Serbia beginning effort to reduce discrimination


A recent survey shows that discrimination is widespread, and even tolerated, in Serbia.

By Bojana Milovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 11/03/14


Protection for Equality Commissioner Nevena Petrusic (centre) holds a press conference on the survey results on February 28th. [Vesna Andic/RFE/RL]

A recent survey by Serbia's Commission for the Protection of Equality showed that a large percentage of people in public administration are ignorant when it comes to discrimination, and action must be taken in order to fulfil EU requirements, Commissioner Nevena Petrusic said.

Petrusic said she will send recommendations to state institutions on how to improve their work and reduce discrimination.

"This is important to us because of the accession negotiations with the European Union, this field must be regulated and fully standardised," said Petrusic.

"I think that the role of the media needs to affect a change in consciousness. It is the responsibility of our officers to give statements that do not encourage this kind of intolerance. In the long run, it seems to me that the greatest responsibility [lies with] educational institutions," Petrusic said after the survey results were released in late February.

According to the survey, more than 20 percent of public administration employees are unaware that discrimination is prohibited by law, and as many as 30 percent do not know that hate speech is legally prohibited.

The commission conducted the survey on a sample of 1,300 representatives of institutions encompassing the Serbian government, the Vojvodina provincial assembly, local administrations, courts and prosecutors' offices.

Petrusic said there is a high percentage of discriminatory opinions among the representatives of public administration bodies, and that many tolerate discriminatory behaviour.

"Moreover, there are many who believe that the groups being discriminated against are responsible for their own position, and the responsibility for the fight against discrimination lies on the citizens themselves, rather than on the competent institutions," she told SETimes.

According to the survey, members of the Serbian parliament are more sensitive than others to gender-motivated discrimination, and 70 percent believe that women are not treated equally in society.

There is prejudice toward "LGBT individuals, people with HIV, the Roma and developmentally challenged children. Forty percent think most of their colleagues would agree with the claim that homosexuality is a disease, and that belief is particularly prominent among the representatives of municipal administrations," Petrusic said.

Dragana Boljevic, president of the Judges' Association of Serbia, said that although she has not received complaints on the behaviour of her fellow judges, she believes that discriminatory views exist in the sector, particularly concerning women.

Although there is an increasing number of women in the judicial profession, there are fewer women in leading judicial positions, she said.

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"That is a form of discrimination that may not be noticeable at first. But when one looks at the whole picture, one sees that this equality is still not complete," Boljevic told SETimes.

Boljevic said the results of the survey were not surprising, since impoliteness is a usual occurrence in contact between ordinary citizens and civil servants.

"If they are rude and snappish when addressing me, I don't even want to imagine how a clerk might behave when communicating, for example, with a Roma, who is not educated enough and to whom they have to explain certain things with much more patience and in greater detail," Boljevic said.

What steps can countries in the region take to stop discrimination? Add your thoughts below.

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