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From the media

The Protector of Citizens Mr. Zoran Pašalić in “The Dawn” TV show on K1 TV


The procedure of taking away the children of Mr. Đorđe Joksimović from Kragujevac, based on which the film “Father” was made, is being reconsidered. The Ombudsman also targets the Tax Administration regarding the freelancers issue. This morning, I’m talking to Mr.Zoran Pašalić about it, and about the Aleksić case. He’s the Protector of Citizens. He’s my guest. Good morning, welcome. Thank you for being at “The Dawn”. Tell me, personal initiative, so a personal question. Why did you launch a personal initiative for a personal reinvestigation of the work of the Kragujevac Social Welfare Center, which omissions were made in the case of Đorđe Joksimović?

- First, I have to say that what you have the right to, what the citizens of Serbia have the right to, we don’t have with respect to work, and that’s an emotional response to each of these situations, so to speak, which aroused public interest. The case we’re talking about was before the Institution in 2015, when Mr. Joksimović from Kragujevac approached us because he was dissatisfied with the work of the Social Welfare Center, primarily with the removal of children to foster families, but also with the fact that the Social Welfare Center’s appeal triggered the procedure of deprivation of parental rights. And that procedure was completed in a way it was, in the sense that the institution that approached the Ministry competent to control the work of social institutions didn’t acknowledge that one right of the parents was violated. What we initiated the day before yesterday is a re-investigation of the entire case, and we expect, considering that the investigation began one or two days ago, that in a couple of days, in communication with Social Welfare Center, we’ll receive complete documentation and then launch the investigation again. The reasons lie in the fact that there are some new details that we have to reconsider, I tried several times to get in touch with Mr. Joksimović, I hope that today I’ll manage to have a phone talk, because I want to hear his story, as they say – let the other party be heard. Only when we have all that, colloquially speaking, on the table, can we make some conclusions. Otherwise, it’d be too soon and prejudging.

I see. However, at the same time, there are reasons why something that the institutions have put an end to is being launched.

- We don’t make closures in situations when there are some new facts. Since this case, as I said in July 2015, and we’re in 2021, it’s been five years. We’ll reinvestigate the new facts that might impact making a different decision.

Good. So, you don’t challenge work and decisions…

- We reinvestigate what’s new in reference to what happened before.

OK and what happened actually? So, for those that haven’t heard about Đorđe Joksimović, he’s a man whose children were taken away, as far as I understood, correct me if I’m wrong.

- Yes, three daughters.

Three daughters were taken from him because of poverty and placed in a foster family.

- Sorry, I’ve got to interrupt you. Due to poverty, no one was deprived of their child.

OK, but why?

- Because there’s children welfare relative to living conditions of those children. Nutrition, hygiene, upbringing, I’m not saying that those conditions haven’t been met nor do I prejudge our decision, we’ll see how true all that is. In general, when the children are taken away and placed in a foster family, in that situation you need to act very cautiously and very carefully. I’m not saying that Center’s mistakes are non-existent, nor that they exist. We’ll see, we’ll investigate in detail and then we’ll make a decision. The point here and the most important thing for us is to protect the interests of children. Not because we react emotionally, because it got media attention, but to protect the interests of the three little girls.

Okay, and then again, if I understand right, the fresh thing is actually that he’s now financially better off than when his children were taken away. Right?

- I don't know that, nor will the institution deal with it at all. The institution will handle the children’s position. One can be more or less financially secured and provide what children need. Even within the limits drifting to poverty, it’s absolutely not that.

Okay, I'm just asking you.

- It is not a requirement, we reconsider…

And what’s the requirement?

- The requirement is that there’s no child neglect, that you don’t have a position of children that’s not adequate in relation to their needs. Hygiene, nutrition, parents' attitude to children. You see, anything I might say now would again drag the emotions of the public to one side.

Fine, but I'm asking you what's new ... What's new that got you involved in the entire case?

- We always get involved in the case when there is a suspicion that something that was done in the previous period, whether by our institution, or by another institution, is subject to changes that could affect making a different decision at this point. So, things change in every person's life, including here.

Yeah, I understand, you said that there have been some new circumstances, so I’m asking you what are the new circumstances that occurred in the case of Đorđe Joksimović, on the grounds of which you decided to get involved and reinvestigate the entire case.

- I told you that before we ascertain every detail, so, both sides, I won’t answer that question. Only when we find out…

Oh. Well, he can't do that either, I understood that you can answer the question why you got involved and what the new circumstances are, so I insist on that, otherwise…

- Circumstances are, firstly, the passage of time, and then whether the conditions that are now relatively different, not in relation to his property status but to the status of the children, have changed significantly so that the decision can be changed. Certainly, we are concerned exclusively with the interest of children, nothing else is important to us at the moment.

Okay. So, when talking about Social Welfare Centers in general, and we’re talking about the Social Welfare Center "Sloboda", then the experts who appeared here have said that in the first place here the endangered rights were those of children, as well as those of the father. Do you perceive the father as a figure you should stand behind?

- Absolutely. Both sides are always looked at, and the priority is the interest of the children of course.

Both sides or one side?

- They’re two sides, I'm not saying that they’re opposing, but two of them, so you have the interests of children and the interests of parents. They may be common; they may not coincide in some things. That is why I said at the beginning, we cannot see things emotionally, we’ve got to see the real picture, what the best interests of children are, but certainly if a parent, in this particular case the father, is denied a right, we’ll react in that situation.

What can you do as an institution? So, are you an institution that will get all other competent institutions up on their feet, or have you got some executive power to put an end to this in this particular case, or at least to solve it temporarily?

- Thanks for the question. We don’t have executive powers, we don’t have a sanction behind us in the true sense of the word, as the public expects, and that’s someone to be punished. There is a sanction for someone to be laid-off, dismissed from office, but to raise the public to its feet as well as the highest institutions that deal with this issue, that we can do.

Okay, and that's important, it's important to point that out, and it's important at that very moment if it happens. Let's not prejudge, if you think that the decisions that were made are wrong, I believe that you and the public by your side will get this through.

- That's right.

This case and we all hope for that.

- But we have to ascertain that and prove it with concrete facts.

How much time do you need, approximately?

- According to this law, which is currently in force, we are bound by some deadlines that are longer, but this situation is being done in an urgent procedure that should shorten that time. As soon as we get, I hope in the following few days, all the documentation we asked for, we’ll talk to the father, to see his point of view, no matter how subjective or objective, and then we’ll do it very quickly.

Okay, quickly meaning days or weeks?

- Quickly meaning days.

Well, when speaking about what’s on in Serbia, I’ll leave the story of teacher Aleksić as the final topic, but I’m interested in what’s actually happening with freelancers and the Tax Administration, you’re monitoring that situation these days as well? So who made the omission here? Citizens complain that they have to pay tax for which no one has submitted anything and which concerns previous few years, is the payment of debts or the way it’s carried out, in your opinion, controversial here.

- We must first determine exactly the one who is responsible, and who does what and what’s whose obligation. On the one hand, there’s the obligation of citizens to pay taxes, on the other, there’s the obligation of the Tax Administration to treat citizens as tax payers, the ones who finance everything, including my Secretariat, in the work they do, so they must be treated in the right way. According to Article 24 of the Law on Tax Procedure and Administration, there is no obligation of the Tax Administration to provide information in terms of mass information, but must respond to each individual contact. To make it simple, you start a business, you go to the Tax Administration and ask for everything that relates to some of your future allowances based on that activity. But, if the Tax Administration quarterly in the media, I don’t know if it was in yours, it was on RTS, announces in two days or three days you have to pay property tax, the quarter ends, then the question of activities in each of these situations arises.
What is a problem in Serbia, that’s the so-called tax culture. In Serbia, you do not have tax advisors; in Serbia you have accountants, bookkeepers, no offence to anyone, or lawyers. With lawyers dealing very little with taxes or very few of them. You don't have anyone to turn to. Let one of these people, tax advisors, explain to you during any action that you take in order to become a taxpayer, and that is now the situation of citizens and freelancers who have to pay taxes. I think a compromise needs to be found in all this. Because what we have come to, although that procedure is far from over, there’s truth on both sides.
If the Tax Administration said - no, they had an obligation and we don't care, they have to pay tax, that’d be one thing. And they say, yes, but we haven’t been informed, that’s another matter. In all this, we’ll do literally everything to solve this problem. Why? I’d draw one comparison that may not be the most adequate: it’s a saying that an organism is as old or young as its blood vessels are old, or young, so in good state. The tax system is the bloodstream of the state. Without it, the state cannot function, and it must really be arranged so that you know at all times what your obligations are, that the state gives you all the information and what I may have pointed out too colloquially, and that’s when you come to the Tax Administration, everyone in the Tax Administration knows that you are a gentleman, a taxpayer, from whose giving when they add up, the whole state that’s on the budget makes a living or the one part that’s on the budget.

What are the omissions, I don't understand, what are the omissions made by the Tax Administration with freelancers then?

- We’re just figuring that out, you see that case…

You are just determining. Okay, but what are ...

- There are situations where you can react urgently, there are things where you have to go through the complete documentation, not just the story but individual solutions, statements by the Tax Administration, calculations, the manner of calculations, whether what’s called relative or absolute statute of limitations is being handled, obligation which the taxpayer has, as well as the obligation that the Tax Administration has towards him.

Right. Then you’ll state your position.

- That's right.

Okay. Finally, I am interested in the Aleksić case. Yesterday, believe me, we spent the day on the phone, looking for who’s in charge of acting, sports, singing, modeling schools, which institution in the country issues permission to you, or anyone to open a school of something, to be called a teacher, to engage in pedagogical work, and to be remunerated for that pedagogical work. Do you know who that institution is?

- For this type, let’s call it a school, you used that term, as far as I know, the only Ministry, the Ministry of Education, should be in charge, but it does not deal with this type of school.

Yes, so not at all?

- This is an ad hoc school; I don't want to underestimate anyone. And there’s many of those.

All children go to those, as you said, ad hoc schools of acting, singing, which the state doesn’t recognize in any other way except in the APR and as those who pay taxes. I didn’t know that if you don’t issue a diploma recognized by the institutions of Serbia, you may operate as an economic entity and bear absolutely no consequences for that.

- Not the consequences, but you aren’t subject to checks relative to the kind of pedagogical work you do, what your methods in that pedagogical work are, what the consequences for the psyche of those children are.

Absolutely, that’s very important.

- That’s the most important thing, because it’s not a matter of you teaching someone to act, do ballet, I apologize maybe it’s not the right expression, but to have serious pedagogical work. What we have, I must say, neglected, we talk all the time in these schools as well, which we call regular schools, about education, and there’s little talk about the thing used a hundred years ago when I was in school, and it’s pedagogy and education.

May I ask you something?

- Go ahead.

I’ll ask you publicly, because I cannot believe that apart from paying taxes there’s absolutely no obligation of any school owner, anything in Serbia which works with children, to, as the Protector of Citizens, take the initiative that the schools where we send children, be them sports, acting, art, whatever, are placed under the auspices of the functioning of the laws of this state in the sense that only the one who is a pedagogue, who has proper education, and with a license issued by the state may work with children.

- Certainly, thank you for the initiative, what’s most important here, and that’s the educational inspection which must, pardon for the wording, no offence to anyone, visit those ad hoc schools and control them in that way.

They are not competent, someone must...

- I know they aren’t competent, but someone has to be.

But that's why I'm asking you who to turn to?

- We turn to, or you, you’ve started the initiative, we, as the official institution that handles it, turn to the Ministry of Education to regulate this area. Because it turned out in this case, which I do not want to prejudge, I said at the beginning that we cannot work under emotions but following the facts, that this area must be regulated because there is an incredible number of these ad hoc schools.

And well, what are we doing now, please tell me?

- The law is being changed; a legal initiative is being launched to amend it, to state exactly what and who must fulfill when opening such a… sorry but its’s firm.

It is a firm, there’s nothing to apologize for, it’s a firm, it’s the only thing registered in the APR.

- It must meet certain conditions, if you have to meet the conditions when you open a bakery, and that’s the height of the tiles, the conditions of the workers and so on, the assumption is that there should be much stricter conditions here.

Okay, who’s launching this initiative now?

- The Protector of Citizens.

Are you going to launch it?

- We’ll launch it, for sure, because that’s the point, you‘ve hit right at the center. I mean, this is going to end with a court epilogue, what’s it going to be, I don't want to prejudge. I don’t want to violate the presumption of innocence, nor do I want to say anything in the sense that we do not protect the victims. We’re an institution that primarily protects victims, i.e. someone who has experienced a behavior or an action or a crime that has survived. We have been doing it all the time, but the point of this is that someone has to control that field seriously.

Thank you very much for being our guest.

- Thank you for inviting me.

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.

The Protector of Citizens, Mr. Zoran Pašalić, MSc. was guest on the “New Day” TV program on N1 TV

Ms. Darija Kisić Tepavčević, the Minister of Labor, Employment, Veteran and Social Policy and Mr. Zoran Pašalić, the Protector of Citizens discussed the case of Mr. Đorđe Joksimović from Kragujevac, who was deprived of his parental rights due to poverty, while his children were placed in a foster family. The Protector of Citizens Mr. Zoran Pašalić speaks about this and other cases that were in the focus of the Ombudsman’s Office work over the past period for "New Day". Good morning and welcome to N1.

Firstly, I must say that you have also used one, so to say, quite incorrect qualification.

What?

No one’s children have been taken away due to poverty and it shouldn’t be qualified as such because, in Serbia, no one has ever been deprived of a child because of poverty, but because, it might happen that, we will determine after the investigation, children were inadequately treated, neglected in any way, be it in terms of education, nutrition, hygiene. Those are the reasons, not poverty.

What have you determined? So, you have initiated an investigation to control the regularity of the Kragujevac Social Welfare Center’s work. What conclusion have you arrived at?

Firstly, it’s impossible to provide an assessment because the investigation has been launched. For now, we have the files that we received from the Ministry, because this investigation also applies to the Ministry of Labor. These days, I hoped that it would be yesterday, but let’s hope for today, Kragujevac Social Welfare Center promised us that they would not wait for the deadlines, they will send us all the documentation they have, because the case is specific. Also, I talked with Mr. Đorđe Joksimović and I asked him, and I know that at the moment he is taking care of right that - sending to the Institution the documents or if he is unable to send it, we would go to his place of residence and we would take the documents that he prepared for us.

Only when we look through those documents and I quote Mr. Joksimović, "there’s full car trunk of documents," so when we read through all that, we will see what actions have been taken from the beginning in relation to the children, Mr. Joksimović's three daughters, to him, to his wife and how the children got into a foster family, only then can we draw some conclusions. This topic triggers another thing, and that is whether someone in that system failed, in the sense of whether the facts that were the cause of removing the children to a foster family were correctly ascertained.

And does that now mean that someone in the system has failed?

We don't know yet.

How much time do you need?

Well, you see, I can't predict now, given the vast amount of documentation, how long it would take, but it would be done as soon as possible because the situation is specific. We primarily protect the position of children, so their status, and certainly what is most important that is to see if there are any irregularities in the work of the Kragujevac Social Welfare Center. 

So, we don't know when, because Mr. Đorđe Joksimović was happy that you initiated this investigation, but at the same time, he says: I don't know for how long I can wait, what they are waiting for, whether I should die before my children are returned.

Since I have been heading the institution, we have never split things off abruptly. The easiest thing to do was to issue a statement within two days, but that is not how I work. Mr. Đorđe Joksimović and I talked over an hour for sure in the Institution of the Protector of Citizens and what I immediately told him was that we would work according to what is in the files and according to the proved facts, which absolutely does not mean either one or the other decision, nor do I want to forejudge either of the decisions.

All right, so we’re waiting for the final decision.

Unfortunately, you will have to.

We will talk about the investigations that you have initiated as well as about the one that you have not initiated, precisely because of this storm about sexual abuse by an acting coach and the initiative to amend applicable regulations, laws that regulate such schools and educational institutions. What needs to be changed?

Firstly, it is not a school at all, because there are business entities that are registered for certain activities that do not fall into the scope of education and pedagogy of either minors or children major of age or adults regulated by the Law on the Fundamentals of the Education System, which is within the competence of the educational inspection operating according to the Law on Educational Inspection. Certainly, the first thing we do is to see if it, let's call it tentatively a school, if it is registered as a school and then falls within the scope of these laws or it is registered as an economic entity where its primary activity or main activity is something else, for example, the production of film, audio content, producer jobs, whereas education is either not registered at all or is not placed in the first place as a core business activity, because the most important thing, in that particular case, is whether it operated as an educational institution at all, whether it met all the conditions that are rigorous when an educational institution is being established.

And what, for example, if not?

Well, if not, then the question arises as to who failed. That's what I've said many times, you can't look at things fractionally. It has to be seen systematically. If that institution, or if it is registered as a limited liability company, so an economic entity, was engaged in an activity for which it has no registration, and figuratively speaking the entire city knows about it, then the question arises whether those inspections that control the work of economic entities, market inspection, tax inspection controlled and determined on the basis of the registration sheet that the institution or limited liability company or company or economic entity, performed an activity for which it was not registered at all. There are a number of related issues, if you control freelancers, then you probably also control these institutions, institutions and economic entities, limited liability companies, whether they pay taxes and on what basis they do it. One cannot rely on a single inspection, such as educational inspection. We have the educational inspection again in a related case, and that is the case of this kindergarten that is closed, the one banned from working.

How many times has it been inspected, is it enough to be inspected once a year by the city education inspection, is it enough to be inspected once every three or four years by the national educational inspection, whether and when the educational inspection conducts control, does it control by scrutinizing the class registers and observing the process, the work process, seeing whether all those who work in the kindergarten meet all the requirements that are very rigorous, required by law, and which apply not only to the owner, but to all employees. Then, are those who have direct contact with children licensed, if not, do they have mentors, if they have mentors are they allowed to take an exam to obtain a license, and when, because they are waiting three, four years to take the exam now at this point. These are all very detailed controls that need to be carried out.

Let's stick to the "Zamak " kindergarten now, what does closing the kindergarten mean?

This means that the kindergarten certainly did not operate according to the Law regulating kindergartens and the Rulebook, I will tell you right away, many kindergartens were established and started working before the adoption of the Rulebook, the question arises whether they have worked in accordance with existing regulations because they were founded earlier. This is the same issue that the Protector of Citizens is dealing with at the moment, a bit wider in scope, because if they were established in accordance with the Rulebook, then that's fine, if they are not, is there a deadline for them to adapt to the Rulebook, if they have adapted that’s one thing, if not that’s another, then you know what is done in such a situation. There is no dilemma here because working with children is really governed by regulations that are quite strict or rigorous if someone does not comply with them.

However, you saw, parents of the children from that kindergarten reacted with resentment, they don't want to, they don't know first of all where to go with the children, and secondly, they don't want to drop the children from the kindergarten?

I understand that as well. And I understand that, given that the parents need, when both of them are employed, to take children to kindergartens, but the parents are not the primarily responsible ones, although there is Parents’ Association who should in some way take part in the work of the kindergarten, but it is not up to them, but to the one who issues licenses, who gives permits and controls the work of the kindergarten. So, educational inspections, either a city inspection or a national inspection.

Are all kindergartens or only this one covered within your control investigation?

Not all kindergartens, because no matter how much we wished, the capacities of the Protector of Citizens are not such that he can encompass all the kindergartens, but what we are doing at the moment, that is to collect data related to what I have just said, whether they work in accordance with the regulations, the school of acting case, to call it that way, it aroused public interest. In the age of television, newspapers, electronic media, Twitter, Facebook, there is an abundance of information, if something does not change in accordance with what I said, this problem will simply fade away when the public interest ceases or when some other problem, so to speak, covers it, and the problem will remain. So, that constant check of who is doing what in the education and pedagogy process of children is crucial for this not to happen.

Speaking of the media, is the manner how the information reaches the tabloids within your investigation, how the information from the prosecution and the statements of the victims is leaking?
You see, that is a serious issue that concerns those who should deal with it, and we all know who should do it.

Isn't that you?

Well, we handle it, among other things, but it's not a primary activity.

But you do it as well?

We do, of course, because you see, there is a list of cases where arbitrary or incomplete reporting in the media caused confusion, not to mention the so called secondary victimization. I will give just one example, where at her insistence I spoke to one victim, not in this case, but in a case that also aroused great public interest and that person who is a minor, so encompassed within the domain of children, told me how it hurt her when the media reported more than what happened to her by the perpetrator, and the he behaved, so to speak, monstrously towards that person.

Which case do you refer to?

I prefer not to say, because if I articulated it, it would mean putting them in the media and that’s not the goal. The goal is to protect them against secondary victimization.

Let’s talk about what you have rejected. You have rejected the initiative of the Belgrade Center for Human Rights to launch an investigation to control whether there had been omissions by the competent institutions regarding the protection of health care workers. Why is this not a topic for the Protector of Citizens?

Firstly, nobody rejected anything, and, today, I will not comment on anybody’s incompetence, ignorance, arbitrariness, superficiality. There is a system established by the Law on the Protector of Citizens, I am not happy with such a system, that is why I started changing a law that should have been changed back in 2016 in terms of deadlines, in terms of the fact that citizens have to exhaust all legal means. For instance, for us, since I have been the head of the Institution, all citizens are treated equally and all citizens' associations are treated the same, be them the citizens' association Belgrade Center for Human Rights or the citizens’ association Young Enthusiasts from Kragujevac, which is also active or not to mention tens of thousands of associations, they have equal status for us. Secondly, a question that is very...

I don’t understand it.

Please let me finish.

If it wasn’t rejected, then what happened?

Please let me explain first, you have a question that is very, very sensitive, and that is the death toll. First and foremost, it has always been disgusting to me to bid on the number of the deceased. There are divergent data. One piece of information that is highlighted in that, I don't know how to call it, it could be complaint, now someone may call it...

They say citizens’ application.

Well, they may call it whatever they want, it is well known that the Law sets out the form of application, it is specified that the Protector of Citizens works upon complaints or on his own initiative. Own initiative does not mean ex officio. Ex officio includes an obligation, duty is an obligation, it means that you have to work on it mandatorily, and the law says yes, but let's get back to the topic, that is the point. This boils down to the fact that the union of doctors, I think both dentists and pharmacists, released the fact that 74 doctors had died during the epidemic from Covid. Another fact that appears is that the Medical Chamber of Serbia announced that 45 doctors had passed away. Well, then, there’s data that in neighboring countries you have a situation where either no doctor has died or one has died, which is absolutely not true.

But, that’s not the topic now?

Please let me finish, it is very much of a topic.

Even if there were ten.

Of paramount importance, even if it was just one, let alone ten.

Is it important to determine whether there were omissions by the competent institutions?

Well, it certainly matters, but you can't work by giving one piece of information, which is by the way unverified information because it came from a notification. The first and the second and the third piece of information that came from the consultation with the families of the deceased, from the information from other doctors, that's why I started this story, the point is this: no one included in that number, in the whole region or in the whole world, nobody took into consideration those doctors who committed suicide, it means that they did not die of Covid, but committed suicide because they couldn’t stand such a pressure on their health systems. Out of respect for those people who did it, and I am familiar with the figures in neighboring countries as well.

Well, how many are there?

Well, I'm not going to tell you that, because it's not the topic and because I have a lot of respect for the victims, but it's not the figure that is being manipulated, I feel free to say that publicly. That number is far higher in neighboring countries. You know very well and the public knows very well that I am in constant communication with the Ombudspersons in the region, in Europe and in the world, and that I know that information well, so you cannot present one piece of information and now request that one piece of information be a base, maybe it used to be possible before my arrival, now it’s not. We do not work according to affinities, nor animosities, we work according to the proven facts in this case as well.

But the facts need to prove it.

Please let me finish, in the case you mentioned as well.

The Belgrade Center for Human Rights also says that you have cooperated well so far, that they have addressed you and that you have initiated investigations on the grounds of theirs.

We cooperate well with everyone.

So what's the problem, because of the doctors who are alive now, who are working now, who are in the Covid zones, so what's the problem with you requesting information from Batut and the Ministry of Health?
I need to finish first. First of all, we handle the data, those that we have, but I repeat, we do not work on the basis of some arbitrary speculations, but only on the basis of proven facts. What we will do in this case is that we will subject everything that has been collected so far to analysis, and as far as cooperation with any citizens' association is concerned, we have, as you said, I quote you, we have nice cooperation, but we check every fact that comes to us as information. As you know, we mostly act on the information we receive from the media, much more than on the citizens’ complaints, but we check each one. Because it turned out that some pieces of information were absolutely not true, so you started the show with one statement that is completely erroneous, and that was that the children of Mr. Đorđe Joksimović had been taken away because of poverty.

Okay, now you want to say that this is also untrue.

I strongly claim that they were not taken away from him because of poverty.

If this is also untrue, then what?

No, I'm not saying it's untrue, I'm just saying...

What are you going to do?

That everything must be checked first in order for one thing to work on, and that we, following what is based on our law, informed that citizens’ association about the legal paths, just as we would inform which path any citizen needs to take, because the law strictly states that all legal means must be used first, I am changing that now in the new law, because it slows down, that’s when you ask me in what time frame you will do it, just to follow the form that no one remembered to change over ten, 11, 13 years of the institution's existence, but we now remembered that, even though it was Serbia's obligation to change it and to shorten the deadlines and to shorten the procedure, but only when we obtain facts that can be absolutely proven.

And where will you get them? Because Rade Panić says that he addressed both Batut and the Ministry of Health in order to get that information and that he encountered silence.

Then why didn't Mr. Panić contact us, because we just...

Well, the Belgrade Center for Human Rights did.

Mr. Rade Panić is not the Belgrade Center for Human Rights, you will agree.

Does it matter?

How can it not matter?

Can you initiate any investigation on your own initiative?

We may initiate an investigation either following a complaint or own-initiative, I repeat and I urge Mr. Panić now to address us, because if these institutions that you mentioned did not respond, it is called the classic administrative silence and in that case, it is the primary job of the Protector of Citizens. So let Mr. Panić contact us and we will respond, I tell you again, Mr. Panić and any citizen of the Republic of Serbia, and not only the citizen, but the one who is on the territory of the Republic of Serbia, and all citizens’ associations amounting to tens of thousands, they have the equal status with us, we never favor. If someone thinks they are special, that’s their problem, for us no one is special and everyone, I repeat, has the equal status.

Thank you very much for being a guest of "New Day".

Thank you.

So, Mr. Rade Panić to address the Protector of Citizens, that is the message at the end of this interview.

The organizers of child begging in Serbia have not been prosecuted over the previous year and a half, and hundreds of children "work" on the central streets of all major cities every day. Individual cases of "begging" have, however, been before the misdemeanor courts but only 1,135 were processed in a year and a half, and with six cases for so-called group begging, the Protector of Citizens, Mr. Zoran Pašalić has pointed out in a statement for Tanjug.

Noting that this is a very small number of cases in relation to reality, Mr. Pašalić emphasized that there were minors among the processed persons, and parents were responsible for children under 16, and it was known exactly in which terms and intervals in the year and in which locations it was done, said Pašalić, noting that these were the places where the largest number of citizens moved.

He believes that in order to solve this problem, and in order to protect child interests, better cooperation between the competent institutions is necessary, and he points out that child rights protection and the protection of children themselves is a priority for the Office of the Protector of Citizens.

Therefore, as he stated, the Office of the Protector of Citizens issued a recommendation to the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy to declare null and void the instruction from 2018, which instructed social welfare centers that children who work on the streets and engage in begging should be taken away from their parents in court proceedings, i.e. referred to home accommodation or foster families.

“We think that this was not the best solution because child interests are not protected there. Begging is not just a misdemeanor, and often children who are engaged in begging come from extremely poor families, which is why each case should be observed individually," Mr. Pašalić said explicitly.

He added that each case should be observed individually and consider whether it was an extremely poor family that had no choice but to beg or for children to beg, or it was something else in question. "I may freely name the latter 'organized crime.' I would not like to start qualifying it as a misdemeanor, a crime of human trafficking or something else. The essence is that child interests are a priority ", the Protector of Citizens emphasized.

Regarding a large number of "street children", the Protector of Citizens was provided an explanation from the Ministry of Labor that they do not have good cooperation with the police and the communal militia on this issue. “If there is a problem in the cooperation, we will seek its improvement. We request that each case of a child who is engaged in begging be viewed separately", said Mr. Pašalić.

Noting that re-occurrence in begging (repetition of the same offense by the same persons) is extremely common, he believes that repeated occurrence would be prevented precisely by observing each of these cases individually in order to determine the causes of why these children are on the street and engaged in street work.

When it comes to social welfare centers, whose actions are often criticized by his Office, the Protector of Citizens stated that they mostly emphasized the understaffing and poor working conditions for the shortcomings in their work. "We do not think that this is the only cause, but we believe that according to the number of cases or such an environment where a larger number of cases is expressed, the Ministry of Labor should provide for a larger number of employees, so that they can cope with persons in need of social welfare", stated Mr. Pašalić.

According to the data of the Ministry of Labor, which were submitted to the Protector of Citizens, based on periodic reports of the social welfare centers, in Serbia in the past period, protection was provided for a total of 96 "street children". Twenty of them were placed in a foster family, 44 children in homes for children without parental care or a reception center, and 28 children were taken away from their parents and court proceedings were initiated to deprive their parents of their parental rights. Also, relocation from the family is planned for four children because interventions in training parents to adequately exercise parental rights did not have a positive outcome.

With 82 families and 11 minors, it is planned and, the process is on track, to set up parental competence, so that children could stay in their family environment, and 67 families are being monitored by the guardianship authorities at the social welfare centers.

Mr. Pašalić says that in addition, he insists on adequate protection of "street children" and draws attention to the need for more efficient prosecution of those who organize the work of those children on the street and their more drastic punishment ", because, as he reminded," in a year and a half no report has been filed against the organizers".

The Law on Public Order and Peace provides for a fine for individual begging of 5,000 to 10,000 dinars or imprisonment for up to 30 days, and in the case of a crime committed in a group of three or more persons, a fine of 10,000 to 30,000 dinars is imposed or imprisonment for up to 30 days.

Protector of Citizens Mr. Zoran Pašalić guest in the "Morning Program" of the public broadcasting service Radio Television Serbia (RTS)

The latest is probably the fact that you have presented the Report on the implementation of the Law on Preventing Domestic Violence, saying on that occasion that you advocate that the victims be provided with an urgent check-up by a forensic doctor in order to determine right away the evidence regarding the committed offence. To whom precisely did you propose that and how is it going?

This call has been around for a long time, it is a Protector of Citizens’ plea to local self-governments to allocate certain funds so that both women and men, since men have also experienced violence, can undergo a proper free of charge check-up by forensic doctors in order to adequately determine the link between the act of violence and the consequences. Why? I have been addressing this problem for quite some time and what I have established, studying not only what is happening in Serbia but worldwide, is that women or men victims of violence are in such a situation that they often change their statement in court, sometimes defending the one who committed the violence. The only way to, as it is legally said, "link the evidence" is to perform a proper forensic examination and it should be free of charge. When someone experiences domestic violence, if he/she has injuries, he/she goes to the emergency service, injuries are identified, but no link is established that would be decisive or very important in court to convict the perpetrator and thus prevent him/her from continuing to commit violence.

Apart from this call, did you suggest it to anyone else, to any institution that could include it in the law or some other acts?

It’s not about a Law, it’s about local self-governments’ good will, and primarily the regional centers where there are forensic medicine institutes, but other towns as well where there are forensic medicine experts. What’s more, the funds that would be set aside would be used for the training of both the police and prosecutors and all those who get into contact with domestic violence victims. We had talks with all these institutions that I have listed and there is a great interest in doing this as soon as possible. I feel the need to highlight once again; no large funds need to be allocated or anything else that would burden local self-governments’ budget.

However, essential to this issue is training people who work with victims to know how to act. You also said at the presentation of that report that domestic violence, which was somehow a private matter, was actually a public matter, that it was a social problem. It is by no means a problem that happens within four walls and ends there. Who should hear that, institutions or citizens, how to dissuade the neighbors from turning a blind eye when they know that a husband is beating his wife next door?

Back in 2003, I started dealing with this issue through my work in the Misdemeanor Court, so, recognizing victims of domestic violence and protecting them. It is often considered a private event, a private matter of the family and no one wants to interfere, not realizing that in this way a very broad circle of violence is created, which later escalates. Through studies, we noticed that it can be passed on from generation to generation, and because of that, society must pay attention, it is not a private matter, it is a matter of the entire community.

What have the citizens mostly complained about over the previous few months, from the beginning of the year and the pandemic? Perhaps domestic violence augmented as people were locked down in the house, nervousness and anger reached their peak? Generally speaking, what are the topics they have complained about the most over the last few months?

This program would be short just to enlist the topics, let alone to talk about each one. It all depends on the phase. Firstly, there was a big problem about the return of our citizens to the Republic of Serbia, then their stay both in quarantine and in some kind of home isolation, and finally the most significant problem was the possibility of movement or prohibition of movement. In particular, some of that is related to domestic violence, that is the inability of the victim to escape from the perpetrator during the lockdown. We reacted at once and we saw confirmation of our beliefs that there must be another solution and it was resolved differently, so the victim was able to leave the family regardless of the lockdown.

What’s the way of reacting to those situations: someone calls you and says because of the epidemic measures they do not permit me to leave the house and I believe that my rights are endangered, the right to move, for example?

It is one form when someone individually addresses us and files a complaint. There is also another way, and we learned from the media about numerous issues that we considered should be corrected or rectified.

Recently, something that you reacted on was that Social Welfare Center in Sokobanja has been working for more than a year without social workers. What’s happening there?

Here, we launched an investigation against both of the ministries, the competent ones – the Ministry of Labor and the Ministry of Finance that needs to provide funds as social welfare centers are practically in crisis situations and citizens firstly communicate to social welfare centers any problem they have. This is why, it is crucial that the centers operate, that they are adequately staffed and that they can meet the citizens’ needs.

For some time now, the media, and then Dr. Predrag Kon mentioned it, have been speculating about the actual number of deaths in relation to what was reported as official. Did you feel the need to react and initiate the investigation?

In that case, we initiate an investigation that goes to determine to what extent the alleged numbers correspond to the truth, that is, the right numbers and the right indicators. It is not an easy process because there is a big problem worldwide, so to say, regarding the delineation into those who died for some other reasons and those who died from Covid-19. That investigation is still in progress and we will publish the results upon the completion, that is, when they are reached.

The investigation during the protests in July when the results were in Belgrade and some other cities, you then said that there was excessive use of force in individual cases, but that there was no systemic police violence over citizens. A few cases, if I'm not mistaken, you've investigated seven cases and we've never heard the results of those investigations.

Not only seven, many more cases were investigated because two teams of the Protector of Citizens were on field the one that addressing emergencies since there is not greater emergency than such situations and the other one is the NPM - National Preventive Mechanism, which in situations when someone is being deprived or was deprived of liberty checks whether it is done pursuant to the law and the rules of service. There were many omissions identified, you have listed the most drastic ones. The report that we compiled, which is quite extensive, on all this, was sent to the Ministry of Interior, and what I have to explain is that we cannot launch an investigation in the sense that might be expected. Either the Internal Control of the Police does this or, I know that this is also the case, the Prosecutor's Office when criminal acts have been committed through excessive use of force. That statement of mine was also obvious on the field because we were there, I was there, we checked what was happening, and we were not tagged because if what is happening is happening on both sides, you must definitely be exposed to some kind risk. There was criticism that we had police security but we didn’t. On the contrary, we didn’t want to be visible from the very reason that if we had been visible we might not have seen what we saw.

But what did you see, was there an excessive use of force?

There was excessive use of force, as I said, but there was no systemic repression. I keep explaining what systemic repression means - it means that someone deliberately uses force against peaceful demonstrators in order to break up demonstrations. There was violence on both sides, and in a certain number of cases, that violence led to exceeding the authority, that is, to excessive use of force. That will certainly be sanctioned.

But we saw a man with a fractured head, journalists who certainly did not provide resistance.

This is a specific question for journalists. I also talked to the press about that. In principle, journalists do not want to be visibly tagged with some protective vests or in some other way because they think that in that way they are also the target of someone who is not a fan of, say, that media company, you at RTS know that very well. Then, unfortunately, anything may happen in that crowd.

Just briefly, does the report you issued to the MOI mean that the investigation is completed?

It has not been completed, we are waiting for the results of those to whom we have sent, and that is the Internal Police Control and, where we cannot interfere in the work, the Prosecutor's Office, but we are monitoring the work in cases where charges may be or have already been brought.

A few weeks prior to the protests, there were citizens complaining that people with torches climbed the roofs of their buildings without their approval, that they called the police and the municipal police and that they did not respond to their calls?

It did not just happen in Belgrade, it happened in Novi Sad as well. We reacted and received a report which comes down to misdemeanor charges submitted to the police and misdemeanor proceedings against persons without distinguishing between torches or a ban on movement, and that is what poses the problem in that investigation. We seek and we will insist on it, even though it is a long investigation, to delineate those who have only violated the ban on movement from the others who did what they did.

Finally, let me ask you, you have been at the head of the institution of the Protector of Citizens for more than three years; is it a job of talking to people or paperwork, administration or life?

I don't think "at the head" is the best wording, the Protector of Citizens is more appropriate. Thank you for this question. When I took over the position, I said - not paperwork but life. I said that I would open the doors, we went all over Serbia countless times and talked to the citizens, we did that in the Institution as well, but unfortunately it is now a bit tight due to the epidemic, but it is precisely a discussion with citizens, both individually and in groups, who address us with certain requests and demands.

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