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The police against the public matter

Do your job and keep your mouth shut – this is the overarching message of years-long communication between Belgrade journalists and workers from Zrenjanin: the monthly magazine "Republika" and a factory with an undesirable name - "Jugoremedija".

A public debate was held on July 21 in the Media Center in Belgrade, at the initiative of Nebojsa Popov, the editor in chief of "Republika" – "a media outlet for civic self-liberation". The editor of the newspaper that has been reporting for years on the ownership transformation of the pharmaceutical factory "Jugoremedija" – just like it had previously reported on the victory of the opposition political parties in local elections, on the civil parliaments and the siege of Sarajevo – told the story of how the police came on July 8 in the editorial office of the Belgrade's "Republika" and asked for information on the newspaper's business cooperation with "Jugoremedija", whose advertisements it used to publish. The police found only the copies of old newspapers. Before the visit, Popov's apartment in Zrenjanin had been searched and he had been interviewed by the police.

For 22 years, "Republika" has been fighting against "the avalanche of fear, hate and violence", first in Yugoslavia and later in Serbia and what is after four years of war euphemistically called "the region". These events in Belgrade and Zrenjanin in the summer of 2010 proved that fight is still ongoing.

A day before the press conference in the Media Center, a group of 62 intellectuals, artists and journalists has called on the public to condemn the "police and legal violence against the newspaper 'Republika' and the 'Jugoremedija' company".

"We believe that the use of brutal violence will result in reaction of all supporters of parliamentarism and spur democratic initiatives to fight against the complete vicious circle of violence, not only against the NATO bombardment", courageously wrote "Republika" in April 1999, at the time of strongest censorship that had already defeated other anti-Milosevic newspapers.

Nikola Barovic, a lawyer, emphasized at the press conference that the police did not state in what capacity Popov was interviewed – as a witness or an accomplice to something.

Dr Zagorka Golubovic said that police actions served as the state's message warning others not to try anything similar to what "Jugoremedija" and "Republika" are doing.

"Basic foundations of the society and the state require a united front against those who have been ruining and destroying it. But it is impossible to create a democratic state without principled opposition and a critical public. How and when they will appear and who will comprise it, remains to be seen", wrote a commentary in "Republika" after the defeat of the regime in October 2000. After the police pressure in Belgrade and Zrenjanin, the critical public advocated by "Republika" was reduced to a few dozen signatures, while the principled opposition consisted of a dozen employees of "Jugoremedija" who attended the event in the Media Center in an effort to support their own rights.

Popov said that "Jugoremedija" illustrates the significance of small shareholders' fight for workers' rights and that "Jugoremedija" is a model of incorruptible transition in Serbia. He believes this is the reason for his being watched by the government.

At the assembly of shareholders of "Jugoremedija" held on July 6, the ownership ratio between small shareholders and the government – 58:42 percent – was preserved, although the other side attempted to achieve majority, remove the management and sell the company, it was mentioned at the event. The director is the target of "pre-investigative activities related to abuse of official position". Before the assembly of shareholders, around 600 documents had been taken from the director's office. "Republika" reported on these actions.

No one in the Media Center mentioned any kind of solidarity of the state's trade union – and the other one – with eight years of troubles in the factory with 700 employees and at least twice the number of those who depend on the salaries of these 700, nor named the main figure behind the events in Zrenjanin.

The whole story also involves the relationship of the Vojvodina province – where "Jugoremedija" is located – toward the rest of Serbia which has always been wary of Srem, Banat and Backa, as well as the aspirations of pharmaceutical giants from central Serbia toward the "small fish from the province" like the "Jugoremedija" factory that produces a highly sought-after medicine, Trental.

"Remedija" means counterbalance. "Republika" originates from the Latin phrase res publica – "public matter".

Tamara Kaliterna

About the authors

MC Newsletter, July 30, 2010

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