The Bridge – Free Europe Radio
Does the opening of Chapter 23 and 24, under which Serbia commits itself to the rule of law, mean that the power of Aleksandar Vučić will be limited. The collocutors are Bogoljub Milosavljević, Professor of Law at the Belgrade Union University, and Milan Antonijević, director of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights from Belgrade.
What is judiciary like in Serbia today? Is it independent or dictated by the government?
About the independence of the judiciary in Serbia, sadly, we can talk only conditionally. This is a big cancerous growth of Serbian society.
The judiciary in Serbia has elements of independence, however, when it comes to politically sensitive cases – there are no results. Many proceedings are practically conducted in the media.
There was the case of the fall of a military helicopter that killed seven people and the Prosection, even after more than a year, has not filed charges because it would have to indict also an occasional minister?
The Prosecution has even recently announced that there is no basis for any kind of process and that no one bears responsibility for the fall of that helicopter. It was a strange decision because prior to that the Military Disciplinary Court established the responsibility of certain senior military officers in this helicopter crash. Following the Prosecution’s announcment the Military Disciplinary Court annulled its decision.
The case of illegal demolition of objects in Belgrade Savamala has once again proved that the judiciary is not on the side of the citizens but on the side of the government. The Police and the Prosecutor’s Office have done nothing to find those responsible for the violence in Savamala but they acted instantly to detain one of the participants of the protest against lawlessness in Savamala who was accused by the mayor of Belgrade Siniša Mali of physical injury. Furthermore, it never occurred to the Prosecution question the role of Mali in the events in Savamala?
The complete inertia of the Ministry of Internal Affairs is obvious, it has not responded to the calls of the citizens to protect them from masked people who destroyed homes in Savamala. The Prosecutor’s Office acted similarly, they did not respond to the whole case. On the other hand, we have the apprehension of one of the protesters who, as far as I know, was summoned to the police station to make a statement but not as a suspect. However, during his testimony his status was changed and charges were brought against him. This creates legal uncertainty and speaks volumes on how far away we are from the rule of law.
It seems that Vučić wants to establish a government model in which he communicates with people directly, bypassing the Parliament and institutions of the system. He, more or less, rules on everything and institutions, mainly, just carry out what he says?
Everything that has been going on in the last few years creates the illusion that everything is decided in one place. On the other hand, institutions themselves are not fighting for their independence and autonomy so the part of responsibility falls on them. Acknowledging that everything is decided in one place – ministers, government institutions and public enterprises are practically denying their own accountability.
Bypassing the institutions is something that is very obvious and it fosters a model of government that is not adequate for a democratic society. This model assumes that someone who has won power in the elections can do whatever he wants during his mandate and when his mandate expires the voters will decide in the new elections whether they still have confidence in him. This is the type of democracy that is reduced to an act of choice alone and the citizens are turned into passive subjects.
Vučić has recently introduced the day when he receives citizens who seek help from him. Already at the first such meeting, as media close to him write, he solved 35 problems presented before him. Meaning that it is not the institutions that are important but only he is important, he is the one to appeal to and he will then solve your problem. This will certainly contribute to his popularity but at the expense of institutions, because if Vučić himself alone is solving the problems of citizens then the institutions are not even necessary?
The day of public reception, or open house, is something that is an old practice and that has existed in some earlier systems of governance. It is not a bad idea for a bearer of authority to occassionally meet with citizens and listen to their problems. Of course it will, as you said, reinforce the impression among citizens that their problems can be solved by only that one man, and that is not good and corrupts the image of Serbia as a democratic society.
Should this practice be transferred to other authorities and local governemnts, and should people get the opportunity to directly address the state institutions and members of Parliament, then this practice could also have positive effects. If this ends up with the Prime Minister alone receiving citizens and solving their problems then this practice may have quite the opposite effect – and that is that the people get the impression that all decisions are made in one place and that they can solve their problems only if they achieve direct contact with the Prime Minister, which is not good.
In conclusion, whether the implementation of the tasks set out in Chapters 23 and 24 will necessarily limit Vučić’s power – that is whether he himself will have to limit his power – is an open question. As it currently stands, there is certainly no power in Serbia that could do that.
I think that the establishment of the rule of law, by nature, should restrict autocratic tendencies. Someone has long said that the goal of the rule of law is to hinder dictators. The rule of law does not allow for abuse of power, provided that the laws are implemented and that state institutions do their job. From that perspective we could expect that any holder of power – present or future – will have less room for abuse of political power, that is if we introduce what is requested of us by the EU. If we do not the European Union will not help much.
Given that we have elections frequently, and I’m not sure if this should be associated with specific names, it is certain that the construction of the rule of law and strong institutions at the forefront of the country will be under strong public control. At the same time we need to take into account that recently there have been cases of individuals usurping power in some countries of the EU also, so our government could justify their actions by the fact that something similar already exists in the EU. But these are the current pitfalls, the crisis is big, not only in the EU but also in other areas. However, we should not abandon the rule of law because so far it has proved to be the best system of governance.