This year has most definitely been one of the worst for citizens of Serbia in the last two decades (in a very stiff competition of bad years). It would be wrong to argue that the government has betrayed the expectations – as I recently read in a commentary: he who hasn’t yet figured out what this is all about, will never understand. Instead, we should focus on one of the statements of Prime Minister Vucic, paraphrasing Zoran Djindjic (how unnatural this convergence is will be discussed another time): if he left the government tomorrow, no one could undo what was done in the past two (now two and a half) years. And that’s one of the few (if not the only one) Prime Minister’s statements in which he has told the truth. For the chaos and madness that had plagued the legal system and the executive and judicial powers have collapsed the basis of certain principles of functioning of a legal state (or any state in general) so much, that it will be difficult to untangle all the mess that the soon-to-be-former, let us hope, government of light radicals and capital-socialists, will leave us as a legacy.
This article should thus be read solely as a sketch of what was ruined in 2014, as an attempt to compile a part of the legacy that the next unfortunate tenants of Nemanjina 11 Street will inherit. It is, of course, open for amendments – I believe that many of you will feel like you have something to add. I myself have lined up the items on the list as they were coming to my mind, without the intention of giving any of them more importance than they really deserve.
So, here’s my list:
1. False reforms in the public sector. Minister Udovicki is slowly becoming a champion of intemperate statements (e.g., “The Deputy Prime Minister Udovicki has said that in 2015 we all need to close ranks and believes it is possible for teachers to do their jobs and be motivated even with these salaries if, as she says, they believe in something.”)
Still, for me, the director of the Post Office, Krkobabic Junior, is the unquestionable master of this domain. He pronounced a timeless nonsense that Serbia’s Post Office (and the public sector in general) has no surplus of employees – just a lack of jobs. At the same time, the arrogant behavior and avalanches of hiring family-party men is nothing new – especially given the reputation of public companies. Public consumption is abnormally high, and only the most vulnerable are deprived of income – pregnant women, welfare beneficiaries, pensioners. Budgets for culture and science are reduced. One could even write a tutorial on how not to do things, based on a case study of Serbia 2013-2014.
2. Media freedom in Serbia. If the media aren’t informally censored, then they are preventively self-censored. If neither can be done, then hire a politically faithful model (oops, sorry, the woman has two college degrees) as a manager – ethical downfall of Studio B and u-turn in the editorial policy of a once respected and popular urban program, is the best example of this. Before the 2000 elections, even Milosevic’s police had to occupy Beogradjanka building. The lack of resistance of both the media and the citizens is best illustrated by the fact that, in 2014, Studio B went down quietly and became a legend… The authorities treat the rare lighthouses in the media blackout as if they were internal enemies from some (supposedly) past times – the example of Pescanik wonderfully illustrates the way that media freedom is “nurtured” in a regime that is inexorably sliding towards authoritarianism.
3. The decay of the judicial system. This process is not a legacy of 2014; it has been ongoing for quite some time. Still, the length and the consequences of lawyers’ strike, caused by the exclusive and incredibly expensive jurisdictions of public notaries, as well as the many irregularities connected with the establishment of this profession, surpass all other troubles that could have been hidden so that the government wouldn’t be assessed as completely incompetent in this segment. The lawyers have surprised the regime, and especially Nikola Let’s-throw-away-Croatian-products-and-love-Seselj Selakovic, by their persistent and solidary insistence to preserve at least a shred of justice and logic in the judiciary system. It seems that the behavior of the minister of justice and the entire government during the strike has nailed the coffin of Serbian judiciary system.
4. Other strikes. Equally important is the current teachers’ strike, as well as random insinuations of police and health workers’ strikes. Even the employees of PIO fund, a symbol of protection and irresponsibility of the state, were on strike. Now it’s time for the employees of ministries to rise… oh, no, wait, they can’t go against the family…
5. Pension reduction. Unconstitutional? Yes. Necessary? No. Why then? Because they can. And because the pensioners adore them (one of Nature’s many mysteries). Why not then? The economic effects of this measure are negligible, especially since no changes in the ways that the saved money could be spent will follow them. The savings will be used to pay for new employees in the public sector, to increase the money meant for political parties, to maintain the unsustainable level of public consumption.
6. Minister Vulin. Yes, he himself is one of Government’s most embarrassing moves in 2014. Unfortunately, his removal and the probable comeback of Ljajic’s SDP to the Ministry of Labor and Welfare won’t change a thing in one of Serbia’s most important domains.
7. “Belgrade Waterfront” and other megalomanias. The project itself is not a problem, although I am positive it won’t be implemented. The problem is the Government’s attitude towards the citizens regarding this, but also its other plans. It reluctantly published the contract with Etihad (not the one it originally signed, as it turns out); there is no information about the potentially very harmful contracts on selling the agricultural land. “Belgrade Waterfront” is a project of a phantom company whose owner is known for similar hustles. The political price of these stunts remains to be seen – the fact that nobody is interested in these hustles and sales is worrisome. Etihad (sorry, Air Serbia) got a preferential status by an evident act of legal violence (remember why the former airport manager was arrested) – why then is there no benefit for citizens of Serbia? Neither has the quality of transport increased, nor have the prices been dramatically reduced. But who had benefited from all this? According to the Prime Minister, Telekom is next.
8.The disappearance of the opposition. Although it was not really necessary, since it had won a clear majority, the SPP invited almost all parliamentary parties to join the government. It was done under the parole of national unity, while, in fact, those parties were given the domains for which the SPP didn’t have suitable experts – neither for a minister, nor for other levels of state administration. The parties that didn’t make it to the government, or weren’t invited, are making every effort to change the situation. You can count the political forces which act like an opposition with one hand. Besides the practically knocked out Democratic Party, all of them are far from the census. The opposition, on the other hand, such as it is, is subjected to an unseen rudeness by the parliamentary majority. They keep justifying the legitimacy of their violation of parliamentary rules of procedure by the “support they got at the election”. They bring down local governments by force, which was evident in Sabac during the floods and in Kragujevac recently. But, what else did we expect from a horde with bought diplomas?
9. HR policy. Speaking of the horde with bought diplomas, one of the critical moments – maybe even the one when any chance for success of distorted economic and social politics of the government is logically lost – is the hiring of “experts” from the SPP and other parties. This is how various ceramists in defense and teacher’s assistants in judiciary happened. This is also how AC repairmen and auto mechanics instead of qualified personnel happened in Kragujevac. This is how a post office clerk managing an institution of culture happened. The Prime Minister, supposedly without a day of work. The Foreign Trade Minister – a politicaster. The Foreign Affairs Minister – inexperienced in diplomacy. The Prime Minister is barely even worth mentioning – he worked at a hardware store in London, for two pounds a day. These people, even if they are aware of their lack of qualifications, experience and knowledge – and it seems that most of them are not – even if they mean well and want to work for the good of the citizens and institutions – and it seems that they don’t think of the citizens, except their own families – cannot manage the system, nor participate in its management, without running it into a wall (or into an abyss, whichever you prefer). They-can-not. Not only are they wasting the air at public expense, they are also preventing any voice of reason, expertise and change to be heard.
10. Kosovo. Tomislav Kremna-prophecy-rakia-and-lousy-grammar Nikolic, the president and a walking embarrassment for the country he represents, has a plan. Don’t know about you, but I immediately thought of Baldrick („I have a cunning plan!“). Yet, even without that aggravating factor, Kosovo* has actually outgrown the asterisk and became Kosovo – a member of IOC, a state which has diplomatic relations with most of the states. The train carrying an “essential autonomy” has long gone, and instead of taking care of our interests in Kosovo and saving what can still be saved, Serbia continues to invoke Kostunica’s preamble, which meant nothing even when it was instituted. It is only a matter of time before that kind of attitude backfires.
11. Floods and restoration. No one was held (criminally) accountable for the people killed in floods. No one was held accountable for the chaos that happened – neither for the fact that it had happened, nor for the state’s incapability to prevent human losses and reduce the damage. Instead, seven months later, we can still hear statements such as “he who waits longer gets an actually livable house”. Vucic is handing the keys to all newly built houses – and from what I understood, none of those houses were built by the state. And what happened to the money collected via SMSs the citizens kept sending for days? Unless the criminal deeds fall under statute of limitations or the judiciary system dies out before the government changes, this story is probably yet to get an epilogue.
12. Labor and welfare. Connected with, but not limited to items “Vulin” and “pension reduction”, the combination of the State’s weakness, finiteness and lack of competence is best represented in the domain of social policy. Let me remind you that the adoption of the amendment to the Labor Law opened the way for treating employees as cheap and expendable goods; amendments to the Law on financial support to families with children, which will most likely continue to limit the acquisition and enjoyment of various parental rights are on the way; a father’s right to maternity leave and leave for child care is construed to be against the law and is almost unattainable in practice; forced labor as an obligation of welfare beneficiaries has been introduced. The state has announced, and is “successfully” implementing, the fight against “maternity mafia”.
If you add the pensioners, the terrible situation of people with disabilities, the vulnerability of the so-called “leased employees”, as well as an incredibly high rate of unemployment (no, unemployment has not declined, despite the lies that are based on malicious and targeted interpretation of data obtained by inverted methodology) – you get the full picture of the social status of citizens of Serbia. Worst of all is the fact that the government doesn’t even have an indicative vision of how such situation can be changed – on the contrary, they are preparing a new Labor law and promoting Serbia on CNN as a land of professional, yet cheap labor force. Sweatshop swindlers, welcome! Invest in Serbia, because social justice doesn’t live here.
13. Diploma scandals. There are no buyers for knowledge in Serbia. The market for diplomas, however, is very developed. Various authors on Pescanik showed some examples of sediment that has accumulated in this field in previous years. Besides pressure put on Pescanik, there seem to have been no consequences. Some hustlers from Megatrend keep poisoning us almost every morning from something that was once called Studio B, and today is rightly called Studio Bot (by the way, a Megatrend professor is a chairman of the Supervisory Board of Studio Bot). These hustlers talk about the chase against Megatrend and how its “enemies” failed to crush it, only making it stronger. And diminishing its sense of decency, if I may add.
Neither Megatred University, nor the University of Belgrade found the strength to fight this disease (Union University formed a commission for a particular case, and we are awaiting the results impatiently). The degradation of education, culture and science is obvious and inevitable. Because the people in power don’t understand these categories (let’s not mention Palma and Beethoven). Hence their desire to easily get the only thing they can’t have – the prestige that a diploma, specialization, masters or a doctorate brings. When they realize that this is not possible and that it takes too much sweat, work, effort and love of science and art, which they do not posses(not to mention the intellectual capacity), it is only logical that they will turn to their marginalization. Lucky us.
14. EU integrations. False diplomacy, probably the most expensive in the world (I think Dragica Nikolic had something to do with that) led to a virtually complete standstill in EU integration. No date for the opening of negotiations on chapters. Why? Probably because we are represented by such “diplomatic wolves” like Dacic, but also because the EC got sick of our lamentations about how hard it is, and the false appearance that something is actually being done to fix it. Human rights. The rule of law. Corruption. The independence of the judiciary. These four tasks, essential to the start of negotiations on chapters 23 and 24, are the homework we didn’t do. And it’s finally becoming evident. And what happened with EU support for the government in Belgrade? It was all just to keep Seselj away from the government.
15. South stream and Russian fairy tales. Abandoning the project “South Stream” is not the worst thing that happened to us in relations with Russia in 2014. It is clear that this country, like all the others, sees their interests with Serbia only as an attempt to sell a patriotic story in exchange for economic and strategic interests. Putin’s visit showed it best, as well as his view of Serbia‘s position from Russia‘s perspective – a veto in the UN Security Council has to be paid for, my friends. The only question is how much we actually benefit from a Russian veto? Therefore, we should review our politics toward Russia (which, of course, will not happen). It is all about the trade of interests, anything else that comes out of the mouths of the patriots in power and in opposition is a Russian fairy tale (a beautiful story, but not real).
16. Elections. Elections that cost the amount of money that could fund all soup kitchens in Serbia for a year were organized just so Dacic and Vucic could swap places in a political game whose outcome was evident in advance.
17.Economic and industrial parameters. Nothing was done in the fight against corruption (Law on whistleblowers is yet to show its strengths and weaknesses – I don‘t believe that anything will change substantially until I see it implemented). Euro exchange rate this year was the lowest on January 1st. GDP is declining, public debt increasing. Jorgovanka spent the money on the bowling alley, and NBS operates at a loss. Sapienti sat.
An experienced Hungarian diplomat told an anecdote about bad government at an international conference in Geneva ten years ago. When he was handing over the power to his successor after losing the elections, a Prime Minister gave him three envelopes with numbers on them, and said: “Do not open them right away. When you get into trouble, and you will, open the envelope number one”. Of course, it was not long before the government did get into trouble. Amid the scandal, the Prime Minister recalled his predecessor’s words and opened the first envelope. It said: BLAME US. And indeed, the Prime Minister blamed the previous government for the scandal (sounds familiar?) and somehow got away. Shortly afterwards, however, a new scandal erupted. This time, the Prime Minister immediately thought of opening the second envelope. It said: WE ARE DEVELOPING. He who works, makes mistakes, doesn’t he? All our efforts are pointed towards the goal that we will all have it much better soon (I guess now you are thinking of Vucic’s famous “two years”), and errors are an integral part of the learning process. Again, the government somehow survived. When the third crisis occurred, the Prime Minister bluntly opened the third envelope, confident that he will find another brilliant advice that will keep him in power. But the third envelope said: PREPARE THREE ENVELOPES FOR YOUR SUCCESSORS. In a modern and truly democratic politics, the authorities can be forgiven two errors maximum – after that, a democratic shift must follow.
I know it is unrealistic to rely on the current staff’s morale, and that we are not likely to see them resign whatever happens. However, if all of us make a wish to Santa Claus, and each of us does what he thinks he can to make the wish come true – perhaps the third envelope from the government will arrive in 2015? May the luck be with us!
Translated by Marijana Simic