SEEMO Interview with Vladimir Mitrić
Photo source: SEEMO
Vladimir Mitrić is a journalist from Loznica, Serbia. He has worked for daily papers Glas Podrinja and Lozničke novine among others, and is a correspondent for Belgrade-based daily Večernje novosti. Mitrić has been awarded many acclaimed journalistic prizes. His work focuses especially on investigative journalism in the areas of human and drug trafficking, war crimes and crime connections in Serbian and Bosnian institutions.
SEEMO:You live under police protection. Please explain why?
Vladimir Mitrić: I live under police protection that I was granted by court, not police, on my own request, which is important. I was attacked at the doorstep of the building I lived in on 12 September 2005, only meters away from a coffee house garden full of guests. Some of the guests were actual police officers, though they were not on duty.
My attacker was a policeman who I later learned had served in the Police Precinct in New Belgrade (part of Belgrade). My attack was a lot like the one in which our colleague Milan Pantić was killed in Jagodina. I simply had more luck, and perhaps skilfulness. The first hit of the baseball bat was aimed at the back of my neck, but I made a step forward and it ended up on my back. Then I turned around and attempted to protect my head with my hands, which resulted in a fracture to my left arm. I fell and yelled for help, receiving another twenty or so hard hits, after which the attacker simply walked away.
None of the policemen in the coffee house who were seated next to the entrance of my building felt it was necessary to help me or approach me after the attack. The chief of Police at the time, Slaviša Mitrović, confirmed during my trial that my request for police assistance after the incident was rejected.
At the time I was writing, as I have done all these years, about human trafficking on the border of Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, the theft of Drina river natural resources, economic crime, drug smuggling, illegal ties among people and state institutions, and politicians with no principles, among other things. I pointed out that Loznica is the hometown of the murderers of war criminal Željko Ražnatovic Arkan, as well as the Serbian politician Ivan Stambolić, and other affairs. I wrote about lawbreakers who increased their wealth by buying firms and companies illegally, leaving the workers with nothing. Also, about car and drug smuggling along the river Drina. I’ve written and still am writing about war profiteers, tycoons, murderers who are protected by people in state institutions and how the situation is worsening all the time.
SEEMO:We know that you have experienced problems with your police protection. You didn’t have it from the beginning. How did it come to that, and why?
Vladimir Mitrić: In the beginning, my police protection was informal, meaning that police officers would show up or not show up in front of the building I lived in, so I was forced to be in a kind of a house arrest. Slavisa Spasojevic, the head of the Police Precinct in Sabac, recently told me that he had trouble ‘convincing’ policemen in Loznica to provide me with protection at all. There was obstruction from the capital, Belgrade, regarding the investigation of my attack, especially when it came to arresting my assailant. He was a policeman. Even when I did manage to obtain police protection, I always had to go home before it was dark, because they functioned on the principle ‘now you see me, now you don’t’.
This all changed after the former chief of the Police department was removed from his position. He was arrested for human trafficking, drug smuggling and organizing robberies in Loznica and Krupanj. In the meantime, people realised the severity of my situation and the quality of police protection I am receiving is now undeniably better. In 2007, the then-deputy commissioner of Police in Loznica contacted me regarding an incident in 2003, when I was physically and verbally attacked by two men, one of whom was a tycoon. The other was involved in the murder of Željko Ražnatović Arkan. The two of them were penalized for that with 100 and 200 EUR fines. The police officer that attacked me was sentenced to six months in jail, because his attack was never qualified as an attempted murder. It undoubtedly was, in my opinion and the opinion of doctors and coroners who examined my injuries.
An additional problem I had was the antagonism of the Prosecutor in Loznica, who said shortly after my attack ‘If only he had died’, which was later mentioned in many articles about the case. The attacker was sentenced almost eight years after the incident to a one-year jail sentence, of which he served only a portion. My costs of trial are a salary’s worth, while the attacker refunded me none of the damage. Between journalists and criminals, some state institutions still favour the latter.
SEEMO:Has living under police protection changed anything in your life, or the life of your family?
Vladimir Mitrić: Of course police protection changed a lot in my life and the life of my family. I hardly have a personal life now. The protection I am under is only valid in the police precinct of Šabac, so when I travel to Belgrade or even the nearby city of Valjevo, I am risking my life. Those are the protection conditions I have, which were established during the time of the previous prosecutor, and haven’t been changed since. People, even close relatives, have become more reserved with me since the police have to - at least indirectly - check them in some way. My car was demolished three times, in the city centre, and I have never been able to receive any information about how far the investigation has gotten, or if there even is one. Certain police officers even testified against me and lied to protect their colleague who attacked me.
SEEMO:What is your advice for journalists who experience what you have? What should they do?
Vladimir Mitrić: The most important thing is to not be quiet about it, to talk about it as much as they can and whenever they can. They should certainly contact SEEMO, and anybody else that they can. They shouldn’t allow people to ‘explain’ to them the reasons why this happened. They must write, document what was done to them, and have proof of what they’ve said and written, because things that have no trace or documentation also have no arguments. They must insist that the proper institutions investigate their case, and remind them, in writing, of what happened to them. They have to put dignity aside and tell about what they experienced, because this is what the other side expects. It is important that they immediately contact attorneys, and do not even think of quitting their profession. They must let everyone know they will do their job with even more passion and desire for truth.
SEEMO:Did the SEEMO reaction have any impact in your case?
Vladimir Mitrić: I’ve had SEEMO’s support from the very beginning, when you addressed public letters to Vojislav Koštunica, the Prime Minister of Serbia and Dragan Jocić, the Minister of Interior in Serbia at the time. We were not expecting them to do anything; we were simply hoping the situation would not worsen. A year ago, Vladimir Božović, who was deputy Minister of Interior at the time, told me that he was criticized by Jocić after he had visited me, followed by ‘why did you go see that traitor, enemy and spy’. SEEMO also reacted in other cases regarding my police protection, and invited me to their conferences. I was a panellist at one of those conferences. SEEMO is a big source of support, help and comfort that I needed at the time of my attacks. Big thanks to SEEMO, all the colleagues who are a part of the organisation, and of course dear Oliver.