In preparation for EU accession talks, the government's office of human and minority rights is concentrating on Serbia's anti-discrimination strategy.
By Bojana Milanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 13/08/13
A bicyclist rides past anti-gay graffiti in Belgrade. [AFP]
Among the most important tasks facing Serbia in its membership negotiations with the EU are standardising human and minority rights and implementing existing regulations.
Chapters 23 and 24 of the EU's 35 negotiation chapters deal with justice and human rights.
"During the negotiations on Chapter 23, the candidate state is required to adopt efficient mechanisms for fighting against all forms of discrimination," said Suzana Paunovic, head of the government's office for human and minority rights, adding that the government recently adopted a five-year anti-discrimination strategy.
"The implementation of this document will be very significant in the process of negotiation. It is our task, regardless of how complicated the process of its development might be, to finish the action plan as soon as possible, and also define the deadlines for the realisation of the measures it proposes," Paunovic said.
She added that for Serbia to make the implementation of the anti-discrimination law fully possible, it must establish precise records on reported and processed cases of discrimination and provide protection for victims from further discrimination.
"The government still strongly supports the improvement of the position of ethnic minorities and enabling their full inclusion in society. In the following period we must examine the law on ethnic minorities' national councils, laws on media, information and data protection, as well as the election law for ethnic minorities," Paunovic said. Sonja Biserko, president of the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights in Serbia, said Serbian regulations on human and minority rights are adequate, but still must be fully implemented.
"The problem facing the current government is the fact that this political fraction, led by the Serbian Progressive Party, was a part of the problem with the lack of tolerance in all fields. During the 1990s, [as members of the Serbian Radical Party] their policy was completely opposite to the standards they will now have to uphold during the process of negotiations with the EU," Biserko said.
She said the Serbian state views minorities as trouble-making secessionist groups. Serbia sees another potential threat in the possibility that minorities might demand the same status that Serbs have in northern Kosovo, she said.
"I believe that Belgrade won't be ready for something like this, which is only a natural next step after everything they asked of others. Failure to understand others is a general issue troubling the whole of the Balkans," Biserko said.
There are signs of progress in Sandzak, a predominantly Bosniak area of southwestern Serbia.
Ishak Slezovic, a resident of Sandzak, told SETimes that minorities in Serbia have a satisfactory position, but that there is a need for broader use of minority languages and for more Bosniaks to work in official institutions.
"The use of Bosniak language in the municipalities of the Sandzak region greatly varies. Its use regarding the public signs and personal documents is not completely regulated," said Slezovic, who added that it is a positive sign that the Bosniak language will be used in primary schools in Sandzak starting on September 1st.
"This project will bring much joy to the parents and students of Sandzak," Slezovic said. "The ministry of education has already approved the textbooks for classes in Bosniak language."
What steps should the Serbian government take to improve minority rights? Share your thoughts below.