The last referendum in Serbia was held 15 years ago, when the Constitution was adopted. Each of those past 15 years, we have received criticism from the European Union, which we wanted to join all that time, that our Constitution is not good and that we need to change it. This refers to the part concerning the election of judges and prosecutors, and their relationship with the other two political branches of government.
We will solve that in about three months. We will have a new referendum by mid-February, the first in 15 years, and citizens will be able to say whether they agree with the changes to the Constitution, and “only” in relation to the judiciary. The changes are good, they are harmonized with European solutions, they were supported by the European Union, and more importantly, the Venice Commission (Council of Europe), the highest European arbiter for the quality of important laws.
Serbia is completing one of the biggest reforms in the last 15 years. It closes a huge chapter in which it has been receiving criticism for 15 years saying that its judicial system is not independent, that it is under the influence of political power and that every other problem starts from there which boils down to the famous sentence – your rule of law does not work. One of the heaviest burdens in relation to the EU is being removed, but more importantly, the Constitution will incorporate the protection of judicial independence and objectivity, as it is protected in the greatest democracies of today.
It would be logical that everyone is talking about these capital topics in Serbia, and that not a day goes by that they are not discussed and that everyone who deals with politics or any other public business speaks about this, offers different solutions, tries to incorporate the best ones into the Constitution. It would be logical, because when something is written into the Constitution, it will remain there for decades, and it will concern everyone, whether they agree with it or not. That’s how democracy works.
That, however, is not the case. More precisely, there are no changes to the Constitution on the front line where the government and the opposition are settling accounts; there is no struggle over that important level. Even European “good service providers” have been killing themselves for years by calling for everyone to get involved in the work on constitutional changes, because that is simply one of the most important issues for any country. But, it’s all been for nothing. There is only one side on that part of the front, the one that makes up the government, there are no opponents. They decided it wasn’t their battle.
They decided that back in the old days when they held power in a stable, monopolistic way, controlling all resources, even those which give permission for huge jobs, such as the change of the Constitution. From the first day when it was passed, and this week was exactly 15 years, they silently suffered remarks on its content, turned their heads to every mention that it should be changed, pretended not to hear justified remarks that the judiciary in Serbia has a construction error due to which is not autonomous and independent of political influence. For example, the Venice Commission said four months after the adoption of the Constitution that it was not good in the area of justice.
Even then, it was not their battle, and they had everything in their hands necessary to do the job. They weren’t interested, just as they’re not interested now. The responsibility of the former government, and today’s opposition to the fundamental issues of democracy and the rule of law, is zero, and in that sense, nothing has changed in the last 15 years.
Today, their remarks that the Constitution is being changed not in accordance with the law, overnight, not in the presence of the public, sound miserable. This work has been going on for three years, and in the last year there has not been a single important lawyer in the country who has not paraded through parliamentary public hearings. University law professors, judges, prosecutors, lawyers, foreign experts, diplomats from foreign embassies, dozens of experts from non-governmental organizations dealing with the judiciary and the rule of law came. Plus, the Venice Commission is constantly in touch, and in the last three weeks with two final positive opinions – on constitutional amendments, and then on changes in the Law on Referendum.
Why didn’t they work on this while they were in power? For the same reason that they do not deal with it even today when they are in opposition. This thing requires a lot of knowledge, a lot of planning and work, accepting criticism and corrections, and a lot of time, and in return it doesn’t bring a lot of votes. They didn’t have any of that in 2006 onwards, and they don’t have any today. Secondly, President Vučić, the Government, the Assembly and its President Dačić, are doing this job flawlessly and will finish it in the same style. So, there is no room for noise and collecting political points.
And finally, even if they have at least a little will to deal with this capital issue, it turns out these days that they know absolutely nothing about it, not even what high school students in the social field should know about it to get a C. Some of the legal experts of the opposition scene opened fire because the new Law on Referendum lowers the threshold (census) for making a referendum decision, even though that is exactly what is written in the Constitution, which is 15 years old and which they have obviously not read!?
We don’t know, we won’t, and we can’t, nor are we interested, but we know that it’s not good because Vučić deals with it. Such a firm and unwavering policy has been going on for years, and with it we are entering another election campaign. Where, then, do you get the idea that it will bring a different result than before?