AIM: start

SUN, 20 JAN 2002 22:55:20 GMT

SDP at War with the Press

Can It Be Better "With US"?

AIM Sarajevo, January 4, 2002

Recently, citizens of the central city municipality could, among a bunch of other propaganda leaflets and offers, find in their mailboxes an interesting set of the Cantonal Board of the SDP B&H of Sarajevo. A convenient table calendar with the following text on the back: "Wishing you happy holidays and the New Year we thank you for your support extended to the SDP because you have thus endorsed progress which is in this municipality primarily reflected in the following". This was followed by a list: openness and transparency of work, free legal aid, paving of streets, rehabilitation of a land-slide and repair of street lighting, social welfare and provision of summer holidays for children without parental care. In addition to the calendar there was a greeting card/pamphlet with a recognisable red rose and a slogan, also underlined in red "With us B&H can fare better".

And whereas the SDP, personified in a chief of a municipality, was reminding the citizens of what has been done, at the same time it practically started a war with the press. It was to be expected that the media favourably inclined to the former authorities, primarily the Party of the Democratic Action, would be looking for the tiniest faults, just like "Ljiljan" (Lily) did last autumn when it concluded that "Cat's Excrements are not to be Laughed at". Namely, under this title the paper reported about official police and court records which showed that an entire team of inspectors had been working day and night trying to shed light at the case of cat's excrement discovered in front of Zlatko Lagumdzija's door. However, no one could know that the last day of the old year will be marked by the exchange of mutual accusations between the SDP and the press.

The closed session of the SDP B&H Main Board held on the last Saturday in December, at which Zlatko Lagumdzija got full support and which was concluded with a demand that the party leadership should exert greater influence for a more responsible and principled organisation of the future work of all party levels served as a "cue" for opening a withering fire. Informing the public on the Board's conclusions, the daily with currently largest circulation here, "Dnevni avaz" (The Daily Herald), pointed to a "constructive method" of future work and carried a statement of an anonymous collocutor, who was one of active participants in the debate at the closed session: "The Main Board warned that it was high time for everyone in the SDP to get serious, so that those who until now behave as independent shooters should stop doing that". In short, as the anonymous member of the Main Board said, the Presidency got a "yellow card" and Lagumdzija a free hand for "muscle flexing".

And whereas it is only possible to guess what lies behind the alarm that was sounded within the party, on the other hand, it is absolutely clear that the "dirty linen" would have to be hidden carefully, because the Main Board is planning to tighten the party discipline so as to silence the loudest ones so as to stop them from harming the name and reputation of the SDP. To put it simply, in future they will first have to inform the party of their initiatives and proposals and only after getting a permission in a democratic discussion, they will be able to talk to the press. "Before addressing party organs with their observations and suggestions, the duty of the party members is, in a constructive manner, to previously check and, in direct contact with their party colleagues, make certain whether these are state or party matters. Pointing to problems and proposing solutions should be done in a friendly atmosphere", stated the conclusions. Regarding the tense inter-party relations, the conclusion stated that an analysis of media attacks on the SDP B&H and its individual officials should be prepared and a procedure imitated before the Press Council, as well as "an operational strategy prepared for the propaganda war which is being waged against the SDP leading men".

Only two days after the Main Board's session, Sejfudin Tokic, who is one of the loudest (we do not know whether there had been any arm twisting) with his proposals and suggestions, said: "I first informed the party of all legal initiatives that I proposed to the public so that I do not see these conclusions as a prohibition of public opinion!" Asked to comment the conclusions, Ivo Komsic, the SDP Vice-President put it shortly: "I was not present to the end of the Main Board's session, so that I do not know what was exactly concluded (!?). I only know that it raised much dust." His party colleague, Nijaz Skenderagic, also a member of the SDP B&H Presidency, gave the following comment: "I am not sure that the contents of the issued release reflect conclusions reached and discussions conducted at the session of the Main Board. That is why I cannot comment on them!"

Not leaving any dilemmas, this was how Lagumdzija commented on the conclusions: "Decisions of the Main Board are like rulings of the Constitutional Court and should not be commented on, but rather carried out. Lately we got some things confused. The problem was that some people attacked their party colleagues forgetting to first ask them for their opinion. That doesn't mean that people from the SDP cannot think differently because we are too large a party for all members to have the same opinion. In other words, no one will be prevented from coming out with his opinion. The thing is that in mutual attacks misunderstandings should not be resolved first in the media and only then in Parliament. Democracy doesn't equal anarchy, but I fear that lately there have been instances of unfitting behaviour", pointed out Lagumdzija in the daily "Oslobodjenje" (The Liberation) in a story entitled "Everyone Thinks the Same: Silence is Gold(en)!" (a pun with Lagumdzija's first name Zlatko which means gold, note of the author).

In that same issue (December 25, 2001) this paper's commentator, (who is incidentally a recently dismissed editor-in-chief) Mirko Sagolj said that "The SDP B&H Main Board is bringing back into political life a worse hard-line option of the democratic centralism than the one that ruled in the League of Communists during Djuro Pucar and is announcing a political showdown with all those who think differently from this party's leader. And what is even more dangerous for the public word, i.e. for democracy as a whole, is that the Main Board has instructed someone to prepare an analysis of media attacks on the SDP and its individual officials and initiate a procedure before the Press Council. It is not hard to assume what the term initiation of procedure implies. It, naturally, implies persecution of journalists and editorial offices that dare criticise SDP and its leaders. The next thing we can expect is the adoption of a law on the protection of the person and name, such as the one in force during Tito or a request addressed to the High Representative to adopt such a law, so that we could finally get things going."

And while the columnist of the "Oslobodjenje" forgot that he himself once was the party's extended arm, not to say rod in our common state and party of those times, High Representative for B&H Wolfgang Petritsch never missed an opportunity to mention Zlatko Lagumdzija (naturally in a positive sense)in every of his public addresses (from TV screens he congratulated to the people of B&H the New Year, just like President of the state used to do in the past). But, Lagumdzija did not respond in kind. In his interview for the New Year's triple issue of the "Oslobodjenje", asked what in the past year made him most angry apart from journalists, he responded: "The irresponsible behaviour of certain officials of the international community. However, it was not what made me angriest apart from journalists, but was rather the only thing that made me lose my temper. Believe or not, the journalists are not the first on my top list. To begin with, I do not like to speak of general categories, but I think that we the politicians, as well as journalists come in all shapes and sizes".

Two thousand and two has already started and the new elections are getting closer so that no party needs a war with the press. On the contrary. "The President, the leader, the Chairman and the Minister" (which are all Zlatko Lagumdzija's titles, note of the author), as the editor-in-chief of the New Year's issue of the independent magazine "Dani" (Days), Vildana Smailegovic, called him in her introductory comment, is also aware of this. In conclusion she wrote: "The cure for totalitarianism in the tripartite B&H of the SDA-HDZ-SDS type, is not and cannot be autocracy, even if it is personified in the social-democrat Lagumdzija".