Media and Banjska: What news was lost on the way from Pristina to Belgrade?
“We have the statements of eyewitnesses, of people who were on the spot and saw how at least one man was wounded, killed, brutally”, said Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić on Sunday in an address via his Instagram account, noting that we will all be able to hear and see it within 24 hours. And we did. On the same evening, the Hit Tweet show on Pink TV aired a video of the testimony of a man who allegedly saw the murder of one of the three Serbs, suspected of having participated in the armed conflict in Banjska. So, this video has indeed gone a short distance from announcement to publication and completely fitted with the version that Belgrade has been advocating since the beginning of this crisis. Nevertheless, there is information and footage that travelled a long time or did not reach the majority of the Serbian public at all. What information have the media in Serbia skipped publishing?
Ever since the shooting in the village of Banjska, in which a Kosovo police officer was killed, along with four attackers, representatives of the authorities and most of the media maintain the thesis that Albin Kurti is responsible for all the events in northern Kosovo. As Istinomer wrote before, in the first hours after the conflict, the Prime Minister of Kosovo was labelled as the “creator of chaos and hell”, and it was reiterated in a slightly different guise that the Serbs were victims of his “terror”.
This narrative was amplified day by day, and completely suppressed the data from the investigation about the night between September 23rd and 24th, when a member of the Kosovo Police was killed. Exactly seven days after the conflict, we entered a new stage of selective reporting. The President of Serbia announced on Instagram the presenting of the evidence that the Serbs were “brutally murdered”, and like all major evidence, this too found its place in one of TV Pink’s shows.
A recording of the alleged testimony of an eyewitness to the shooting in Banjska, in which it is said that the Kosovo police started shooting at the Serbs “out of the blue” went from the show Hit Tweet to numerous portals, as well as televisions. Not only did it reach many addresses, but also viewers of national television channels could watch (or listen to) it multiple times in the next 24 hours.
Nonetheless, some claims coming from the Pristina authorities could cast a shadow on the position taken by Serbian officials and the media inclined to them. These were primarily news about the seizure of weapons in Serbian areas, but also about the role of Milan Radoičić, now former vice-president of the Serb List, in this deterioration of relations between Belgrade and Pristina. The Belgrade media either completely ignored most of the results of the Pristina authorities’ investigation or offered them to their readers and viewers in bite-size portions.
Well OK then, you don’t have to know everything
Just one day after the shooting, at a press conference, the Kosovo Minister of the Interior Xhelal Sveçla said that the Kosovo authorities had found maps and plans for an attack on the Kosovo police on September 24th, and that it was something that had been planned for months. As reported by Radio Free Europe, Sveçla also added that, based on the documents found, Milan Radoičić was connected to the attack.
“In those materials, we also found documents related to a criminal who is also on the US blacklist, Milan Radoičić. These documents provide evidence of his involvement or direct participation in this operation. This includes a list of weapons permits issued by Serbian institutions to Milan Radoičić, along with an inventory of the weapons he possesses, complete with serial numbers, all of which were found in the first car. The original document is now in the hands of forensic experts“, said Sveçla .
On the same day, the Kosovo police also showed the arsenal of weapons seized after the conflict in Banjska. According to Radio Free Europe, among dozens of weapons and ammunition, there were rocket launchers for attacking combat vehicles, grenade launchers, numerous automatic rifles, sniper rifles, military vehicles, explosives, detonators.
And that was not the only seizure. The Kosovo police confirmed for KoSSev that weapons had also been found in the hotel in Banjska, and this portal then wrote about other confiscated assets such as armoured vehicles, cars and heavy machinery loaded with a large amount of weapons. According to KoSSev, within the walls of the Banjska monastery, the police also found rifles and body armour, which were allegedly taken from the scene of the murder of the police sergeant.
Domestic media outlets downplayed the significance of the substantial weaponry seizure, deeming it unworthy of prominent placement on their websites and front pages. Therefore, they placed the seizure of weapons under the headline “Serbian Orthodox Church targeted by figments about weapons“ and conveyed the statement of the Eparchy of Raška and Prizren that “firearms, body armour and parts of equipment had been found in two places in the monastery yard, which had been thrown by armed persons during withdrawing from the monastery but also that “EULEX and the police had not found anything that could compromise the monastery and the brotherhood”.
We’ll talk about Radoičić when he gets in touch
The Kosovo authorities and the Kosovo media linked Milan Radoičić to the attack in Banjska already on Monday, September 25th. It turned out that the documents that Kosovo Police Minister Xhelal Sveçla talked about that day are not the only reason, but that there are also recordings that allegedly prove Radoičić’s involvement.
Sveçla posted one of these recording on his Facebook account. On it, armed individuals can be seen in front of the monastery residence in Banjska, including, as explained, Milan Radoičić. The footage has circulated on social media as well as on local TV channels. However, in nearly every broadcast, the video clip was shortened, ending just before the figure of the man identified by Pristina as the Vice President of the Serb List becomes clearly visible.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Ivica Dačić, appearing as a guest on a TV show Takovska 10, questioned the authenticity of the drone footage, stating that it was a hoax and that the footage was not recorded on the night of the incident.
“[…] there was snow, […] it was obviously not a recording from that day. Is he in the video or not? I really don’t know”, he said.
And this theory about the snow melted away very quickly, since after only a few days Dačić said that he was wrong, since someone told him that it was an older recording.
“Someone told me it was an older video, I didn’t check. My bad. I did not want to absolve Radoičić. They first published pictures from Nagorno-Karabakh, then they mentioned the guys from Obraz”, said Dačić, and N1 reported.
Right after the video from the monastery, there was also a video from Radoičić’s villa. Within the scope of the police operation, as KoSSev wrote, a search of the building on Lake Gazivode was also conducted. What the police units recorded on camera, Sveçla also published on his Facebook account just as solicitor Goran Petronijević was reading to the media the statement of his client Milan Radoičić.
As reported by N1, in his written statement, Radoičić took responsibility for the events in the village of Banjska and added that the reason for his return was to “encourage the people in their resistance to the Albin Kurti’s regime”.
“I would like to inform all those relentlessly pursuing the Serbian people that I have personally completed all logistical preparations for the defence of the Serbian people against the occupiers. This act is entirely unrelated to my previous political involvement. I have not informed anyone from the authorities of Serbia or local structures about this, nor have I received any assistance from them, as by then we had already held differing standpoints”, added Radoičić.
After stating this and after President Vučić mentioned it in an interview for the Spanish television, he announced his resignation from the position of Vice President of the Serb List and expressed his readiness to respond to the call of the relevant authorities of the Republic of Serbia.
Whether due to the preoccupation with these statements by Radoičić or for other reasons, most media outlets overlooked the video from his villa. The video, though, remained on the Xhelal Sveçla’s Facebook profile and was covered by Kosovo and some Serbian portals.
"Iz same te činjenice da je bio i sneg, onda je očigledno da to nije snimak iz tog dana", izjavio je za RTS ministar Ivica Dačič, komentarišući snimak policije Kosova na kom se navodno vidi Milan Radoičić.
— #dasenelazemo (@istinomer) September 27, 2023
One of the videos released by Pristina was accompanied by Kosovo officials’ claims suggesting it was evidence that an armed group of Serbs from Banjska was training and preparing on Pasuljanske Meadows. This video provoked reactions, but not so much from the media as from Minister of Defence Miloš Vučević and Chief of the General Staff Milan Mojsilović, who refuted Pristina’s allegations during a press conference.
“In previous years, he was invited on several occasions to exercises, but he did not respond, and what Radoičić does on his private property is none of the business of the Serbian Army”, said Mojsilović, as reported by RTS.
In his capacity as a citizen and a “new Serbian Obilić”
Although Milan Radoičić’s name was mentioned from the very beginning of the investigation by the Kosovo authorities, the domestic media began to mention him “belatedly”, mostly when he was mentioned by the Serbian president. From the press release, sent through a lawyer, he attracted more attention, so the media also accompanied his departure to the premises of the Serbian Ministry of the Interior.
As reported by the Danas, the Ministry of the Interior announced that on Saturday, September 30th, in his capacity as a citizen, gave a statement on the circumstances of the tragic event in the village of Banjska.
In addition to his capacity as a citizen, the former president of the Serb List also appeared on the front pages and websites of tabloids as a “new Serbian Obilić”. The media thus built up on his message that Serbs who participated in the conflict in Banjska were not terrorists but “freedom fighters”.
The news of his arrest was among the headlines in almost all media, and the Informer highlighted that he was a – hero.
Despite the fact that, according to media reports, this crisis can indeed be considered different from others, some patterns have remained the same. The suppression of certain information and the selective presentation of others, followed by packaging them into manipulative narratives, is a well-established mechanism through which Kosovo-related topics are handled in the media. If added tensions, confusion, and fear among readers and viewers are accompanying elements of this mechanism, then all the better. It means it’s working.