Everybody is against us. Europe doesn’t like us, America even less. They are pressuring us and closing in. They’re sending homosexuals to dissever our families. And migrants to take our jobs. They have only one goal – they’re doing all this just to steal away Kosovo. And yet, another war has nearly broken out there. The Croats have been tripping us up ever since 1941, they can’t stand that Serbia is more successful than them. The Russians love us, especially Putin, that righteous and determined leader, but he too may sell us out to achieve his goals. Right now, Ukraine matters more to him than Serbia.
Winter is approaching, the worst ever. Prices are skyrocketing, the world is in crisis, Europe will be freezing and starving. Not Serbia, though. Serbia will get through this winter and next ones because it has Aleksandar Vučić, who will take on all the burden of this small nation. He’s having a hard time: he doesn’t sleep and doesn’t eat, but he opens factories and asks his friends for crude oil and gas. He does everything just to save Serbia from the enemies whose goal is to humiliate us. And he’ll bow down to no one. He’ll be reiterating this every day, several times, on TV, in the press, on his Instagram account, he’ll be talking to us wherever he is: in Brussels, in New York, in Pakovraće, just to calm us down, after previously telling us how bad it is and how it will only get worse.
To someone unknowledgeable, it may seem that 24 hours don’t suffice to pack all these news (and messages) and serve them to the citizens, but the most influential media in Serbia are working at full speed. Not a day goes by in which we are not greeted from the front pages by the tireless fight with the enemies, the spread of fear, uncertainty and an around the clock political campaign that sucked up our everyday life, convincing us that a new war is just around the corner and that everyone will turn their backs on us. Everyone but the President of the country, to whom the media devoted two-thirds of the time in the news in September alone. And last month alone, he addressed us 68 times live. More than twice a day.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine entirely unveiled all the weaknesses of the most influential media in Serbia. They are biased, superficial and way too similar. Under control of a single man. And they play their role in creating the reality that Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, master of ceremonies, talks about, while underlining the numbers on the board in the studio of one of the pro-regime television stations, highlighting all the alleged successes of Serbia.
And what about common people? What is an average citizen of Serbia really exposed to during one day? Do the headlines make him dizzy? All the announced wars and frequent crises and ‘crises’? What are his earworms? Can he escape the role assigned to him, or is the blue pill an inevitability actually?
Just an ordinary day, September 29th, 2022.
There’s no milk in stores this morning either. You see on Facebook that it’s because of Soroš. You’re getting ready to go to work in a rush. There are always traffic jams at this hour, but with your 56k dinars salary, taxi is never an option. While you’re hastily drinking your cup of java, you’re channel-surfing – RTS, Pink, Happy, and Prva.
PINK “...The Danish factory Grundfos opened a new facility for the production of pumps in Inđija. Speaking at the official opening, President Aleksandar Vučić said to the workers that the owners had announced a 15 percent increase in wages. (...) Russian President Vladimir Putin will soon, the Kremlin announces, recognise the results of referendums held in four Ukrainian regions on joining Russia. (...) More than half of the gas in the damaged gas pipelines Nord Stream 1 and 2 leaked from the pipes. It is estimates that the remaining quantities will leak out by Sunday. Fuel prices are spiking again…”
RTS “...Serbia has a difficult and thorny path ahead of it, and the most important thing is to preserve its policy of independence, says President Aleksandar Vučić. He announces that he will speak on all important topics, from political plans to the supply of energy and food, in a public address on October 8th.”
Happy: “They are afraid of winter, whether there will be gas, whether there will be electricity, whether they’ll be freezing; they’re pointing the finger at Hungary, which imposed sanctions on Russia, because it has its own policy in the EU and NATO. They’re wondering the Czech Republic accepted everything that is asked of it...to its own detriment, and Hungary did not...”
Prva: “The leaders of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporozhzhia and Kherson regions have arrived in Moscow, announced on his Telegramme channel Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of the Kherson regional military-civilian administration. The plane with the leaders of the liberated territories landed in Moscow. This is history, but with a happy ending, Stremousov wrote...”
You have an uneasy feeling in your stomach all the time. You’re worried about the prices that are rising, about the increase in electricity bills and the restrictions that are mentioned. Because you have the loan hanging over your head.
You remember well the nineties and the queues for oil, sugar, for everything. And no one will be there to help you.
You’re walking down to the bus stop, it’s overcrowded so you miss one bus, you wait for the next one. You remember you don’t have cigarettes. On the newsstand, you can see all the front-pages. Next to the T-shirt with a Putin’s image, there are pendants with the Z sign.
You look at the press.
“NGO Serbs shaping up the destiny of Kosovo.”
Again enemies, again traitors. They don’t work for 56k like you do.
They tell you that Kosovo is about to be taken away from us. And that the Albanians will mount a new operation ‘Storm’. Someone will have to stand up to them, and to the West and NATO. The Americans wreaked this havoc in Ukraine now, just as they will be able to do in Kosovo whenever they want. If anyone can put them in their place, it’s Putin.
You remember bombs very well.
Chills run down your spine when you remember the tractor, the relatives fleeing the war, the sick father and the envelope you give to the doctor, while the planes fly over the hospital. Straževica that shakes in 1999 and windows that crack. Even today when you hear siren testing your stomach is in knots and you stop dead.
But we survived that, and we will survive this too. They may just as well impose sanctions on us.
Hour by hour, one cigarette break. Then you have a sandwich and yogurt, so you don’t get too hungry. You talk to colleagues just in passing.
You don’t talk about politics. You don’t know who knows whom. Who collects signatures for whom. You don’t even know if they know how they ‘fixed’ your contract. A new Viber message is coming. “The census... as an agenda for total control... the seizure of everything!”. Among the notifications, you see one friend request on Facebook.
“Yes, I know him from the FB group ‘Vote Nestorović for president...’.”
Endless scrolling until the end of the break. Your posts pop up one after the other. The Tuman monastery and miracles; the most beautiful Serbian women, news from Sputnik...
...a humanitarian number for a sick child, for families from Kosovo, collecting aid, a quote from our dukes, again some migrants in Sombor, Subotica.
Congestion on the way home. As the bus crawls through the city, bypassing the works in the centre, you find a place to sit, by the window, away from the door. You don’t have to look at people, or give up your seat to anyone. You’ve had enough of everything... Vibration. You take out your phone, another message on Viber.
“Hey, look at this Telegram group, very upright and brave guys...”
NATIONAL PATROL; 7,500 of them in the Telegram group.
“The horde is moving towards Europe... This autumn, migrants will most likely form up to ten such convoys of migrants to Europe. All this is overshadowed by the Greek-Turkish conflict; Europe is getting another front.”
Second click, Facebook again.
A quote. Press like.
You get home, you feel tired. Your throat is dry, you cough... Hopefully, it’s not Covid.
You try to relax, the remote in your hands. The 7,30 evening news and the jingle, which for a long time made people cringe. But still a habit.
Serbia and China are bound by a steel friendship and strengthen cooperation in all areas, said President Vučić and Ambassador Chen Bo during the celebration of National Day of China. ...Gas from the Nord Stream is leaking in four places, stopping will not be possible until Monday....Vladimir Putin is signing agreements tomorrow on the annexation of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporozhzhia and Kherson to Russia. (Source: RTS)
They tell you that only a firm hand helps here. They tell you that Vučić is doing what he can, that he is not omnipotent either. He fights, he doesn’t give up. But at least he works. Those around him certainly steal, but he can’t control all of them either...
You really want to relax; you don’t understand why you can’t. I would like you to call your neighbours, friends, and talk to your family. Maybe you’ll do it tomorrow...
A new episode of the popular series is playing in the background. A documentary on Pink, on RTS they are talking about the census; “The average age is 43.5 years...” Just like you.
Remote again, you go back to Happy, you surf from show to show. “After lunch, September 27th...” OK. It’s about post-Covid.
“Host: Sperm count: zero... It’s connected with the vaccine; it can be found on the internet... Doctor Antonijević: Pfizer doesn’t really care about us... we relieved its responsibility in writing... (...) I had a patient who was preparing for the process of in vitro fertilisation... from 60 million he came to zero... he received two doses of Pfizer... The increasing number of myocarditis cases... we have a new diagnosis, a diagnosis of sudden death. We will have all sorts of things…”
Your bones hurt, you’re exhausted and scared. But you need more. You have become addicted to politicians and analysts who tell you what you want to hear. Who managed to convince you that you don’t have a say, that your vote is not worth anything, that everyone is the same, that you don’t ask who is accountable… and that you don’t protest, because if you do, you’re an enemy.
Just like those who threaten us. You need a new crisis that will surpass the previous one. A new dose of fear that will bury the old one. And the media will give you all that, they will fix your need the very next day.
You’re getting ready for bed, you’re worrying. Everyone’s leaving. You’re lying in bed, worrying. While you are falling asleep, at the other end of the city, far in the centre, new volumes are going to the press, a new day for the same reality.
The average salary in July 2022 was 73,114 dinars, and the median salary was 56,000 dinars. The average market basket for that month was 86,839.68 dinars. (Sources: Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia, mtt.gov.rs)
While the public service is a media giant on infusion, which you can read more about in the analyses: Dosije RTS (1): Gori vatra, Dosije RTS (2): Sinoć nisi bila tu, Dosije RTS (3): Reka suza i na njoj lađa, private televisions in their own way, break the rules and circumvent the laws, which did not prevent them from getting once more a national frequency.
Thanks to the journalists of the Financial Times, we learned a few years ago that the President of Serbia has nine TVs in his office. By his own admission, he has a habit of calling the Prime Minister, ministers and other associates first thing in the morning. He claims that he does not have a Twitter account, although he is active on that network and can also wave using printed tweets of political opponents, if necessary. He does not debate, he addresses and explains and draws on the board, and his performances are ‘no news’, just emotions. In recent years, his Instagram profile has become a source of news, which is then transmitted by the Public Service. (We should not forget that it was on his Instagram profile that Vučić was the “first” to announce the news that the patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church had died, after a series of news, retractions and announcements.) He has repeatedly said that he monitors his ratings on daily basis and hinted that he makes decision based on the reactions, i.e. increase or decrease in his own popularity.
The Novosti case: One of the oldest daily newspapers in Serbia, which was printed in hundreds of thousands of copies in Yugoslavia, was known because it dealt with the “common man from the people” and the workers; but also because it participated in Milošević’s propaganda in the 1990s. Their history at the very end of the 20th century was marked by three examples of fake news and war propaganda: the lie about the Vukovar babies, the manipulation of a photo from a rally in support of Milošević, and the use of a picture of Uroš Predić to illustrate the suffering of Serbian children in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
After the democratic changes in the 2000s, the editorial policy of this newspaper changed, but in recent years, the Večernje Novosti has again played the role of a right-wing, strongly nationalist, pro-Russian and progressive newspaper.
The largest number of citizens would be happy if Serbia renounced the EU path and formed an alliance with Russia, two-thirds of them believe that the West is most responsible for the war in Ukraine, and for one half it would not be a problem if the EU reinstated the visa regime for us. At the same time, more than 60 percent of citizens think that at this moment, it is best for our country to have a strong leader whom everyone would obey, because “only a firm hand can lead us out of the crisis”. A half of the citizens trust only pro-government media, and RTS is the most trusted of all the television stations, according to the May 2022 CRTA research.
The complete dominance of government representatives in the central news is the main feature of reporting of TV stations with national coverage. The findings of the CRTA media monitoring show that the dominance of government representatives in central news is even greater than it was in the period between the parliamentary elections held in 2020 and 2022, the data indicate that the pluralism recorded in the pre-election period was a sort of a ‘last-minute’ thing created higgledy-piggledy for temporary ‘use’. In the central news of TV stations with national coverage, one political actor dominated – the President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić. Almost two-thirds of the time in the mentioned programmes were dedicated to him. Incidentally, during the first seven months of this year, TV stations with national coverage broadcast 248 times events from which President Vučić directly addressed the public (August 2022, CRTA).
“The broadcaster of Happy National Television is Happy TV doo, whose owners are the companies Ideogram and Kanal1. The owner of Kanal 1 is Ideogram, and the official owner of Ideogram is Vladana Ćirović. However, in the public, Predrag Ranković Peconi is recognised as the owner of this television”, writes Byrne. The editor-in-chief is Milomir Marić. Year after year, Happy TV fails to fulfil the promises made in the programme elaboration. This television regularly violates the Law on Advertising. During 2020, more than three thousand violations were recorded (Source: Istinomer). Happy television introduces conspiracy theorists into the mainstream, serves as a platform for the President’s addresses, and in its shows provides space to war criminals, right-wingers and members of various services so that they could write a new history.