HUNT FOR A ŽURNAL COLUMNIST:How Andrej Nikolaidis became an "enemy of the state" in Montenegro

Žurnal in English

HUNT FOR A ŽURNAL COLUMNIST: How Andrej Nikolaidis became an "enemy of the state" in Montenegro

Part of Nikolaidis' text for Žurnal about Andrić and Njegoš was the occasion for another harangue on this multi-awarded writer and literary critic. The orchestrated chase, even with undisguised calls for lynching, began with insults on Twitter, and only "more beautifully packaged" insults continued in certain Montenegrin media, imbued with politics, ideology and nationalism.

How Andrej Nikolaidis became an
Andrej Nikolaidis

"As far as I'm concerned: here you are, the school reading programs and libraries full of Andrić's fake garbage wisdom and Njegoš's quasi-philosophical masturbation over the fate of the nation and religion; it is never and never will be mine. No. My three minutes are Hate My Way and two screams of Kristina Hersh", is an excerpt from Andrej Nikolaidis' column published in Žurnal on August 7.

It was the occasion for another political and media harangue on this multi-awarded writer and literary critic. The orchestrated hunt for Nikolaidis, even with undisguised calls for lynching, began with insults using street talk on Twitter, and only the "more beautifully packaged" continued in certain Montenegrin media, imbued with politics, ideology and nationalism.

The situation was brought to a head by statements from the Ministry of Culture of Montenegro, which, led by Minister Maša Vlaović, assessed that Nikolaidis "improperly wrote against Njegoš and Andrić", so they took offence by depriving him of the status of a prominent cultural creator which was awarded to him by the Government of Montenegro as a writer and literary critic back in 2016. Let's remind you that a few months ago, Nikolaidis was awarded the most important national Thirteenth of July award, which also caused anger among certain politicians at the very top of the Montenegrin government, all gathered around Dritan Abazović. The Montenegrin portal CdM writes that the Ministry has been under pressure on this issue for a long time and that Abazović publicly, in two sessions, asked Minister Vlaović to remove Nikolaidis from the National Council for Culture, just so that the activists of the United Reform Action (URA) would then launch campaign in which they demanded that he be stripped of his status as a cultural creator.

It was only a matter of time before this political campaign against Nikolaidis would start again, and it came after Dragan Bursać shared the "controversial" passage from his column on Twitter. This was followed by more than 120 comments filled with insults: "I have never been a fan of Andrić and Njegoš, but I have to defend their works when I see what people like this are talking about. Yes, they will never be yours, because you are angry...", it is written in one of the comments, while the others are much more brutal. One of the commenters even left them the number of the Psychiatric Clinic in Sokolac.

"When you don't have anything smart to say, it's better to be silent", is also one of the comments about Nikolaidis, whose novels have been translated into more than 20 languages.


Seven days after that, the Montenegrin Dan thought of heating up the situation further and asked the Ministry of Culture what they would do regarding Nikolaidis's article in Žurnal, and they replied that "they will consider the possibility of amending the Regulation on the criteria and method of awarding the status of a prominent cultural creator, and introducing the abolition of that title". They said that they would not "cooperate and give additional space to those whose speech leads to divisions, extremism and additional tightening of relations in society", which was followed by sharp criticism from writers, journalists and non-governmental organizations from the region. The Ministry tried to "correct" the situation by announcing that they were misinterpreted in the media, but reading their "original answers" addressed to the Dan editorial office, which they also published, one cannot get that impression.

The PEN Center of Bosnia and Herzegovina, of which Nikolaidis is also a member, recognize the announcements from the Ministry and the media frenzy in which the confiscation of literary awards is mentioned as an attack and an inappropriate suppression of freedom of expression: "Nikolaidis in his overall public engagement has confirmed countless times his intellectual and moral integrity, and his reputation in the countries of the former common state testifies that he cannot be classified among those "whose speech leads to divisions, extremism and additional aggravation of relations in society, as stated in the Ministry's announcement."

Diplomat and president of the Montenegrin Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, Miodrag Vlahović, said that the hunt for Nikolaidis is an absolute shame and that the awards should be taken from the war criminal Radovan Karadžić and Milutin Mićović, the brother of Metropolitan Joaniki of Montenegrin littoral.

The Helsinki Committee said that "the line ministry should have stood up for the freedom of artistic expression and to protect freedom of speech as one of the fundamental rights on which civilized and democratic communities are based, and instead it became a mere tool for political calculations carried out by GP URA and the Government headed by Abazović".

The writer Svetislav Basara told Gradska TV that "at first he thought that the ministry's order came from Belgrade, but then he remembered that there are quite a few writers in Serbia, including himself, who write very harshly, even derogatory about national sanctuaries and great things, but the Serbian ministry does not take away any privileges from them: "I concluded that this is a matter of local (very modest) wisdom and that the reasons for the (eventual) deprivation of Nikolaidis status are not poetic but (pre)political", says Basara.

Croatian writer and journalist Viktor Ivančić told the same TV that the Ministry's initiative goes beyond anything seen so far, and he believes that it is a totalitarian coup and that we are all obliged to resist this heinous attack on freedom. Nikolaidis, he says, was labelled as an extremist by the Ministry of Culture. Ivančić believes that, even in a merely decent country, which respects the minimum of minimums of democratic standards, Minister Vlaović, as well as Abazović, would be forced to leave their positions, and political life, without return tickets.

"Such an inquisitional performance, where a target is placed on the chest of a marked "enemy of the state", where the element of street lynching is combined with the operation of the government apparatus, where the ideological topos and sanctities of the binding orthodoxy are openly challenged, deserves the deepest abhorrence", concludes Ivančić.

Tomislav Marković wrote in to Žurnal:

- Andrej Nikolaidis recently spoke not very highly of Njegoš and Andrić, so social networks were heated with the righteous anger of various experts on literature and the nation. They were not quite as radical as that critic who read Ruždija as a cold weapon, but they still believe that everyone cannot interpret their idols as they please and that such a person should be stripped of some awards, removed from institutions and prohibited from participating in public life. It quickly turned out that the competent authorities in charge of taking care of culture closely monitor anonymous posts from social networks, so they joined the chorus of defenders of sacred values in whose name writers should be persecuted. What they would have done to Vladimir Nabokov if he was still alive, because of the essays in which he harshly criticized Dostoyevsky, I can't even begin to imagine. It's his luck that he died in time…

The executive coordinator of the Citizens' Initiative "21.maj" Ljubomir Filipović wrote in several Twitter posts that Minister Vlaović had lost her credibility and that "a joint attack on Andrej Nikolaidis is being conducted by bots of UREE and Evropa Sad, close media and "non-governmental organizations".

Filipović recently filed a report with the Police Directorate due to a threat sent to him, Nikolaidis and human rights activist Aleksandar Saša Zeković on Twitter. He called on the authorities to investigate the posts of the Twitter account user Žil Vern @komita_morakovo, who in his post dated 07/07/2022 stated "Andrej Nikolaidis, Alex Zeković, Ljubo Filipović and characters like them are ripe for killing".

At the time, the police announced that they were acting on the report, but whether and what exactly they did is not known at the moment.