SERBIA – A State smear campaign against NGOs and independent media

Instead of considering the NGO sector as a valuable collaborator, the state, faced with criticism, most often conducts campaigns of appeasement, attacks and pressure on these independent organizations. 

 At a panel discussion held yesterday in Belgrade, Serbian NGOs and investigative journalists looked at a recent investigation by the State Administration for the Prevention of Money Laundering against organisations critical of the government’s actions.  

Katarina GolubovićPresident of YUCOM, pointed out that “the strength of the non-governmental sector is that it can listen to the needs of citizens and advise them, and later these problems of citizens are solved through public policies.”  For many years now, NGOs have been participating in this way in building policies and institutions based on the needs of citizens, and we are on the list of the state as associates who are the voice of citizens. However, non-governmental organisations were also “on the other list”, as Golubović reported, recalling the list of non-governmental organizations that were under the scrutiny of the Ministry of Finance, officially a strategic analysis to check the sector’s vulnerability to financing of terrorism and money laundering.

“Citizens have given us strength, credibility and integrity so much that the state must consult us for everything. Whether the state will adopt our recommendations depends on how politically sensitive the issue is. “As soon as we start criticizing, attacks on us start,” Golubović pointed out. 

Jelena Vasić from Krik, an independent network of journalists, pointed out that “In Serbia, the state views investigative journalists as enemies who attack them instead of looking at us as free resources for their further moves.”  Vasić reminded that the state bodies – prosecutors and police – are the ones who should conduct investigations after the media reveal some disputable information about the work of officials and institutions, but instead “the state is engaged in a smear campaign targeted at independent journalists and non-governmental organisations.” 

Zeljko Radovanovic, the director of the Administration for the Prevention of Money Laundering, promised that even after the panel, he would take the time to answer all the questions of the journalists. It is unclear why State bodies first claimed that this was a regular control of the civil sector, while today, two months later, it says that this is a strategic risk analysis. The director of the Administration for the Prevention of Money Laundering blamed the media for the confusion. 

In its latest report on Serbia’s progress in EU accession talks, the European Commission emphasized (p.13) that it should be determined as soon as possible whether there was a legal basis for the state to collect data on financial transfers of organisations and individuals.