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Canneseries Entry ‘Operation Sabre’ Shows Serbia’s ‘Last Moment of Hope’ Before the Killing of PM Zoran Đinđić: ‘It Didn’t Just Change Our Politics. It Changed Our Lives’

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Canneseries entry “Operation Sabre” goes back in time to Serbia’s very own Kennedy moment: the day when its first democratically elected PM, Zoran Đinđić, was murdered. 

“Everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing when they heard about the assassination. This moment didn’t just change our politics. It changed our lives,” says producer Snezana van Houwelingen.

“He was in power for more than two years and during that time, many people actually moved back from abroad. It was our last moment of hope. Now, we are just going in circles and there is no progress. We have to do something for the next generation, the one that doesn’t even remember him anymore.” 

Đinđić, who served as PM from 2001, was killed in 2003 – one year after the beginning of the trial against former president Slobodan Milošević. 

“He played such an important role in this country’s crucial moments. His assassination changed its course – you could feel its repercussions throughout the entire region,” adds Goran Stanković, who co-created the show with Vladimir Tagić. Beta Film handles distribution. 

Despite its period setting, what they are exploring in the show is very contemporary, they state. And controversial. 

“There are so many conspiracy theories surrounding this killing. A friend said: ‘How are you going to make this show?! You can’t find two people in Serbia who agree on what happened’,” notes Tagić. 

“We needed to establish a responsible relationship with the truth, but also take our distance and say: ‘This is what we think.’ And we don’t know everything – neither did the court.” 

“Also, we didn’t want to talk about some ‘savior’. One part of Serbia idealizes him, another considers him a traitor. We didn’t want to turn him into Jesus Christ: we wanted to show a guy who is complex, human and flawed. He made some radical decisions, but he took responsibility for them too. Of course, you will always hear voices claiming that if he hadn’t been killed, we would have been another Denmark by now. I don’t think so.” 

Snezana van Houwelingen agrees: this is still a “very sensitive” topic. 

“Politicians who are in power now were also in power back then. People who killed him, so many of them are out of jail. They are alive and we call them by their names, so we had to be careful and protect ourselves legally.” 

Operation Sabre
© This and That productions

“Đinđić was the one who sent Milošević to the Hague. It became obvious he wanted to change things and many people didn’t like that at all. What our show is saying is that today, our country is run by the exact same structures.” 

Despite creating a show that’s grounded in local detail, foreign viewers should understand the stakes easily, claim the creators.

“Listen – I saw ‘JFK’ 15 times and I still don’t know what happened. I don’t understand all the facts, but I understand the essence of it,” says Tagić. 

“You can follow the story if you don’t know anything about Đinđić, the same way I can follow and enjoy ‘JFK.’ It’s crucial, because you always have to think about the person who doesn’t know anything and the person who knows everything. You can’t make things too simple.”

As the intrigue thickens, multiple fictional characters try to find answers or simply survive: cops, journalists – “the emale journalist was always supposed to lead us through that story, because back then, they were the ones risking the most,” notes Stanković – or even the bad guys. 

“We knew, from the very beginning, that we needed that side of the story. But how do we portray this criminal clan without excusing them? We decided that a young man, unable to get out of this world, will be our eyes and ears. At first, things seem clear: We know who is behind the assassination, we know who shot him. Done deal. But then you discover another layer. There is a military unit that’s also involved and it’s connected to the Secret Service,” he adds. 

In “Operation Sabre,” it’s not just about who fired the gun. 

“There were many people who wanted Đinđić gone, but it’s also about how a criminal clan can even orchestrate something like that. How can some drug-peddlers have the courage to murder the PM? And no one stops them?! Throughout the show, we go deeper and deeper into the corrupt system,” observes Tagić. 

“It’s about collective responsibility. Everyone is responsible, in one way or another. These people were a part of our society too, so how do you get to that point? We want to understand them, because then maybe you can make sure it won’t happen again.” 

The duo, previously behind “Morning Changes Everything,” believes the show is “important for the time and the place we are in right now,” says Stanković. 

“Once you dig into it, it’s discouraging. Realizing to which extent the society was corrupted and how things were handled. But we still want to provide some hope, rather than be pessimistic about where the world is going.” 

Tagić adds: “I have a feeling that we live in a society that hasn’t really changed. These people call themselves something else, but make no mistake – they are still here.”

Operation Sabre
© This and That productions