Illustration: Slavisa Savic
Illustration: Slavisa Savic

This should be the marketing slogan of RT Balkan, the Serbian-language multimedia portal which was launched in mid-November by Russia Today Television, at the same time announcing a long-term plan to begin broadcasting its program in Serbian by 2024. Despite the opposition of European officials (Peter Stano, Vladimir Bilcik), despite the Russian aggression against Ukraine, the sanctions imposed by the EU on Russia, and the calls from the EU for candidate countries to join the sanctions, the leadership of Serbia took another step backwards by allowing this media portal to be launched, as a prelude to the eponymous television channel. All this was justified with calls for media freedom, democracy and the equality of all voices. President Vucic commented on this during the spring election campaign, when the opposition accused him of allowing RT into Serbia. On that occasion, he said something that RT will certainly be happy to quote: “Some of them want to put all of us who think differently into camps, they would ban anyone who speaks differently. Many think that only they should have freedom of the media.”

And quote it they did – at the very beginning of their operation in Serbia, in fact, because it was featured in Jelena Milincic’s opening editorial (“RT is finally in the Balkans”). The editor of the portal has spent the last 10 years in the RT network, first in Moscow, then in Berlin and Paris. Her mother Ljubinka Milincic, editor of the Sputnik Serbia portal, began her career in the embrace of the Kremlin as a cultural attaché at the Serbian Embassy in Moscow in 2002. After completing her diplomatic mission, she remained in Russia and turned to the lucrative business of promoting the image and work of one Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin in Serbia, where she published two books: Vladimir Putin – my battle for Kosovo (2007) and The Putin Phenomenon – a self-made man, which was accompanied by a gift DVD with a promotional video titled Putin Super Star. In those projects, Milincic tried to brand the image of Putin as a “masculine leader,” who is “handsome, decisive, safe, reliable” and challenge all stereotypes about Russians. In short, as a man who “doesn’t drink and doesn’t fight” and also just so happens to be interested in defending Serbian interests in Kosovo. Therefore, he is not Yeltsin, not Gorbachev, not even Stalin – but he inherited only all of their best qualities, including their “love” for Serbia.

“The world has changed,” said Jelena Milincic in her editorial on the RT Balkan portal. It has indeed. Even before her arrival, the readers understood that her mother’s words from 2011 were actually part of the Kremlin’s propaganda, because Putin does drink and does fight, not only at home, but also in the neighborhood – he’s been doing so non-stop for almost a year now, in fact. But that does not prevent Milincic from speaking about the importance of RT Balkan, and soon TV RT, for the democratic capacity of a country like Serbia, which she sees as the last “oasis of media freedom” in Europe. At the same time, she refers to RT Balkan as “different media content,” which is urgently needed in Belgrade and Serbia. Namely, since the citizens here live under the hated propaganda of the West, it is high time to offer them a more balanced picture of reality, which will be made possible by Putin’s media office under the leadership of the Milincic family.

Let’s look at what RT Balkan has offered us in the past seven days and how different it is from everything we’ve been seeing in the media for years. In record time, this portal has brought us authentic supporters of the Russian viewpoint (which is here often referred to as Serbian) and their latest analysis: Muharem Bazdulj, Slobodan Reljic, Slobodan Antonic, Milos Kovic. Indeed, the Serbian public has long craved more analysis from these experts, who’ve been marginalized as intellectuals, since they could only promote their views which normalize Russian aggression in Ukraine in all of the media, except for N1, NIN and Vreme. Until recently, even in Danas. This way, RT Balkan came in as a reinforcement for the pro-regime and pro-Russian campaign in our highly Putinized public space – a fetid mire from which the only thing that can emerge is the president’s head, announcing yet another battle of Stalingrad every day.

In this oasis of media freedoms, in just one week RT Balkan has managed to write about the license plate cataclysm in Kosovo, Kiev as a purely Russian city, Russian energy superiority, and the fear which swept over Germany after power cuts were announced for the winter. The total blackout is already here and Europeans are starting to hoard water and food. Recession is killing Great Britain and Austria and the crypto markets are crashing. Only the Russian economy remains strong, propelled by enormous trade with China. So the citizens of Serbia have no reason to worry about EU integration, given that Europe has nothing more to offer.

How is this new and different compared to everyday propaganda in Serbia? It’s not. Those who watch RTS, Politika, Happy, Novosti, Informer, Pink, Kurir, Nedeljnik will be able to happily embrace RT Balkan as another note to add to the well-known rhythm which they listen to from dawn till dusk: promotion of criminals, praise for the ingeniousness of Russian tactics in Ukraine, fake news, conspiracy theories, fear mongering and praise for autocrats are just another part of our public discourse. However, the most important thing, at least according to RT owned media, is that one can’t do anything outside of the law. Olivera Zekic, president of REM, spoke abut this when asked about RT coming to Serbia. She sneered at the reaction of Euro parliamentarian Vladimir Bilcik and compared his comment to “Orson Welles’ announcement of a Martian invasion.” Since Zekic and REM operate exclusively in accordance with the law, RT’s request, once it is submitted, will be reviewed objectively and in detail. And, consequently, approved. Until then, REM will review only Sputnik’s request which was submitted under the guise of domestic media outlet “Signal media d.o.o.”. And while REM employees diligently check their application, it is clear that this Russian media invasion won’t end with a message during the closing credits telling us that it was all just a well-directed radio play. The problem is that this invasion is now the new normal in almost all other media, because all of them confirm the credibility of Putin’s War of the worlds. So, there’s no need to panic, because in this special operation, we’ve also become part of the Martian troops invading Ukraine.

Translated by Marijana Simic

Pešč, 29.11.2022.

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Saša Ilić, rođen 1972. u Jagodini, diplomirao na Filološkom fakultetu u Beogradu. Objavio 3 knjige priča: Predosećanje građanskog rata (2000), Dušanovac. Pošta (2015), Lov na ježeve (2015) i 3 romana: Berlinsko okno (2005), Pad Kolumbije (2010) i Pas i kontrabas (2019) za koji je dobio NIN-ovu nagradu. Jedan je od pokretača i urednik književnog podlistka Beton u dnevnom listu Danas od osnivanja 2006. do oktobra 2013. U decembru iste godine osnovao je sa Alidom Bremer list Beton International, koji periodično izlazi na nemačkom jeziku kao podlistak Tageszeitunga i Frankfurtera Rundschaua. Jedan je od urednika Međunarodnog književnog festivala POLIP u Prištini. Njegova proza dostupna je u prevodu na albanski, francuski, makedonski i nemački jezik.

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