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Protector of Citizens Zoran Pašalić on Prva TV "Morning"

The case of a father from Kragujevac whose children were taken away by the social service is in focus again. The Protector of Citizens requested a re-examination of the case, so we have Mr. Zoran Pašalić today with us. Good morning and thank you for being our guest. Before we start discussing this case, we had a remote guest switched in, you saw that she’ll be questioned today, I assume that you’ve been following the entire situation related to Mr. Mika Aleksić. Front pages, literally the central topic. How does an independent control institution such as the Protector of Citizens comment on this case?

Simply. When you organize any activity, any work related to children, it is mandatory that you act in accordance with certain regulations. Let me give you an example: when you open a kindergarten, it’s a huge pile of paperwork where not only the owner but all the employees are being checked. The question arises, who checks? I named them ad hoc schools in one TV program regardless of what these schools do. To make it more precise, in the list of jobs or activities there are groups into which this can be included, but who controls that? Are they subject to control at all? The point is: wherever one works with children, it must be strictly controlled.

Further to all the information obtained, we’ve launched an initiative to the Ministry of Education to identify the shortcomings in the existing Laws and to rectify them, so everyone who works with children or minors, or those who can be considered a younger or older minor, must be constantly in the focus of the public. That's what this is all about. Another thing, related to what’s also been a topic these days and what we’ve taken part in and we hope for the results soon, and it burdens the citizens as well, and these are citizens who are burdened with taxes for the activity they perform, it begs the question of how the schools are treated in the tax system. Today, virtually an hour ago, we have drafted an Initiative to the Ministry of Finance, where we will see who and how controls those, I may freely say, companies. If you open a bakery, you need to meet certain conditions in order to be able to start the activity, and there’s the question of controlling these activities. I don’t underestimate, don’t get me wrong.

This case unfortunately unveiled many issues and many deficiencies.

You know why. The newspapers are filled with it. But, the point is, not to cover what is now a sensation and what will be a sensation for some time by some other news, and then it will happen to us again after a while. So, everyone who has contact, who works with children, no matter what they do, must be strictly controlled.

That is why I hope that your appeals, as the Institution of the Protector of Citizens, will be heard. I’ve got to add, you said a moment ago when you open a kindergarten, you have a pile of paperwork that you have to fill out.

That’s right.

I believe that this case will reach you as well, the front page of “Srpski Telegraf” Daily, horror videos, a kindergarten of horror, a child with autism locked in a pantry and beaten. As of yesterday, that video can be found on social networks. 

We know about it. That’s our case today, actually we’ll go through it now. We just get most of the information from the media and then we check it all and investigate it.

Is your voice heard, I’ve got to ask you that?

It is. What is the most powerful weapon of the Protector of Citizens is that since my arrival we take an emotionless approach in terms of profession, and not as persons, as individuals. We check every fact and take into account only proven facts, so our recommendations, the ones that we issue are taken very seriously.

Has it ever happened that someone immediately applies to you and presents you with a case of abuse and harassment of any kind?

Hundreds of times. You know that since when I came to the head of the Institution, I practically opened the Institution’s doors and received citizens. Unfortunately, this pandemic has suspended it a bit. But, in direct interviews with the citizens, I’ve heard hundreds of times that there are, so to speak, examples of blackmail, abuse - verbal mostly, physical not so much. What’s the problem here? The Protector of Citizens doesn’t have the possibility to control the prosecutor's office or the courts, nor can he interfere or plead the case either in the charges or in the verdict, and he has to stop there and, unfortunately, refer the one who experienced abuse to the court, police, prosecutor's office.
What we do and what we can offer is protection by the institutions that are obliged to protect such a person. Also, in the investigation itself we advocate the use of all means in order to protect, particularly with regard to the young ones, the injured party who has suffered violence and who is giving a statement, so that it doesn’t happen that the statements have been in the press, in the media several times these days, and that’s secondary victimization. Believe me, in talking with people who have suffered violence, I’ve heard hundreds of times that it was much harder for them to have to go back several times through what they had gone through in real life, giving testimonies, two, three or even more times.

The case we primarily invited you for, and thank you for intervening, to have your opinion heard regarding the case of Mr. Mika Aleksić, you had the case of the father from Kragujevac, Đorđe Joksimović, re-investigated. Why? Is there… is there any hope?

You see, this is a serious Institution and I try to do my job as seriously as possible, so I don’t want to foretell anything. The point is that the case was before the Institution in July 2015, before I came there, and what I have noticed is a serious lack of empathy from the Institution’s part. One cannot be administrative when there are such cases, the Protector of Citizens is neither a court nor an administrative body that can only look through the papers, you must hear all parties, you must hear the parents, if possible, if they want, without any pressures, even the children, who are, as it were, the focus in that case, to take all the facts into account and only then to draw conclusions and make recommendations. It doesn’t happen to me for the first time that I see when opening some earlier cases that it was mere administrative business, and that essentially the focus wasn’t the thing that’s been in focus now since I have come, so: the citizen, their rights, of course in accordance with the Law, the regulations, but very cautiously.

Đorđe Joksimović will soon be here in the studio and we’ll of course hear his account, what all of us are interested in.

Mr. Đorđe Joksimović and I talked and I’ll wait for him to have a meeting at the Institution. I really wish that he, no matter how long it takes the gentleman, tells me his account of the events.

In the public we’ve heard hundreds of times, as you’ve said yourself, this process has been lasting for five years, he was being given different tasks as it were by the Social Service and as he said, he did everything he was required to, but still didn’t have his children back. What’s the problem?

We’ll see.

I’m asking you personally.

We’ll see because the case was open two days ago.

What’s the procedure now?

This is the procedure: we would contact Social Welfare Center to send to us all the documents at their disposal. We’ll talk to Mr. Joksimović as well. I arranged a meeting in the line ministry today, and we will have some talks there as well. If necessary, I’ll go to the Social Welfare Center personally, only when we have the whole picture then we will provide a statement, you may invite me to give you based on what we learned, to detail the case and what you say, to see which are rights and that those rights are respected.

I sincerely hope that we will be able to change something together. It’s been five years, and I believe that it’s about time for the father to be with his daughters.

I agree.

You’ve just said that the coronavirus has disturbed your work. You had interviews with the citizens, what’s bothering us the most now, in 2021, are they applying?

They are.

What do they complain about?

In 2020, citizens applications surged ten times. We worked until 10pm, but when it was necessary we worked over the night as well. What’s basic, that’s the fear. The fear from illness, the fear from death, the fear from being made redundant, fear of not being able to feed the family, then the ability to move, the ability to travel. What we all people love, that’s to have the opportunity to relax, at least in specific time intervals such as the virus, this pandemic brought it to a halt. It was very important during all that time whether the protection measures were respected and we went to, I will call them tentatively, companies, firms, whatever, which did not respect measures such as more people in one room than proscribed all the way to protective equipment.

There was an initiative launched recently about the check regarding the number of doctors that have died, although based on the data we received, in other countries, i.e. in the neighboring countries, what they have stated is absolutely incorrect, and that is that in some countries no deaths of doctors have been registered. Not only that the cases of deaths have been registered, but, given the excellent cooperation, it was just yesterday that we talked with the Ombudspersons in the region, there are cases of suicide of the doctors, there are cases of suicide of the persons who in that chain of combating the epidemic couldn’t sustain the pressure in other countries or in the countries in the region. All this creates an image on the basis of which we can act, of course leaving each of the institutions to do their job. We don't have the capacity to do everyone's work either.

Nor you should.

I don’t think we should.

It’s important to draw attention.

Certainly.

Such as this particular case of Đorđe Joksimović. Thank you for taking the time for our morning program.

Thank you.

So we'll follow this whole case together.

Certainly, yes.

And we’ll hope for the positive result of the entire story.

We’ll now meet with Mr. Joksimović. We'll talk after that.

He’ll be here with us very soon. Thank you again.

Thank you.


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