The Protector of Citizens was a guest in the morning program of the Serbian Radio and Television (RTS).
The Protector of Citizens has already submitted the regular annual report on his work to the National Assembly. What did he mark as a job well done and what did he not finish and why, what proposals did he give to improve the position of citizens when dealing with the state administration? Zoran Pašalić, the Protector of Citizens, is our guest. Good morning and welcome.
- Good morning. Thank you for inviting me.
How many grievances have you had lately?
- In the reporting period, there were 16,000 complaints and the most important thing is that 83% of them were resolved.
That is a high percentage.
- I think that is a very high percentage compared to the previous period, but also in relation to some similar institutions.
Citizens most often complained to you about social and economic problems. However, in this period one big problem in our society came to light which hasn’t been talked about much, and is increasingly becoming more evident, namely, violence against the elderly. Am I right?
- You are right, and it is not only violence... When violence occurs, it is really the most radical problem that can happen to the elderly. Caring for the elderly is now the focus of the Protector of Citizens. Citizens know what happened in the last few days. You know that we were the first to react to the case of violence against an old woman in one of the nursing homes, when the competent Ministry reacted very quickly, on our initiative, and inspected that nursing home.
And what is the epilogue? Have they lost their license?
- They haven’t lost their license permanently, their license has been suspended, to say it colloquially, for a while. What is most important for the Protector of Citizens in the next period is the care for the elderly on three levels. The first one relates to their status, the second relates to the status of nursing homes regardless of who owns them and, finally, the third one relates to the work of the competent ministry. The most important thing is that the elderly must be adequately cared for. We, and not only we, that is, not only Serbia, but Europe as well, is practically the area where the largest number of elderly people are. We have an old population.
Do Europeans face this problem as well?
- They absolutely have the same problems. Then you have the migration of young people who are leaving and, in that way, a terrible discrepancy is created, where you no longer have those close relatives who would have to take care of the elderly in some way, so they are left to these old people's homes, regardless of whether, as I said, they are privately owned or state-owned. Do you know how many old people's homes there are in the Republic of Serbia?
I can't even guess.
- There are 250 legal old people’s homes, 160 of them in Belgrade, and according to our records, the number of illegal homes ranges between 60 and 80. The capacities of these homes are 10,000 people.
And where is violence against the elderly most often recorded? Is it in old people’s homes or in the family?
- It is not in these homes. There was this case in Leskovac, where a 60-year-old son killed his 86-year-old father and then committed suicide. We mustn’t just focus on violence, we should talk about the bad treatment in old people's homes. When someone is placed in a home for the elderly, we should not focus on violence, we should talk about adequate treatment. For that reason, in the next period, we will inspect the homes for the elderly, of course, within our competencies, and we actually have those competencies. I can't say we will reach all the homes in a short period of time, but in a very short period of time we will conduct inspections of the homes for the elderly.
Let me ask you...
- Excuse me, let me just finish. Since this is a two-way street, I plan to have a meeting with the owners of private old people’s homes next week or at the beginning of the following week, to hear their problems too, because they will certainly present their problems. Also, when visiting these nursing homes, we will first talk to users directly to see what problem they have, what their treatment is there and what can be improved.
Psychological violence is the most difficult to prove. How do you prove what old people complain about?
- In conversation. First of all, we are not the ones who prove...
Is it enough?
- It is important for us to get information in direct contact with the elderly and then, based on that, to see that actions we are going to take, and those actions range from improving conditions, and certainly to what you mentioned at the beginning of the conversation, to suspensions of licences of such homes, if needed.
At the beginning of our conversation, you mentioned a very high percentage of cases resolved. Which solutions are you extremely satisfied with?
- I can say that I am pleased with the solutions to the following issue, which is very important and to which we will also pay special attention in the coming period, namely, property and social problems related to legalization, cadastre work, treatment of property of citizens of the Republic of Serbia in general. They are...
Is that the moment when institutions fail and do not do their job? Is it...
- This is one way of solving them, when the Protector of Citizens reacts to citizens' reports or information from the media, but we want to act more and more preventively, to get information, to find out where the problem is, so as not to wait for the problem to escalate or to reach the point, as you said in the case of old people's homes, of some really tragic situations, like the case of an older woman who left the home and passed away two days later. These are things that must not happen.
In your opinion, are the citizens sufficiently informed about your actions? Does everyone know that there is a Protector of Citizens in our country?
- I don't think so. I really made an effort these few years and that is why I am a guest on your show so that the citizens know who to turn to, and I invite...
But the number of complaints is significantly higher than in previous years?
- Yes, but I think that citizens should be better informed. I call on all citizens who are dissatisfied with their treatment in nursing homes, regardless, I say again, of the fact in whose ownership they are, I call on them to contact us. We often forget that one day we will all be in that situation…
Who should they address?
-…that is, we will all get old and be exposed to the possibility of someone else taking care of us and that must always be in our focus. I must say that the value of a state is measured by caring for those who are powerless or who seek someone else's help. These are primarily children and the elderly.
Sensitive categories of citizens...
- They can contact us by e-mail, phone or come if they are able or want to come to Deligradska 16, where I or one of the employees working at the reception will meet them and then discuss the problem. And if everything is as it should be, that is, if it is within the limits of our powers in the first place, we will try and solve it.
Thank you very much for all the information.
- Thank you for the invitation.
We hope that you will have as little work as possible or at least...
- The goal is not to have as little work as possible, but to solve as many problems as possible.
That's right, just like you said. Thank you again.