In today’s world, run by tabloids, which values only superficial information and scandals, and where electorate is edging towards iron fist rule, populism and nationalism, it is no easy feat to run a daily like Danas. Although Danas has small circulation, Dragoljub Draža Petrović is successfully steering this ship, as the newspaper is deemed to be quite influential as a voice from the other side.
Danas is considered today to be at the forefront of criticism, while some people call it the only independent daily that is critical of the government. Could you compare the 1990s and the period from 2001 to 2012 to today’s period and the work done by the so-called opposition media?
In the 1990s, you had a mix of good dailies and weeklies, radio and TV stations, on one side, and a total opposite, i.e. the war mongering media which wanted to obliterate everyone who thought differently. The latter were mostly state-run media. Today, you have privately run, commercial media which are ordered what to do with the exception of Nedeljnik magazine, N1, Danas, Vreme and NIN, and occasionally Kurir. After the political upheaval from 5th October, the entire world of journalism felt liberated which, in time, turned into anarchy. Back then, journalism was mainstream, while today it is tabloids that are considered mainstream. Everything is starting to resemble a witch hunt. The quality press has low circulation, and very few people are reading it. Actually, readers don’t want free media; they want to be lied to. The most important thing in journalism is not to be pathetic and rude, and it is actually the media that perpetuate this that are forerunners today.
Journalism in Serbia is a profession that, quite frequently, can be likened to waiting tables, driving a taxi, or playing the trumpet at a local festival. You can drive journalists in circles and make them dance on the tables whenever you feel like it. For a very small tip! The entire Serbian society is like a tabloid – from media and economy to nurseries and universities; especially the private ones. Tabloidism is never-stopping entertainment. They are so simplistic it hurts. They command superficiality at any cost that attacks your brain cells. If a Serbian tabloid were to recount the book ‘Na Drini Ćuprija’ (Bridge on the Drina), their version would be about lazy trade union activists who protested against construction of some sort of bridge with access roads that nobody knows how much it cost. And the bridge is rubbish too! ‘Anna Karenina’ would be crime news about some psycho woman who threw herself under the train, and nobody knows why. The investigation into the matter would be pending.
Are we experiencing new conservatism? And what kind of role do media play in this „brave new world“?
Quality media should not succumb to readership’s taste. Journalists have always been like violin players in a bordello, but, in our country, they have now become pimps. Serbian audience is conservative, and the media are just adding fuel to the fire by contributing to the expansion of this conservatism. Today, there are only a handful of media that would publish an analytical article about this brave new world, as you call it, and all of its negative sides. Our audiences are fired up by right-wing politicians and conservatives. They like Putin, Trump and Orban, i.e. every iron fist ruler with nationalistic tendencies.
The columns you write for N1 and Nedeljnik are both very humorous and direct. Have you experienced problems because of them and the daily that you run?
I have experienced far bigger problems as the editor-in-chief of Danas which is a serious daily. My columns, on the other hand, are mostly frivolous. The pressures, be it financial or political, on Danas have been huge since I took up the position of the editor because we are the only daily of the civil orientation, and the only one that thinks that a person who killed civilians cannot be hailed as a hero in Serbia. The problem is that we are stripping down Vučić’s arrogant rule so we are branded as enemies, foreign agents, mercenaries and whatnot. This struggle with Vučić happens on a daily basis.
Yes, our circulation is small compared to other dailies, but we are frequently quoted and are quite influential so, oftentimes, government jumps in its own mouth when they call us a low circulation tabloid that nobody reads. And yet they are so offended by this low circulation tabloid that their high circulation tabloids often attack us. In fact, they cannot stand our ‘low circulation’ criticism.
The daily’s segment “Be Smart Today“ (“Budi Danas Pametan”) raised a lot of eyebrows because of Hitler’s quotes. They even accused you of „promoting fascist ideology“, and reported you to the Press Council. What do you think about all of that?
In our regular section „Be Smart Today“, which, truth be told, says nothing about the intelligence of the people we are quoting but rather pushes the readers to discern for themselves (and we do have smart readers), in the week marking the Victory in Europe Day, we quoted, among other people, Hitler’s architect and minister of war production, Albert Speer and Leni Riefenstahl who said, and whom we quoted in our section, that she „propagated Hitler’s regime through her superb craft“. We also quoted the philosopher Martin Heidegger, who was a member of Hitler’s party.
In regard to Hitler, we clearly stated that he was „the biggest evildoer in the 20th century“. Then we had to deal with those people from Twitter who have nothing better to do, and who clearly could not tell anti-fascism from salmon carpaccio. So they started with their online lynch because Twitter is the perfect place for all these dubious creatures who have not done anything worthy with their lives. Right after this online lynch, I was contacted by one of the best Yugoslav journalists ever, Viktor Ivančić who asked me to send him the pages of our daily where we quoted Hitler because he had a journalism workshop in Sarajevo and had to teach students about media literacy, fascism and negative taboos in our so-called liberal-democratic societies.
He mentioned the Danas’ provocation, i.e. the Hitler case, to illustrate what an intelligent and progressive media practice looks like, how to break these negative taboos, and how to fend yourself from false anti-fascists. Also, in that lecture, he used the similar examples from Mladina and the former Feral Tribune. So, as I said earlier, this section of our newspaper was properly understood by our smart and well-meaning readers like Ivančić, while those who were malicious and stupid clearly missed the point of it.
Election in Belgrade is ahead of us. What chances for victory does the opposition have? Do you think that constant divisions and fights among the opposition parties are a product of an extremely badly picked membership pool?
The opposition parties are probably going to lose these elections because, during the latest turmoil in their ranks, they have managed to make politics odious to their electorate. Vučić does not fare well in Belgrade as he does in other parts of Serbia, but this is also a myth that we are quick to believe. The truth is that Vučić’s electorate is more rural than urban. Belgrade is wrongly perceived as an urban area when, in all actuality, more of a rural type of people live in it. Central municipalities in Belgrade have always voted for the opposition.
In my neighbourhood, that is Stari Grad municipality, the opposition beat Milošević when nobody else did. Also in Stari Grad, Saša Janković blew Vučić out of water at March presidential elections. But, as soon as you start moving towards outskirts of Belgrade (and by outskirts I mean all the way down to Ljig), Vučić’s victory is written in stone because people down there are gullible, corruptible and indoctrinated by Vučić’s media machinery and propaganda. An average Serb cannot tell the difference between propaganda and proper journalism. I have the same problem now that I had in the 1990s. Although I don’t know anyone from my surroundings who would vote for Vučić, just like in the 1990s I knew nobody who would vote of Milošević, and yet, miraculously, Vučić wins 55.6% of votes. This just shows that I am friends with an odd segment of our society, and I am sure that this will be to my detriment sooner or later.
Some say that every rule has its end. Where is the dividing line that could cause serious trouble to Vučić because, as things are at the moment, it seems that he is going to rule for quite some time?
Vučić will be brought down by bad boys in his ranks when, of course, they decide that the time has come for him to go. Milošević did not fall because the opposition was so strong, but because his party commrades and later the police, army and media that he had controlled, turned their backs on him. The Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) even views elections is small local communities as decisive. We are talking about a group of people who are hungry for power in any shape or form. And they have crawled from under various rocks. When they started their run for Serbia, the Progressives had a very clear target group in mind. They always took an acting troupe Kursadžije with them who were known for their dramatic interpretations of infantile jokes like „a grandpa is walking down the street, a cooker falls and kills him“, or „two women are walking down the street, especially the left one“. The electorate laughed and laughed, although nobody could discern whether it was Kursadžije who led the Progressives or vice versa. Today, we have this growing force which, for instance, won by landslide at local elections in the little town of Kovin in South Banat County; you know, the place widely known for its psychiatric hospital. At the election, the Progressives included a pen in their promotional election material with a caption that read “Vučić for Kovin“. As it happens, they turned Serbia into an ultra-modern nuthouse. And you know how it goes… A psychiatrist never wins the election, the biggest loony does.
Do you think that in terms of Kosovo and EU there will come the time when we would have to choose between the EU and the Eurasian Union, and do you think that ‘Maidan scenario’ is possible in Belgrade?
A typical voter of the Serbian Progressive party is a confused human being who intimately is against the EU, and is gravitating towards Russia. So, I don’t think that Vučić will have problems in spinning its policy by 90 degrees only if he estimates that that could bring him even more power. He practically had stolen the ideology of the Democratic Party because that was the only way he could rule. Otherwise, the West would have very quickly turned its back on him. In this way, he is performing a balancing act, and digging his heels in deeper in the pool of power so that one day he could confuse his electorate even more. Just like one of his grandfathers who, back in the day, saddled up a horse in his village of Čipuljići near Bugojno in Bosnia, and embarked on a trip to Moscow. He only reached Doboj, though. As it turned out, Moscow was too far away. Vučić saddled up two ‘horses’ – one that he would ‘ride’ to Brussels and one to Moscow, but I am afraid that he is also going to reach the figurative Doboj with his politics. When you don’t have a clear goal, even your neighbour is too far away.