On creation of tabloid genres
The verdict by the Hague Tribunal from March 31st, 2016 states that Vojislav Seselj is free of charges on all counts. The three most important of those counts relate to crimes against humanity: persecution (1), deportations (10), and inhumane acts (11). The other six counts relate to war crimes, including: murders (4), torture (8), cruel treatment (9), destruction of villages (12), destruction of religious and educational institutions (13), as well as the theft of public and private property (14). During the long process, the Prosecutor’s office has failed to prove the connection between Seselj’s speeches and the crimes committed in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Serbia. Also, the Tribunal wasn’t convinced that the fact that Seselj had created and commanded the para-military formation implied that he knew about the crimes or that he himself ordered their execution. And finally, the doctors appointed by the Hague Tribunal found that Seselj had liver cancer and tried to cure him with chemotherapy, which he refused. After he had left The Hague, Seselj said that his attitude regarding that institution hasn’t changed and that the idea of Great Serbia is immortal. This act of the international institution of justice has abolished not only the past of the Chetnik duke, but also of all his collaborators who today hold all the levers of power in Serbia: the government, the presidency, and the parliament.
After a short campaign of Serbian media about Seselj’s grave illness, the tabloids announced that he was cured thanks to the “miraculous potion from Russia” – an extract of Siberian aronia and beet juice. At that moment, Seselj was free to go back to his old craft – politics. His return to the public was implemented through frequent appearances in Milomir Maric’s reality programs. Mr. Maric is the former editor of Duga and today he is in charge of entertainment programs in Serbia which include an unusual mix of crime, pornography, politics, and celebrities. In one of Maric’s shows, a fully recovered Seselj was answering questions from the participants of reality shows “Parovi” and “Maldivi”: how he managed to silence the president of Croatia Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic, is Arkan alive, would he appoint folk singer Era Ojdanic as a minister of culture or an ambassador, etc. After that phase, Seselj participated in the election where his party won third place. His return to the Parliament under the shield of SNS brought with it the air of a Maric-like reality show based on the combination of tabloid genres. The best representation of this was the recent amendments of the Criminal Code prescribing prison sentence from five months to six years for the crime of negating, minimizing, or justifying genocide and war crimes. Minister of justice Nela Kuburovic gave the parliament her own tabloid justification of the new law which applies only to verdicts of the International criminal court established under the Rome Statute, but not to the verdicts of the Hague tribunal. This means that negation of genocide in Congo will be punishable, but not of the one in Srebrenica. On that occasion, Seselj gave a performance of negation of Srebrenica genocide, but also of the mass crime in Vukovar, i.e. Ovcara. The rest of the parliament, excluding some representatives of the opposition, supported this. The radicals’ boss said that “negation of crimes must be permitted as a critique of the judiciary” and added that “the genocide in Srebrenica couldn’t have happened for several reasons”, including the fact that “seven thousand killed is not a significant number compared to the protected group of Muslims in BiH”. “I am the greatest expert in international law in Serbia and I claim that the genocide didn’t happen in Srebrenica or anywhere else!”, said Seselj and added, quite in the spirit of Maric-like entertainment, that it’s far more important to find out “who murdered Dusan Spasojevic and Mile Lukovic,1 who were arrested alive, tortured and shot”.
This U-turn or mix is typical of Serbian media, but also of parliamentary discourse. Its genesis goes back to the times Seselj likes to visit when he wants to “explain” something to his opponents. It goes back to the siege of Vukovar in 1991, when the Serbian radical party left the boundaries of salon and street propaganda for territorial expansion of Serbia and cleansing of non-Serbian population from the new territories – and turned into a paramilitary department for mobilization of volunteers. All this was carefully monitored by the media in Belgrade, the vanguard of which was television, as well as newspapers like Politika, Politika ekspres, Vecernje novosti, but also weekly Duga, whose pretentions were much greater. It managed to position itself as a media brand which puts the facts of death and destruction into an intellectual-entertaining framework. That’s when the genres which dominate the public today were established. Politika implemented its strategy for raising circulation and establishing market position through a campaign to “free Vukovar”. On November 18th, 1991, besides the top story about Vukovar, it published ecstatic news that one million copies of that issue were sold. Politika Ekspres was a deeply militant newspaper, whose journalists were part of volunteer squads in war zones, while Vecernje novosti patented a mix of death, celebrities and backstage affairs. The front page of Vecernje novosti on Monday, November 18th, 1991 brought two equally huge headlines: “Vukovar under control of the Yugoslav army” and “Folk singer Lepa Brena is getting married”. The third, less important news, according to font size, was “Croatian President Mesic is buying restaurants”. Although the news about the famous singer’s wedding was printed on page 20, while almost an entire issue was dedicated to the “heavy defeat of ustashas in Vukovar”, this newspaper wanted to say to its readers that there are a multitude of reasons to be in a good mood. Miroslav Lazanski was the commentator on the Vukovar operation back then and commended the actions of the JNA air force. Milovan Drecun wrote columns regularly, explaining numerous conspiracy theories and the alleged role of foreign intelligence services and centers of propaganda in the destruction of Yugoslavia. Today, they are both SNS officials and their discourse hasn’t changed a bit.
Illustrated magazine Duga was something else. Its then-editor Milomir Maric, known for his anti-communist stance and flirting with those at the top (Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, politicians…) as well as those at the bottom (the mafia), created new media forms, which represented a combination of themes from military Revija 92, rural Sabor, nazi Bokan’s Nase ideje and super natural magazine Trece oko. News of death in such a framework became merely an extended form of entertainment, as there were no ethical parameters for the perception of such an event. In such an environment, a text bringing a serious warning of the destruction of an entire city and its population, as was the case with Vukovar in the autumn of 1991, could not be read in a different key. Such was the fate of journalist Dada Vujasinović, whose report from Vukovar was published in Duga no. 463, on November 23rd, 1991 (the front page featured young Monica Bellucci):
“Vukovar is without streets and trees. Without houses and factories. All that’s left are the cellars. Those who now lament over the scorched remains on the banks of Vuka, think that everything could have been different if only what hadn’t happened had happened. If Serbs had left their town and went over the Danube into Serbia, Vukovar would have been Slavonian Knin. But they did not. And Vukovar wasn’t Slavonian Knin. And now it’s not even a city.”
In the context of her report, an interview with the painter Milic of Macva was published, written by the future most popular writer in Serbia – Ljiljana Habjanović Djurovic. The title of this article was “Serbia is headed for glory”. In this interview, the artist, freed from any liability, talks about Dante Alighieri as a Serb who was coerced (like Lukovic or Spasojevic) into changing his name from Serbian Dane to Dante.
“When I explained to Jastreb the other day that there’s no going back now”, said major Veselin Sljivancanin to Dada Vujasinovic, “because my units are coming from this side, Arkan is bringing his volunteers from Luzac, because he too has accepted the command of the JNA, Seselj’s chetniks are supposed to come over Mitnica and that we are all supposed to meet at the water tower in the center, I offered him a choice of whom to surrender to: Arkan, Seselj or me.”
Vanja Bulic, then journalist for Duga, future author of TV show “Black Pearls” and screenwriter of the movie “Pretty Village, Pretty Flame”, brought an article about a returnee from the battlefield in Vukovar. He found former reservists in Belgrade and recorded their stories. The emphasis was on their personal drama in the epic conquest of the city.
Dada Vujasinović, however, noted that there was nothing left of the city, as well as the dissatisfaction of the “liberated”, who, after leaving their basements, realized that they had lost everything:
“You have liberated us of everything, including the roofs over our heads”, said an old man, offended, to a captain who approached to invite them to lunch. “I had a nice house and now I have nowhere to go because you destroyed it”, the old man insisted. “Comrade Captain”, said a soldier, “tell them to go back to the shelters if they don’t appreciate their liberators!”
An interview with Matija Beckovic was done by journalist and future writer Mirjana Bobić Mojsilović. It was published under the title “Whose death is greater”. In it, the poet and member of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts Beckovic refused to directly answer the journalist’s questions about the suffering of Vukovar, but spoke metaphorically about how Belgrade is drinking the water in which a “dead man bathed”.
The journalist Vujasinovic also wrote two brief notes on the interrogation of the criminal Miladin Miljković, cobbler by profession, aged 31, as well as one of the Croatian war veterans. Duke Seselj’s speech was broadcaster from Petrova Gora. The atmosphere was dark and hopeless. Only Duga’s “rushing to glory” may make it more tolerable.
Dada Vujasinovic wrote: “From the ruins of the former textile school you can see Hotel “Dunav”, full of holes, and the city center. According to an artilleryman, there was a loud explosion when the municipal building was hit. He also added, in cold blood, that his main motto was – the agreement breaks down the house. A car with a speaker system kept circling the streets with no streets. A call to surrender, then the Chetnik’s song Call, just call. A melody drowned in volley sallutes.
Grenades go off all over Vukovar all night. In the barracks, Lieutenant Muris Zjajo, commander of specials forces, recites Mak Dizdar and Njegos. He crossed himself before destroying the Ruthenian Church.
It’s raining and Vukovar is sizzling like a cigarette butt thrown into the water.”
A new report from Vukovar, signed by future journalist for Politika, and later for righ winged magazine Pecat, Svetlana Vasovic, appeared in the next issue of Duga. It was published under the title “Beans with pork ribs”.
Dada Vujasinovic’s life ended tragically when she was found shot dead in her apartment in Belgrade, on April 8th, 1994. All other actors of her text on Vukovar (apart from Arkan) are alive, well, and active in the media and politics. Her attempt to step out of the web of Maric-like entertainment, which became the dominant discourse of Serbian journalism, art, and politics, was brutally thwarted. Contrary to that, all of those who found security within that web are now respected members of the community, which can easily chat about crimes and weddings, whether it’s about the Serbian Parliament or Kusturica’s movies, which are the greatest expression of this thanatoid cultural model.
Translated by Marijana Simic
- Members of the criminal group responsible for the assasination of prime minister Zoran Djindjic, both killed while resisting arrest.