Photo: Predrag Trokicic
Photo: Predrag Trokicic

Imagine that you need to submit an application for a public assembly you want to organize to the Ministry of Interior. You read the Law on Public Assembly and inform the police that a public assembly will be held at a specific time and specific place, for a specific reason, you state the organizer, responsible person, program, purpose of the assembly.

For the latter, for example, if you are the mayor of some city and you want to organize an assembly on the occasion of the visit of the president of the state, you state that the purpose of the rally is “the president’s address to the citizens”, and if you are an opposition MP and want to organize a “Serbia against violence” rally, you state as the purpose “protest against violence”.

All that does not apply if you are writing a letter on behalf of the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), as the organizer of the assembly. And SNS, if you didn’t know, was the organizer of the “most magnificent rally”, held under the name “Serbia of Hope”, on May 26 in front of the Serbian Parliament.

In the application sent by the secretary of the Belgrade SNS Committee to the head of the Belgrade Police (I almost wrote the Belgrade Police Committee), some information required by law is notably absent (there is no information about safety and logistics, and it is also unclear what the purpose of the rally is), but it says that our country is facing “turbulent times, when the pressures regarding the status of our holy land of Kosovo and Metohija are getting stronger”.

Perhaps, in fact, the purpose of the rally is the “planned” address of the “party president and a call to the entire nation to unite” (in these turbulent times).

So, the statement that “a gathering of a large number of our supporters, sympathizers, as well as normal and decent people” is expected at the rally, could be interpreted as providing information of interest for a safe gathering. Maybe the implication is that security services are not even needed. (We will ignore the distinction made in the memo between “our supporters and sympathizers” and “normal and decent people”).

By the way, the application also stated that 220,000 people are expected at the rally (Tanjug reported that exactly that many people attended, not allowing the facts to interfere with the plans) and that a large number of buses, which will bring party supporters, are planned to be parked at 18 listed locations.

Let’s leave aside whether the application is complete, perhaps the missing details were in the attachment with the “setting draft”, which the Ministry did not forward to Transparency Serbia. Perhaps additional information was requested, and we didn’t receive it. What we did learn is that the organizer of the meeting was SNS and that the president of that party spoke at it. And on May 26, that was Aleksandar Vucic. The same Vucic who, weeks before, announced the most magnificent “rally for the future” (while the tabloids published how many hundreds of thousands of people will show up to express unity in turbulent times, illustrating this with photos that made you think that for the first time in history we have access to news from the future).

Just three days before the turbulent gathering of decent and normal people, Vucic said on RTS that “the rally being organized on May 26 is not an SNS rally, nor a counter-rally because it is the only one scheduled for that day” and emphasized that he will speak “as the president of the Republic, not the party leader, and that he will not even give a party speech at the rally”, but will “address Serbia with a long-term plan”.

So, SNS is organizing a rally where the president of SNS will speak, but as the president of the Republic (!?), he will present a long-term plan, by saying that in relation to Kosovo “a difficult period is ahead of us”, presenting data on the collection of weapons from citizens and calling for a dialogue with politicians, whom he previously said would “enter the annals of dishonor”.

He proceeded to not give a “party speech”, by announcing that he is stepping down as SNS president, and that “this is the last evening in which I address you as SNS president, tomorrow someone else will take over my SNS, yours, our SNS, of which I will remain a member, a faithful and loyal one. But starting tomorrow I will be the president of all citizens of Serbia, not the president of a political party.”Because he’s establishing the “Movement for the People and the State starting on Vidovdan” whose “central pillar will be SNS”. The movement, he had already announced earlier, would either participate in the elections, or be an “advisory body of SNS”.

It’s not worth the time it would take to figure out the threads in this absurd nonsense. Nor do I want to further complicate matters by presenting the fact that the first in a series of gatherings organized to promote Vucic’s People’s Movement – an indoor rally in Vranje – was organized as part of the “visit of the President of Serbia to Vranje and a tour of the hall”, and that the outdoor rally in Sremska Mitrovica was announced by the mayor as a rally organized by the city, on the occasion of the president’s visit.

Let’s leave aside statements in which one can lie without consequences, and let’s return to documents, in which one can also lie, or falsify them. The difference is that there are consequences for doing this (in some countries and some legal systems).

The rally in Belgrade on May 26 was organized by the Serbian Progressive Party. Aleksandar Vucic spoke at it, as its president.

Naturally, there is no announcement of his speech at the Belgrade party rally on the website of the President of Serbia, in the section “Announcements and notices”. In contrast to the announcements that the President of Serbia will attend the “big public rally in Pancevo” on May 19, that he will address the citizens of Sokobanja on April 28 at the Summer Stage, Vranje on March 11 in the sports hall, Kraljevo on March 31 in the sports hall and Sremska Mitrovica on March 17 on the square.

However, in the “News” section of the website of the President of Serbia, there is an article about the President’s address at the large national rally “Serbia of Hope”. This news turned the Progressive rally into a national one, causing confusion not only among the national masses, the sympathizers and supporters, and normal and decent people, but also state authorities.

Namely, my colleague Zoran Gavrilovic from Birodi (a normal and decent man) reported Vucic to the Agency for the Prevention of Corruption for breaking the law because, as the president of Serbia, he attended an SNS rally, of which he is also the president. Zoran correctly guessed that SNS organized the meeting, but he believed that Vucic was coming as the president of Serbia.

The Agency did not ask Vucic (or the MUP) for additional information regarding in which capacity he was at the meeting, but looked at the news on the website, watched the recording of the rally on the Tanjug YouTube channel and determined that “at that rally, Aleksandar Vucic spoke as the President of the Republic of Serbia and that, among other things, he announced the termination of his presidency of the SNS, as well as that on that occasion he did not violate the provisions of Art. 40 and 50 of the Law” (on prevention of corruption).

Starting from the wrong premise, the Agency defended Vucic, claiming that he, as the president of Serbia, was talking about presiding over the SNS (yours and our SNS, of which he remains a loyal member, as the president of Serbia!?) so there is no violation of the law.

Now the Agency will have to prove that the publication of news about the activities of the SNS president (attendance at the SNS rally) on the website of the Serbian president is not a case of use of public resources for the purpose of promoting a political party. They will again have to reach for a creative interpretation of the legal provision that prohibits the use of public resources for the promotion of political parties, i.e. political subjects, “which in particular means the use of public resources for the purpose of public representation of the participants in the elections and their election programs” (and maybe find that this is OK since there are no elections), while limiting the prohibition of using public resources for other types of political activities to those activities that are clearly listed as examples (“such as…”), not an exhaustive list of all forbidden activities.

At the same time, that announcement on the website and that misuse of public resources are only a tiny visible part of the mechanism of abuses of the entire captive state that has been going on for years. The May 26 rally only served as a reminder, a short-lived exhibition of those mechanisms of torture and exhaustion. We read, testified, and heard about pressures on employees in the public sector, state bodies, public companies and institutions to come to the rally, about bans on using holiday leave on that day, about controls and limitations place on use of sick leave. Transparency Serbia is collecting evidence on some of these mechanisms. We are also trying to find out who and how allowed the parking of buses in places where parking is otherwise prohibited. The procedure of complaint to the Commissioner is ongoing because we have not received an answer to our request. We are also trying to find out if it is true that the buses that brought “supporters and sympathizers” did not have to pay tolls. It could also be determined whether the countdown to the “magnificent rally” on the front pages of several newspapers was their editorial policy, or paid advertisements (whose?). It will also be interesting to see the SNS report on the costs of the rally.

Each of these questions would be a huge topic in the aforementioned “other states”, in other legal systems. In Serbia, conversation on these topics usually ends with the statement – “it’s not the worst thing happening to us”.

Translated by Marijana Simic

Pešč, 31.07.2023.

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Zlatko Minić, novinar zarobljen u telu mašinskog inženjera. Novinarstvom počeo da se bavi na Radio Indexu, najduže se zadržao u Beti, gde je dužio resor borbe protiv korupcije. To ga je kao predstavnika novinarskih udruženja odvelo u Odbor Agencije za borbu protiv korupcije 2009, a potom u Transparentnost Srbija. Voli sve što vole mašinci koji se bave novinarstvom u organizacijama civilnog društva: javna preduzeća, izborne kampanje, posebno funkcionerske, transparentnost lokalne samouprave. Analizirao brojne propise i (loše) prakse, učestvovao u izradi više antikorupcijskih (loše primenjenih) akata, radio kao konsultant, trener. Koautor nekoliko knjiga i publikacija o temama koje su zanimljive samo grupi ljudi koje sve lično poznaje: „Rečnik korupcije“ (sa prof. Č. Čupićem), „Politički uticaj na javna preduzeća i medije“ (sa N. Nenadićem), „Funkcionerska kampanja kao vid zloupotrebe javnih resursa“ (sa N. Nenadićem) i „Pod lupom – prva petoletka“ (sa N. Nenadićem, izbor tekstova sa stranice Pod lupom na sajtu Transparentnost Srbija, čiji je urednik).

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