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With Leak Of Private Video, The Dirty Tricks Begin In Key Belgrade Election Battle


"The point of this recording was not only to intimidate me, but it is a message to all opponents of this regime. If you raise your voice, we will look into your private lives, your friends, wives, children, the parties you go to, the websites you visit," Djordje Miketic said.
"The point of this recording was not only to intimidate me, but it is a message to all opponents of this regime. If you raise your voice, we will look into your private lives, your friends, wives, children, the parties you go to, the websites you visit," Djordje Miketic said.

When international observers visited Serbia at the end of November, they noted that the campaign for the December 17 local and regional elections was "highly polarized" and marked by "unprecedented" fearmongering and attacks on the opposition.

A few days after the election monitors from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) left, things got even worse.

A video showing a Belgrade opposition candidate, Djordje Miketic, enjoying an intimate moment was shared across social media and messaging apps. Screenshots of the video were then plastered across the front pages of pro-government tabloids. On some TV channels, family-friendly clips of the private tape were broadcast on the news.

While the latest polls show that the country's longtime leader, President Aleksandar Vucic, and his Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) are on course to win the elections nationwide, the race for Belgrade hangs in the balance, with one October poll forecasting what would be a rare triumph for the opposition.

Vucic has been in power in Serbia since 2014, first as prime minister and then as president. In presidential and parliamentary elections in April 2022, Vucic's party won 60 percent of the vote, with the incumbent himself winning a new five-year term as president.

These elections are likely to be more of a challenge for Vucic, with the main pro-European opposition parties forming a new coalition, Serbia Against Violence. That was the slogan of the protesters who took to the streets of Serbia this summer, following two mass shootings in May that killed 19 people, including 10 in a school. Tens of thousands of Serbian citizens came out onto the streets to protest the government's response to the shootings, calling on Vucic and other top officials to resign.

'A Message To All Opponents'

One of the members of the new opposition coalition is the left-wing Together party, which has five seats in Serbia's 250-seat parliament, the National Assembly. Among the party's lawmakers is Miketic, a writer and activist who has repeatedly criticized Vucic, Serbia's government, and the local authorities in Belgrade.

On November 27, Miketic posted on X, formerly Twitter, saying he had received an intimate photo from an unknown phone number in the Viber messaging app. He published a screenshot of the photo, which shows a man and woman with blurred faces in an intimate position, accompanied by a message saying, "Did you prepare Mom for this?"

Miketic said that he received the message less than 12 hours after Vucic said that he was a "human disgrace" and implied, in remarks aired on national television, that he knew something about the opposition politician. As a result, Serbia Against Violence has accused the national Security Intelligence Agency (BIA) of facilitating and Vucic ordering the release of the video, accusations that both have denied.

Aleksandar Vucic appears on Serbian Progressive Party billboards ahead of the December 17 elections in Belgrade.
Aleksandar Vucic appears on Serbian Progressive Party billboards ahead of the December 17 elections in Belgrade.

On November 29, two days after Miketic's X post, the intimate video became widely available online, shared across social and messaging apps, with some government supporters claiming the woman was a prostitute. Parts of the video were even broadcast on the private Pink TV channel, which is owned by Serbian media magnate Zeljko Mitrovic and is known for its pro-government coverage.

Miketic, who is married, confirmed its authenticity and said that the video had been stored on a laptop that was stolen from his apartment during a break-in in January 2022. Speaking to RFE/RL's Balkan Service, Miketic said that he had reported a burglary, the police investigated, but the perpetrators were never found.

"The point of this recording was not only to intimidate me, but it is a message to all opponents of this regime. If you raise your voice, we will look into your private lives, your friends, wives, children, the parties you go to, the websites you visit," Miketic said in a statement quoted by Serbian media on November 29.

"I don't know what else [better shows] the type of dictatorship we are [living] in." Following the publication of the video and accusations that the woman was a prostitute, Miketic's wife issued a statement in support of her husband. It's not clear when the video was made or what Miketic's marital status was at the time.

On December 1, Miketic announced that he was withdrawing from the election campaign to protect his family and to devote himself to a legal fight following the publication of the video. "I do not want the public slander and tabloid attacks on me to threaten the campaign of the Serbia Against Violence coalition," Miketic told RFE/RL's Balkan Service. It is not clear yet whether he will keep his seat in Serbia's parliament.

Domestic Snooping

The publication of the private video was condemned by Miketic's fellow opposition candidates and parties. Serbia Against Violence's candidate for Belgrade mayor, Vladimir Obradovic, condemned the attack. "I think that [the leaking of the video] has crossed all boundaries of a decent political campaign and that this is the dirtiest thing we have ever seen," Obradovic told Serbian television N1 on December 1.

In a joint statement published on December 2, the opposition coalition alleged that Vucic "ordered the publication" of the video, which it said was facilitated by the BIA. "Everything we see and learn indicates clear abuse by the security services, which instead of dealing with citizens' safety, served to monitor and demonize opposition politicians."

Protesters block traffic on the main highway passing through Belgrade, Serbia, Protesters and opposition activists stop traffic in several places around the country in June, following weeks of anti-government protests that drew tens of thousands to the streets after two back-to-back mass shootings in early May.
Protesters block traffic on the main highway passing through Belgrade, Serbia, Protesters and opposition activists stop traffic in several places around the country in June, following weeks of anti-government protests that drew tens of thousands to the streets after two back-to-back mass shootings in early May.

In two separate statements, BIA denied responsibility for "the making or distribution" of the video. "No one other than Mr. Miketic and other participants…from the explicit video can be held responsible for its origin as well as its distribution," the agency said, adding that Miketic "opened up the topic of his video in public and he himself must bear the consequences of his decision."

In the statement, the intelligence agency also said that it had launched an investigation aimed at "establishing all the circumstances related to the video itself and the people in it" and said that "it was irrefutably established" that the video was "made by a male person who was in the same room."

President Vucic also denied any involvement and accused Miketic of using the video to "present himself as a victim." Speaking on Serbia's private Happy TV on November 29, Vucic said that the opposition candidate "knows very well who filmed him" and that it was not the BIA.

"The Security Intelligence Agency immediately started an investigation and concluded that it was taken from a video [and] was not made by a secret camera. In the information, I received from the BIA, it was filmed from close range by one of their friends," Vucic said.

Prime Minister Ana Brnabic, who is a member of Vucic's SNS party, also denied that the footage was leaked from state security structures.

The video leak came amid warnings by the PACE of a "highly polarized campaign" before the December 17 elections, "marked by an unprecedented level of negative campaigning and fearmongering, attacks against the opposition and journalists, and serious issues related to the media."

During a visit to Serbia on November 23-24, a team of PACE preelection observers noted "inflammatory rhetoric, including by high-level officials, and hate speech," as well as "pressure being used against opposition members, journalists, and civil society activists."

Commenting on the April 2022 elections dominated by Vucic and his party, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said that the voting was marred by an uneven playing field, which favored the incumbents. "The combined impact of unbalanced access to media, undue pressure on public-sector employees to support the incumbents, significant campaign-finance disparities, and misuse of administrative resources, led to unequal conditions for contestants," the organization's statement of preliminary findings and conclusions found.

Rasa Nedeljkov, program director at the Belgrade-based Center for Research, Transparency, and Accountability, which has been regularly monitoring elections in Serbia since 2016, told RFE/RL's Balkan Service that this incendiary rhetoric came from the government and the president himself. "In his speeches, [he] divides the citizens and incites a kind of referendum struggle that tells the citizens that, if one political party does not win, there will be bloodshed in Serbia," he said.

Serbia's Regulatory Authority for Electronic Media initiated proceedings against Pink TV after it showed the video in its morning programming on December 1. "The content of the show is clearly of a political preelection character (and marked as such)," the regulatory body said.

"On the other hand, a sexual act is a completely private event that cannot be linked to the nature of information related to political life."

Written by Elitsa Simeonova in Prague based on reporting by Dusan Komarcevic and RFE/RL's Balkan Service
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