The Protector of Citizens was a guest on the show "Novo jutro" on Pink Television.
The administration of the Faculty of Architecture invited all female students who had a problem with sexual harassment in this higher education institution to submit official reports, saying that their identity will remain protected. The first reports have already arrived, the Higher Public Prosecutor's Office in Belgrade got involved and gave an order to the police to collect data related to the allegations of female students originally published on social networks. The Protector of Citizens, Zoran Pašalić, who is our guest today, reacted immediately by launching an own-initiative investigation in order to control the work of the Faculty of Architecture. Good morning... In your announcement, it is stated that, acting on your own initiative and based on information acquired from the media that there is this suspicion of potential sexual harassment by the employees, you launched a control investigation into the legality and regularity of work of the Faculty of Architecture. What did you find out?
- There is a legal deadline, which is a minimum of ten days, and within that ten-day deadline, so counting from the day before yesterday, they are obliged to give us answers to the questions we asked them. The first question we asked is whether they had any information and knowledge about the fact that there had earlier been cases of sexual harassment of female students, male students, possibly employees of the faculty, that is, of all the people who are at the faculty. The second question was, if there had been such cases, what did they do in terms of their protection, given that we know that the Senate of the University has passed a rulebook related to protection in case of sexual harassment, which stipulates that there is a commissioner's institution that deals with this issue. And of course, it is very important that those students who have experienced something like this come forward freely and that they can also come to us, where their identity will be completely protected. And certainly, what we don't want to happen is for them to become secondary victims. Also, yesterday we considered the possibility of sending a letter to the University of Belgrade that refers to the changes in certain articles of that rulebook, which in our opinion could be the reason for the secondary victimization of those victims, to call them so conditionally. Conditionally, because none of this has been proven. We are also interested in which universities in the Republic of Serbia, primarily in Novi Sad, Kragujevac and Niš, adopted such regulations, and we found out yesterday that only Novi Sad did so. Niš did not, and we did not receive an answer from Kragujevac. We will insist that they give us an answer today as to whether they have the rulebook. In the future, the Protector of Citizens will, on the basis of the addresses and also beyond that, really check this phenomenon completely, regardless of whether it is happening at state or, as they are called in public, private faculties. I emphasized that there will be absolute zero tolerance towards that.
Towards sexual harassment, and you have indeed invited all those who have had such experiences, if they have evidence as well, to turn to you and you said that their identity will be protected. We also invited the dean of the Faculty of Architecture, Mr. Lojanica, to be our guest. He was justifiably prevented, because he has a meeting regarding all these events at this time today. I also tried to reach one of the assistants mentioned, but I did not receive an answer to either the messages or the calls. One of them spoke up and said that recently the Faculty of Architecture conducted a survey where students chose their favourite professor and assistant, and he was among the top six. He says he can understand that someone does not like the fact that he insists on knowledge and hard work and that he does not give away grades, which could have been the reason for such comments. And the first statements mostly appeared on the social network Instagram and on that survey, you could see the confessions of individuals there.
- I saw them, yes. I'm not going to comment on that at all. The court will determine whether it happened or not, if there is a court proceeding. Our role is primarily to exert some kind of, conditionally speaking, pressure so that this matter is not only kept in the press or in the electronic media for a few days as a sensation, but to completely focus on this phenomenon. Because currently, the focus is on the Faculty of Architecture, but we have knowledge that this is not a phenomenon only at that faculty, but at other faculties as well. I cannot name them now, because, as you know, I will never target anyone without evidence. That's why we appealed to the students of all faculties, if they experienced this or have knowledge about it, to contact us, as their personality will be fully protected in accordance with the Law on Personal Data Protection, which guarantees that no one will secondarily victimize them in the sense of dragging them into the whole story again and into all the troubles they already went through.
You're right. We will not analyse in detail everything that is written on social networks within those confessions, but there is one thing that caught my attention, which is related to some previous cases that passed through the media, and that is when someone is young, he is not even aware of the gravity of the act of blackmail or the gravity of someone’s behaviour who is in authority or a superior. Only later, over the years, do they become aware and in this sense, when they become aware, they decide to speak to the public.
- You are absolutely right. It often involves traumas, which someone decides not to speak about or to report them, and even does not tell his relatives, out of fear that he might experience the whole story again if he goes through one of the procedures provided for by the law, so to speak. And also, one of the reasons for our first reaction, I don't want to sound overbearing, but I think is that we opened the Pandora's box. The goal is to really apply a type of pressure. A pressure on, primarily, those institutions that should react – to make them react, and secondly, on all students, in this case, also the employees of the faculty, to freely speak out about what they have seen or experienced. It creates many more stories, but for now let's stop at this.
The public is inclined to comment when it comes to something like this. That's the main topic, you've seen it, everywhere and everyone seems to first hear and speak about what's happening and then someone is there to condemn, someone to wonder and so on. Then I heard a question yesterday, is it possible that such a large number of students jointly invented this story. That was one thing. On the other hand, there are those who tend to believe a priori everything they read. Some say, who knows, maybe someone is vindictive and you know what those stories are like.
- You see, in that rulebook, which relies a lot on the Law on the Prevention of Harassment at Work, there is also abuse of reporting. So, you have that variant as well. I don't believe anyone or that most would come out with a made-up story. Especially since, if you follow all this over a long period of time, you will see that this is not an isolated phenomenon.
Unfortunately. And let's conclude with that. So, after those ten days...
- That's right. In relation to the answers we receive, we will react adequately, but we are not only waiting for the Faculty of Architecture's response, we will do what I talked about and what we already started doing yesterday, which is to check what the situation is at the other faculties, not only in Belgrade, but on the territory of the Republic of Serbia. Because, I repeat, we must not have any tolerance for that, i.e., zero tolerance. It is often forgotten that from kindergarten to university these are institutions that deal not only with education, but with education and upbringing. That second qualification is absolutely forgotten and by damaging the reputation of such institutions, due to the behaviour of those employed there, we practically lose what is most important to us, which is our young people.
We will follow this topic daily. Thank you for being a guest of “Novo jutro”, Mr. Pašalić, and we will call you again next week, at the end of these remaining eight days, to see how things are. Thanks a lot.