June 30, 2020

Anonymous source (SEEMO knows the identity of the source), Belgrade, Serbia (June 2020)

Q: Please if you can introduce yourself:
A: I am a whistleblower activist from Serbia and I would like to stay anonymous.

Q: what is your personal view about the position of whistleblowers in Serbia?
A: Whistleblowing as a concept is considered dangerous and undesirable in Serbia. Since Serbia’s justice system is weak and corrupted, people who dare to point a finger on corruption in their working environment can rarely count on winning their case on the court of law. Tools of democracy in Serbia are weak and Serbia is not considered a free country, so there are many well developed ways of revenging to a whistleblower and condemning them to a life without existential or material support.
Extremely corrupted system such as Serbia is in fear of anyone willing to expose its mechanisms of corruption so revenge towards whistleblowers is fierce and it usually involves threats, job loses, pressures, public defamation, intimidation of whistleblower’s family and friends, false lawsuits against whistleblowers and, even, as seen in recent times, unlawful arrest and imprisonment of whistleblowers.
Up until recent times and Aleksandar Obradovic’s case, broader public was not even aware of the whistleblowing as a concept and its definition. Even some prominent and educated journalists and politicians did not understand what whistleblowing is.
There are few high profile whistleblowers who managed to win their cases at the court or they got their jobs back, but with great personal sacrifices and lose.

Q: How is the legal regulation of whistleblowers in Serbia?
A: The authors of the Law for protection of Whistleblowers like to point out that Serbian Law is one of the best in Europe and even across the world. Indeed, at first and uneducated glance, this Law seemingly covers all major weak points of whistleblowers’ protection. It contains strict and defined way of reporting corruption at workplace and the Republic Anti-Corruption Agency has a tool of protecting the whistleblower through giving them a special status which forbids punishment of the whistleblower. However, this Law has proved to have faults which were revealed in full capacity during the last whistleblower scandal in Serbia, when a whistleblower was arrested and held in illegal custody while having no right to claim a whistleblower status as he was accused of “unlawfully revealing state secret data to the public”. While Law for protection of Whistleblowers defines ways of reporting information on corruption through internal and external institutions and agencies, especially if this information contains protected or secret data, it does not say to whom or where to report irregularities when absolutely all, including highest state, institutions are corrupted. As it turns out, this Law does not protect when we have cases conducted by the highest state officials.

Q: How are state institutions protecting whistleblowers in Serbia?
A: There are few designated state institutions and agencies to protect whistleblowers. Besides usual ones, such as inspections, prosecutors, courts of law and police, Serbia has also a Republic Anti-Corruption Agency. You can say that everything functions on paper. All rule of law mechanisms are present and seemingly do whatever they are supposed to do. This is up until a person actually reports corruption in their working environment. Broader public will almost never hear about such cases. They are dealt with far away from public eyes and, very often, mainstream media, which are usually in the regime hands, will never report about them. These individuals fight their fights almost alone or with the help of handful of lawyers specialized in whistleblower protection. Republic Anti-Corruption Agency will give a special whistleblower status to these individuals, but the Agency itself has a shaken authority, undermined by the fact that it also serves to the regime needs. Justice for whistleblowers is achievable almost only when that does not endanger the interests of the ruling cast.

Q: How dangerous is to be a whistleblower in Serbia?
A: Since Serbia is a corrupted society where people, especially politicians, are often not even aware of the fact that some behaviors represent corruption and conflict of interests, every individual who dares to point out the corruption is subject to immediate pressures from their close surrounding, starting from their family and friends to their workplace and public. Whistleblowers usually lose their jobs and existential security, they face difficulties of finding another job and if their whistleblowing is related to public and state institutions they may face serious retributions from powerful officials who may use corrupted judicial system to revenge.

Q: Can you please give some examples from the past years:
A: One of the most important whistleblowing cases in Serbia, which has a potential to influence changes in broader understanding of corruption and its negative impact on rule of law and everyday lives of citizens of Serbia, is the Krusik case – a case where a whistleblower Aleksandar Obradovic has discovered high level corruption in state-owned arms factory Krusik. This discovery has revealed financial malversations and illegal arms trade involving closest family of one of the highest Government officials –Minister and Deputy Prime Minister. This case has also revealed all of the weak spots of the Law on protection of Whistleblowers and Serbian judicial and police system as the whistleblower was illegally imprisoned at first. Now he is waiting for the trial although Prosecution has no proofs to accuse him. Aleksandar Obradovic’s human rights have been brutally violated and he is still in some sort of a limbo state: waiting for a trial which seems like it has no intention to happen soon.

Q: Can whistleblowers fight alone for a better position in Serbia?
A: Whistleblowers in Serbia cannot fight their battles themselves. They need international help in the form of the support of Council of Europe and European Union institutions and international observers to monitor the fairness of the processes they’ve been put through. Sometimes these whistleblowers get a whistleblower status and more often they are sued and mistreated in every possible way, but they always need broader international support for the simple reason that Serbia is undeveloped democracy and it needs to be supported in its democratic processes.

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