The recent incident in which Belgrade municipal police prevented the journalists of investigative network KRIK from doing their jobs, and temporarily seized their equipment to delete audio and video recordings, confirms that the Serbian security sector is in a bad state. Personal loyalty to a political official is more important to the heads and employees of Belgrade communal police than their legal responsibilities and jurisdiction. This conclusion is not softened by the fact that Mayor Sinisa Mali apologized to the journalists and the public, and that disciplinary proceedings will (perhaps) be started against the communal police officers. During the incident, the officers (plain clothed) almost instinctively rushed to “protect” the Mayor from curious journalists, without questioning whether they have the right to. It all happened in the presence (or, should I say, with the complicity) of the Head of communal police, Nikola Ristic, who didn’t even try to prevent his colleagues from breaking the law. Similar conduct of the representatives of this institution to Istinomer journalists shows that this is not an isolated case. By doing this, representatives of the communal police showed that they are loyal exclusively to political officials, and not the law.
This conclusion is supported by the facts regarding the incident during Pride 2014, when the prime minister’s brother Andrej Vucic and the Belgrade Mayor’s brother Predrag Mali were beaten, as well as the later attitude of the Ministry of Defense and the Military Security Agency (VBA) towards the Ombudsman. They also showed that personal loyalty is above the constitution and the law in Serbia. According to publicly available information, the incident happened because the military security of the prime minister’s brother failed to coordinate with the police, and tried to come through the police cordon unannounced. The Ombudsman’s later attempt to determine the violations and irregularities in this case were prevented by minister of defense Bratislav Gasic and VBA director Petar Cvetkovic. They illegally withheld information from the Ombudsman, forbade him access to the facilities and employees of the Ministry and the Army, deceived the public and participated in the campaign against an independent state official. The highlight of this case was the decision of the President of Serbia to refuse to dismiss the director of the VBA in spite of the public recommendation of the Ombudsman, because the minister of defense (whose dismissal was also suggested) recommended his promotion.
The actions of other institutions of the security sector support this hypothesis. Let’s mention only those most famous in the public: the rushed polygraph questionings determining the (final) truth in the Ministry of police, the “leaking” of certain information on the suicide of Sasa Jankovic’s friend from the police, the quick replacement of the judge in the case of Andrej Vucic’s stolen identity for obstruction of proceedings, etc. All these instruments of the security sector are available only to political officials and their friends and relatives, but not to the citizens. Many proceedings were stopped due to obsolescence and no one was blamed or replaced. Also, many citizens are unable to determine the validity of information collected by the security institutions on them, while other information easily “leaks” its way out of those institutions.
This instrumentalization of security sector institutions is no coincidence, nor is it new. It originates from the time of Boris Tadic’s governments, and was only “perfected” during Aleksandar Vucic’s government. The Law on security services, adopted in 2007, prescribed that the Head of the cabinet of the President of Serbia also acts as Secretary of the National Security Council, which has operational control over security services. This allowed Tadic to impose control over the security institutions. The placement of politically suitable judges during the “reform” of the justice system is also well known.
After SNS came into power in 2012, control over the security sector became extremely personal. The aforementioned Law was changed overnight to allow Aleksandar Vucic to personally manage the security institutions. This led to Vucic being both the first deputy prime minister and minister of defense. Besides this, he placed his long-term friend Aleksandar Djordjevic at the head of BIA. The fact that personal loyalty is more important than the law to political officials is also demonstrated by the common replacements of the General inspector of military security services, which have been happening regularly after a new minister of defense is chosen since 2012. Although the law prescribes strict conditions under which this is allowed, every minister of defense replaced the General inspector and placed another who is loyal to him.
Putting the institutions of the security sector into the service of personal and party interests jeopardizes the democratic order and the human rights and lives of the citizens. The case of the helicopter crash which killed seven people shows that this is not merely a theoretical hypothesis. That is why it’s important for all institutions of the security sector to honor their own responsibilities and jurisdictions, but also those of other institutions, particularly control ones. In order to allow this, it’s necessary to replace the heads of security institutions who abused their positions and behaved irresponsibly – Bratislav Gasic, Petar Cvetkovic, Nebojsa Stefanovic and Nikola Ristic.
The author is Executive manager of the Belgrade center for security policy (BCBP).
Translated by Marijana Simic