Serbian defence minister sacked over lewd comment to journalist

Serbian defence minister sacked over lewd comment to journalist
By Ivana Jovanovic in Belgrade December 7, 2015

Serbia’s prime minister Aleksandar Vucic sacked defence minister Bratislav Gasic on December 7 after Gasic told a female broadcaster that he liked “[female] journalists who kneel ... easily".

Gasic, the vice president of Vucic’s Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), is a personal friend of the prime minister’s in addition to being one of his closest political associates. He is in charge of developing the defence sector, which is expected to double its exports this year, as well as representing Serbia in discussions on cooperation with Nato.

With his swift move to dismiss Gasic, Vucic stressed he would ensure that Serbia is a “modern, decent country”, as Belgrade aims for EU membership. Serbia is due to open EU accession negotiations on December 14.

Gasic made the comment during a visit to the Petoletka factory in western Serbia on the afternoon of December 6. Several journalists waiting for a statement from the minister, including B92 correspondent Zlatija Labovic, crouched to keep out of the way of cameras.

When Gasic arrived, he asked whether his ministry's spokesman "kept them outdoors the whole time", then added to Labovic, using the feminine noun for "journalist" in Serbian, "I like these journalists who kneel this easily," B92 reported.

Gasic is known for his informal style of communication with journalists, but his latest gaffe caused an online media storm. The video from the Petoletka factory has gone viral, and ordinary citizens, journalists and opposition leaders jumped in to condemn him. The commissioner for information of public importance and personal data protection, Rodoljub Sabic,

The following day, he announced Gasic’s dismissal, saying that "an apology is not enough”, B92 reported.

“It was a bad message to all women, and when I took office as the prime minister, I said Serbia will be a modern, decent country. A country where women are not insulted, where there is no machismo and sexist insults,” Vucic said.

The prime minister added that the statement Gasic made on Sunday was the only reason for his sacking, but that it was "a big deal".

"Bata [Bratislav] Gasic is a friend of mine, in the end, a man who takes care of my life. He did his job better than I did when I served as defense minister, and ten times better than those who today criticize him. I spoke with him a number of times. We could have played the game of him resigning, but we will not. I think Bata will understand this," Vucic said.

Vucic added that he did not know who would become Serbia's new defense minister.

Gasic was previously been under pressure to resign after a military helicopter crashed in heavy fog in March, killing seven people including a five day old baby.

According to Serbia's Prosecution Office, the crew of the helicopter, which was taking the baby to hospital after a road was blocked by a landslide, was primarily responsible for the crash. However, Gasic was also seen as bearing some of the responsibility after he approved the helicopter’s journey without following strict military procedure.

The defence industry is one of the main drivers of the Serbian economy, exporting to around 65 countries worldwide. On November 24, Gasic announced plans to invest €103mn in the modernisation and technical development of defence factories.

He said at the time that the value of Serbia’s defence industry exports had jumped from $80mn in 2011 to $750mn in 2015, and that he expected the industry to be among the largest in Europe by 2020.