Tue, 23 May 2000

Serbia a practicing dictatorship?

I want to thank you for giving me and others with different views of the Yugoslav and Balkan problems space in your newspaper. It gives me hope that all is not lost for freedom in general, and a free press in particular. It would appear the main stream western media has gone astray and became totally dependent on big business and political power.

The situation resembles "biofeedback": Politics decides to start a crisis someplace: the media invent, fan and misrepresent it as the necessary building pressure to "do something". Politics then finally "gives in" and does something (usually bad).

The example of Serbia is of course closest to me as a Serb. I would like it if somebody could finally explain western (free?) media reporting on Serbia to me. Is Serbia a dictatorship, a tyranny, a democracy or in transition maybe? It has been declared a tyranny in most reports for years already. But you have a situation with the closing of this one opposition-controlled TV station the other day and that makes you wonder: how come there was this big TV station Studio B and this influential radio B92 in a tyranny all these years? How come there was an opposition in the first place and one organized into parties? After all, a tyranny differs from a democracy by not having free media, not having freedom of speech and not having an opposition. Has the western media been lying to me all these years?

A recent BBC Online report from Serbia said that since opposition parties have lost their biggest mouthpiece, they have been turning to the resources available to them through the city councils across Serbia which they control. BBC even counted the councils for me: more than 40!. So I am appalled: not only that this big bad dictator Milosevic tolerates opposition parties, tolerates opposition TV and radio stations, he is also tolerating opposition in power in all these cities! And all major cities are on this list too, starting with the capital Belgrade, Vojvodina provincial capital Novi Sad and the second biggest city of Nis also.

Well, if these are marks of an dictatorship then it's a lousy one. A real dictator would have opposition only in jail, parties only in palaces and a free media only when gone skiing in Switzerland.

Just remember a different, indeed opposite case: for the last 30 years I've been told that Taiwan is a democracy and the People's Republic of China a communist dictatorship. Yet it was only recently that the western media happily declared Taiwan's first democratic elections. So it dawned to me: if Taiwan has managed to be a democracy and not held elections all these years then why shouldn't Serbia be a dictatorship, although it has held a series of elections and allowed opposition in all those major cities and free media. Finally I think I've made sense of western media: It makes no sense.

Thank you again just for being there to keep the flame of hope alive that not only a free but also a truthful, unbiased and impartial media is still possible.