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Veran MaticVreme, issue 565
The Burden of Alliance
author: Velimir Curgus Kazimir

How long did the victorious coalition of the allied powers from World War II last? Until Potsdam? Or Nuremberg? In this region Trieste emerged as the first diplomatic test for the alliance which had emerged triumphant from the war. In ideological terms it was quite clear by 1944 who was a true ally and who was not. This, however, was never an issue on the local political scene, despite the traumatic experience of 1948. Our allies were progressive forces while our adversaries were the powers of darkness; capitalism, in other words.

More than half a century later this dilemma has both external and internal implications. Who are the allies and who the opponents of the new political elite since the overthrow of the Milosevic regime? Democracy has made it possible for people to tune in freely to The Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, Radio Television Serbia, RTV Pink, BK TV and even RTV B92. No one will be persecuted for their choice. Today, formally, everyone embraces the ideas of democracy, reform and modernisation of Serbia. Only the new Albanian elite in Kosovo believes that the time for democracy, reform and modernisation of Serbia will not be ripe until Serbia agrees to the independence of its southern province.

In reality, however, the situation is entirely different. Democracy, reform and the modernisation of the country require those essentials which have been in short supply over the past fifty years: responsibility for the future of the country and its people. Such responsibility can't be set apart from what these "allies" have or have not done during the past decade. Italy, let me remind you, capitulated in 1943 and, naturally, joined the Allies. Something similar happened to Bulgaria. I don't, however, recall these countries having effectively joined the allied coalition. (They tried to do so but, somehow, just couldn't manage it.) How have Pink, BK, Politika and the others come to be allies? The Serbian Government should answer this question. What are the interests, what is the blindness which made it possible for the Pink media empire to consolidate and expand even more rapidly and to a larger extent in the post-Milosevic era than under his totalitarian rule? At the same time, Radio B92 and, especially, TV B92 are washed up on the margins whose limits are accurately defined: democratic legitimacy must be exclusively symbolic in character because this broadcaster's range of coverage extends to no more than about thirty per cent of the population of Serbia.

There is obviously both a clear political message and a concrete political decision. Let us ask ourselves who stands to gain from it.

Beyond any doubt it is those who acquired privileges and won advantageous positions under the Milosevic regime, those who were building their financial, cultural and family empires while the ordinary people were falling prey to daylight robbery and warmongering. Perhaps this attitude of mine may seem like moralistic outrage, the vain cry of a disappointed veteran astonished at the scale of the robbery and the corruption of those who engineered it. It does, however, appear a more proper and normal response than the trivialising rhetorical question "Well, what did you expect?" Perhaps certain prominent politicians may gain from this perverse alliance, believing that at the moment it is of the utmost importance to have influence and control over the most powerful media, given the rumours of impending early elections. Then, in this fairy-tale world, everything would be decently resolved after the election victory. I'm afraid that such wisdom is not only short-sighted but completely idiotic: our "allies" are far more pragmatic and cunning than are the politicians pursuing short-term interests between two election campaigns. They will stop at nothing to secure and further strengthen their position.

Perhaps my anger springs partly from my memory of Radio B92's humble beginnings and a crowded room in the Dom Omladine building, with Veran, Sasa and Slonce, a sound engineer. I've seen many organisations, publishers, newspapers, magazines, intellectual circles and similar phenomena emerge and quickly perish before my eyes. Sometimes the end came because of overt political pressure, sometimes because of a lack of funds and sometimes because of the change of generations. However nothing even remotely resembling Radio B92 has ever sprung up in this region. The issue here is not only one of material and technical resources which have to be found. Unfortunately we have already grown accustomed to such things. The issue here is a unique phenomenon: for the first time there was a medium which uniquely combined the brilliant Belgrade tradition of intellectual freedom and wit, Dorcol derring-do, football-fan lunacy, youthful talent and sincerity and, above all, the courage to keep the faith even in the face of total isolation. The paradox is that Radio B92 constantly sought its own destruction as a conventional mdium in order to expand its influence on entirely different kinds of media. The Internet, the Cinema Rex cultural centre, music and film production, a publishing house and so on. These were all paths where even those wealthier and much more powerful media would have flagged and foundered in the quicksands of media diversity. Radio B92 was undoubtedly not just a small metropolitan radio station but an entire movement. And then came a moment in which the Milosevic regime finally realised what was happening, but it was too late. I remember Katy Morton, then president of the Committee to Protect Journalists, and the wife of Richard Holbrooke, when she arrived in Belgrade in December, 1996, to help Radio B92 return to the airwaves. This was the first time we heard the preposterous official explanation for the disruption of B92's transmission: "water in the coaxial transmission cable". Katy Morton's story of her meeting with Milosevic ("he's smoking a lot again, he's looking bad") was a reflection of what Radio B92 meant, not only to the people of Belgrade but to the whole world. Only a few people were aware that this radio represented a real Serbia in which the world believed, a Serbia which had a future. What Serbian opposition leader of the day had the trust of the world? Vesna Pesic, probably, but it has to be admitted that she represented a small party with relatively little influence, the Civil Alliance. The people of Radio B92 could have established their own G17 as far back as 1997 and capitalised on their influence and political gains in time if they had really wanted to. (These days I'm not quite sure that it wasn't a mistake not to do so.)

But there is an ugly, internal aspect to the issue of allies. I'm referring to the alliance of independent media. No one fought so consistently, so stubbornly, for all the media and journalists who fell under the fierce repression of the former regime as did Radio B92. At the same time, B92 suffered the worst and most vicious attacks from its closest associates. The many awards presented to Veran Matic drew great envy and jealously, rather than pride in a shared professional success. The issue of funding is a special chapter in the story. They myth of the vast sums of money allegedly bestowed upon Radio B92 from all sides simply overshadowed all other issues. Even the Milosevic regime was more moderate in presenting its "evidence" against B92 than were some independent media.

I have been following the changes in Matic's office for the past twelve years. Many a time I have seen piles of books, notes and cassettes strewn all over the room. I have never seen smart furniture, Armani suits, Rolex watches or a bar with alcoholic drinks. If welcome guests are still served plain black coffee and Coca-Cola, how is that none of the funds allegedly lavished on B92 have ever found their way into this room? Perhaps Veran is giving a false impression: perhaps he loves to wallow in a giant vault stuffed with enough money to swim in, like Scrooge McDuck. The why don't the likes of Bogoljub Karic and Zeljko Mitrovic also adopt such a pretence? Do they really have to show off in public and put everything on display? The villas, the swimming pools, the cars, the whole menagerie? No doubt this is a world of its own, a world which normal people don't inhabit. Not only because they have or don't have, but because every normal human being can tell the difference between what is decent and what is indecent, between dignity and vulgarity, stupidity and wisdom. I also know very well how many people in Belgrade and throughout Serbia lived on the money procured and distributed by B92. We're not only talking here about journalists, but writers, musicians, artists, filmmakers and so on.

Perhaps there are those who truly believe that Serbia would become a modern, democratic, decent country all the sooner if these strutting, boastful businessmen and arrogant swindlers remain its leaders. Of course they must be pondering all the time how to help their countrymen introduce the rule of law into the country and make it a place where prison sentence await those with a penchant for tax evasion or fraud.

Nor is the NGO sector particularly sensitive to the current postion of Radio and Television B92. The NGOs seem to believe that this broadcaster doesn't cover their activities quite as well as they believe it ought, or perhaps they feel their rivals receive too much undeserved publicity. And besides, it's not quite clear who B92 actually favours. Who like B92 less? Kostunica or Djindjic? It's not even possible to label B92 as a broadcaster "close" to the Radicals or the Socialists. This must be a rather peculiar broadcaster indeed. Why don't they make a choice? They can't carry on like that! It doesn't seem fit or proper!

What is at issue here is no longer whether B92 favours one or another political option. This is far more serious: both sides have realised that B92 belongs to no one and that it will never belong to anyone. In their view it is this very fact that makes the organisation much more dangerous and unpredictable. And the most important issue here is its reputation and credibility with the public. The people will certainly put their faith in so impartial and unbiased broadcaster. What use are top ratings and popularity to TV Pink if there is no credibility? The Radio Television Serbia issue is another special chapter of the story. If Canak seizes his slice of RTS tomorrow, who will offer an alternative on Vojvodina media scene? This is obviously why a nationwide political consensus has been reached on the fate of B92. B92 must not be allowed to become a national broadcaster! (Well, at least there is consensus on something in this country.) Of course it would make no sense to claim that B92 itself has not made some errors in its efforts to define and strengthen its position in legal and technical terms. It's a long way from the lip service paid to B92 by the majority of DOS MP to real influence and decision making at the level of the Republic of Serbia. It's somewhat discouraging for the process of decision-making to be so shrouded in secrecy and obscurity that it is never possible to distinguish between a political decision and a personal view or caprice. Unfortunately, this is a serious political problem that we will soon have to deal with.

What particularly astonishes me in relation to this issue, this scandal in fact, is Zoran Djindjic disdain of and contempt for the common sense and innate good judgement of the Serbian public. (Vojislav Kostunica and his media advisors seem to be preoccupied with more important issues than listening and responding to their citizens). I used to think that Zoran Djindjic's management skills were the best antidote for the inherited spirit of conservatism which stems from the nationalist tradition and cheap sentimentality. I believed that he would, therefore, easily recognise who his true allies would be in the painstaking and laborious task ahead of us. Zoran Djindjic and the Serbian Government could lose much more than a couple of percentage points in the polls over their mistreatment of B92. The modern buzzword is "strategic partner" isn't it?

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Politics and entertainment should not be "brothers and sisters" but music and TV have always had a political message hidden in them but if you a person can't stomach the view, turn the tv or radio off.
Bobby Hogan

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