Andrej Nikolaidis by Lucy Popescu

Lucy Popescu

Andrej Nikolaidis

 

In March, the charges against Montenegrin writer and academic Boban Batrićević (LR, December 2023) were dropped. He faced up to sixty days in prison for publishing an article on the role of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro. Thank you to all readers who sent appeals. Other writers in the region, however, continue to live under threat. 

On 3 March, Serbian nationalists burned an effigy of the prominent Montenegrin-Bosnian writer Andrej Nikolaidis at a carnival at Herceg Novi in southwestern Montenegro amid chants denigrating his mixed ethnicity. According to local media reports, a mock trial was conducted in which a list of accusations and extracts from his works were read out and a verdict was delivered. Afterwards, a giant effigy of the author was set on fire by attendees dressed in white hoods. The action was condemned by the European Movement in Montenegro, the non-governmental organisation 35mm and the Centre for Monitoring and Research. 

Nikolaidis suggested that he was being targeted for his political views and responded to the group with an ‘epistle to fire-raisers’. He wrote: ‘You allowed yourself not to be led by reason, but by hatred, which is a wild flame, but does not warm you. It was not me who burned in that hatred. It was you.’

The incident generated coverage nationwide and in the broader region, with representatives of civil society and academics voicing concern that the action is reminiscent of historical acts of book burning meant to intimidate critical thinkers. Nikolaidis is a member of the Montenegrin PEN Centre and PEN Bosnia and Herzegovina, which also condemned the incident. 

It’s the latest in a series of harassments and smears faced by Nikolaidis, who is a vocal critic of the Montenegrin authorities. Born in Sarajevo in 1974, he was forced to flee the city in 1992, aged eighteen, and is now a citizen of Montenegro, where his father is from. Known for his political activism, anti-nationalism, anti-war stance and support for human rights, Nikolaidis has received many threats over the years, including a death threat during a live radio appearance. In 2004, he was sued for libel after criticising the Serbian nationalist filmmaker Emir Kusturica. In August 2022, the Ministry of Culture and Media of Montenegro announced it would consider stripping Nikolaidis of the title ‘Prominent Cultural Creator of Montenegro’ because of statements he had made about the writers Ivo Andrić and Petar II Petrović Njegoš. Nikolaidis subsequently faced an online backlash. At the time, PEN raised concerns that Nikolaidis was being targeted for his vocal opposition to the Russian Federation’s war against Ukraine, as well as Russian and Serbian attempts to interfere in Montenegro’s internal affairs. 

Last year Nikolaidis wrote: ‘I believe we as journalists, as public intellectuals, as civil society activists, should stick strongly to our beliefs … the whole thing that’s going on right now in Europe, especially in Ukraine, where Russia brutally, barbarically invaded an independent state … means that the so-called ghosts of the past are still active, they’re alive and kicking, and that means … we haven’t done our job, because our job was to defeat that kind of nationalism, that kind of imperial politics, exactly the same politics that Russia and Serbia are applying right now.’

Nikolaidis’s novel Sin won the European Union Prize for Literature in 2011 and Montenegro’s prestigious Thirteenth of July Award in 2020. It was translated into English by Will Firth and published with the title The Son by Istros Books in 2013. His novel Till Kingdom Come, also translated by Firth, was published in the UK in 2015. His darkly comic novel Anomaly, set on the eve of the apocalypse, was published by Peirene Press last month. According to Firth, Nikolaidis’s writing is ‘profoundly critical of post-Yugoslav societies: he delves into their politics, economics, everyday culture and the toxic nationalism that pervades these countries today.’

Nikolaidis is among several Montenegrin writers and journalists to have found themselves targeted by the authorities and pro-government supporters in recent years. On 19 August 2022, Montenegro’s then prime minister Dritan Abazović accused the Montenegrin PEN Centre of spreading ‘extremism and nationalism’ and labelled writer Milorad Popović an agent of nationalist politics who ‘serves the interests of crime’. In October 2023, a joint report by various PEN centres in the region documented the myriad threats and forms of harassment faced by independent writers, journalists and creatives in the western Balkans. The report called on the Montenegrin authorities to condemn all acts of violence and targeted attacks against writers, journalists and activists, and to bring laws and practices pertaining to freedom of expression fully in line with Montenegro’s international commitments.

Readers might like to send appeals calling on the Montenegrin authorities to protect the right of Andrej Nikolaidis to practise his profession without fear of harassment or reprisal, and expressing concern that he is being persecuted in violation of his internationally recognised right to free expression. Appeals to be addressed to:

Milojko Spajić

Prime Minister of Montenegro 

Karađorđeva bb, 81000 Podgorica

Montenegro

Email: kabinet@gov.me

Andrej Milović

Minister of Justice of Montenegro

Vuka Karadžića br 3

81000 Podgorica, Montenegro

Email: andrej.milovic@mpa.gov.me

Nataša Jovović

Chargé d’affaires

Embassy of Montenegro

47 De Vere Gardens, London W8 5AW

Email: natasa.jovovic@mfa.gov.me

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