After the first wave of floods hit – then the second, and then the third – the state pulled itself together and is slowly taking control over the key areas of life in Serbia after the floods. The most important area, of course, is the public opinion, the environment governed by bombastic statements, wisdom shortage and even greater memory shortage.
The rhubarb has begun over the official interpretation of events and the way the May floods of 2014 will remain in public memory.
A popular government-supported tabloid published this morning a story on people getting rich by charging for evacuation by private boats. The story was illustrated with a photo from the flooded city of Obrenovac. One of the more active volunteers from the rescue missions recognized himself and his boat on the photo. An iconic sight of solidarity and self-organization was shamelessly abused in a campaign of diverting attention.
Direct coverage of a government session is on TV: the already customary picture of the man who treats his associates as movie extras, and recites his impressions in a commanding voice. As one of the strongest impressions the media have chosen the shameful statement by the Prime Minister the Serbia has suffered by far the most in the region, and that Serbia will seek aid from the EU alone.
The experts in victimization from the nineties are well aware of the fact that suffering and helplessness are fertile grounds for selfishness, mistrust and moral panic. Lamenting over one’s own fate is followed by scowling at one’s associate, the investigation of those who criticize and refusing the right to speak.
The web and some of the free shortwave frequencies that proved to be the most important resources in transmitting correct and timely information in the previous days have been marked as targets. Radio amateurs were shut down and then allowed back on air under unclear circumstances; now, for some reason, an unidentifiable source is jamming their frequencies. Blogs written by ordinary citizens with stories and photos about the floods and the rescue attempts are being removed from the web.
Crude attacks on twitter activism and all this force of enthusiasm and selfless devotion are being slowly replaced by a wiser strategy, in order to paint these webs of solidarity as a proof of support and obedience in hard times, and in order to take over the credits and paint a picture of overall unity of the government and the people.
Instead of authentic reports, the official narrative is reorganizing the public attention around the concept of painless guilt. Media are not supposed to be interested in why the warning of the Hydro-meteorological Service about high water levels and possible floods was forgotten, why the page on the City of Belgrade website with the Mayor’s appeal to citizens of Obrenovac not to leave their homes was erased, why no one visited Krupanj for days, delivered drinking water to Smederevska Palanka, or mentioned, even incidentally, the flood defense in Sremska Mitrovica…? The list is long and morbidly resembles the register of municipalities where SNS is not in power.
Who dares question the political decisions in the prevention of the consequences of floods, the organization of rescue missions, distribution of aid and other technicalities on which human lives depend? Who is responsible for the fact that the coffers of the emergency services do not hold sufficient funds, why the welfare of the society is at the mercy of text messages and the goodwill of private companies? A political issue, fundamental to the society, is translated to the language of useless party-mongering, while every attempt at criticism is prohibited as suspicious oppositional interest.
The discontent of the people left to the mercy of the floods, as well as of the volunteers who, for days, worked without any support of state institutions, is slowly being curtailed and focused in the desired direction. The tabloid researchers have bared their teeth at those who cannot defend themselves. The furiousness of blasphemous media articles about Roma testifies to the media treatment of citizens as a mindless mob, whose demands for responsibility can be quenched by sacrificing a few handy usual suspects. Unverified hearsay about thefts is being reported to the public, hand in hand with a call for lynching, instead to the police, which is in charge of efficiently and calmly preventing and punishing abuse.
The preventive silencing was tested by efficiently removing Biljana Srbljanovic from the public space, as a test target not many people will pay attention to.
The face of the state, to which the citizens delegated final responsibility for their safety and welfare, is slowly fading from the image of injustice. The outlines of irresponsibility of biblical proportions are getting increasingly blurry.
What is left is but a little hope that information and humanitarian aid networks – the volunteers of Serbia, were well organized in collecting and documenting testimonies about the flood, in the same way they were organized during the rescue missions. The forecasts have been disregarded, it’s time to alleviate the consequences.
Translated by Bojana Obradovic