Vladimir Orlic’s qualifications for the position of the President of the Assembly include flying a car in a promotional video for his party, getting teachers fired from the medical school in Cuprija, as well as his extraordinary ability to interrupt his interlocutors. Although one’s ability to publicly humiliate oneself for the party and lack of scruples are extremely important for any public function, his ability to prevent anyone from speaking live on air on RTS was what got Orlic a special recommendation for this position. According to the Parliament Rules of Procedure, his duty is to ensure order, meaning to ensure that all MPs are able to speak freely as long as they uphold the dignity of the Parliament.
Already in his first months on the job, president Orlic has shown how selective his sight and hearing can be. For example, he didn’t hear the insults, interruptions and unbearable din caused by majority MPs in an attempt to prevent opposition MPs from speaking. Last week they especially targeted women. By allowing this behavior, Orlic has institutionalized insults and interruptions – disciplines that he is personally a master of – in the Parliament, continuing the legacy of his SNS predecessors.
Of course, this happens only when the majority MPs are doing the obstruction. When the opposition MPs start speaking without approval, and especially when they tell the truth, Orlic suddenly gets all of his senses back.
In a fit of dedication to the Rules of procedure, on the day of the orchestrated attack against female opposition MPs, Orlic issued two reprimands and a suspension of speech to the vice-president of the Democratic Party, Dragana Rakic. Namely, Rakic interrupted SNS MP Ana Belojica, who pointed out that her “party’s policy is to not mention anyone’s children or family because this is sacred for them”. A little later, Belojica stated that “the opposition is jealous of the young membership of the Serbian Progressive Party.”
With her microphone turned off, Rakic stood up and addressed the SNS MP, President of the Parliament Orlic, and the ruling majority:
What children, exactly, are you concerned about? The ones that you kicked out of kindergartens in Pecinci? In the 1990s, you sent my classmates to war. Don’t talk to me about children. I know what it’s like. Shame on you. I will fight you until my last day. You will be held responsible for your crimes. Shame on the government and all of you. I will do everything in my power to put all of you behind bars. (To Orlic, reprimanding her) I can hear and see you perfectly. Do whatever you want, it’s your job to punish us. My job is to fight for the freedom of the citizens of Serbia. I will never give up, never. I will fight you criminals until the end – until Sinisa Mali is in jail. (To Sinisa Mali, who is shouting) Thief, wife beater, you should talk! Shame on all of you!
Posing as a model president, Orlic first asked Rakic whether “she is able to calmly follow the session” and whether it’s possible for her “not to yell” and to “sit properly”. Then, after two reprimands which were ignored by Rakic, he took away the floor from her.
There is a small problem here, however. Dragana Rakic was never given the floor, so it couldn’t have been taken away from her. Article 110 of the Rules of Procedure says that the president of the Parliament, after taking away the floor from an MP, is obliged to turn off their microphone if they refuse to stop talking. As Rakic wasn’t given the floor, her microphone was already off, and Orlic had nothing to take away.
Rakic did violate article 109 of the Rulebook – she spoke without being given the floor, interrupted another MP and spoke to her directly. Hence, Orlic was within his right to reprimand her twice.
Considering that verbal violations of the Rules of Procedure happen so regularly that they are the rule, rather than the exception, it seems the real problem was not that Rakic spoke out of turn, but what she actually said, during a live broadcast on RTS no less: that the ruling party expels children from kindergartens because of political affiliation, that they are criminals with a warmongering past, that the minister of finance is an institutionally protected thief and abuser, that they all deserve to be punished for that. The message that the opposition is there, that it exists, that it resists the regime also seems dangerous.
The President of the Parliament therefore deprived the MP of the opportunity to continue speaking, although after two warnings for procedural violations (speaking out of turn) he could only remove her from the session (Article 111 of the Rules of Procedure). After that, Rakic would be obliged to leave the hall – voluntarily or escorted by the security. The President of the Parliament obviously did not have enough courage to do so. That’s why he did what the SNS is most committed to at all levels of exercising power – he silenced the MP, as he best knew how.
Two things should remain in citizens’ minds after this parliamentary episode. First, the rules do not apply to everyone. SNS is allowed some things that the opposition is not. However, this is nothing new. The other thing to take away, however, is that it is still possible for resentment towards the current government to end up in a program that all citizens of Serbia can watch, despite the microphones being turned off. This requires some will and a readiness to pay a certain price – in this particular case, that being a fine amounting to 20 percent of the MP’s salary (for the two reprimands), or 40 percent (for having the floor taken from her). The fine would amount to 50 percent of the MP’s income in case of removal from the session. A small price to pay for a minute of free speech on a public broadcast.
Translated by Marijana Simic