Who is it that actually uses hypocrisy, lies and persecution of those who think freely?

CEAS public statement of the regarding the shockingly inappropriate and inaccurate response of the Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić to the European Union institutions, 11.1.2015.

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Following a series of direct insults, unfounded criminalization of independent media, individuals, the opposition and civil society organizations that are critical towards developments in Serbia – which is their constitutional right – after two years of his loud silence about this when this is done by individuals, organizations and the media from his surroundings, not hesitating from hate speech, life-threatening charges published in the “List of 30 greatest Serb-haters and traitors among public figures”, “plans for provoking a coup”, disqualification of civil society activists who are “more dangerous for Serbian youth than Milošević’s hired assassin”, arbitrary removal of blog posts and shows that are to his dislike and a systemic passive-aggressive attitude towards ministers from his own Government who unfortunately have no dignity to react, Aleksandar Vučić yesterday addressed the European Union institutions in the same manner.

Namely, on Friday, Vučić stated that the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) was paid to speak against “Air Serbia”, and that they received resources from the EU Head of Mission to Serbia, Michael Davenport and the EU to speak against the Government. Vučić has, apparently not realizing, or even worse, consciously knowing the consequence that an insult of an active diplomat is an insult of the entire institution he/she represents, in this case the EU, completely without control, stated: “Tell those liars they have lied again”.

Maja Kocijančić, spokesperson of the European Commission for neighborhood policy and enlargement negotiations, dismissed these claims yesterday as unfounded, reminding that: “The EU stands by independent and courageous journalism and freedom of speech across Europe and beyond. Freedom of expression is a basic principle of democracy. In its endeavor to support freedom of expression, the EU, among other actions, provides financial grants to independent and non-government organizations throughout the region on a competitive basis and following strict procedures. All grantees have full editorial independence and are solely responsible for the content of published material. The EU expects the Serbian authorities to ensure an environment supporting freedom of expression and of media. Media criticism (such as that of BIRN) is essential to ensure the proper accountability of elected governments; governments should in turn be ready to act on such criticism in a constructive and transparent fashion, rather than trying to stifle it.”

Vučić, instead of, as is appropriate for a Prime Minister of a country that is a candidate for EU membership, taking this principled message into consideration, which the spokesperson conveyed in the name of her institution and not her own, replied in the manner he used while he was Minister of Information in the Government of Milošević’s bloody regime: “I am very surprised by the latest claims of Maja Kocijančić and decisively reject all of her unfounded claims… Serbia supports independent and courageous journalism, as well as freedom of speech throughout Europe and beyond, and that freedom of speech is the fundamental principle of democracy. Precisely because of this am I appalled by the fact that Maja Kocijančić is, in the name of the EU, trying to silence me, even to forbid me to answer a reporter’s question… I am aware of the fact that I am just a simple Prime Minister of a geographically small country, and that Kocijančić and Davenport are big and important EU officials… I never thought that my little plain answer to a reporter at a press conference will cause such rage of powerful and important people… I ask you Ms. Kocijančić and Mr. Davenport, are you restricting the Prime Minister of the Serbian Government from answering reporters’ questions, are you trying to forbid me to tell the Serbian public that those you are funding do not speak the truth; and is freedom of using all kind of words allowed to you, but freedom of expression and the truth curbed for us, mere mortals… in the end, I truly believe in European values, in EU values, but I do not believe that hypocrisy and lies, as well as persecution of those who think freely and who you cannot order each and every word and move, any sort of value to fight for… by the way, if I personally pose as a nuisance, because I will not be your puppet on a leash, but only a servant of the Serbian citizens, inform me of this clearly and unambiguously and have no worry, I will get out of your way, and I know there are many who are awaiting to take the role of an errand boy and minion the same second.”

We remind that the mentioned article by BIRN was not published by nearly any Serbian media, which is, according to Vučić, the bastion of free speech and journalism.

After such a response, the question that remains open is what are those “EU values” Vučić believes in, as respect for freedom of speech which he deliberately confuses with responsibility for public discourse of public officials in the public space is certainly not it. What is also strange is that Vučić, who claims that “he will not be a puppet on a leash”, offers to get out of the way if they publicly request this, to the same ones to which he is sending the message that he will not be a puppet on a leash. With this statement, Vučić has acted irresponsibly also to the voters who brought him into power based on their belief he would genuinely lead them towards the EU, and not only talk about it or act on it only when it brings him benefits for staying in power (the Brussels Agreement).

This ruthless response is only the latest in a series of moves by high state officials in Serbia who in an increasingly obvious manner lie both to the voters and the international community, additionally deterring voters from European integrations through systemic use of inappropriate phrasing such as that of “blackmailing Serbia by the EU”. Having in mind that the process of European integration in democratic, that the EU does not force anyone to join, but only logically puts forward the expectation to have candidates fulfil the conditions which have voluntarily been introduced in the EU itself, such behaviour has only one rational explanation. State leaders in Serbia do not genuinely want Serbia to advance towards the EU, knowing what they truly mean and how their autocratic rule and Serbian Putinization would be affected by European practice of respect for freedom of speech, free press, non-discrimination and other, which is, luckily, still the predominant environment in the EU, despite these values being undermined by politicians within the EU, to which Vučić obviously wants to look up to.

Additionally, they are acutely aware that convergence to the EU also means: less deception in public procurement, rigged tenders and state deals; hampered looting of public good through partization of public enterprises and abuse of the security system in order to deal with political and economic competitors; genuine and not false measures in the fight against corruption and monopolies, all which the enormous power of Vučić and his environment actually lies upon.

Let’s not fool ourselves, such a ruthless reaction of Vučić towards the EU was not caused by anything else but the mention of the clash of interests and other shady practices in which BIRN has caught Vučić’s close associate Nikola Petrović. With his deliberately perverted perception of free press and freedom of expression Vučić managed to sway the public focus from this fact, not dreading to seriously jeopardize Serbia’s already complicated relations with the EU. These are, otherwise, certainly much more beneficial for Serbian citizens than to citizens of the EU.

Unfortunately for all of us, Milošević’s Minister of Information used ridicule of values of freedom of expression and inverting of its fundamental premises to defend party and personal financial interests at a time when almost the entire world is in a state of shock over the murders of journalists, who truly knew what freedom of expression is and who fought for it without compromise, and death of police officers and citizens of France.

It is time, it seems, for a local social trend #IAmNotVučić.

Belgrade,

January 11, 2015