CEAS warns of dangerous, false and tendentious actions by Novica Antic and the Army of Serbia Trade Union

The Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies (CEAS) is expressing grave concern because of systematic, tendentiously false statements by the president of the Army of Serbia Trade Union Novica Antic that are violating the Constitution and the laws of the Republic of Serbia and the principle of democratic control over the armed forces, and of representative parliamentarianism itself, which has one of the key roles in the democratic oversight of the security system, as well as the president who is and should be a politician, primarily because of possible security implications of the actions by the Army of Serbia Trade Union that he is heading, to which Serbian public  is not reacting despite Antic’s open coup mongering that he justifies by his arbitrary assessment of alleged “betrayal” in relation to Kosovo. The other day Antic openly said, without hesitation: “Serbia is no one’s ancestral heritage. We have given oath to this country, to its flag and its Constitution. But not to its politicians.”

In their statements and press releases, Antic and the Army of Serbia Trade Union increasingly often show that they have no regard for the basic principles of the democratic control of the armed forces which is based on the Constitution and the laws of the Republic of Serbia. They do so in a very complex period both politically and security-wise because of negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina, at a time when Serbia’s state officials and its citizens must demonstrate a high level of understanding of all implications that certain moves and decisions may have. Unfortunately, at a time when some foreign factors, both state and non-state, intend to provoke, or use provocations or operations to cause incidents with security implications that could threaten Belgrade’s intention to reach a peaceful multidimensional agreement with Pristina making peace between the difficult historical heritage and the legitimate, possible and feasible interests of Serbia in 2019, with its complex geopolitical circumstances in which a democratically controlled security system plays a very important role. In Serbia proper, the Army of Serbia Trade Union is de facto threatening the citizens and the state with an armed rebellion.

Given these circumstances, we call upon Serbia’s democratic public, but also relevant institutions, to immediately pay due attention to Antic’s “Christmas” interview for Lepa Sumadija website (linked below). The interview has been carried by several media in Serbia, unfortunately without a single comment. Antic is regularly interviewed by Danas daily and N1 television channel and the journalists of these media unfortunately never confront him with these actions which are unconstitutional and illegal. Rather, they provide Antic with an opportunity to falsely represent himself as an oppressed and unlawfully persecuted citizen, military officer and trade union leader. In the aforementioned interview, Antic even claims that the Army of Serbia’s Trade Union is “the most persecuted union in Europe”! Antic, but also members of the Army of Serbia’s Trade Union who do not distance themselves from such behavior, act very treacherously by seeking to exercise their right to political action – and they seem to plan to fulfill their political aspirations by coup mongering that they are not even trying to hide anymore – by claiming or falsely implying that it is inherent to associations of armed forces members around the world and in Serbia, under the guise of alleged trade union action, while in fact in Serbia, like in most other democratic countries, such action in the armed forces system is limited for very good reasons by laws and professional codes.

In Antic’s own words: “Army of Serbia Trade Union is a national, patriotic, state-building organization. We are not shying away from getting involved in politics, we even consider this as one of the basic roles of the trade union, and there are countless examples from around the world were trade union representatives play important roles in parliaments – in Germany, England, Norway – where trade unions have been in power over the past 80 years and more…”!

We would like to remind media representatives and members of the allegedly pro-EU non-governmental organizations and other actors that freedom of speech is guaranteed by the Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights and that it has been thoroughly incorporated in the local legislation. This includes freedom of thought and freedom and receiving and transferring information and ideas without interference of the public authorities and regardless of borders. Enjoying these liberties also entails duties and responsibilities, and can therefore be submitted to formalities, conditions and restrictions or sanctions as required by the law and as needed in a democratic society in the interest of the national security, territorial integrity, crime and unrest prevention, public health and moral protection, protection of reputation or the rights of others, prevention of disclosure of confidential information, or maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.

We consider that because of unconstitutional actions within the armed forces system, Antic would probably already be in prison and his union disbanded in most democratic countries that are based on the rule of law and have a high level of protection of individual and collective rights, let alone in Russia and similar autocracies. The circumstance that Andric, as the leader of the “only representative trade union”, rightly or not, points to defense system’s problems, challenges or possible irregularities in relation to the living standard and the work rights of the members of the armed forces (and the same goes for his “colleagues” from Serbia’s Police Trade Union), falls under good practice in terms of the domain of action of the armed forces union in OSCE countries, for example. However, this does not allow Antic to interpret laws and conventions in an arbitrary and wrongful manner, nor to take the law in his own hands or in the hands of his union members, who belong to an armed system of the state; nor does the claim that his union is fast growing and most numerous one permit him to assess the situation and make decisions on what constitutes legitimate trade union action. Antic is reported as claiming that certain moves by the Ministry of Defense undermine Serbia’s combat capacity, while the fact is that it is he who is undermining this capacity by showing that is a large number of his followers exist in the system and are ready to act against the Constitution and the laws, all of which must be orchestrated by foreign intelligence services and other interested sides who find that the democratization of Serbia and the peaceful compromise agreement with Pristina, which would lead to the stability of the whole Western Balkans region, are not in their interest.

We have warned before of Antic’s dangerous interfering in politics by his statement that Serbian President Alesksandar Vucic “prefers emperor Murat to emperor Lazar”, implying that the huge effort to normalize relations with Pristina in a peaceful manner with the support of the EU can be seen as “treason”. Even some opposition “leaders” such as Vuk Jeremic do not shy away from such arbitrary assessments. Antic and his Army of Serbia Trade Union were supported by activists and local political groups presenting themselves as non-governmental organizations such as Ne da(vi)mo Beograd (loosely translated as Do Not Let Belgrade D(r)own), when they  joined a protest under the slogan “Stop the Dictatorship” that took place in the spring of 2017. By chance or on purpose, the same protests were supported by the politicians who now lead the protests called “Against Violence – No More Bloody Shirts”. CEAS notices that dictatorships, or even authoritarian countries, do not make it their “regular practice” to allow such protests to be held unhindered every two years.

CEAS has written about the problems Army of Serbia Trade Union is making in the efforts of the Republic of Serbia to strengthen the democratic control of the armed forces in a very complex period in terms of security – even before the latest scandalous interview by Antic which has only confirmed the findings of our analysis – in its recent reports called Kosovo First in which we have analyzed the political and normative context of the new drafts of the Defense Strategy and of the National Security Strategy (available at CEAS’ website in both Serbian and English language).

For the same bizarre reasons – to arbitrarily assess someone’s work under the guise of being the only one legitimate to estimate what is good, and what is bad for Serbia, who is correct and acceptable and who is not, regardless of election results which are another practice that Antic is marginalizing in the manner of secret societies – Antic has recently dissociated himself from the protests under the slogan “Against Violence – No More Bloody Shirts”. The promoters of the protest claim to oppose violence, and at the same time at the head of their protest march there were banners calling for the same unconstitutional and illegal, or simply put coup-mongering action by the army and the police that Antic and his Army of Serbia Trade Union are calling for, also because of the “treason” related to Kosovo, and from which the organizers never distanced themselves. In his interview to Lepa Sumadija Antic openly said: “We are receiving calls from veterans, citizens, retirees, teachers, policemen our colleagues, students, farmers… to form an alliance which will stand before the people together with us at the helm of the march. Our sacrifice in this regard is not in vain because all research shows that our syndical organization is getting high ratings in terms of popular trust. If the Army of Serbia Trade Union stands before the people, then the people will know for what, why, against whom and for whom are they going out into the streets! Until then, we will assess everything and make sure we prevent being abused or ashamed.”

Unfortunately, CEAS is not surprised that exactly that photo with such a banner served as the illustration of the report from the protest for the Serbian version of Putin’s propaganda machinery called Sputnik. Everything aforementioned is something that western representatives of the international community who support strengthening of the rule of law and Serbia’s European integration should react to, since local actors who allegedly share the same goals are not responding.

CEAS is especially worried that Antic himself is boasting about the support he is receiving from Russia, with whose structures he has been cooperating in the past year much more than with similar professional associations from EU countries who seem to have seen through Antic much quicker than Serbia’s allegedly democratic and EU-oriented opposition and civic society, investigative web magazines and independent media. We would like to remind that Russia is a country that currently has lower levels of democracy, rule of law, human rights protection including rights of the members of the armed forces, and freedom of the media.

Antic is generally showing antidemocratic and anti-European positions although he is allegedly cooperating with similar professional associations from countries with democratic, European systems that Serbia is aspiring to through the process of EU integration. His populist stands, nationalism, anti-globalism, comity and economically unfounded calls for solidarity with complete lack of understanding how regulated free markets function, are very reminiscent of the rhetoric used by declared Putin supporters – medical doctor Danica Grujicic and Zavetnici organization on one hand, and Sergey Baburin, Russian politician with similar national-socialist, antidemocratic and anti-liberal market stands on the other. Baburin is often visiting Serbia and hosts such structures when they visit Russia. Antic claims to head a “representative” union, but with orthodoxy as its guiding ideology, we wonder how could it be representative of all armed forces members, among whom there are atheists or adherents of other faiths. In order for one to be representative, there should also be some understanding of the rights of women in the armed forces, but also of politics. Antic, unfoundedly denouncing the current Defense Minister for the lack of military experience, overlooks the fact that although most contemporary democracies have men heading defense ministries, increasingly often ministers are women without formal military experience, which is not and should not be a precondition for a political function.

Antic is persistently calling upon honor and tradition, glorifying the role of the armed forces in the wars of the 1990s which is unfortunately burdened with a large number of war crimes committed by armed forces members. Keeping one’s silence of the crimes committed by the armed forces has nothing to do with honor, and this is something Antic is systematically doing. The honorable thing to do would be to confront these crimes, condemn them and prevent them from happening again, which is something the Republic of Serbia has done from year 2000 onwards, more or less fervently, under all governments, thus gaining legitimacy to denounce huge oversights in processing war crimes committed against Serbs in the region.

CEAS, which since its founding has been calling for the perpetrator of the murder of the two guards in Topcider to be apprehended and brought to justice, finds especially tragic for armed forces members – whose best interests Antic allegedly has as his primary goal – that his legal representative is a deeply compromised person such as Vuk Tufegdzic. We would like to remind that at the time of the murder of the Guards – which has been undoubtedly qualified as murder by all commissions and the subsequent work of the prosecutor’s office – Tufegdzic, as the investigative judge, probably contaminated the crime scene and dismissed murder as an option, maybe even trying to cover it up, by claiming that the guards “were not killed by a third person, but one soldier killed another and then committed suicide”. CEAS has covered this issue extensively in its report titled Socio-political and Legal Analysis of the Cases of Killed Workers of the RTS, Soldiers Killed in Topcider and Leskovac, and the Case of the Soldier Milan Maric way back in 2009 (available at CEAS’ website). In this report we have highlighted that the right to a fair investigation in a reasonable time frame in the case of violent death is one of the basic rights of the armed forces members, which Tufegdzic has probably violated, and which is obviously not bothering Antic. Members of Antic’s Army of Serbia Trade Union should consider this, as well as all obvious evidence of his unconstitutional and unlawful actions. But it is unclear whether this can be expected of an organization that is glorifying convicted war criminals in posts on its social media channels, and accusing the state leadership of “treason” in its press releases without providing any supporting evidence or having any understanding of due procedures.

In Belgrade, January 9, 2019