Dejan Sretenovic on Wed, 07 Apr 1999 20:51:04 +0200

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Syndicate: Other Serbia

Dear all,

Thank you for your numerous initiatives to help and support Radio B92
and other independent media in Yugoslavia, NGOs, human rights activists,
political opponents, army reservists, etc. Their lives are not in danger
and there's no forced mobilization yet. No one is proclaimed a traitor
since the regime likes to give people an image of the national unity and
patriotism in these hard times which, more or less, turns to be true.
NATO aggression gave an excellent opportunity to Yugoslav president to
silence all dissonant voices in Serbia and to "solve" Albanian problem
at once. Few remaining independent daily newspapers are under censorship
which has been declared since the war broke out.  Few radio stations in
the province have been shut down too. ANEM (Association of Independent
Electronic Media) ceased to exist. Censorship is inevitable in such
circumstances (watch CNN or BBC and you will get the idea) and there's
no way to skip it. Internet users and those with satellite dishes have a
privilege to get informed from various sources, but they consist a minor
group of the whole population.

This is the end of  so-called "alternative scene" or "other Serbia"
which somehow managed to survive and to develop in past years despite
all troubles and persecutions. Now we realize the fragility and weakness
of this scene and its utopian self confidence. It is clear that "other
Serbia" did not manage to survive due to its own strength or
socio-cultural significance. On the contrary, it was allowed to exist
due to a good will (political interest) of the regime. For example, B92
which turned into a symbol of independent media in Serbia abroad, was
quite useful for the regime to show the outer world that media freedom
exists in Serbia. All these years B92 got a lot of support and
protection from foreign foundations, individuals and governments, but in
those times Milosevic did not play with open cards, still trying to make
the image of Yugoslavia as a democratic country.
We should also stress that Serbian opposition never gave full support to
B92 since it resisted their efforts to control it or to turn into an
overtly oppositional media. Space for an independent opinion was always
pretty limited in Serbia and my friends from B92 experienced it the
best. Now, we have to deal with the Lacanian "traumatic return of the
real" which diminishes our self deception, our illusions about civilized
transition into a democratic society, our efforts to establish new
cultural codes and media independence. Majority of the people involved
in civil and students protests in Serbia in Winter 1996/97 think that
the failure of these protests and the disappointing disintegration of
the coalition "Zajedno" marked the end of our utopian hopes for better
future. In other words, oppositional mind in Serbia felt into a deep
apathy and hopelessness after the protests. A friend of mine, an artist
from Belgrade, said that this war came like a stroke of an ax which
unexpectedly broke off the lethargy of our small world we used to live
in. I agree.

I hope that my B92 friends won't get me wrong, but I ask myself what use
can we have here if Radio B92 continues to exist abroad (as a radio
program, web site or something else) under the control of foreign
institutions and their interests, especially those from NATO countries.
Radio B92 gained its good image and popularity in the country since it
represented an authentic voice of urban Serbia which means that it can
exist in its proper manner only if its staff is based where it belongs
to - in Belgrade. Please, do not make of it another "Radio Free Europe"
which is, with all compliments for their work, edited by ex-Yugoslav
expatriates who are not any more fully familiar with turbulent reality
of this country. Please, do not apply blindly Western standards in
solving our local problems, because at this very moment it might do more
harm than help to all of us and especially B92 staff. B92 employees (45
of them) might be fired any day and the main concern should be how to
find appropriate way to help them to survive and to keep on working in
other forms if possible.

This may not be a proper moment for such discussion, but we in
Yugoslavia should prepare ourselves for the hard times ahead of us. It
is clear that nothing will be the same in this country when the war
comes to an end, but it is also clear that no one can predict all
political, economical, social and cultural consequences of this

This is not a pessimistic but, unfortunately, realistic point of view.

Dejan Sretenovic

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