Serbia

By Araceli Castillo

Introduction

2000px-Flag_of_Serbia_svg

Flag of Serbia

According to Reporters Without Borders, Serbia is considered a free country on their scale. The freedom rating for Serbia lands on No. 2, where 1 is considered most free. For both civil ethics and political rights, Serbia is rated No. 2. The fact that it is closest to the best possible freedom under these scores suggests to outsiders that there is room for improvement. European countries have been under attack due to their democratic values continuing to be tested. For example, Serbia was under criticism for pushing for an early election led by the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), which led to the election of their SNS candidate. Serbia’s electoral process is structured as a unicameral, 250-seat legislature, with deputies elected to four-year terms according to party lists. The president, a largely ceremonial post, is popularly elected for up to two five-year terms. With this being said, Serbia still battles with corruption within its country. In 2014, it ranked 78 out of 175 survey by Transparency International’s 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index. Corruption will remain a serious issue as long as these three issues continue to prevail; the weak implementation of anticorruption legislation, law enforcement agencies nonresponsive approach, and until the judiciary establishes a record of convictions in corruption cases. However, the European Commission (spell out on first reference) noted some improvements in its 2014 report; plans to establish a coordinating body for implementation of the anticorruption strategy and action plan.

Historical Background

The South Slavs had no recorded? history before the unification of 1918. Each region had its own unique history. Thus, it is necessary to give a separate account of the regions that today form the six autonomous republics of the federal state of Yugoslavia; these are Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia-Hecegovina, Montenegro and Macedonia. The differences between the various regions of Yugoslavia, obvious even to the casual traveler and the wealth of forms and courses of development, sometimes discouraging to the reader of Yugoslav is not, geographically speaking, a simple undiversified region. Divided into three distinctive belts: the narrow Adriatic coast, the broad mountainous belt extending from northwest to southeast throughout the entire country, and the northern plains representing the edge of the great Pannonian basin. The mountainous belt, fanning out eastward, comprises a series of parallel chains of lofty mountains, separating the continental part of Yugoslavia from the coast. Like a wall fence, it prevents the climatic dangers from influencing the inlands. However, this was deemed a problem because it was almost impossible for movement of people and goods, giving a more appreciating aspect to economic and cultural differences between the coast and interior. Within the mountainous region itself are many basins and river valleys, isolated and closed off, predestined to go their own way until they were forced to do otherwise. The Yugoslav coast is linked by sea routes, highly favorable for navigation, with the other countries around the Adriatic Sea, especially the coast of Italy and other countries around the Adriatic Sea. The eastern approaches (the present-day constituent republics of Serbia and Macedonia) are bounded by a mountain massif running north to south. Serbia, the largest (34,107 square miles) of the Yugoslav federated republics, was the only region to achieve in medieval times a lasting independent state, and it was also the only region to become a fully fledged independent kingdom in the nineteenth century. This past independence has always been a proud memory for Serbs; it has had an important influence on their history. In the centuries following the Serbian settlement of the central Balkans, two rudimentary states emerged—Duklja in the area of present day Montenegro, and Rascia in today’s south-west Serbia. Serbia became a prosperous and highly developed feudal state. Its frontiers were extended, though incessant fighting was necessary to maintain authority over its widespread territories, stretching northwards to the Sava and Danube rivers, west to the Adriatic coast.

Serbian institutions and cultural development owed much to Byzantine influence. The most enduring result seen in western time is the continued use in Serbia of the Cyrillic (Greek characters) alphabet. The Orthodox religion of the great majority of Serbian people today is also part of the Byzantine legacy. In early years the Catholic religion, spreading from Italy and Hungary had some influence in Serbia, but this gradually declined. The Orthodox faith became the official religion and bishops and priests were closely associated with the monarchy in establishing a state based on the rule of law and Christian ethics. Serbia grew rich on transit trade and found ready markets for its own exportable goods such as wax, honey, skins, sheep and cattle, as well as gold, silver and iron ore. Monastic chronicles as well as trade and diplomatic agreements with neighboring states and the accounts of Byzantine, Venetian and Dubrovnik writers have left plenty of records of medieval Serbia. The most interesting document illustrating life in Serbia at that time is the Code of King Stephen Dusan, which was issued in 1349 and reissued with additions and emendations in 1354. It gives vivid impression of feudal society in medieval Serbia at its highest point. Three years after amending his code, King Dusan died without leaving an able successor and medieval Serbia rapidly disintegrated. The downfall of medieval Serbia was caused by the Turkish invasion of the Balkans. This had begun before the end of Dusan’s reign. It was helped because the Balkan states and their neighbors were not prepared to sink their rivalries and make common cause to keep the Turks out of Europe. For hundreds of years the battle of Kosovo remained a memory of almost mystical importance for Serbian people; its traumatic significance is only beginning to wane. This is because both the Turkish Sultan Murad and Serbian leader, Prince Lazar, were killed. The Serbian nobility was virtually eliminated as a result of this battle, and those that survived either fled abroad or lost their estates and noble status in the ensuing Turkish occupation. One of the most deeply resented aspects of Turkish rule—especially to those Serbs who prospered through trades which Muslims were too idle or inhibited by their religion practice—were the regulations to give the ruling class an upper hand. Serbs were forbidden to possess firearms, to ride on horseback in the presence of Turks, and to wear fine clothes. Perhaps the worst result of Turkish rule in Serbia was the lack of political or economic development. Serbs were cut off from contact with the main developments of the rest of Europe. Trade routes no longer passed through Serbia, economic improvement was discouraged through lack of incentives and crippling taxation. The Orthodox Church played an important part in preserving the spirit of Serbian nationalism. The church came to be synonymous with Serb nationalism. Orthodox priests were leaders of revolts against Turkish rule. There were many problems to be solved in Serbia in the nineteenth century. The country was small and did not include all areas occupied by Serbs, many of whom live in Montenegro, south Serbia, Bosnia-Hercegovina and Macedonia. Almost all Serbs, including the prince, were illiterate.

Early legislative elections took place in March 2014 due to the perseverance of the Serbian Progressive Party, SNS, they explained their actions by stating the need for stronger implementations of political and economic reforms on the path to EU successions. With the land slide victory of the SNS candidate, they captured 158 out of 250 legislature seats. The rest of the seats were capture by the outgoing prime minister who won 18 seats, Socialist Party of Serbia gathered 44 seats, the Democratic Party won 19 seats and three parties representing minorities won the remaining 11 seats. The elections were considered free and fair by international monitors. Under Serbia’s governance, the dominant parties compete for influence. However, since the rule of Slobodan Milosevic in 2000, Serbian politics have witnessed a healthy rotation of power between left-wing and right-wing parties, with opposing parties demonstrating significant influence when not in power. On the surface, the press is generally free, although it may seem that some media outlets are paired with political parties, and the public broadcaster Radio Television of Serbia (RTS) remains subject to strong government influence. A progressive criminal code removed defamation as a criminal offense, but the code retains provisions criminalizing insult. Funds for media advertising are controlled by few economic and political actors. While the internet is for the most part unrestricted, the government faced allegations of online censorship in May after some websites had been temporarily disabled that reported the severity of the floods. The constitution guarantees freedom of religion, which is generally respected in practice. Yet acts of discrimination towards religion remain a concern. Citizens enjoyed freedoms of assembly and association, though a 2009 law bans meetings of fascist organizations and the use of neo-Nazi symbols. In addition, Serbian authorities permitted a pride parade in support of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) rights to take place in Belgrade. This was the first parade to be allowed since the attempt of the last parade in 2010 that led to opposed citizens that initiated widespread violence. Foreign and domestic nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) generally operate freely. Workers may join unions, engage in collective bargaining, and strike, but the International Confederation of Trade Unions has reported that organizing efforts and strikes are substantially restricted in practice. There are no restrictions on travel within Serbia or between Serbia and most other countries. However, the imposed taxes on travelers between Serbia and Kosovo are steep and restrain freedom of movement for poorer residents. Serbia is associated with a free state of mind however the evidence in multiple articles and laws show otherwise.

Serbia works through a unicameral electoral process. In present day the most recent controversy is from the 2014 prime minister election, one that was dominated by the SNS. As the current Serbian Prime Minister, Aleksandar Vucic, is a recent convert to “democratic values, ”during his election campaign it is known that he received 120 times more news coverage that the his three opponents combined. In addition, he used government’s tax collection authorities to investigate opposition figures. They also charged with the accusations that the media outlets were being consolidated and are controlled directly by the prime minister, his family and close business associates. As if these accusations didn’t already question the standard of democratic living for Serbs, the quality of life for ordinary Serbians has suffered. Vucic had pledged to raise wages for ordinary people, never to cut pensions, improve the quality and access of our educational institutions and universities and the health care. However, his actions have resulted in the complete opposite; lower wages, exploited Serbian workers with low paying jobs, cut pensions, and the educational system has not improved. The oppression of the Serbian people is begging for a beacon of hope which seems to be brought by Vucic’s leading opponent in the April 2 first round balloting Vuk Jeremic. He has a background as Serbian Foreign Minister in the previous government, served as president of the U.N. General Assembly and is widely known as an honest, progressive figure. However, with Vucic dominating the “control of the media and state more the hypothesis is that more than 50 percent of the vote in the first-round elections would go to him.” Jeremic is optimistic and believes that Serbia deserves to go back to being a respected, hardworking, and prosperous country. One more battle in the struggle for democracy will be fought in the upcoming election. (this reference to April 2 is problematic. Remember that the publication date of your essay is April 30, 2017, so you need to write this in a way that reflects the time element. As a result, you will need to include the outcome of this election)

Free Speech

Although it is stated in their constitution that speech is free, there are a couple of examples that completely contradict these values. One of the examples that lead us to believe that freedoms are being limited is seen in a controversial incident involving a journalist named Dragan Nikolic. According to the article “Broadcasting of TV Show Postponed” (which article? You should identify the source), the journalist was detained due to a Facebook post that criticized government after floods (you should include some context here; floods that killed X people, or floods that damaged X property or something). The Serbian MP believed the social media post “caus[ed] damages to the dignity of a high-level official at the ruling party, SNS, named Goran Vesic.” With the detention and the interrogation that the journalist received really showed the microscope in which journalist or anyone in the media lives under with the current Serbian regulations. (this is an incomplete sentence and needs to be rewritten) However, having examined the police report the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) has given its support to the Independent Association of Serbian Journalists (NUNS) which protested the detainment of the journalist. Backing up their protests the NUNS told the government in a public statement that the freedom of expression was included in the Constitution of Serbia. The response of the prime minister was not stated, making the public hopeful. The cry for change has been heard around the country with various protests taking place in the hope to stop the deterioration of media freedom. The media has accused Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) of putting political pressure on journalist which is backed up with Prime Aleksandar Vucic’s thoughts on protest “attempt to destabilize Serbia.” He views the protests as a corruption of peace and does not understand the cry for help from the media. “Insulted, badly paid, and fired,” journalists chanted when they took to the streets their feelings towards the danger that freedom of expression could for-see. Another usurpation that resulted in reactions from NUNS, was the response a defense minister had for a woman journalist “I like these female journalist who kneel down so easily,” Gasic told Zlatija Nabovic, when she knelt to avoid blocking the way for a camera during a news conference. NUNS followed his remarks demanding for his resignation. At the time, the prime mister had promised to fire him but did not follow through with his promise. However, the removal of the defense minister is just one of the goals in the movement called “Journalists don’t kneel.” Along with this demand they want an investigation into the illegal surveillance of journalists.

Free Press

It is said that the press is able to act freely to inform its citizens but under the rule of Prime Ministers like Vunic it is a known fact that the media outlets are completely ruled by the Prime Minister’s family, as well as elite persons. Many journalists have addressed the restrictions some of their editors have made them follow. In recent years, a number of journalists have been dismissed from their jobs or saw their shows banned in which was characterized as political retaliation for critical coverage. At times, websites carrying news about critical information have been temporarily disabled, leading into the question whether about concerns on government censorship. The closing of political and investigative radio has continued in 2015. A living example of this change is expressed through the transition experienced by TVB92, from political coverage to entertainment and lifestyle programming. Many new outlets depend heavily on government’s subsidies and advertising purchases, which are allocated through opaque processes. According to BIRN, “only 20 percent of state funding to media outlets is awarded through competitive processes, and the rest is disbursed via subsidies or contracts.” In other words, the government has a close access to the funding of many of Serbian media outlets due their scarcity in resources in the industry. Most outlets in Serbia are overcrowded media market and are not financially self-sufficient and are unable to fund high-quality journalism. One of the mainstream concerns are the postponement of broadcasting of programs such as what happened to the TV broadcast of “Reporter.” The postponement date, still unclear, was due to ensure the security of the journalist Brankica Stankovic and the journalist of the investigative program “Insider.” The first episode on the topic of the embezzlement of the largest Serbian football clubs. News? organizations such as Star and Partizan reacted by issuing press releases accusing the journalists “of causing damage to the state and society as a whole.” Through media outlets friendly to the clubs, they (who?) used their power to ridicule the police protection of Stankovic. In a country where murders of journalists remain unsolved, the government should not take threats to journalists lightly. After a newsroom received information on a traffic accident that killed one person, the ‘Radio 021’ journalist went to the spot to get a first-hand story, without disturbing the current crime scene. He was then “surrounded by three men in plain clothes who told him not to take photographs and asked for his identification documents.” Without feedback from the journalist, the men called on the traffic policeman to ask the journalist to present his ID, which they then photographed. The Association of Independent Electronic Media (ANEM), find their actions contradictory to the new law that was established which was set to improve the state of media freedom in the country. The new Law on Public Information and Media states that information in which the public has genuine interest to know is to be published freely. In addition, the free flow of information via media must “not be jeopardized, particularly not by pressuring, threatening, or blackmailing journalists” (Reporters Without Borders). You need attribution for this quotation. In this case, there was no specific to justify the actions of the traffic officer or the two men. The journalist was a target of intimidation and for the mere reason to try influence his reporting.

Critical Comparison

One of the virtual differences among the United States and Serbia is probably the proximity of American’s rights. Throughout the research done on Serbia it was hard to find websites that stated the rights of Serbian citizens, what they were doing to maintain those rights and how the government protected those rights. (Just because you did not find a website focusing on this does not mean it doesn’t exist. You need to rewrite this to soften this point. Maybe something like: After extensive research about Serbia, few websites offer much information about the rights of Serbian citizens and what the Serbian government does to maintain and protet those rights.) Instead it gave insight into their constitution without a single article backing up the rights of the people. It was far more common to see articles on corruption than articles on the progressive movements to create a better country. With this being said, Serbia is far more free than other countries. However, it does not have more freedom than the United States. Recent candidates have demonstrated the concern to fix the corruption issues and the need to become a better country for young people and its common Serbians. But due to the dominant rule of current rulers, it is hard for a fresh face to be the winning candidate. That itself proves the resilience against progress. Another difference among the countries is the possibility of change. With one party always being in control it is hard for new politicians to take action. With that being said, the United States is not very open to new parties when it comes to the two dominant parties ruling elections, but at least one understands that the parties do change and there is room for change. In one of the articles, it is stated that Jeremic is breath of fresh air, he resembles a mix of Bernie Sanders and Barack Obama (Creamer, Huffington Post). The momentum his campaign is gaining and the ideas he has for his country. Moving away from political candidates, the Serbian constitution states under Article 23 “Everyone shall have the right to free development of his personality if this does not violate the rights of others guaranteed by the Constitution.” It is not directly stated that this gives the people of Serbia the right to self-expression but the interpretation of this Article helps defend the freedom of speech to journalists, the common person, and media outlets. A similar article in the United States Constitution stated in the First Amendment reads “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” Although the United States has amended the constitution to assure those rights to Americans, the Serbian Constitution isn’t as clear. On the other hand, one thing that the United Statesand Serbia can agree on is the encouragement to invest abroad. To the United States(spell out), Serbia is a strategically placed in their geographic location, well-educated, and with an affordable labor force, along with free trade agreements with key markets. Although there are occasional challenges with the bureaucratic delays and corruption, for the most part leaders of Serbia listen to the U.S. concerns. In addition, like the United States, Serbia has adequate property rights laws, however the enforcement of those laws through the judicial system can be extremely slow. As a rising country in freedom of expression, most laws are similar to those countries who live in “free” state, however, whether those laws are executed is up for debate.

Conclusion

Serbia is a fairly free nation with new rules and regulations that have tried to protect the rights of press and speech. However, there is much more work needed to transform Serbia into an entirely free nation. It ranks pretty high on the list of free countries but what deters its progressive movement is the corruption within itself. The battle for democracy continues.

 

References

Auty, Phyllis. “Yugoslavia.” New York Walker And Company. 1965.

Creamer, Robert. “The Serbian Presidential Election Is The Next Battle To Defend Democratic

Values In Europe.” Huffington Post. Updated 3/28/17. March 2017.http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/serbian-presidential-election-next-battle-in-war-to_us_58da6bfae4b04f2f079272f7

Freedom House. “Serbia” 2015. Freedom In The World 2015. 2015. March 2017 https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2015/serbia

Freedom House. “Serbia” 2016. Freedom of the Press 2016. 2016. March 2017 https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-press/2016/serbia

Longyear, Marie. “History of Yugoslavia.” McGraw-Hill Book Company. 1974.

Reporters Without Borders. http://www.ifex.org/serbia/2014/06/07/facebook_floods/

Reporters Without Borders. “Serbian journalists take to streets to protest deteriorating media freedom.” IFEX. 2016. March 2017. http://www.ifex.org/serbia/2016/02/02/kneel_government/

Reporters Without Borders. “Broadcasting of investigative TV shows postponed over security concerns.” IFEX. 2015. March 2017. http://www.ifex.org/serbia/2015/03/09/security_concerns/

Reporters Without Borders. “Journalist intimidated while covering traffic accident in Novi Sad Serbia.” IFEX. 2014. March 2017. http://www.ifex.org/serbia/2014/08/25/traffic_accident/

Serbian Government. “Constitution of the Republic of Serbia.” Government of the Republic of Serbia. 2004. March 2017. http://www.srbija.gov.rs/cinjenice_o_srbiji/ustav_odredbe.php?id=218

The Constitution of the United States. “The Bills of Rights & All Amendments.” 2017. March 2017. http://constitutionus.com/

U.S. Department of State. “2014 Investment Climate Statement-Serbia.” 2014. March 2017. https://www.state.gov/e/eb/rls/othr/ics/2014/228979.htm

 

 

This essay was last updated April 30, 2017.

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