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.

Civil engagement in Serbia, its ups and downs

There follows a brief review of several dozen of topics in the area of interaction between public administration authorities and civil society which marked the public life in Serbia in the first half of 2010:

Is the Assembly a joint-stock company?

-signing blank resignations by deputies-

It is interesting that this question was brought up not by civil society, but by the opposition parties in the Assembly of Serbia, namely the Serbian Progressive Party.

Something is rotten in the city of Belgrade, plane trees or…

-the most massive action of citizens in Belgrade has failed-

A group of about 800 public figures and numerous organizations and residents of Kralja Aleksandra street stood in defense of 330 huge plane trees against the city government‘s plan to cut them down because they were „rotten“ and the reconstruction of the line of trees. Even a Facebook group Let’s save the Belgrade plane trees was formed, an expert study was published where experts recommended only 48 trees to be cut down due to the illness, but still as many as 300 trees were cut down. The failure of this civil initiative is a result of insufficient enthusiasm of citizens who did not appear on the sport when the cutting started, although it lasted for several days. But above all, cutting down of plane trees reflects the manner of the city governance.

I encourage my associates to spend as much time in the fieldwork as possible and to accept all citizens‘ proposals with respect. (Dragan Đilas)

The sound and the fury

-election of Commissioner for the protection of equality-

The topic that assembled the most of engaged factors from both sides. In one moment the candidacy of Goran Miletić was supported by 212 CSOs and 8 independent media (from the south of Serbia which is particularly interesting). It was undoubtedly the most massive action of civil society organizations which is understandable since the commissioner is the main instance for full implementation of general anti-discriminatory law adopted a year ago. Opposite to such strongly expressed will of civil society there was as strong resolution of the leaders of DS, Assembly of Serbia and Ministry for Human and Minority Rights not to adopt this personnel solution.

Easily promised tolerance

-LGBT organizations and political parties-

Gay Straight Alliance organized separate talks with representatives of all political parties, Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Culture and with the president of the Assembly of Serbia. On the other hand, the prosecutor’s office rejected the criminal charge of GSA filed because of the threats addressed to LGBT population on the Facebook, and the latest report of Amnesty International confirms a bad position of LGBT persons. link

Avoiding the unavoidable

-what kind and how deep decentralization of Serbia-

The situation is seemingly stabilized after the consent given to the Statute of Vojvodina and after adoption of the Law on Establishing the Competences of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina. On the other hand, there are permanent tensions focused on so-called „Vojvodina issue“.

BELLS initiative

– green future of Serbia-

BELLS movement, which assembles 38 civil society organizations, invited the Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning to cooperate with them in order to initiate the use of reputable expert knowledge from civil sector to improve the situation in the area of environment not only in Serbia, but in the whole region. In its announcement BELLS movement underlined that they had established an informal Green deputy group in the Assembly of Republic of Serbia and the Assembly of AP of Vojvodina so far, signed a memorandum of cooperation with several municipalities and cities in Serbia, established a national coalition made up from representatives of nongovernmental sector, state institutions, political parties and business sector, conducted national and regional research on the situation in the area of environment… The Ministry has not signed memorandum of cooperation with BELLS movement yet.

Rich public service broadcaster and poor viewers

-is Poverty Reduction Strategy paper yet another non-abiding governmental text?-

The Consumer Rights Protection Centre Forum Niš addressed an open letter to the Government of Serbia requesting abolition of mandatory RTV subscription for the citizens of Serbia earning less than the representative basket of goods and services. The letter points out that although Serbia has Poverty Reduction Strategy, nothing has been done in this regard; on the contrary, the amount of mandatory RTV subscription has been increased so it now makes 7% of average earnings in municipalities with the lowest average earnings in Serbia! Forum from Niš asks a question: in which country the poorest citizens pay 7% for the Public service broadcaster with permanent enforced collection threat involving listing of otherwise scarce property unless they pay the subscription? According to information known so far, the Government has done nothing in this regard.

7 days or 17×7 days

-a new legal framework for people’s (civil) initiative-

The legal experts from the Center of Advanced Legal Studies (CALS), Vladimir Vodinelić and Saša Gajin, have prepared a Model law on people’s initiative. Anent this model a public consultation has been initiated in 2010 Serbia-wide. Initiators and organizers of the action were NGOs: National Parliament from Leskovac, CALS, Sretenje and Resource Center Negotin. Some of the proposed solutions in this model law are more liberal in comparison with the Law on Referendum and People’s Initiative (1994) still in force. For instance, the authors of the law propose the deadline of 120 days instead of now abiding 7 days for signatures collection to start initiative.

Tutors within Serbian Orthodox Church and tutors of Serbian Orthodox Church

-what is the influence of the state on turbulences within SOC-

Since the question of imposing him an administrator-tutor due to a series of financial malversations and disregard of the decisions reached by the Synod, bishop Artemije spoke up about „interest of some Western embassies in personnel solutions“ in Raško-Prizrenska eparchy…

The law more democratic than the Constitution

-novelties in the bill of law on National Assembly-

The new Law on National Assembly foresees that deputies, contrary to the Constitution, become owners of their mandates again, defines more restrictively the standstill of deputy mandate, foresees giving an oath of office for deputies, parliament’s own budget… According to what the president of the ruling coalition announced, a series of modern by-laws, among which the one regulating the problem of assembly-media relations will be adopted based on the Law,.

Forced or spontaneous modernization

-possible changes of the Constitution as a result of admission to the EU-

Under the watchful eye of the President of Serbia and away from the public eye, redesigning of the Constitution for the following issues is being prepared: regionalization of the country (the Province and the regions will not have any attribute of statehood, it is stressed in a populist manner), MPs blank resignation letters, judicial system, relations between domestic and European legislative and new definitions of human freedoms and rights protection. Will the state leadership persist with these changes if the admission of Serbia to the EU turns out to be uncertain or still far away? Will the experts and wider public have a chance to be asked about the need and direction of these changes, regardless of the course and celerity of European integrations?

Human rights violation in the Ministry of Human Rights

-a severe conflict between the state secretary Karadžić and the Minister Čiplić

The state secretary (The League of Vojvodina Social Democrats) in the Ministry for Human and Minority Rights was deprived of the right to work (of an official state car, phone, participation in decision-making…) by the Minister himself (DS). As possible reasons for this the state secretary Karadžić mentions his speech on Srebrenica which was contrary to the policy of DS and his attitude in favor of the Law on Prohibition of Discrimination because Minister Čiplić himself voted for its withdrawal from the Assembly procedure. Some days later, 51 NGOs demanded removal of the Minister for Human and Minority Rights, among other reasons, for elementary ignorance and misunderstanding of human rights and for not taking responsibility for cold-shouldering and obstruction of the work of the state secretary Marko Karadžić.

Simulation or initiation?

-is Serbia transitioning from childhood into maturity by fostering civil participation?-

The Government of Serbia is preparing a decree on establishment of the office for cooperation with civil society. This decree regulates the scope of work of the Office, and among other mentions: taking care of harmonized acting of the state administration authorities and fostering cooperation between the state authorities with CSOs, involving initiation of a dialogue with the civil society about issues of common interest, participation in preparation and survey of administration of strategic documents and development of cooperation between public, private and civil sectors… And so Serbia is beginning to create institutional framework for cooperation with the civil society after years of lagging even in comparison with other countries in the region. We can do nothing but watch this first year of work of the Office and give at least the preliminary estimation of what has been done.

Classical tragic hero

-CSOs demand to clear the name of general Trifunović

Civil society organizations: Civil Initiatives, Center for Cultural Decontamination, Youth Initiative for Human Rights and Millennium from Niš have initiated rehabilitation of general Vlado Trifunović and his associates. General Trifunović was convicted because in an operation that involved no casualties or fight at the beginning of the war in Croatia, he saved more than 280 soldiers and officers when he negotiated his way out of a Croat armed siege of the military barracks in Varaždin. In Croatia he was sentenced as a war criminal and in Serbia as a traitor. The Supreme Court of Serbia has recently dropped charges against general Trifunović and his associates and now prosecution should decide how to precede.

Minorities lack democracy as well

-political pressure on Humgarian daily-

SEEMO, a media organization of South-East Europe from Wienna along with their peers from the Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia (NUNS), Journalists’ Association of Serbia (UNS), Independent Journalist Society of Vojvodina (NDNV) stood up in defense of their peers in a daily published in Hungarian language in Serbia and against the attempt to introduce censorship. Apparently, the journalists of Magyar Szo spoke up publically and said they were undergoing political pressure by „certain“ Hungarian political parties controlling the founder and the publisher, e.i. Hungarian National Council. Epilogue: after sharp reactions of professional public and the Provincial Ombudsman, the Hungarian National Council, being the founder, renounced the idea of introducing a special regulatory body to control the content of the texts published in the daily.

Two web portals started up:

– by the European Movement in Serbia and the Fund of Development of Non-profit Sector as a partner of the portal Civil society proposes solutions for a more effective process of Serbia’s integration in the EU (cdcspredlaze.org.rs)

The objective of this portal is to provide the opportunity to as many civil society organizations in Serbia as possible to contribute to reform processes through recognition of priorities in their environment and proposals for their solution for a more effective EU integration process in Serbia.

The given proposals will be processed in cooperation with experts in particular areas abreast of European politics, as clear recommendations.

During the last visit to this website (1 September 2010) the latest news was from February 2010. Are the CSOs aware of their role in society? Or, are they preoccupied only with certain project activities? They do not see the whole because of the partial? Or, is there a lot of work in Serbia? Or…? Whatever the answer, this initiative should be supported and got involved in.

– by OSCE mission in Belgrade the portal take-action.in.rs

This webpage is a part of a promotion campaign „Take Action! – UKLJUČI SE!“ which the OSCE mission in Serbia is carrying out in 2010. The campaign involves informing of citizens about these mechanisms and has a goal to support their active participation in decision-making and motivate them to reexamine their own possibilities and capacities to take control over processes regarding their everyday life.

A possible conclusion:

* There should be no illusions: all areas of social life in Serbia are burdened with party influence in the sense of the worst outlawry.

* Syndicates are not independent.

* President of the Republic has been also the president of a political party for years (pars, partis), or better, of only one politically organized part of society.

* Religious communities are governed by the state which divides them contrary to the Constitution giving the media, financial and other support to some of their organizational parts (e.f. eparchies and bishops), conditioning other parts and bringing some religious communities on the verge of loosing their patience.

* Problems of minorities are closely connected with hypertrophy of party influence: Democratic Party controls Croatian National Council, National Council of Slovak National Minority and some other national councils; in the party share of prey the League of Vojvodina Social Democrats got control over the Romanian National Council. The problems of Sandžak and a dangerous division within Islamic religious community have already caused that several people were shot and wounded, and there are no indications that the parties controlling the authority are ready to make agreement with those who won the elections for the Bosniak National Council.

* Crumbled social structure makes rational and autonomous articulation of particular interests much more difficult, otherwise they would not be controlled by partocracy and influential circles allied with it.

* Nongovernmental organizations, scarce independent media and professional associations are rare examples of organized civil society which acts in a fairly adverse environment. At the seminar mentioned at the beginning of this text the experience of Serbia in the past ten years will be compared with Slovak experience after breakdown of Mechiar’s government in 1998.

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1The goal of this text:

The text should serve as a proposal for a discussion which should result in a material for a syllabus. Apparently, the syllabus is needed for the seminar planned for activists from NGOs, professional associations and independent media. The seminar lecturers from Serbia and Slovakia would introduce the participants with comparative experience of these two countries in the area of strengthening parliamentarism, division of power, strengthening of the rule of law, good administration and the last but not the least, civil engagement.

The result of the seminar should be a public campaign with measurable effect.