The continuation of religious discrimination in Vojvodina as an indicator of the weakness of the minority rights protection system and partocratic usurpation of authority

Religious discrimination of the so-called non-traditional or non-privileged churches, takes on a systemic character in Vojvodina. In the last year’s report on the status of religious freedom in the world, the State Department paid special attention to the discriminatory practices of the Government of Vojvodina which financed only the privileged religious communities from the budget.

There is a clear connection between religious discrimination in Serbia, the systemic weaknesses of the applied model of exercising national minority rights, and the partocracy that usurped the Republic of Serbia from its citizens and handed the immediate exercise of authority to the leadership of the political parties.

The Provincial Secretariat for Culture and Public Information announced on 14 July 2011 that the President of the Assembly of AP Vojvodina Šandor Egereši stressed “the importance of the spiritual power and influence of historic churches in a peaceful and harmonious coexistence in a multiethnic and multi-confessional community such as Vojvodina.” Egereši has also stressed the importance of an ongoing dialogue between the churches and state authorities and within the traditional churches. The President of the Assembly of AP Vojvodina has also expressed his satisfaction with cooperation with the Serbian Orthodox Church in the process of “historical reconciliation of the Serbian and Hungarian people in this region.”>>>

Regarding refusal of the Higher Public Prosecutor’s office in Zrenjanin to acceptthe report on the assault made to the house of the coordinator for Roma issues

The Center for Development of Civil Society (CDCS) informs the public that on April 6th the Higher Public Prosecutor Deputy in Zrenjanin, Ms Dušanka Đorđević, refused to prosecute charges against unknown assailants filed in compliance with the articles 223 and 224 of the Law on Criminal Procedure and the article 317 of the Penal Code by Dobrila Nikolić, coordinator for Roma issues of the city of Zrenjanin. The words “Death to Gypsies politicians” were written on 14 March 2011 on the house where Dobrila Nikolić lives with her children. The Higher Public Prosecutor Deputy did everything she could to dissuade the victim from exercising her legal rights instead of acting by the law regarding criminal offence charges which should be prosecuted ex officio.

The action of the Higher Public Prosecutor Deputy in Zrenjanin came after a series of anti-Roma incidents in Kikinda, Požarevac, Banatsko Karađorđevo, Čačak and Požega. The reaction of the the Higher Public Prosecutor Deputy in Zrenjanin, Ms Dušanka Đorđević, happened only a day after the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality, Ms Nevena Petrušić, said that racism in Serbia had not been stamped out yet. Dobrila Nikolić’ charges were refused to be prosecuted only two days after the President of the Republic Boris Tadić had said that security of the Roma, especially the Roma children, should be improved to avoid incidents.>>>

The Seminar What’s the problem with Serbia?

28.02.2011Considering the fact that one of the main problems of Serbia in the process of the EU integrations is unproportionally great influence of political parties (or better, the executive power which they identify themselves with) in comparison to the legislative and judicial power, the CDCS is implementing the project entitled Political parties and the engaged public – encouraging civil engagement in party leadership control supported by the Visegrad Fund in the period from 2010 to 2012. Within the said project the seminar entitled What’s the problem with Serbia? was organized from 20-23 February 2011 in Palić.

25 representatives of civil society organizations and professional associations from all over Serbia participated in the seminar: Civic Initiatives, Independent Journalists’ Association of Vojvodina , Fund for the Development of the Non-profit Sector, Doctors Against Corruption, Judges’ Association of Serbia, Queeria, Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, Institute for the Culture of Vojvodina Ruthenians, Cultural Centre of Zrenjanin, FATA, Forum 18, Center for Advancement of Communication, Association of Consumers of Serbia – Consumer Movement Bor…>>>

Religious discrimination in Vojvodina continues

The Provincial Secretariat for Regulations, Administration and National Communities has again invited only the so-called traditional churches and religious communities to apply for grants allocated to churches and religious communities.

Such behavior of the Provincial Secretariat for Regulations, Administration and National Communities regarding financing of churches and religious communities is yet another case of religious discrimination, direct discredit of recommendations of the Provincial Ombudsman, violation of provisions from articles 11, 21 and 44 of the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia, provisions of paragraphs 2 and 3 of the Law on Churches and Religious Communities and provisions of articles 4, 5, 6 and 8 of the Law on the Prohibition of Discrimination.

All religious communities, except the 9 “traditional“ ones have again been classified in second-class communities.

Complaint against this decision is not possible to file: “Applicants shall be notified in writing about the results of their applications and the Provincial Secretariat for Regulations, Administration and National Communities has no obligation to explain its decisions. No legal remedy is possible to use against these discrete decisions of the Provincial Secretariat for Regulations, Administration and National Communities”>>>

Regarding the latest incident in connection with the position of the Romanian Orthodox Church

The Center for Development of Civil Society (CDCS) draws with utmost concern the attention of the public to the continuous, tacit, but efficient censorship of information about Romanians/Vlahs in East Serbia not being able to exercise their rights. It is an open question which burdens the relations between Belgrade and Bucharest more than any other political or economic issue.

Considering the repeated incidents, it is highly necessary to inform the public of Serbia about them and let it take an attitude in a democratic way towards relations between these two friendly countries. This could help the authorities transparently advance their bilateral cooperation with Romania and improve the position of Romanian/Vlah national minority living south of the Danube in Serbia.

As for the latest incident, apart from Večernje novosti, it has been difficult to find a single news that the leaders of Romanians/Vlahs from East Serbia requested an intervention from the Romanian Senate because of the recent decision reached by the construction inspection office in which demolition of Romanian Orthodox Church steeple in the village of Šipikovo (municipality of Zaječar) was ordered.>>>

Engaged Public in Serbia as a Corrective of Partocracy study supported by the Visegrad fund

Introduction to the problem:1

The main structural problem of Serbia in the process of the EU integrations is existence of unbalanced big influence of political parties (i.e. executive power) in comparison with judicial power.

In its 2008 report on Serbia’s progress the European Commission underlines the question of political party control over the mandates of Members of Parliament (MPs) and the role of the Assembly of Serbia in reelection of judges as the biggest problems in meeting the political conditions for admission to the EU. The practice of law-making by urgent procedure without prior organized public consultations was also one of the concerns (SEC (2008) 2698 final, 5.11.2008).

Similar to the European Commission, in its 17-18 March 2007 opinion given on the Constitution of Serbia, the Venetian Commission found that „there is a risk of excessive influence of political parties because the mandate of deputies depends on the will and caprice of the political parties. The influence of the parliament on judiciary is remarkably exceeding“. The Venetian Commission also believes that the manner of election of MPs from the party lists is not in line with European standards, that „it seems that its intent is to tie the deputy to the party position on all matters at all times. This is a serious violation of the freedom of a deputy to express his/her view on the merits of a proposal or action. It concentrates excessive power in the hands of the party leaderships. This is all the more worrying due to the excessive role of the National Assembly in judicial appointments in general and in particular in the reappointment process for all judges foreseen in the Constitutional Law on the Implementation of the Constitution. It reinforces the risk of a judicial system within which all positions are divided among political parties.>>>

Round table: Engaged public in Serbia as a corrective of partocracy

26.10.2010The round table – expert discussion on the topic of Engaged public in Serbia as a corrective of partocracy was held on 26 October 2010 in Belgrade Media Center within a wider action of the CDCS Political Parties and the Engaged Public in Serbia: Encouraging Civil Engagement in Control of Party Leaderships supported by Visegrad Fund. The participants in the work of the round table were: Judita Popović, vice-president of the Assembly of the Republic of Serbia, Duško Radaković, Ministry of State Administration and Local Self-government, Miljenko Dereta, Civil Initiatives, Marko Karadžić, Human Rights Expert, Pavel Domonji, Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, dr Saša Gajin, Center for the Advancement of Legal Studies, dr Vladimir Vuletić, Faculty of Philosophy, Miroslav Keveždi, Institution for the Culture of Vojvodina Ruthenians, Nadia Ćuk, Council of Europe, Maja Mićić, OSCE, dr Vladimir Ilić, CDCS.

In the hours long discussion the participants discussed some of numerous questions among which are: How the civil society organizations, engaged individuals, independent media, professional associations respond to challenges of partocracy ruling on every level of authority? How often do the civil society activists examine important personal, institutional and legislative solutions imposed by party leaderships as unquestionable? How often and in what way the engaged (or exhausted by usurpation of authority) public opens some new questions crucial for European future of Serbia? Which topics of overall importance were not broached and why they remain hushed up? Will there be a reform of administration, how is the judicial reform going on? Will there be alterations to the Constitution, election law, is there a general consensus on the most important topics in Serbia, how do the international organizations get involved in the processes of parliamentary strengthening, division of power, strengthening of the rule of law, good administration, civil engagement.>>>

Protection of the Pride Parade participants as a civil and state interest (with an on-going study supported by the Visegrad fund)

Writing about the Pride Parade on the website of „New Serbian Political Thought“, Mr. Slobodan Antonić used his right to comment the officials’ statements about the latest wave of violence provoked by extreme-right groups.1

Antonić criticizes the state secretary Homen for using an indecent expression „horrible“, he disapproves of Mr. Tomo Zorić’s (spokesman of the prosecutor’s office) announcement that the prosecution is going to ask for maximum punishments prescribed by the law and mentions that „in the past few days we have been reminded by the Constitutional Court that they have charges demanding that ’militant’ supporters groups and ’clero-fascist’ NGOs be banned“.

Antonić also warns that the present authorities have overtaken the media, that they have cleared out all institutions from power and every national characteristic (from the National Library to the Assembly) and that they have revised the last signs of national foreign affaires.

The Pride Parade is seen by Slobodan Antonić as something which terrifies “the Serbian society” (he does not mention two and a half million of citizens of Serbia who are not Serbs, so it is not clear what he thinks about their attitude towards the Parade) and that “only somebody who does not think well to this people (meaning Brussels and Washington) can systematically impose them such a thing”.

Antonić draws two conclusions:

The first is that “until Tadić’s capitulation before Mrs. Ashton, these authorities believed that they ruled the country. This capitulation, however, made Serbia a vassal territory.” His other conclusion is that Tadić and his company have become violators who rule the country contrary to people’s will.”

In the EU’s insisting on solution of the question of LGB population Antonić sees insisting on Serbia’s “symbolic submission” and “after an easy habituation to ripping off of Kosovo, Serbia must do the most appalling thing. And it is not important at all whether this dismay is rational or not. The important thing is that “dominator” demands full obedience, submission from “the slave”. The slave must do for his dominator the most disgusting thing as a sign of absolute obedience.”

In this context Antonić warns that Homen’s clumsy sentence about horrible reaction “has the other side too, the one in which one day Serbia becomes a state again and its authorities regain the role of an advocate of democracy and national interests.”

This text is worth a few comments.

Firstly, it is true that some parties at power wrested the state from its citizens. The report on Serbia’s advancement made by the EU agrees with Antonić in this regard. It is the phenomenon of medium durance. Parties (one or more of them) have more or less autocratically ruled this country every time it was not ruled by army officers (like in 1903-1914 or1929-1931)

Secondly, Serbia is a satellite and considering its resources it cannot be otherwise. The question is whether it pays more or better, whether it is less harmful, to be in such a relation with the East or the West. Satellite relation with the Eastern powers brought bombing (because the then politically illiterate diplomacy of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia interpreted Russian signals as guarantees); bombing deprived Serbia of the rest of the power in Kosovo (the most of it was lost as early as in autumn 1988 when the state power was lost over the biggest part of our population in Kosovo and Metohija). Bombing heavily damaged otherwise scarce resources of Serbia and Russia benefited from its signals in unjustifiably “second” intervention in Chechnya in December 1999; China was also accepted into the World Trade Organization soon after its embassy had been bombed in Belgrade.

Thirdly, the West bombed Serbia; four years before bombing it had saved Banja Luka for Serbs. Russians never saved anything for anybody in the Balkans during those years except the Pristina airport for a few days in 1999.>>>

Regarding further discrimination in autonomous province of Vojvodina

The government of Vojvodina continues with religious discrimination regardless of the intervention of the Provincial Ombudsman.

Having in mind the current discussion before the Constitutional Court about constitutionality of the Law on Churches and Religious Communities, the Center for Development of Civil Society (CDCS) draws the attention of the public to the prolonged religious discrimination carried out by the administration authorities of the AP of Vojvodina. They continue to disregard the Constitution and international standards, ignore the recommendations of the Ombudsman of AP of Vojvodina and demonstrate neglect of religious equality, church-state separation and control of administration authorities by independent state bodies (ombudsman).

When in July 2009 the Provincial Secretariat for Regulations, Administration and National Communities announced call for competition for allocation of the state budget funds to churches and religious communities, the CDCS filed a motion with the Ombudsman of the AP of Vojvodina, pointing out that the Provincial Secretariat carried out religious discrimination by limiting the right to compete for allocation of the state budget funds only to the so called traditional churches and religious communities.

According to the opinion of the Provincial Ombudsman given in the Report of the work of the Provincial Ombudsman in 2009, the Provincial Ombudsman “believes that by categorization of different religious communities made by separation of traditional churches and religious communities and their naming in the Law on Churches and Religious Communities, a formally legal ground was set to establish unequal position in the society of churches as well as their believers. Considering the principles of equality of religious communities, the Provincial Ombudsman recommended alteration of the provisions of the article 2 and 3 of the Decision on distribution of state budget funds by the Provincial Secretariat for Regulations, Administration and National Communities between the churches and religious communities acting in the territory of the AP of Vojvodina (“Official Gazette of APV” 21/2007, 4/2008). These provisions define the number of authorized subjects and the manner of distribution of the funds so that all registered churches and religious communities undergo the same procedure for allocation of the state budget funds for subsidy for churches and religious communities and their organizations.

The Provincial Secretariat for Regulations, Administration and National Communities published the Decision on distribution of state budget funds between the churches and religious communities acting in the territory of the AP of Vojvodina on 26 July 2010.

According to article 2 of this Decision “The right to allocation of funds according to a regular competition have: “1. Traditional churches and religious communities acting in the territory of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina – Serbian Orthodox Church, Islamic community, Catholic Church, Slovak Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession, Jewish community, Reformed Christian Church, Romanian Orthodox Church and Evangelic Church of the Augsburg Confession; 2. Organizations and institutions whose founders are traditional churches and religious communities acting in the territory of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina. >>>

Regarding the government of Serbia’s pressure put on Bosniak national council (with an on-going study Engaged public in Serbia as a corrective of partocracy – second part of the analysis, project supported by the Visegrad fund)

With extreme concern the Center for Development of Civil Society (CDCS) warns the public about the Government of Serbia’s synchronized actions to raise inter-ethnic and inter-religious tensions in Sandžak.

In July 2010 the Government of Serbia annulled the elections organized for the Bosniak National Council by changing the Rules of Procedure of the constitutive session of the National Council of the Bosniaks after the elections had been held and the results obtained.

Today the Ministry for Human and Minority Rights published the decision on change of the Rules of Procedure of the constitution of Bosniak national minority.

Earlier today it has been said that by its decision reached on 29 July the Government of Serbia dismissed the Commission for religious education in state schools. Among others, the members of the Commission were representatives of both Islamic religious communities in conflict – Islamic Community of Serbia (ICS, headed by ef. Zilkić) and Islamic Community in Serbia (ICiS, headed by ef. Zukorlić). After the dismissing of the members of the Commission, a representative of the Islamic community led by Zukorlić was expelled from it and replaced by another representative of Islamic Community of Serbia.

The Minister for Human and Minority Rights Svetozar Čiplić toady accused mufti Muamer Zukorlić of the Islamic Community in Serbia and said that he violated the Constitution with his activities and harsh rhetoric.>>>