Vucic has Parliament in his pocket
“I will file a criminal complaint against the Minister of Interior Nebojsa Stefanovic for abusing power because on 13 April the police had, fully armed, without any notice and by violating the law, occupied the highest legislative body of Serbia, which is a sort of a coup d’état. There are videos of everything going on that day in the Parliament building, but I have to declare that I have seen no football hooligans in the Assembly.”
“Democratic Party Parliamentary Group, as the largest opposition club in the Assembly, did not participate in the Collegium convened by Maja Gojkovic, because for the last few years we demanded to have regular consultations for the purpose of reducing the tension, making discussions more decent, ensuring the conformity of the Rules of Procedure and have somewhat normal political life, but she refused all that”, explains Balsa Bozovic, Deputy Head of Democratic Party Parliamentary Group, in his Istinomer interview on why the opposition declined Gojkovic invitation for consultations. Bozovic believes that “beginning of the dialogue with the opposition” is “dishonest and unimportant because Gojkovic had harassed some MPs earlier and had allowed the Assembly to become a reality show”. He said that the CRTA has provided 60 amazing recommendations for improving electoral circumstances by 2020 and believes that 20 out of 60 suggestions could be adopted in this pre-election year.
Your explanation that the atmosphere is not as usual, which could be witnessed from the protests in the streets, followed by the decision to boycott the work of the Assembly, but do you want to have the regular circumstances in the Parliament in the first place?
For these seven years, the ruling majority has rejected the dialogue. After all, we do not believe that Maja Gojkovic just out-of-the-blue wanted to start this dialogue.
Which instrument are you using to measure the sincerity of her invitation?
I do not if you are familiar with it, but it has never happened in the history of the multi-party system in Serbia that the opposition MPs are so sternly punished as for the last seven years. Many MPs were persecuted, smeared and publicly shamed. Many of them were targets as if in a chase. We have put up with that until the moment when the citizens have sad “well, that’s enough”.
However, now we have a situation that, despite all, the conversation is offered as an alternative. If one cannot find a place to talk in the Assembly, where then?
I absolutely believe that the Assembly is a place, but things are now a little different than in some regular circumstances. You would have to agree that these are extraordinary circumstances. People are protesting for four months, the opposition has left the Parliament in order to draw attention to the crisis of parliamentarism in Serbia. As for the European Union, our European partners are very concerned as they are witnessing this and we have made our demands now in order to make sure that the next elections will be free and fair.
That sounds fine, but where is this place at which you are discussing the demands?
They shall be adopted in the Plenary Hall of the Assembly. As an opposition, with the help of the non-governmental sector and international community, we are formulating the amendments to the law which are to be adopted so the elections would be fair and free. This has to happen in Parliament. The point is to change things if the Government wants the opposition at the elections. If they fail to adopt our demands, the opposition will boycott the elections. This would also mean that they do not want democratic life in the country and that they have decided to cancel the multi-party system in Serbia.
If the demands are to be adopted, you have to submit them officially to someone from the very Parliament you are boycotting?
There is a procedure – you are submitting amendments to the law proposals through the support services of the Assembly. Maja Gojkovic as the Speaker was chairing the sittings, but as an MP, first among equals, she had demonstrated so much bias. She threatened the independence of the National Assembly as an institution by putting Parliament to Vucic’s pocket. After seven years of disregard of the citizens’ choice, we do not want to talk to her, but we have shaped the demands from the civic protests into the amendments to the proposals of the law. If the Government fails to adopt these, it means they do not want to have us at the elections and that they have chosen to be toppled from power at some other place, outside of the institutions, which is at the street really.
So you will officially submit the demands and if they like them they would adopt them, but if not, you are sitting in the hallway waiting for the outcome?
No, no, no. That should be something to be agreed upon, not only between the opposition and the MPs but including them as well. I would only like to add that CRTA made 60 amazing recommendations and 20 out of 60 could be adopted in this pre-election year. We have already shaped these into the law amendments. Another very important thing – we have to do everything in coordination with the international community because we do not trust the Government any more.
It is not obvious in the first place but the demands were made at the protest on Saturday referring to the joint commission of the Government and the opposition for defining the electoral circumstances, the appointment of new members of REM, appointment of the technical and editorial teams of RTS and RTV. All this should be agreed on first. Where do you agree on this?
Let’s be completely realistic, on Saturday for the last three minutes of the several-hour protest with more than 50.000 dissatisfied citizens, the moderator had said that the opposition had agreed on the biggest issues. It generally concerned the biggest issues – citizens are afraid to vote freely, they are afraid to go out and vote since they think someone will put pressure on them or fire them, RTS ignores the opposition life in Serbia and at last you have REM which fails to punish those who possess the national wealth such as the national frequency.
We are all aware of it but what are we going to do with that?
Together with the NGO sector that had thoroughly investigated these things and the MPs, such as the Democratic Party Parliamentary Group, who worked on this topic for more than a year, we are now transforming it into the law amendments. It has to be adopted in the Parliament, not at the farmers market, and the agreements outside of the institutions cannot be made. If Maja Gojkovic and Vucic have been humiliating the Parliament for the past seven years, we should not follow suit. We should preserve this institution since it does not belong to the Serbian Progressive Party but to the citizens of Serbia.
How autonomous are the opposition MPs in the Parliament, even from the Democratic Party, when making a decision in reference to the Alliance for Serbia?
I would say they are very autonomous because the Alliance for Serbia is not in the Parliament.
Precisely why I asked you this.
The Alliance for Serbia does not have a parliamentary group.
Precisely my point, since I have an impression that you are not autonomous in your decisions…
I can speak on behalf of Democrats. They are quite autonomous in the Parliament. You cannot really say that people such as professor Micunovic, Gordana Comic and many others are people without integrity and autonomy. We made decisions in consultation with party authorities of course, but, first of all, we are accountable to the citizens for our mandates. So we only act in the interest of citizens and not some supra-political institutions. I am personally against any dialogue with the Government outside of the institutions. It would mean that you would be sitting with someone in private trying to agree on something. I believe this will neither contribute to the quality nor to the transparency of the agreement.
Do you consider “round tables” to be outside of the institutions?
We already had round tables on electoral circumstances before. We were present at the round tables, unfortunately, the Government was not. Whether it would be different now, that is something you have to ask them.
If I have understood the opposition criticism correctly, the problem is not the existing acts and the laws but their application.
Precisely. And now CRTA made great recommendations that will additionally control any kind of law abuse for those laws applied at the moment. There is nothing wrong with the Rules of Procedure of the National Assembly but they are abused. We want to see now which mechanisms should be used to prevent the abuse which was quite obvious for the past seven years.
Do you think that the Government is playing tactically or just making a defensive move with this invitation to the Collegium, as well as the announcement of potentially organising the plenary debate on Kosovo?
I think that is an excuse for what will come.
What do you mean?
They would be saying that they invited them but these certain people did not show up so they are moving on. They really want to respect the form, so it is not about the essence. But for the sake of citizens who are furious because of the situation in the society and the country, during these four months, we have promised that we will take care only of the essence and not the form. So we really want to inaugurate democracy in Serbia, with the rule of law and observance of institutions after Aleksandar Vucic. We have no wish to just come to power as an opposition party. We want Parliament to control every future government and that every government should be replaceable. As professor Micunovic had said, there is no such thing as good or bad government, there is only well-controlled government.
So you should now make us believe you that you will be different now than before?
Again, I am referring to the core of the DS Parliamentary Group.
Which was in government before.
Yes, you are right.
As an MP, do you believe that the opposition should join the Kosovo debate, bearing in mind that in the last couple of years for million times you insisted that this debate should be brought to the Assembly?
No. For seven years we were demanding information on what is negotiated, through which negotiating framework and why the Assembly did not make a negotiating framework.
So they said – here’s your debate now, and you refused to join.
No, no, they are the ones refusing. They are wrapping up the non-transparent negotiations, which are really, we can say that out loud, private and personal. On the other hand, let me remind you of the fact that Kosovo Parliament is very much participating in the negotiations, monitoring the process and providing the negotiating framework, and Thaçi notifies Kosovo Parliament on any sentence he exchanged with Vucic. On the other hand, Aleksandar Vucic…
They have also been criticised for the lack of transparency there.
Yes, but from Aleksandar Vucic only after he had agreed with Thaçi on everything in private.
How do we know that he had agreed with him?
Let’s see, if you are convening a sitting on Kosovo, I presume you want to vote on something. You want to vote on something which I presumed you have discussed with Thaçi. But if they are convening it to “talk Serbian” about Kosovo, again we will not participate in that farce.
That is somewhat infantile – you are demanding something, and when they say, okay, we will give you that, you say, no, we do not want it now?
No, no, let’s make things clear, we want to participate in the process, but now when the process is over they want to hide behind the Parliament, but we won’t let them. We will not join those shifting the responsibility for that historical decision from Aleksandar Vucic to the MPs.
The dialogue. Does the opposition have any strategy or at least the tactics for starting that dialogue?
There are a few steps to demonstrate how it should be done in the parliamentary life of a democratic country. The opposition will meet under the same roof with the MPs, parties and those outside of the Parliament, to concert their positions, and then invite the non-governmental sector and international community by saying – these are the demands from the protests, the additional pressure on the Government, here you have our proposals, and we want the Government to talk about them.
When you say international community you mean Europe?
We are, before all, a part of the European continent, and a part of the European community as the family of nations. And Mr McAllister had said that he would help and that the European Parliament and Council of Europe are very interested to get involved in the process, that crisis of parliamentarism makes sense to them since they understand its origin.
I am not sure they are full of understanding when it comes to boycotting?
What they really do not approve is the status quo. They want us to get involved in problem-solving. We are not afraid of it, from our side, and as soon as possible we want to propose a set of laws that would result in fair and honest elections, and maybe bring about the amendments to the Rules of Procedure of the Assembly.
Remind us why we do not have that set of laws already?
The first step would be for the opposition to align its proposals with the non-governmental sector, and invite the international community to join since we just do not trust the Government.
Is that your idea or is it something to discuss?
I personally hope this would be discussed since this is not my idea, but the steps to be taken in the framework of the parliamentary democracy.
Speaking about the Assembly, on Saturday, during the protest people have learned through social networks that the police are in the Assembly. You have uploaded photos and videos, and then you have said that “coup d’état” is happening, bearing in mind the official release of the Secretary General of the Assembly, who appealed to the Rules of Procedure and the Law on the National Assembly?
The Secretary General was not present in the Assembly building, and there are video recordings to prove that. This is just not something I believe or think, there is proof for everything. Aleksandra Jerkov and I have made a video, and we have recorded Deputy Secretary General who was in the building at the moment, in the absence of the Secretary General.
Is the presence of Secretary General relevant?
Yes, because under Article 71 of the Law on National Assembly, General Secretariat shall be the only one in charge of authorising the police to be present in the Assembly building in some circumstances. When I have entered the Assembly, fully armed special police, not only riot police but the special unit of the gendarmerie, paraded the hallways fully armed, and the employees were forbidden to enter, it was absolutely embarrassing, as your colleagues have asked to enter the Assembly and they were not allowed. I asked the Deputy Secretary General who had said – “we have nothing to do with it, we know nothing and we have no information”. I have asked the deputy head of security and head of security, who referred me to the Ministry of Interior. So without any notice whatsoever and by violating the law, the Ministry of Interior occupied the Assembly building.
In Article 71 it is stipulated that: “Services of internal security and order keeping in the building and on the premises of the National Assembly shall be provided by the members of the security services of the Ministry of the Interior with the assent of the Secretary General”.
Who was not present in the Assembly, as I have told you. And contrary to what Mr Stefanovic said, this was before…
But the Secretary General gives written consent…
Before Stefanovic was explaining himself at Pink television for two hours that he had obtained that assent, before that moment you can see in the video that I was asking Deputy Secretary General if the Secretary General was in the building. He was not. Can you please tell me why so many representatives of armed police were in the building, he said – “that has nothing to do with us, I have no information on that “.
Has the Deputy told you that?
You can see it in the video. I scheduled the press conference for the day after because I wanted to file a criminal complaint.
The Secretary General claims the opposite in his press release – that he has invited them. Are you saying he is not telling the truth?
It means that he is not telling the truth, and the Minister of Interior, as a member of the executive government, had occupied the legislative government as an independent branch of government and the central political institution in Serbia, so now when you come to your work you have someone fully armed parading with guns, and this is de facto the executive government making pressure on the independent branch of government such as the Serbian Assembly.
As far as I have understood, they came to protect the safety of the building.
For four months we have protests, so this is the issue and all this time we are walking next to that Assembly. Where is the safety assessment as the basis for making that decision? I am a Member of the Internal Affairs Committee, a Deputy Member of the Security Services Control Committee, but we have not received any information that Assembly is in danger of someone intruding.
Is it something you should have received?
For sure, since that would be obligatory under the Rule of the Procedure of the Assembly and under the Law.
When you have mentioned coup d’état it reminded everyone of what Vulin had said including his argumentation on the coup d’état?
It was actually Vulin who first started mentioning coup d’état. Do you actually know what is coup d’état? It does not refer to citizens entering the Parliament, it means that the state itself did it, which happened in the end eventually. No one was laughing in the end.
Wait, we are having coup d’état where?
In his public speech, the Minister of Interior has turned this form of exaggeration into reality. Therefore, armed special police units trained to fight terrorism were brought by him to the Hall where the MPs were sitting.
There is no coup d’état today, because it …
It was carried out by Vucic long time ago, I agree.
That is not what I have said. If it was a coup d’état then we would not have the civilian government now, so it means you are exaggerating.
Any exaggeration holds some truth. It is an exaggeration to say that he has the Parliament in his pocket, which is a reality. Will he confess that – well, he won’t.
I am talking here about coup d’état, because you personally are advocating the change of communication, you are criticizing the Government using words like fascists, tycoons, thieves, scoundrels… You have criticized and made fun of Vulin after his press release because you believed that the military is also humiliated, but then you are using the same words now.
The reason I am filing a criminal complaint against Nebojsa Stefanovic for abusing power in relation to the Assembly is that all resembles an attempt of the coup d’état. And let me tell you why. On that day, the special units of the police were in the premises of SNS in the Assembly. So, they were in the rooms where we have hearings, where Parliamentary Committees and parliamentary bodies meet. It is not normal that you cannot ensure that the MPs, members of the sovereign branch of government and the central political institution, cannot function normally so this was a threat and for me it was clear. SPS and SNS opened their premises for members of the special forces, what was that about? Which side are they on? Why they missed to enter premises of DS or some other party? Together with SNS, they wanted to tell us that someone else will attack them. Now I am asking you if by these statements and this press conference we have stopped someone from staging provocation for the police to react.
In her appearance on N1, Ms Tepic had said that apart from the police she had seen football hooligans in the Assembly?
I have to be honest to tell you I personally have not seen them. I have seen the police dressed as civilians – they all had badges, but to be honest, I have not noticed any football hooligans.
Have you not asked her where did she get that information?
I actually have not seen her and you have to ask her that. I have a video as a proof for my statements.
Is there any truth in what we hear in the last few days that the Government is “on the defensive”, “it’s panicking”, and that “this is a beginning of its fall”?
I think they are in a very uncomfortable situation.
What is uncomfortable about it?
It is not comfortable that 50.000 people came to Belgrade and it is also not comfortable they organised themselves, no organised buses were transporting them, and no one put pressure on them. Can you imagine how many people who are against the Government in Serbia actually stayed in their homes because they could not have come to Belgrade that day? We have a huge crisis because the President of the Republic of Serbia is not the president of all citizens and he absolutely does not want to witness that one part of the public is saying – “we do not agree with how this country works”.
This is a diagnosis that you are telling me about now, but as an experienced politician, do you think that the Government is on the defensive?
I think it is on the defensive.
How can you tell?
You can tell how nervous they are. For example, the rallies they are organising. Milosevic did that in the final years of his rule, by demonstrating that he had support compared to the opposition, so he had also organised bus transport for the people who were intimidated, there were lists, the public enterprises and companies were involved and other. However, please let’s be clear, they are all our citizens, we hold nothing against them, and we are fighting for them too.
That is not what we hear because the opposition politicians call them sandwich brigade members, rogues and idolaters.
They were forced by hardship to do that, and we do not want to say a single bad word for them, me personally also, because they are citizens of our country and it is not easy for them, and God knows what made them find themselves there, despite their will.
Is the opposition really doing its best, as Teofil Pancic wrote in one of his comments, to give mass support to people really living in hardship who have to support the Government precisely because of that?
If you are asking me if the opposition is doing enough generally, I think it can do much more for that aim and many others for that matter.
For example, what would those be?
For example, to agree on many political matters. At this last protest, we had an opportunity to hear different messages not really in accord. That should be aligned so the citizens would get a more clear idea of what are the demands and how to fulfil them, what would be a next step, next move, so this should be done much better.
You refer to the nationalist messages or something else…?
In the Alliance for Serbia, you will find two tides, the citizens and the nationalists. So we would not reject each other, I think we should really focus on the essence here, what brought us together – free, fair and honest elections.
When Tadic was booed on Saturday did that mean booing the Democratic Party also?
I think that Boris Tadic, and not only him, but I also think Zoran Zivkovic, being booed is a reflection or a result of the political incoherence of the Alliance for Serbia itself, I would say.
I am not sure that I understand.
The politics these two have advocated together with DS, if you like, is not the politics of everyone protesting together with us for free and fair elections. We could have expected that. We do not have the same political beliefs, and I think this incident actually was related to this.
What is the current stage of the DS reuniting?
This process is both negotiated and implemented daily and I think it a result of the fact that Serbia needs an alternative in politics, the European alternative to the Government…
Also, to the opposition?
Ultimately, the political scene generally needs one large, strong pro-European party that will more sincerely and efficiently and much faster bring Serbia closer to the European Union.
Will the reunited Democratic Party in some way distance this party or the union from the Alliance for Serbia?
The Alliance for Serbia has some expiry date. We have said that we have found ourselves in the pre-political society, and until we would have an equal chance to present our political beliefs, we will endure. But this society, the citizens and the opposition as well actually need one big Democratic Party. Only a strong pro-European party, which is well-organised in all parts of Serbia, can remove Aleksandar Vucic from power at the elections. We are advocating for non-violent social change, not for revolution, we are advocating exactly for fair elections in Serbia. Because Vucic cannot win in fair elections, and he knows that.
Will we have elections before 2020?
Aleksandar Vucic will exclusively decide that. He puts pressure on the opposition and makes threats by talking about elections. Absolutely calmly, with a cool head and no pressure, we want to have fair elections, we have the recommendations that would help to implement the fair elections and if these recommendations are not adopted we will not participate in these elections.
Do you agree with the radicalisation, and/or, as it was referred to, actions of civil disobedience if the Government fails to adopt your ideas?
We are putting pressure on the Government by the protests all the time so they would adopt the recommendations offered by the opposition. That pressure should continue further, and it should not finish until the Government concedes. If the Government would do it, it’s up to their political will, but our participation in the elections depends on that. If we do not participate in the elections, then radicalisation is one of the potential solutions.