Serbian Professor Faces Nationalist Backlash Over Misinterpreted Remarks

Photo: Medija centar Beograd, WikiMedia Commons

Original article (in Serbian) was published on 20/3/2024; Author: Stefan Kosanović

Dinko Gruhonjić, a professor at the Faculty of Philosophy in Novi Sad, finds himself targeted once again by insults and threats. This backlash is a response to his outspoken and critical stance on nationalism in Serbia. A criminal complaint accusing him of hate speech has been lodged, drawing condemnation from a wide spectrum of sources, including tabloids, far-right groups, a former director of the BIA, and even the Student Parliament at his own faculty. The controversy centers on a deceptively edited video from a past interview where Gruhonjić mentioned Dinko Šakić, the commander of the Jasenovac concentration camp, noting the coincidence of their shared first name. The manipulated video misrepresents Gruhonjić’s intent; he was, in fact, expressing perplexity over the pseudonyms assigned to him by adversaries, pointing out the irony that his actual name could be spitefully associated with the notorious Šakić.

A manipulative video collage featuring journalist Dinko Gruhonjić’s participation at last year’s Rebedu Festival in Dubrovnik, Croatia, has been trending on social media for several days.

In his talk, addressing those looking into his ancestry, he ironically mentioned, “They even concocted the name Sabahudin for me, despite me having a fine name, Dinko, like Dinko Šakić.” This is followed by a video cut and a photo presentation of who Šakić was.

Certain online news outlets have exploited this segment to allege that Gruhonjić “proclaimed his pride in sharing a name with Dinko Šakić, an Ustaša war criminal and commander of the Jasenovac camp.”

However, viewing the complete video of the panel reveals that the truth is different.

Gruhonjić never states he is “proud” to share a name with Šakić. Instead, he talks about the name maliciously given to him by his critics – Sabahudin, which hints at his possible Muslim heritage – although, in his words, they could have just stuck with his real name, Dinko, since it could maliciously be linked with the infamous Croatian commander.

Gruhonjić told Raskrikavanje that this isn’t the first instance of nationalists “pulling him out of a hat” and twisting his words. He noted that for decades, he has faced pressure and attacks on his work. “The reason they did it now is a question for them. It seems to me that they target the few who dare to speak out against militant nationalism in Serbia,” Gruhonjić stated to Raskrikavanje.

Numerous online portals, including RepublikaSrbija danasNSuživoGradske info, and 025., failed to notice that the statement was old. They erroneously reported that Gruhonjić participated in this year’s panel at the Croatian festival Rebedu titled “Buy me, mom, a little war.” However, the journalist from Novi Sad did not speak at this year’s edition of the Dubrovnik Rebedu, as can be seen in the festival program and on live broadcasts on Facebook.

A few tabloids also carried reports that criminal complaints had been filed against Gruhonjić and journalist Ana Lalić Hegadiš, who was a guest at this year’s Rebedu festival, by “a citizen of Novi Sad” named Luka Milanović. Milanović alleges that the speeches by these two journalists from Vojvodina at the Croatian festival contained elements that could constitute the crime of inciting racial, religious, and national hatred.

Reactions continue to unfold regarding the manipulatively presented statement by Gruhonjić.

The conservative and controversial group Naši is demanding his removal from the position of professor at the Faculty of Philosophy in Novi Sad.

Aleksandar Vulin, the former director of the BIA (Serbian Security Intelligence Agency), stated that if he were still in charge, Gruhonjić “would have to spend significant time with the relevant authorities, explaining his intentions behind referring to Serbs as criminals.”

The Student Parliament of the Faculty of Philosophy in Novi Sad, along with the student vice-dean of the faculty where Gruhonjić is employed, have also issued responses.

As announced, the Student Parliament will seek a response from the Faculty of Philosophy and condemn the hate speech “featured in the controversial video that was posted on social media a few days ago.”

Nemanja Vujić, the student vice-dean of the Faculty of Philosophy in Novi Sad, told Raskrikavanje that he hasn’t listened to Gruhonjić’s entire speech, having seen only its fragments available on the internet.

Vujić also mentioned that he is aware the recording might have been manipulated, but after watching it, he searched the internet and confirmed some of Gruhonjić’s controversial statements. He believes students will speak out if they realize they have been misled.

On the other hand, more than 80 students have signed a letter of support for the professor from Novi Sad, stating their disagreement with the position of the Student Parliament. They have requested that the names of the students calling for Gruhonjić’s sanction be made public.

Support for Gruhonjić also comes from his fellow professors and assistants at the Faculty of Philosophy in Novi Sad, who have condemned what they describe as a dirty campaign against Gruhonjić, endangering his safety.

Gruhonjić mentioned to Raskrikavanje that members of the Independent Journalists’ Association of Vojvodina (NDNV) do not feel at ease, as there has been no state reaction to the insults and threats against journalists. For this reason, he notes, his association strives to timely alert at least the international community.