The Serbian media’s reaction immediately following Radulovic’s resignation eliminated any doubt that they are being pressured by the government. Radulovic’s resignation statement critical of Vucic was quickly taken of the website of the largest regional news agency, Tanjug. minutes after being posted. Furthermore, Radulovic was replaced as a guest on Serbia’s most watched political commentary show to be replaced by — you guessed it — Aleksandar Vucic.
At the same time, another disturbing incident occurred when police raided the Belgrade apartment of an American journalist Lilly Lynch. Lynchis is the editor-in-chief of Balkanist, an online magazine that exposed the affair of many governmental officials involved in SIEPA (Serbia Investment and Export Promotion Agency). The agency was set up in 2001 to facilitate foreign direct investment (FDI) in post-revolutionary Serbia, and emails and other materials published on the Balkanist website were a proof of serious corruption happening in that agency.
The last, and most absurd, incident happened when Aleksandar Vucic was featured in a short footage rescuing children from harsh snow conditions in a village outside of Vojvodina. The situation was obviously staged, inspiring the Serbian internet community to create hundreds of memes poking fun of the absurd populist propaganda. One memes was a video adding a humorous tone to the footage which was removed from YouTube under unclear circumstances. To make the situation even more dramatic, a well-known journalist made a statement over her personal Facebook account that the orders were given not to let Red Cross to start the rescue operation until Vucic appeared to be filmed saving the day.
With elections set for March 16th, and recent polls showing strong support for the ruling party, the media’s censorship makes any chance for an opposition victory seem bleak. The government-backed media where is continuing to campaign for the Serbian Progressive Party quite openly, while opposition media is being faced with censorship. In fact, the only place where Vucic is losing is the internet. Although that internet is widely used mostly among younger and more educated population, it’s still hard to practice democracy without the freedom of press under severe attacks. A decade and a half after the country’s last dictatorship, these upcoming months will be critical to determine if Serbia will once again fall off the path of freedom.
Aleksandar is an Advocate for Young Voices and International Outreach Director for Libek, a Serbian think tank. Aleksander is pursuing a Bachelors degree in Political Science at the University of Belgrade. A native of Serbia, Aleksander speaks regularly at events across the globe.