Democratic Serbia, but freedom is limited

02-5-2019.

Freedom House, as a world independent organization, announced that in 2018. the status of Serbia from a free country has been changed into Partly Free country. We are witnessing quite significant and rapid centralization of power in the hands of one branch of government – executive power, and the closure of institutions in the public interest. Institutions in Serbia and mechanisms created to protect citizens and the public interest actually serve some other influences”, said Raša Nedeljkov, program director of the Center for research, transparency and accountability (CRTA), and opened the second day of the international conference Civil Society for responsible government “in Belgrade.

President of the Board of the European Association of Judges and Prosecutors for Democracy and Freedom Filipe Marques, said that democracy is going through the crisis and that the question is what reform is being applied to make it better. “The judicial power is the most vulnerable of all three branches of government and should be protected, because without an independent judiciary that protects individual citizens rights, democracy is not possible,” Marques said.

It was also talked about the problematic media situation in Serbia, where the media increasingly present right hand for the personal interests of the bearers of power. “The media have left their audience, and these are citizens of Serbia. That’s why citizens lost trust and support, resulting in the fact that they do not feel the need to defend the media. The former important role of the media as the fourth pillar of democracy has, over the years, replaced the role of the first pillar of government, “said Danica Vučenić.

“Serbia must become aware that only if citizens show willingness and interest to change institutions and ensure the rule of law, this will be achieved. Because the state exists because of citizens, and not citizens because of the state”, said Florian Bieber – coordinator of the Balkan Advisory Group in Europe (BiEPAG) and a professor at the Center for Southeastern Europe Studies at the University of Graz.

Special attention was paid to amending the Law on Free Access to Information of Public Importance. “Access to information of public importance in Serbia was not bad, but it is better to keep the old law in that area than to adopt new solutions that are not in line with democratic values, because they predict that companies financed from the budget do not have to submit the requested information”, said Primož Vehar – Senior Advisor to SIGMA from Slovenia.

The conference was closed by a panel in which the participants presented their conclusions reached through the working groups, covering five different themes important for the development of democracy: the control and legislative role of Parliament, the role and influence of independent institutions, the process of constitutional change, free access to information from the public importance and protection of the public interest and media pluralism.

Novak Pešić program coordinator of Crta, pointed out that citizens no longer have access to parliament through mechanisms that existed before and that it is necessary to create stronger ties between deputies and citizens, as well as to restore mutual trust. Also, Senior Policy Analyst A11 Initiative for Economic and Social Rights Milica Marinković, added that better co-operation and connection between institutions and citizens is needed, as well as greater transparency when it comes to internal work of institutions.

Deputy Chairman of the Management Board of the Center for Judicial Research – Vida Petrović Škero, said that a wider constitutional change is absolutely necessary, because if only a part of the constitution changes, it does not bring a unision. Zlata Đorđević as Project Coordinator of Transparency Serbia, added that the Commissioner, as an independent and responsible institution, should also have inspection powers, as well as the authority to initiate violations, sanctions and penalties.

The Panel concluded with a review of the media scene within which the Executive Director of Slavko Ćuruvija Foundation, Ivana Stevanović, stated that the bond between citizens and public media services is not functional at this time, and that it is necessary to define media pluralism in terms of media content that is not sufficiently grounded in law.

The international conference has gathered over a hundred local and regional experts. At the meeting, five research papers were presented in various fields. The conference is part of the project implemented by CRTA together with Transparency Serbia, Center for Judicial Research, Slavko Ćuruvija Foundation and A11 Initiative for Economic and Social Rights, with the support of the British Embassy in Belgrade.

You can see the whole panel of the first panel here.