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    • BCSP was attacked for advocating for the right to question security policy

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    • Date: 01 May 2019

      National Avant-garde, an organization that uncritically supports the authorities, posted on 29 April 2019 a four-minute video attacking the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy (BCSP) and our director, because of her appearance on TV N1. BCSP Director Sonja Stojanovic Gajic, during the guest appearance on N1 television, on 11 April 2019 commented on the announcement, made by the Minister of Defence, about a possible coup and a hunger strike. She said that the goal of that statement was to draw citizens' attention from other important issues, which includes allegations by military unions about the bad position of employees in the Serbian Army. Also, she pointed out that it is dangerous when senior executives/high officials of security institutions are talking about internal enemies and saboteurs that come from civil society and the media, but at the same time avoiding meaningful dialogue about the priorities of security policy.

       

       

      As a reaction to the appearance of Stojanović Gajic on N1, the National Avant-garde published a video 18 days later in which it defended the statement of BIA’s official that foreign services through civil society and the media are destabilizing Serbia's security. The main target of this four-minute video is the work of the BCSP and the director of the BCSP personally, as well as other civil society organizations indirectly through using their images (Peščanik, Judges’ Association of Serbia, Youth Initiative for Human Rights, Civic Initiatives) and the media (Danas, N1, NIN, Vreme, Radio 021, Istinomer, Al Jazeera). In the video, BCSP and these organizations are accused of monopolizing public debate because they use the term “para-governmental organizations” for those organizations who support the ones that are in power. The video also calls them non-patriots because they criticize politicians that are on top positions in security institutions.

      What attacked organizations had in common is the fact that all of them have indicated that the substantive debate on important issues for Serbian society, such as the amendment to the Constitution, security policy and the appearance of the so-called "governmental non-governmental organizations", is being avoided. As some of the attacked articles  stated, "para-governmental non-governmental organizations" serve only to delegitimize critical tones that come from civil society, pour public funds into party funds, and create a buzz and confusion among the general public about the arguments of civil society.

      What are those who are attacking the BCSP afraid of?

      In the response  to this attack published on Pescanik, the BCSP Director pointed out five reasons why the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy has been targeted for some time by individuals from the government and organizations close to the authorities. The first one is questioning of the politicians' announcements for the possibility of war with neighbours and riots within the country, as well as BCSP's demands for the discussion of these topics on the basis of evidence without intimidating the public and raising tensions with neighbours. We remind that a series of attacks  published by right-wing websites began after the publication of the findings of a public opinion poll on the lack of readiness of Serbian citizens to support the use of the army to resolve the Kosovo issue. These attacks were specifically joined  by an MP belonging to the ruling party, Vladimir Djukanovic, who was quoted multiple times in media saying that BCSP is working “on command from some foreign intelligence service” and targeted BCSP as “foreign agents,” calling us “British Centre for Security Policy,” and saying that all propositions for strengthening civil oversight over security services allow for control over Serbian security system by foreign security services. These attacks by MP Djukanovic were mentioned in the report by European Parliament's research service in Serbia on authoritarian trends  in Serbia.

      Second reason why the BCSP was a target is our constant reminder  to the previous and these authorities that the dialogue on the most important security issues should take place in institutions and include the opportunity for dialogue among the opponents. During 2018, leading Serbian politicians were unwilling to discuss the security policy priorities as part of the public debate on the National Security Strategy, which was organized by the Ministry of Defence on behalf of the Government they represent. More precisely, in a 25-day public debate (including Easter and May Day Holidays), none of the politicians exposed or explained the vision of the state's security and its perception of threats to it, not to mention the questions and suggestions of the profession  and civil society  on how should we as a society address security challenges most effectively, and within the framework of democracy. At an event in the Central Military Club, one of the representatives of the Ministry of Defence even said that they were not authorized to answer questions, but only to receive comments.

      The third is the fear of the BCSP's commitment to the rights of police officers and soldiers and their unions to seek dignified working conditions and to be treated as citizens in uniform, and that they have the right to point to the costs of improper management of these services. The Serbian Constitution and the laws are clear: police and military employees have a voice in the security sector management, even though they cannot run for elections, nor appear in uniform in political gatherings, except while carrying out professional tasks. Their job is to enforce the orders obediently, but not if they are illegal or if they have information  about the relations of people in the security system with suspected criminals. Article 13 of the Law on Military and Article 41 of the Law on Police stipulate what is the professional duty of military personnel and police officers in such situations.

      The fourth and greatest fear of those behind the production of the video is the BCBP's call to document and stop the capture of state security institutions for private or party purposes. BCSP discovered the trend of state capture by monitoring the changes of laws in the security sector over the years. The quickly changed laws on police, military and BIA  in 2018 have a common trend of deliberately increasing the discretion of politicians' decisions on employment and procurement in these services, and to reduce the transparency of their work as well as the competences of oversight mechanisms. BCSP, through publications  and public discussions, was amongst the first ones who pointed to this trend and received support from colleagues from Serbia  and the region for the suggestion that capture of institutions should be explicitly named, and that instead of waiting for the escalation of the new crisis the EU should begin an independent analysis of mechanisms that threaten democracy and the rule of law in the region.

      Finally, Belgrade Centre for Security Policy advocates for a different version of patriotism than the one promoted in a video signed by the National Avant-garde. We will quote Mark Twain: "Patriotism is support to the country, not to the government that rules it," whether it was red, yellow or progressive. Instead of obediently standing at attention, we advocate for the freedom not to treat security as a taboo topic and that everyone has the right to ask questions and suggest solutions, until they insult or threaten others who think differently.

      BCSP since its establishment has been in favour of the right of everyone to participate in security policy discussions, in accordance with the Constitution and laws of Serbia. We believe that when citizens are consulted and when the community of informed civilians discusses priorities with professionals from security institutions and politicians, we can achieve citizen-tailored security. Therefore, we advocate that those who do not share our opinions, such as the National Avant-garde, participate in debates, and together with us and other organizations exchange opinions on what are the best options for security policy.

      Our love for Serbia, and above all, for its citizens, is a commitment to life in a safe and free society without fear.

      Those are the organizations that are formally classified as NGOs, but there are indications that they are connected to the government.

       

       

      Related topics:attack on BCSP
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