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Interview that Milan Markovic, Minister of Public Administration and Local Self-Government and President of the Coordination Body for South Serbia, granted to the “Politika” daily on December 25, 2008

25. December 2008.

Interview that Milan Markovic, Minister of Public Administration and Local Self-Government and President of the Coordination Body for South Serbia, granted to the “Politika” daily on December 25, 2008

I suggested that they should set up the Albanian National Council, and they wouldn’t do it, and I now won’t agree to being deceived any longer, says Milan Markovic, Minister of Public Administration and Local Self-Government.

Milan Markovic, Minister of Public Administration and Local Self-Government (Photo: D. Jevremovic)

„Serbia has decidedly began to change its policy towards South Serbia. We’re going to open departments of the Faculties of Law and Economics in Medvedja. We’re also in the process of translating textbooks into Albanian, and in one or two months’ time, we’ll open a mine in Medvedja, where 500 people will get employed by the end of the next year. It seems that Mr. Riza Halimi can’t find his bearings in the new conditions. He can’t blackmail us any more, since the policy that he pursues isn’t supported by anyone now, except, maybe, by Pristina or Tirana,” says for the “Politika” daily Milan Markovic, Minister of Public Administration and Local Self-Government.

Explaining the reasons for a polemical discussion he was having in the Serbian parliament with Leader of the Party for Democratic Action of the Albanians, who complained that the Law on the Budget was far too restrictive towards the southern Serbian municipalities, as well as about too much money that had been given to the Coordination Body for South Serbia, Minister Markovic said that such conduct must be stopped:

– He can’t keep accusing Belgrade for the inefficient policy he pursues, nor can he insist any longer on maintaining a status quo, which, as it seems to me, is convenient only to him.

Why should a status quo be convenient to Mr. Halimi?

It seems to me that the existence of issues gives some sort of legitimacy to Mr. Halimi. In agreement with the UN, we want to open the Ombudsman’s Office down there, so that we could get an objective insight into the status of human rights in Presevo and Bujanovac. However, I can’t reach an agreement with them about the Ombudsman’s Office premises. We are constantly having futile talks and are, therefore, in a vicious circle. You see how somebody constantly hampers our activities.

Does this mean that they want the Serbian money, but not the Serbian presence down there?

It’s obvious that there is something going on. I’m not saying that this particular thing is at issue, but there is something wrong. Our activities have been continuously obstructed for four months now. They asked us to solve the university diplomas issue and said that they would, thereupon, start participating in the Coordination Body’s work. Although I had resolved the issue, they failed to join the Coordination Body. Then they asked us to change the strategy of the document on development of the region. We said that we would do it, and yet they persisted in failing to join the Coordination Body. The next thing that they asked us to do was to change the structure of the Coordination Body according to their proposals, which we did, and they once again refused to join the Coordination Body. You can see that there is something else going on here.

I suggested that they should establish the Albanian National Council but they wouldn’t do it. I simply can’t agree to being deceived any longer. They complained that nobody came down to South Serbia, so that I visited the region four times in two months. However, nobody mentions this now. It’s a fact that they’re constantly looking for the reasons for failing to take their share of responsibility for the kind of life led in Presevo and Bujanovac. They were involved in a 300,000 EUR legal dispute with the Islamic community, and they lost it. Now, the municipality of Presevo has to pay money to the Islamic community, and Belgrade is once again blamed. This is inconceivable. They spent 38 million dinars on construction of the Breznica water-supply system, which never supplied any water to residents of that village.

What do you think should be done in order to find a way out of this situation?

Their amendment that refers to the Co-ordination Body won’t be adopted and the Coordination Body shall get the funds for taking its activities down there. We’ll finish off the university education project in the course of the next year, and we’ll, thereupon, switch to the reform of primary and secondary school education, when we’ll be working with the young and the local media. Mr. Halimi can’t blackmail us any longer. He doesn’t have any support for that kind of policy any longer, except, perhaps, in Pristina and Tirana.

Is there a similar problem with local self-government in any other municipality in the country?

There are such problems everywhere. However, the above-mentioned issue is much larger because of the ethnic question involved. Irresponsible local self-governments may be found at a lot of places in Serbia.

What are the mechanisms for exercising control over of local self-government?

There aren’t any such mechanisms. We approved of a system, whereby the public administration can’t interfere in local self-government’s activities. The government may only evaluate the legality of the lower governmental bodies’ documents, but it may not evaluate if they’re appropriate or not.

Is that a good or a bad solution?

It’s surely a good solution, since it’s one of achievements of the civilization. The bad thing is that we have a poor quality of local self-governments. We are now working on amendments to the Law on Local Elections, so that we could change the way in which local authorities are elected and establish a direct relation between citizens and members of the local parliament.

What are your comments on remarks of the Hungarian parties about the Law on the Seat of Courts and do you think that it really threatens ethnic minorities?

It doesn’t have anything to do with the rights of ethnic minorities and it only improves the exercising of citizens’ rights. Naturally, each and every party is entitled to put certain topics in the context of the politics. Trials will be carried out in the same buildings as in the past and nobody will have to cover hundreds of kilometers to appear in a trial. The adoption of this law provided the conditions for a better quality of trials. So far, we have had cases in some municipalities in which a judge’s spouse is a lawyer or a defendant etc. That is what legal proceedings in Serbia used to be like. Also, judges in the province had far less cases to deal with than their colleagues in Belgrade, and yet their salaries and benefits were the same.

Can dissatisfaction of the Hungarians have a negative connotation, in other words, can it be interpreted as a violation of ethnic minority rights?

I’m sure it can’t. The level of protection of ethnic minority rights in Serbia is high and it’s one of the highest in Europe. This issue can’t be manipulated with any longer and we make it quite clear during all our talks with the EU officials. The Coordination Body for South Serbia’s work has been assessed as an extremely good one, as well as the status of human rights in Vojvodina.

By Jelena Cerovinа