Dinko Gruhonjić & William Nygaard by Lucy Popescu

Lucy Popescu

Dinko Gruhonjić & William Nygaard

 

There has been a worrying escalation of intimidation of and death threats against writers, journalists and academics in the western Balkans in the last few years. In these pages, I’ve recently written about the Montenegrin writer and academic Boban Batrićević (LR, December/January 2023/24) and the Montenegrin-Bosnian writer Andrej Nikolaidis (LR, May 2024). 

This month it is the turn of Dinko Gruhonjić, a 53-year-old Serbian writer and academic, who has become the subject of a dangerous smear campaign and received several death threats. Gruhonjić is a journalist, writer and lecturer in the faculty of philosophy at the University of Novi Sad in Vojvodina, northern Serbia. He is the author of three books – two on journalism and a collection of columns. He also works as programme director at the Vojvodina Association of Independent Journalists. He has been targeted by pro-government tabloids for years on account of his staunch criticism of Serbian nationalism and the glorification of war criminals.

The recent harassment of Gruhonjić began following the publication of an edited video in which it was falsely made to appear as though he welcomed sharing a first name with Dinko Sakić, commander of the Jasenovac concentration camp during the Second World War. More than two thousand Serbs, Jews and Gypsies were killed under Sakić’s regime and he was later found guilty of crimes against humanity. 

On 21 March, unknown individuals painted threatening graffiti on the entrance to Gruhonjić’s residence, stating, ‘Dinko – Sakić for the eternal home you are ready’. The same day, his personal phone number was disclosed and he has since received several death threats. National and international lobby groups have urged the Serbian authorities to hold those responsible to account. However, at the time of writing, the police are yet to launch a thorough investigation. Students who have publicly supported Gruhonjić have also reported receiving death threats. 

Gruhonjić is one of several writers and journalists at risk in Serbia on account of their independent reporting. Among them are Marko Vidojković, known for his vocal criticism of the Serbian authorities, and academic Jovo Bakić, who has repeatedly been the target of pro-government trolls. Bakić was smeared in pro-government media following the publication on 12 March of another edited video. Ana Brnabić, a former Serbian prime minister and currently president of the National Assembly of Serbia, is among those to have launched verbal attacks on Bakić.

Readers might like to send appeals expressing concern for the safety of writer and academic Dinko Gruhonjić; calling on the Serbian authorities to abide by their national and international obligations to uphold the right to freedom of expression; seeking assurances that they will ensure the protection of Gruhonjić and other journalists targeted for their views; and urging the government to hold to account all those found responsible for crimes against writers. Appeals to be addressed to:

Miloš Vučević

Prime Minister of the Republic of Serbia

Nemanjina 11, Belgrade, Serbia

Email: predsednikvlade@gov.rs

Olivera Marinković,

Chargé d’affaires

Embassy of Serbia

28 Belgrave Square, London, SW1X 8QB

Email: srb.emb.uk@mfa.rs

As Salman Rushdie’s Knife, the extraordinary book about the attack that almost killed him, continues to garner attention and readers, it is worth remembering the attempted assassination of the Norwegian publisher William Nygaard following the publication of The Satanic Verses, and the failure over the last three decades of the Oslo police to bring those believed responsible to justice. On 9 April 2024, the Oslo District Attorney’s Office dismissed the case against two individuals charged with Nygaard’s attempted murder.

On 11 October 1993, Nygaard, then publishing director at Aschehoug, one of Norway’s largest publishing houses, was shot three times and seriously injured outside his house in Oslo. He spent months in hospital. Nygaard linked the shooting with his support for Rushdie and Aschehoug’s publication in Norwegian of The Satanic Verses. It took five years for the Norwegian police to acknowledge a connection between the attack on Nygaard and the 1989 fatwa issued by Iran’s late leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini against Rushdie, the book and its publishers. The investigation was closed in 2007 before a suspect had been identified. 

Norway’s special investigation unit, Kripos, reopened the case in 2009 following the publication of Who Shot William Nygaard? by the author and journalist Odd Isungset. In October 2018, two days before the expiration of the period prescribed by the statute of limitation, Kripos charged two individuals with Nygaard’s attempted murder. The investigation continued until September 2023, when Kripos submitted the case to the Oslo District Attorney’s Office, suggesting that it be dismissed due to insufficient evidence. It was duly dropped seven months later. Nygaard’s legal team said it would launch an appeal against the decision. PEN Norway has called for an independent public inquiry into the police’s handling of the case.

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