(PRAGUE, Czech Republic) An RFE/RL reporter in the Balkans has won a prestigious journalism award for his 2008 documentary, Heated Blood, which charts the growth of right-wing extremist groups in Serbia.
RFE/RL's Milos Teodorovic and the film's co-creator, Ivana Lalic, were presented the 2008-09 award for excellence in investigative reporting by the Independent Journalists' Association of Serbia and the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade. After the ceremony, Teodorovic spoke to RFE/RL about the film:
RFE: This documentary charts the growth of extremist right-wing organizations in Serbia after 2000. What is your impression today – has the situation in Serbia changed, or is it the same as you experienced it during the making of the film?
Teodorovic: I suppose that things have improved somewhat since 2008, when we made the film, or the nine months or so that we spent filming those 78 hours of material. In any case, that was an especially turbulent period. Kostunica’s government was on its way out, only gradually and reluctantly, and extremist organizations were allowed to flourish in this environment. Many of the political elites, whether in the government or members of the opposition, used these right-wing groups to make their argument in the streets - especially on the issue of Kosovo. Things have calmed down a little. At the moment we have a minister like Ivica Dacic who has gone as far as to ban several gatherings by right-wing organizations, such as ‘Obraz’ or ‘Nacionalni Stroj’.
In general, however, this film may be seen as a document, as evidence of what was happening in 2008, and as a warning that it could happen again, given that these organizations are so easily manipulated. The film focuses on members of extreme right-wing groups, but also those who are actively opposed to extremism, such as the representatives of some gay groups.
RFE: From your current perspective, and looking back on your work, are you happy with the balance between the words, the ideas and the contrasting personalities in the film?
Teodorovic: We weren’t so concerned with balance as such. We applied that basic journalistic mechanism, in other words showing first the victim followed by the perpetrator, and allowing that simple juxtaposition to highlight the absurdity of violence, and also how these groups that promote violence always target the weakest and the least protected members of society.
RFE: Do you think that your film makes a clear distinction between the victims and their persecutors?
Teodorovic: I think so. This film has provoked a heated debate about the extent to which we have perhaps, in some way, provided a platform for the extremists to promote their ideas – which I believe is not the case. When, for example, we show a picture of the boy murdered in central Belgrade – I’m referring to Dusan Jovanovic, the Romany (gypsy) boy – and follow that with a testimony, albeit anonymous, of a young man who explains how they’re gathering in various parts of the city to attack the Roma (gypsies), then it is clear which is the side of truth, justice, humanity, and everything connected with it.
RFE: What, if anything, did the making of this film teach you about Serbian society still torn between different forms of extremism?
Teodorovic: Well, I wouldn’t be too harsh in my judgment or claim that the phenomena we’re dealing with are unique to Serbia. They are the consequence of the 1990s, and it’s also true that these are hardly mass movements – one might even say that based on their membership these are marginal movements. However, in a society so deeply traumatized as the Serbian, and as politicized as this one, these groups are always prepared to act. The fact that they have had the opportunity to act since 2000 is the direct responsibility of certain (mainstream) political elements and policies.
Now we find ourselves in potentially even greater danger, faced with a scenario that has been repeated often in the course of the 20th century - the fact that in times of economic crisis similar groups tend to expand and assume a more important role in society. So we already have these groups in existence, given prominence by various political parties who used them for their own purposes, and now the problem is made worse by the onset of the economic crisis. In that sense the dangers are still there, and may even appear worse. I would say that the situation in 2009 is better than the previous year.”