Prison dossier Lazar Stojanović
From the record it is visible that Stojanović was on trial twice – first at the end of 1972, during his compulsory military service when he was brought before the military court. Stojanović served as a conscript amidst political infighting between the highest Party leadership and President Tito on the one side, and Croatian communist leadership (1971) as well as Serbian communist leadership (1972) on the other. The clashing between the central and national leaderships led to a complete purging of both national leaderships in the wake of which, the legitimacy of the Yugoslav Communist Party was seriously threatened. In the first six months of 1972, about 3,500 individuals were imprisoned as 'political criminals', 60% of which were from Croatia (Marković 2011, 119). Tito’s Letter from October 1972, in which he called for a “more assertive Party” was the trigger for a more direct confrontation with what had until then been accepted liberties, particularly in the arts. Exactly at the end of October 1972, during Stojanović’s final month of military service, a captain denounced him to the military authorities for his lambasting of the Yugoslav People’s Army and Tito’s Letter. While awaiting trial, he was threatened and the police searched his house and found “anarchistic” materials which were confiscated (Solomun 2012, 15). Apart from his films, all student papers, samizdat issues, émigré press and the majority of the publications distributed among politically active youth were confiscated. At first, Stojanović was accused of espionage, however, in the end, he was charged only with “hostile propaganda.” His film “Plastic Jesus” was used as evidence against him during the trial but he was not judged for the movie during this first proceeding. The military court sentenced him to one year of prison.
In the meantime a civil trial commenced for “Plastic Jesus”. The majority of Stojanović’s file concerns the verdict from June 1973 in which “Plastic Jesus” and its “hostile” agency were analyzed in detail. The verdict states that in the work, the author “represented the socio-political situation in the country maliciously and falsely”, that he depreciated the socialist revolution, its fighters, and self-governing socialist system, and that he had insulted the figure of the President, Tito, “the most distinguished representative of the Revolution and of the construction of the socialist social relations.” The civil court sentenced Stojanović to one and a half years of prison. This sentence, combined with the previous sentence of the military court equated to two years in prison. As the verdict was issued, all copies of the film were confiscated due to their ‘criminal offense’ and the movie was barred from screening until December 1990.
The record also contains the verdict of the Supreme Court in Serbia from November 1973 which stated that owing to the severity of the act, the sentence would be increased to three years of prison. The verdict stated that the lower court did not evaluate the level of criminal irresponsibility of the accused and that the sentence of (only) two years would not achieve the purpose of providing adequate punishment. The reasoning behind this act was to ensure that others would refrain from engaging in similar criminal offences.
Article 118 of the Criminal law of Yugoslavia, which judicated against “hostile propaganda” was used as the basis for trial in both cases against Stojanović. Article 118 stated: “Whoever uses propaganda, with the intention to pull down the authority of the working people, the power of the state to defend, or the economic basis of socialist upbuild, or the fraternity and unity of the peoples in the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia with a drawing, inscription, speech at a gathering or any other way uses propaganda against the state or social organization or against political, economic, military or any other important measures of the people’s rule, will be punished with rigorous confinement.”
The trial of Stojanović and the treatment of “Plastic Jesus” were meant to set examples for other artists, ending the so-called “Black Wave” in Yugoslav cinematography.