Trial in 2012 fatal nightclub fire stirs up Serbia

16/07/2014

The trial raised questions about the judiciary, as well as safety conditions at clubs.

By Igor Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 16/07/14

photo

Officials remove a victim from a nightclub fire in Novi Sad, Serbia, in 2012. Six people were killed in the blaze. [File]

Serbia has for two years closely watched the trial of defendants charged with the deaths of six young people in a fire at a dance club in Novi Sad, the biggest city in Serbia's Vojvodina province.

But even though the owners and tenants of the club were handed prison sentences, the victims' parents said they are dissatisfied with what they call mild sentences, long and inefficient court proceedings, as well as the lack of accountability of state officials who had enabled the dance club to operate.

"Such a minor penalty is reprehensible, because it shows the inconsistency of the court, the weakness of the system and the state," said Branko Miladinovic, the father of one of the victims, after the four defendants were sentenced to between five and nine years in prison.

"We will not let it lie, we'll file an appeal and continue with the proceedings, because we want to know why the responsible representatives of state institutions, directors and managers have not been punished as well."

The defendants were sentenced for having failed to properly maintain installations at the dance club Kontrast, where six young people died on April 1st 2012. However, the parents believe the charges should have included the people from the state inspectorate who had allowed the club to operate despite all its shortcomings, as well as the firefighters who they say were slow to respond to the fire.

After angry reactions from parents and the public, the Novi Sad Prosecutor's Office launched an investigation against the four inspectors who had controlled the dance club.

However, the trial raised two important questions among the Serbian public: the efficiency and effectiveness of the judiciary, as well as safety conditions at hospitality venues frequented by young people.

The parents and friends of the Kontrast victims have founded an association called The Truth – Tamara's Laws (named after one of the victims), in a bid to advocate in an organised manner for the prevention and stricter punishment of serious criminal offences.

Branko Miladinovic, father of the late Tamara, told SETimes he "will not give up the fight for justice."

"We will work to prevent anyone in this town from dying the way our children died. I will not be happy, because I can't bring Tamara back, but at least I will keep the promise I made at her funeral," Miladinovic said.

He added that very little had been done in Serbia in the prevention of fires and that "the youth are not safe in Serbia."

The parents' stance has also been backed by the chief of the Interior Ministry's Emergency Situations Sector, Predrag Maric. He told SETimes that the laws on fire protection at hospitality facilities needed to be amended.

"No night club should be registered unless evidence is submitted that protection from fire has been ensured. We should not register venues first and then have them deal with fire protection," Maric said.

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According to him, the penal policy in the matter has been too mild so far, because owners of such facilities could pay small fines rather than to invest in protection.

Justice Minister Nikola Selakovic said the controversial case would be reviewed, but pointed out that the Ministry of Justice had a limited range of oversight it could apply.

The minister added that higher courts should also check the case to determine whether there were any errors in running the trial.

Do you agree with the court verdict and the length of the trial? Why? Add your thoughts to the space below.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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