Tepic in Jagodina. He probably sighed with relief, clapped his hands and told his associates that this is how the opposition should be treated. After all, he always boasts about there being “no opposition” in Jagodina and about the fact that the sessions of the Assembly last about 15 minutes. However, it turned out that the night-time “meetings” in Jagodina’s hotels and apartments lasted much longer. Marinika Tepic, vice president of the Party of Freedom and Justice, informed the public about this at the press conference and showed disturbing testimony from a protected witness about “sexual abuse of women and girls aged 15 to 17” in Jagodina. Thus, her visit to the forbidden city, as well as the courage she needed to face Palma’s “Tigers”, his associates and police officers, who refused to protect her from verbal attacks in the park, caused great turbulence, which brought to light the first public testimony about the dark side of the Moravian Disneyland.
Instead of the public prosecutor’s office, the first to respond to the press conference were the tabloids Kurir and Informer, quoting Palma’s answer, in which he threatened Marinika Tepic with imprisonment. He also speculated about the identity of the protected witness, whom he “identified” based on his wrist watch as “Branislav Radosavljevic, a member of the Party of Freedom and Justice.” Also, a statement by the women employed at Tigar restaurant was issued: “We assure you that none of what was said at the press conference is true. We have been working honestly and fairly at Tigar restaurant for years and we’ve never even thought about, let alone seen, anything like that.” As far as other government representatives go, only Zorana Mihajlovic, Deputy Prime Minister and President of the Coordination Body for Gender Equality, spoke up about the case, shifting the responsibility to Marinika Tepic who, according to her, should be held accountable “if she knew about all that and did not report it.”
This is how the most serious problems are usually solved in Serbia. One could only guess what would happen if a victim of sexual abuse, without the support of the public and politicians, decided to report a case of enslavement of women and minors, like the protected witness who presented the practice of the President of the Jagodina Municipal Assembly in the “forbidden hotel” Alfa in Koncarevo. Marinika Tepic also mentioned the threats that these women received, from “ending up in a trunk to being thrown off a cliff on the highway”. There is really no room to maneuver in Jagodina, as was evident during Tepic’s visit – she was allowed to walk, but only through a gauntlet of male agitators. But that scene did not upset the female staff of Tigar restaurant, nor anyone from the tabloids, nor even Zorana Mihajlovic. For them, it was perfectly normal for three women to be treated in this inhumane way.
The topic of pedophilia was raised in public in March last year by Igor Juric, the founder of the “Tijana Juric” Foundation, who spoke about “a famous politician who sexually abuses children. He is known at the national level and will participate in the campaign in the upcoming elections and promise a better life to the citizens of his city.” However, this identikit was all we got, so everything remained in the domain of speculation, while various politicians commented that they did not know who it was and that Juric should say the name of that politician, so that “an emergency trial could be held and a maximum prison sentence imposed.” Juric also spoke out after Marinika Tepic’s conference, saying that he had “already communicated his knowledge of pedophilia in Jagodina to the prosecutor’s office, as well as to former Minister of Police Nebojsa Stefanovic.” He also emphasized that “the family with whom he is in contact has the evidence. They were willing to testify at one point, but then withdrew, which caused a delay in the investigation.” Stefanovic did not comment on this case, nor did the President. Maybe he left it for another day, or for his next guest appearance on Happy TV.
Marinika Tepic has made the first step. The name of that politician has now been said out loud and the first witness testimony has been given to the public. It was unreasonable to expect the government to fall, as Tepic announced, because that had never happened before after equally dangerous testimonies. The prosecution has mostly remained silent on such occasions, except perhaps when a video of “Scorpions” shooting civilians from Srebrenica was shown on television. This time, the video of the protected witness, a former worker of Alfa Hotel, cause a disturbance in Jagodina, certainly at the top of the SPS, whose high-ranking officials were mentioned in the testimony. Attacks from the tabloids and the government were also expected. In cases when someone presents facts that indicate criminal acts, there is only one danger, and that is that that same person will be accused of that crime. If you are the one talking about war crimes, there is always a possibility that the tabloids and some ministers will accuse you of genocide in public. Let us remember what happened when the actress Milena Radulovic spoke against acting teacher Mika Aleksic. The same mechanism was launched in Alfa case, which is not about an atrocity committed by an anonymous individual, but about an established practice of a group of high-ranking political officials who, according to the protected witness, incorporated this kind of “entertainment” into a political system in an isolated territory under the absolute control of one man.
At the end of the press conference, Marinika Tepic called on the victims of sexual abuse to contact the Party of Freedom and Justice and help by testifying, because without them coming forward, the whole case could remain at the level of inter-party skirmishes, which is how it is now being presented not only by the leader of United Serbia, but also by Deputy Prime Minister Zorana Mihajlovic. This is obviously the common position of the coalition partners in the Government. If one partner is taken down, the whole house of cards could collapse, and the shrouds hiding the forbidden hotels – and forbidden cities – could finally start to fall.
Translated by Marijana Simic