Government botch job

It seems that the governments of both Serbia and Yugoslavia have a strange liking for bugs. First a terrorist organization called “the wasp” took the blame for an assassination attempt on Vuk Draskovic, one of the opposition leaders. After that a plan called “operation spider”, which alleges that the French intelligence service has been plotting to kill president Slobodan Milosevic, was uncovered by the Yugoslav national security agency. But, what is the connection between these two and the government?

First of all, there are no terrorist organizations in Serbia. The country in which more than half of the population is already being terrorized by the government, openly or not, is hardly a good place for promoting more terror, which is what terrorist organizations do. Nobody ever heard of “the wasp” before and in other words, as one magazine put it, it’s probably just an alias for “the government”.

And the “operation spider”? Well, I won’t go into the details of it, but it’s enough to check the credibility of that information’s source to see if it’s true or not. The person who first said that the French intelligence officers have been captured, along with the plans for the assassination, is the same person who said that those Albanian refugees who fled from Kosovo during the bombing campaign are just paid actors – the Yugoslav minister of information Goran Matic. And the television station who held the videotapes of the “interrogation” of the French spies for more than three weeks before showing them on air is the same station that showed the US soldiers captured on the Macedonia-Kosovo border less than 12 hours after taping them.

Of course, this time the government had at least some of the facts right (“A lie is best concealed between two truths”, said a character on The X-files). The prisoners really are citizens of Serbia working for the French, and the list of the French led operations in which they have been involved, including human rights abuses in former Zaire, is fairly accurate. But in no way does any of the evidence captured and broadcast on the TV conclusively show that the French intelligence has been making arrangements for the assassination of Milosevic.

So what to make of this poorly run PR stunt? It’s certainly not made for domestic consumption – Goran Matic is not widely known to the public, and if Milosevic really wanted to turn the country against the French he would have used Vojislav Seselj, the ultra nationalist vice president of the Serbian government, instead. This is just a lame attempt by the government to put Serbia back in the headlines of the international news channels. And if not for the poor choice of Matic as the news breaker, it would have succeeded.

Another bad PR job, this time for the domestic public, was an attempt to show a shipment of heating oil from the European union to two opposition run cities, Pirot an Nis, as a plan of the opposition to take money from the citizens of those two cities and gather a few cheap political points while doing it. At the customs, the cargo of oil that was carried by 14 trucks was declared as humanitarian aid, but because the legal definition of ‘humanitarian aid’ is rather sketchy, the customs office had a reason to hold the trucks at the border for two weeks. At the same time, the state’s shipment of oil to those two cities was halted, because the cities’ officials thought the EU trucks would be on time, so they wouldn’t have enough room where to put all that oil.

As it turned out they had plenty of room, as neither of those two shipments arrived. The government-run Radio Television of Serbia (RTS) also had enough room – to speculate that the opposition didn’t even pay the state for the oil, embezzling the money the people gave it for the heating, while at the same time intentionally leaving it’s voters cold so that the EU shipment would have greater effect on them.

But again, the news breaker, this time RTS, was the problem. The citizens of Nis and Pirot, who are mostly turned to the opposition, and who were the RTS’s target audience in this scheme, don’t even watch it. The only thing others have learned is that the Serbian law doesn’t cope well with humanitarian aid, leaving the government to choose which aid is acceptable and which is not. And most people in Serbia already know the RTS language – “definitely” means “maybe”, “maybe” means “certainly not”, and “certainly not” – “definitely”.

Actually, the only time people watch RTS is when it broadcasts football matches of the Yugoslav national team, to which it has a monopoly. And football has been the topic of the week here. Not only did we finally realise why the English were so persistent in delaying the Euro under-21 qualifying match (so that Michael Owen could play for them, of course), but we now know what is our World Cup qualifying group.

And with that, a strange pattern has emerged. It seems that the draw has a tendency to put Yugoslavia with either the countries that were once part of the federation (and with whom, needless to say, the country was once at war), or with its close allies. In the Euro 2000 qualifiers they were Macedonia (the only former republic with whom we weren’t at war, and who are now “friends”) and Croatia (“foes”), and this time it’s Russia and Slovenia.

Now everybody is asking themselves – is it really just the luck of the draw?