Photo: Predrag Trokicic
Photo: Predrag Trokicic

Yesterday, the Serbian Parliament dismissed the Minister of the Economy, Rade Basta, from his post, after a very brief discussion. Less than seven days earlier, the Assembly, after almost two months of discussion, voted to keep the Minister of Internal Affairs, Bratislav Gasic, in his post. The dismissed minister allegedly violated party discipline and that was quite enough for his dismissal. Gasic was called to answer for the state of general civil insecurity, the politicization of the police and the murders of at least 19 young people in Belgrade and Mladenovac. An additional accusation, becoming louder every day, is that Gasic was at the very least informed of (and at worst, directly supported) drug production in Jovanjica. Those reasons and doubts, as we can see, were nowhere near enough to replace Gasic.

That is the first and most important level of the problem. Ministers are politically responsible only to their parties. They basically have no responsibility to the National Assembly, which elected them to office. They are also not responsible to the citizens as holders of power who exercise that power through freely elected representatives (MPs). If it were otherwise, Bratislav Gasic would at least feel a bit uneasy in the ministerial chair that was assigned to him in the National Assembly. Instead, he confidently repeated that he enjoys the protection of the party leadership. And the party leadership persistently confirmed this.

However, although the conclusion about the party government as undoubtedly the highest authority in Serbia has long been undisputed, the coincidence of the dismissal of Minister Basta and the absence of the dismissal of Minister Gasic is intriguing. This coincidence gives rise to the suspicion that the goal in this case was to make it clear to the citizens of Serbia, especially the citizens protesting on the streets, (or if you prefer – to rub it in their noses) that the Government is ready for dismissals, even extremely quick dismissals – but not if the proposal for dismissal comes from outside the party structures.

What might be giving us such an impression? First, an analysis of the “case” of the Minister of Economy Rade Basta. If we look at the data still available on the website of Basta’s ministry, we see that he emphasized the following as his main message after being elected minister:

“I will do my best to justify the trust placed in me by my party, by Prime Minister Brnabic and by President Vucic by honorably and honestly performing the duty entrusted to me.”

In other words, it did not occur to Rade Basta, in his most prominent statement on the ministry’s website, to swear by economic growth or anything else within his jurisdiction. As is the rule in the Serbian government, he swore to the party, the prime minister, and then even the president of Serbia (who is not the president of his party, he is no longer the president of any party, but he is obviously something like an all-party president).

However, Rade Basta, submissive as he is, gave two controversial statements in the meantime – that Serbia should introduce sanctions against Russia (even the representatives of the EU had forgotten about this, and Basta apparently zealously remembered) and that all members of the Government should join the “Serbia against violence” protests. According to the scenario this seems to imply, it took Rade Basta six months to go from thanking the party for their trust, to being a moral paragon.

After these controversial statements, the Managing Board of Basta’s party,United Serbia, dismissed him from all positions on June 22. On that day, Dragan Markovic Palma signed the memo on behalf of the party’s Managing Board, asking the Prime Minister to “remove Basta at today’s Government session.” It seems that decades of parliamentary experience weren’t enough for Markovic to understand that ministers are elected and dismissed in the Parliament (and not at Government sessions). It’s all the same to him anyway, because, just like his colleagues, the only relevant judge for him is his own party.

Fortunately for the sheriff of Jagodina, Ana Brnabic immediately, on the same day – June 22nd – translated his language into the language of parliamentary procedures and proposed to the Assembly that Rade Basta be relieved of his ministerial duties. In her proposal, Brnabic did not state any reason for Basta’s dismissal (for example – that he did not act in accordance with the Government’s policy), but instead openly stated the decision of the Managing Board of United Serbia as the reason for the dismissal. In her political arrogance and/or ignorance, Brnabic went so far as to formally attach the decision of United Serbia, and the accompanying party amen of Ivica Dacic, to the parliamentary proposal for the dismissal of Rade Basta.

I would like to reiterate that all this happened in one single day. The party order arrived and it was forwarded to the Assembly without any delay. Three weeks later, Rade Basta is no longer a minister (there should be no doubt that Basta, like many of his predecessors, will be taken care of and given another function and an appanage).

So it seems that Rade Basta was not unaware of what was expected of him. Moreover, it seems that from the beginning of his ministry, he knew that he is supposed to go to the party or the President for his opinion. This impression is further supported if we know that Basta graduated from Police high school, and worked in the police for seven years. He is well familiar with subordination, and the Government of which he was a member functions according to the same hierarchical system.

Because of all this, we have reason to believe that Basta’s dismissal was only a demonstration for the citizens, which was supposed to show us that the Government of Serbia can replace any minister in just a few hours. But that applies only to those ministers who violate party norms. Those who violate the law, public interest and morality remain protected until the end. This is what the Government of Serbia wanted to tell us with yesterday’s dismissal. Don’t bother protesting and don’t waste your time – there won’t be any dismissals at your request. That’s what the government says.

However, at the same time when the Assembly dismissed the wrong minister, the US Department of Finance imposed sanctions on the director of the national intelligence agency (BIA), Aleksandar Vulin, for suspicions of involvement in organized crime, narcotics trade and illegal arms trade. These individual sanctions against the director of the BIA, whose dismissal the citizens are also demanding on the street, increasingly indicate that the time when the Government can play with dismissals and refusals to dismiss officials is almost up. Things are getting more complicated by the day, and it is possible that if they continue to refuse to leave one by one, in the end they will have to leave all at once.

Translated by Marijana Simic

Pešč, 31.07.2023.

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Sofija Mandić je rođena 1986. u Novom Sadu. Diplomirana je pravnica, posrednica u mirnom rešavanju sporova i aktivistkinja za ljudska prava. Radi u Centru za pravosudna istraživanja (CEPRIS), a prethodno je bila angažovana u Beogradskom centru za bezbednosnu politiku i Nacionalnom demokratskom institutu. Generalna je sekretarka Peščanika, sa kojim sarađuje od 2007, kao učesnica u radijskim emisijama, a zatim i kao autorka tekstova. Autorka, koautorka i urednica je brojnih analiza o vladavini prava, stanju ljudskih prava u Srbiji i njihovoj perspektivi. Neke od skorašnjih su: Izbori pred Upravnim sudom 2022 – pregled postupanja i odluka (ur. CEPRIS, 2022), Izveštaj o javnosti rada Visokog saveta sudstva i Državnog veća tužilaca (CEPRIS, 2022), Sloboda izražavanja pred sudom (ur. SĆF, 2021-2022), Rad sudova tokom epidemije zarazne bolesti COVID-19 (OEBS, 2021), Ljudska prava u Srbiji (BCLJP, 2018-2021), Naša urušena prava (FES, 2019), Uslovi za izbor i napredovanje sudija i tužilaca u pravnom obrazovanju (CEPRIS, 2018), Skorašnji Ustav Srbije – rodna perspektiva (ŽPRS, 2017). Kao predstavnica civilnog društva učestvuje u procesu izrade komentara i mišljenja na izmene Ustava iz 2022, kao i zakona koji proizlaze iz ovih promena.

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