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Somebody has to do it

Being a journalist in Serbian provinces is an unrewarding, uncertain and often a dangerous job. In a small town like Vranje, where everyone is someone's cousin, godparent, school friend or at least an acquaintance from a local bar, it is an extraordinary achievement to write as objectively and fairly as is the case with the newspaper "Vranjske". Unlike our colleagues in the capital, we live together with the subjects of our stories, we see them every day in the streets, bars or theaters. And they often think that they entitled to make a judgment on our integrity, professional achievements or the approach used to report on certain issue. Down in the south, journalism is often considered to be a "morning job". Where I live, south of Vranje, in an area that still feels consequences of ethnic conflicts a decade ago, journalists are considered to be foreign mercenaries or, even worse, traitors who denounce their own people out of pure pleasure. In the best case, they may think that you are a bit out of your mind. When I meet a person whom I haven't seen for a long time and tell them that I write for a living, they sometimes look at me pitifully, shrug their shoulders and say something like "well, somebody has to do it", or "it is all fine, but do you have some serious job?", meaning a 9-to-5 job. In Vranje, the "Switzerland at the south of Serbia" – as once said Dragomir Tomic, former Milosevic's minister and today's guardian of Serbian interest in this sensitive region – some have not yet became aware that Milosevic is gone. Politicians of all stripes, criminals and tycoons, individuals from judiciary and both secret and public police, still act in accordance with the pattern made by the late president to suit his needs and the needs of his clique. In almost every issue of "Vranjske" we publish at least one report that deserves attention from the authorities, but they usually ignore our writings. For example, in the last September, the mayor was a member of an economic delegation sent to Istanbul, Turkey, but apart from the regular daily allowances paid from the city budget, he also received additional allowances for food and accommodation costs, all the while trying to convince us that Turks have not been good hosts and that he had no choice but to pay for expenses himself. Of course, instead of an invitation letter or any other document that would prove the costs, he presented only the agenda of his three-day stay in Turkey. In Vranje's city Pharmacy, managed by experts, goods worth 10 million dinars disappeared a year and a half ago and it is still not clear how it happened. After one of our published reports on the affair, the director of the Pharmacy sued us, taking advantage of the recently adopted Law on Information. The High Court in Vranje decided in her favour. After our reports on the city Pharmacy, her party chief, director of the local Health Center, ordered all the doctors not to speak to our newspaper without his permission, even on issues related to their professional responsibilities. Only in the end of the last month, after a series of our reports, a man was arrested who has managed to commit – during the last few years – 21 criminal offenses, including two attempts of murder and several kidnappings and extortions. Until recently he was a reputable member of the New Serbia political party, while a politician, Velimir Ilic, often used the arrestee's 50,000 euro-worth SUV during his visits to Vranje. Ilic later claimed he did not know the arrested, but that is not the subject of this text. All these reports have been followed by threats, vandalism, threatening letters and canceling of advertising. I have mentioned only a few typical examples of issues covered by the newspaper "Vranjske" (I have decided to leave out the "Pahomije affair") which have polarized the local public. Those members of the public who are committed to truth and justice, our loyal readers, those who view us as a beacon in the dark, the readers who are the main reason we do our job, congratulate us and encourage us to continue – which we have been doing for almost 16 years. The others (and people in Vranje know who those others are) think of us as malicious denouncers, manipulators who work for foreign governments, enemies of the people willing to betray their own country for money. And I am glad for this. Because if such people had a good opinion of us, I would be very worried.

Nikola Lazic

About the authors

MC Newsletter, June 4, 2010

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