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    • Captured State Threatens Citizens' Security

    • Date: 29 June 2018

      In Serbia, there is a gap between law and practice, uncontrolled government seeks to diminish citizens' rights, and public attention is being drawn to unimportant issues. The way to slow down the state capture process is to strengthen institutions and networking, it was highlighted at the event organized by the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy (BCSP) on June 29, 2018 in Belgrade.

      Captured state as a term is increasingly subject to analysis in Serbia and neighboring countries, and the European Commission’s latest Strategy for the Western Balkans mentions that there are elements of the captured state in the region, Pescanik Editor-in-Chief and panel moderator Svetlana Lukic pointed out. This term implies a form of systemic political corruption.

      President of the BCSP Executive Board Miroslav Hadzicargued that the captured state was "an uncontrolled, potentially irresponsible government that only serves its own purpose." Speaking about captured state from the security aspect, Hadzic said it makes sense to open a debate on whether there was a period when Serbia was not a captured state.

      Hadzic assessed that there were never any ideas about the system reforms in the security sector, but that it was just reorganization without any substantial changes, from which we still feel consequences. He added that we are witnessing the re-politicization and ideologization of the army, police and security services and the abolition of professional autonomy.

      "One of the elements of the captured state is secrecy, that is, non-transparency and hiding. Laws and law changes are passed without a public debate. These laws are intended to increase the discretionary power of ministers, i.e. civil orderers in state-owned apparatus," emphasized the President of the BCSP Executive Board.

       "In this situation, you have to constantly spread the atmosphere of fear, as in the situation of fear, you make the state capture invisible," Hadzic emphasized, adding that the ultimate consequence of the captured state was "the abolition of citizens' security."

      Joint struggle against state capture

      Judge of the Appellate Court and President of Judges’ Association of Serbia Dragana Boljevic analyzed the consequences of state capture in the field of justice.

      "The first channel of institution demolition is the legislative framework that allows this, followed by the chaos making by frequent changes in legal conditions and the fact that the state itself does not respect its legal obligations. The current authorities believe that winning the elections also gives the legitimacy to control everything. There is an open disregard for the fundamental constitutional principle of the division of power," Boljevic said.

      Boljevic pointed out that she expected from the last opinion of the Venice Commission to "trade the rule of law" for the sake of daily political interests. However, the Commission recognized that the process was undermined by "an atmosphere of bitterness and resentment" and urged the authorities not to spare efforts to make a constructive debate, Boljevic assessed, adding that the draft opinion of the Venice Commission was even more direct and even more explicitly critical.

      Boljevic also pointed to new proposals for constitutional changes that threaten the High Judicial Council to be dysfunctional, which would, according to her, incorporate an institution that does not function in the Constitution.

      "The process of defending the current Constitution from the proposed amendments has united the entire legal profession and a part of the civil sector that deals with the protection of the rule of law, which is a positive. The profession needs help, because only the profession and the strengthening of institutions can benefit society," concluded Boljević.

      The rule of law is the obligation of every authority and not a matter of political will

      The Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection Rodoljub Sabic said that there is an increasing gap between Serbia's normative and real state of compliance, and that "the institution's collapse is a way of no return".

      "There is a lot of talk about the political will to apply a law. It's pointless. A political will can be talked about before adopting a law. Once they come into force, the laws must be respected. There is a political will here that laws are not respected," said Sabic.

      The Commissioner warned that, while Serbia has one of the best-rated laws on free access to information of public importance, suddenly this law changes, and more than the practical changes demand. He estimated that a series of bad proposals, such as the exclusion of state-owned capital from the law, was given as a result of inadequate analysis in which relevant institutions were not consulted. For example, state capital companies are excluded from the law during the emphasized fight against organized crime and corruption.

      "A new Data Secrecy Law is being prepared. Earlier, I was critical of it, especially in relation to the law enforcement regulations, and demanded that sanctions be predicted if no regular review of the classification of data was performed. The law states that the report on the implementation of the law is submitted to the National Assembly, and no one has ever seen it. On what basis does the new law come in?" Sabic asked.

      The Commissioner pointed out that interventions that fall under his jurisdiction are responded to with a fierce attack, and that his calling for the accountability of state authorities is called political.

      Unimportant topics as attention-grabbing

      Regarding the respect of the existing laws, reporter Tamara Skrozza said that Serbia has well-appraised media laws that most important media institutions ignore.

      "The REM is in charge of overseeing law enforcement, but members of the body openly refuse to do so. Journalists' organizations and activists are being pushed by foreign actors into dialogue with the authorities in order to reach a compromise. This cannot be done by violating the Constitution and while journalists face open pressure. In this context, we have been talking about adopting a media strategy for a year now, in order to show the government something to do," Skrozza said.

      Skrozza stated that certain new topics are being constantly placed, that the media community should deal with, and as an example, she announced the formation of a state "Anti Fake News Group", which she characterized as "bizarre" because, as she assessed, "the government lives on fake news and manipulation of statistics."

      "For days we have been dealing with a topic that does not exist, but which is potentially dangerous. If such a body is formed, it will act as an inquisition for the media. And this is just a new posture, they would not be dealing with the substance, which is how independent journalism survives in Serbia," Skrozza concluded.

      Goal of the event organized by BCSP in the Human Rights House was to point to the trends of abuse and collapse of institutions for the sake of strengthening uncontrolled political power and give recommendations to stop this process.

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