When Sead Sadikovic heard that fellow investigative journalist Olivera Lakic had been shot in an attack outside her apartment in Podgorica this week, he wasn’t surprised. In Montenegro these days, almost no one is.
Sadikovic, known for a hard-hitting weekly show on TV Vijesti and his reporting on corruption and organized crime, survived a car bomb that exploded in front of his house just a month earlier.
Vijesti has seen 25 attacks on its employees or the station’s offices in the past decade or so.
While the daily is known for its independent journalism, Sadikovic says its reporters are also becoming known as targets.
“I hoped it wasn’t the case, but I feared the bomb was aimed at me. And then, as it turned out, I was, indeed, the target,” Sadikovic told RFE/RL as he recounted the attack on him on April 1.
President Milo Djukanovic and his long-ruling Democratic Party of Socialists have faced repeated accusations of corruption and crime links, especially from journalists like Sadikovic and Lakic.
The 56-year-old politician came under investigation and was indicted by prosecutors in the Italian city of Bari in 2008 for alleged tobacco smuggling. The probe was later dropped given Djukanovic's diplomatic immunity.
Sadikovic has said he believes the ruling party was behind the car bombing, and several threats that preceded it, because of his investigations into corruption and crime. But he has provided no evidence for the accusation.
His experience came rushing back after the attack on Lakic, who escaped with her life but remains hospitalized from a gunshot to the leg. Lakic has also written about alleged murky businesses involving top state officials and their families.
Sadikovic said Lakic’s shooting also triggered the feeling that, while he escaped death once, he’s not out of harm’s way.
“These days, all journalists in Montenegro are targets. And the story with Olivera is the story that all journalists are the targets, and that they wanted to kill her,” he said.
“Olivera is an extraordinarily brave woman. An extraordinary journalist. She is a great investigator and, so, simply, it is hard for me to say that I am surprised by the attack,” he added.
The May 8 shooting was not the first time Lakic has been physically attacked. Six years ago, in 2012, Lakic was brutally beaten, at the same spot, in front of her apartment. She was able to identify the attacker, who was later arrested by police.
Vuk Maras, executive director of the Media Association of South East Europe (MASEE), says the current climate for journalists in the Adriatic country can be directly traced to Djukanovic.
He noted that the shooting of Lakic came just days after Djukanovic “targeted” journalists of Vijesti and had addressed them as "fascists and racketeers."
“We told him that if any attack happened, he would be personally responsible and that he has to be aware of the consequences of his words," Maras said. “In conditions like these, journalism in Montenegro cannot function. It’s as simple as that."
Council of Europe Secretary-General Thorbjorn Jagland said on May 9 that he was "shocked and saddened" by the shooting, which he called an “attack on democracy.”
But Sadikovic warned that the motives behind the attacks run deep.
Last month, Djukanovic was elected president, extending his almost three-decade-long dominance over Montenegro's politics.
The victory ended his two-year absence from office, a rare gap in almost three decades of involvement in high politics in the tiny country of only about 640,000 people.
“Why the atmosphere is so toxic? Because journalists tried to rise up and became the bright spot of Montenegrin society. The interests and vanity of the [ruling] political party have become much more important than societal interests. And the journalists bother them,” Sadikovic said.
“How can an ordinary citizen feel free in this society, and how can they be free to state their voice, their word, to be free to do their job? In this environment -- and my example points toward this -- the ones who are inspiring the attacks, the ones who are pushing them, the ones who are ordering bombs against me remain in power.”