Stories from Quick Reads and Serbia
A link from the official website of the Privatization Agency of the Republic of Serbia began circulating on social networks in early December 2014. The link led to 19 gigabytes of text files on the agency's site that revealed the personal information of over 5 million Serbian citizens who had registered for free stock of state-owned companies in 2008. The files included the full names of citizens who had registered, as well as their Unique Master Citizen Numbers (JMBG), a number given to each citizen from which a birth date, place of birth and other information can easily be deduced.
The link was caught on Twitter during the week of December 8, 2014, by the legal team of SHARE Defense, the think tank unit of local non-government organization SHARE Foundation that conducts research and offers legal aid in the realm of human and civic rights. The foundation's team analysed the documents and reported the issue to the office of the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection of the Republic of Serbia. The links were removed from the agency's website in the afternoon hours of Friday, December 12, but it is impossible to know who downloaded the information in the meantime.
Citizens have started reacting on social networks, many calling this an “unforgivable” offense by a government agency. Twitter user Vladan Joler tweeted a common sentiment:
— Vladan Joler (@TheCreaturesLab) December 15, 2014
— Vladan Joler (@TheCreaturesLab) December 15, 2014
It remains unclear why the documents were published on the site, if by mistake or otherwise. The office of the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection took on the case immediately and it is expected that it will follow through with an investigation.
In the meantime, SHARE Foundation's legal think tank team has warned any and all who have downloaded the data that any use of part or all of the information in these files would represent a a criminal offense and has recommended that anyone who has retained a copy of any or all of the documents delete them permanently.
The image of the poorest segments of the population rummaging through trash cans has, unfortunately, become a common one in many Balkan countries in the past few years. From some of the 38,000 pensioners who currently receive the minimum monthly pension of barely 120 euro in Serbia, not enough to survive an entire month on, to the numerous Roma living in Serbian cities, many have turned to searching the last resort for food and clothing items – the neighborhood trash collectors.
A group of artists, dubbed “Blatobran” (“Mudflap”) entered and won a competition at Mikser Festival 2014 in Belgrade recently, their project being a “neighborly hanger” (“Komšijski čiviluk”), devised for hanging edible food and clothing items that those more fortunate in Serbia throw out. As the group explains on their Facebook page:
[The] idea behind the project ‘Komsijski civiluk’ (thank you Mikser for making it happen and TTK for the final product ‘The Neighborly Hanger’). Many poor people every day dig through garbage bins looking for food, clothes and recycling materials. Of all the segments of the population, the Roma are the most vulnerable. This project was designed to raise awareness of food waste and recycling and to help the poorest citizens to use it; about 50% of wasted food in industrialized countries ends up in the trash even though it is edible. The idea is to place ‘Neighborhood hanger’ next to garbage container so that citizens can leave the food and clothing that would be available to users in a dignified manner and to contribute to the quality of life of local communities.
POINT, the international conference on political accountability and new technologies in Sarajevo, has used its skills to aid in relief of the ongoing disaster affecting three Balkan countries – Bosnia, Serbia, and Croatia. BosniaFloods.org, the first tool developed by the participants, specifically targets Bosnia, because the situation in this country was made particularly abysmal because its government structure hindered disaster coordination.
In Bosnia, the floods and landslides directly affect over 1.36 million people, about 1/4 of the population, and lack of information in English inhibits people abroad who would like to help. The multinational team congregates and translates bits of information currently spread around the web. It addresses their credibility, mindful that in Serbia and possibly elsewhere there were attempts to swindle prospective donors via false bank accounts. Money is probably the easiest kind of aid to send. The people affected also need food, clothes and medical aid that can be delivered from other European countries, as well as volunteers who could coordinate such efforts within their countries.
Dušan Krtolica is an 11-year-old artist from Belgrade that has taken the local and regional art world by storm with his exquisitely detailed pen and pencil drawings of complex animals, dinosaurs, knights, and people.
Mainstream media in Serbia, and now other countries, discovered Dušan in February of 2014, but the young artist has been practicing his craft for several years and has even had three exhibitions so far. More experienced artists and those with a well-trained eye for recognizing talent have been stunned by the child's intense knowledge of the anatomy of the animals he draws and his almost unbelievable artistic ability. Many experts say they see a long and successful career for him in the art world, some even saying he will bring refreshing change, but Dušan has yet to decide whether he is more interested in art or zoology as a career choice.
Dušan sometimes posts videos of how he draws the detailed hand-crafted pictures on YouTube, as his technique and style develop.
InSerbia reports and adds details to a poll carried out by Serbian daily Blic on whether the Serbian Orthodox Church, whose clergymen have recently been in the media often due to reports of visible overspending, should begin paying taxes. The Serbian Orthodox Church and all other religious institutions are exempt from taxes in Serbia and state tax authorities have never inspected the finances of any registered religious community in the country. These benefits, however, only apply to products and services that serve for religious activities, while the Serbian Orthodox Church is known to have a variety of the most expensive vehicles in the ownership of the Church, used by its officials and employees. In the public poll conducted by Blic in early November 2013, 83% of the respondents said the Serbian Orthodox Church should pay taxes.
Rough estimates, derived from the statements of church dignitaries, indicates that only from VAT on the sale of books and other goods in church stores, as well as profit tax, the Republic budget could be richer for about 10 billion dinars (6.4 million euros/8.5 million dollars).
Aleksandar Lambros, a Serbian-born photographer currently living and working in Monaco, has been snapping photos of tell-tale details of Belgrade's architectural history and collecting them on his blog.
While the city still retains snippets of Roman and Ottoman architecture, as parts of the city were under both Roman and Ottoman rule throughout history, most of what is today downtown Belgrade expanded during the 19th century, under the still very visible influence of the highly popular European Art Nouveau movement of the late 19th and early 20th century.
Lambros has captured some of the most interesting decorative details on Belgrade's older buildings in a set of 18 photographs that depict the quaint, unique mixture of Serbian culture with a well-known European architectural style. The full set, along with Lambros’ other work, is available on his blog.
Serbian daily Blic reports on a curious case in which Serbian insurance company Takovo Osiguranje has, in writing, refused to pay damages to the widow and children of a car accident victim, based on his ethnicity. Blic journalists and an attorney representing the victim's family claim that the insurance company clearly stated in their written refusal to pay out damages that the family is legally owed:
…“da se javio neuobičajeni broj nesreća u kojima je stradao veliki broj učesnika romske nacionalnosti – u vozilu našeg osiguranika bilo ih je čak sedam”
…”that there has been an unusually large number of accidents in which a large number of victims have been of Roma ethnicity – in the vehicles of those insured with us there were as many as seven”
Author, actor, educator, television and film director Timothy John Byford died in Belgrade on May 5, 2014, after a long illness. Born in Salisbury, England, Byford spent most of his life in Belgrade, where he moved in 1971 and later became a naturalized citizen of Serbia.
As news portal InSerbia reports:
He is best known for his children’s TV series: Neven (‘Marigold’), Babino unuče (‘Granny’s Boy’) and Poletarac (‘Fledgling’) (all for TV Belgrade) as well as Nedeljni zabavnik (‘Sunday Magazine’), ‘Musical Notebook’ and Tragom ptice Dodo (‘On the Trail of the Dodo’) (all for TV Sarajevo). ‘Fledgling’ won a Grand Prix at the Prix Jeunesse International Festival in Munich in 1980.
Byford marked the lives and childhoods of several generations in Serbia and other former Yugoslav states through his television shows and educational programs. His presence was also felt in everyday Belgrade life, where he once rallied to have Banjica Park protected because of its feathered wildlife, and the term “Byfordian accent” has for decades been a popular way of describing someone who speaks Serbian well but with a heavy English accent.
Byford was genuinely beloved by his vast audience and fellow Belgraders, which has been touchingly apparent on social networks since his passing. Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and local media have been adorned with praise and gratitude to Byford and his contribution to culture and happy childhoods in Serbia and other former Yugoslav states. Enes Dinić from Serbia was among those who recounted Byford's wise words on Twitter:
"Život je avantura, ako ga živite hrabro." R.I.P. Timothy John Byford
— Enes Dinić (@eniko_neno3) May 5, 2014
"Life is an adventure, if you live it courageously." R.I.P. Timothy John Byford
— Enes Dinić (@eniko_neno3) May 5, 2014
Online magazine Balkanist was among several media to receive over 300 leaked emails from the Investment and Export Promotion Agency of the Republic of Serbia (SIEPA) that allegedly reveal corruption, nepotism, misappropriation of Agency funds and several other malpractices of the government agency's top officials and employees. SIEPA Director Božidar Laganin warned that these emails were obtained illegally and could have been manipulated, claiming that SIEPA servers had been hacked, thus anyone considering publishing or distributing them further should be aware of possible legal consequences if they did so. Mr. Laganin handed in his official resignation as Director of SIEPA shortly after making this statement.
Balkanist staff decided to publish an analysis of a portion of the emails [sr], as well as publish screenshots of some of them. As the author of the article and co-founder of Balkanist magazine, Srećko Šekeljić, explains:
Na adresu Balkanista je u ponedeljak 11. novembra prosleđeno preko 300 mejlova visokih funkcionera Agencije za promociju izvoza i stranih ulaganja Vlade Srbije (SIEPA) koji, u slučaju da se dokaže njihova autentičnost, sadrže naznake postojanja korupcije i nesavesnog postupanja u rukovođenju ovom agencijom.
U Agenciji za borbu protiv korupcije nam je potvrđeno da “iz sadržine dopisa primljenih elektronskom poštom, proizlazi sumnja da su izvršena krivična dela za koja se goni po službenoj dužnosti”. Na pitanje Balkanista šta će Agencija preduzeti u vezi sa informacijama koje su na naše adrese “procurele” iz SIEPA-e, rečeno nam je da su primljeni materijal “prosledili Apelacionom javnom tužilaštvu u Beogradu na dalju nadležnost i postupanje”.
Over 300 emails from highly positioned employees of the Investment and Export Promotion Agency of the government of Serbia (SIEPA) were forwarded to the address of Balkanist on Monday, November 11, which, if proven to be authentic, contain evidence of the existence of corruption and irresponsible acts in managing this agency.
The Anti-corruption Agency has confirmed that “from the content of the correspondence received by email, there is reason to suspect that criminal acts have been committed that will be prosecuted by legal obligation”. When asked by Balkanist what the [Anti-corruption] Agency will do with the information that was “leaked” from SIEPA, we were told that the received materials “have been forwarded to Public Prosecutor's office of the Appeals Court in Belgrade for further jurisdiction and action”.
With unemployment and economic concern growing in the European Union, Hungary is among some of the EU member states being criticized by its Union neighbors for more lenient laws passed in 2011 for attaining Hungarian citizenship. Charles Richardson explains why on Crikey's blogs:
Hungary has been giving some grief to its neighbors with a new law that allows people to claim Hungarian citizenship if they have (a) a direct ancestor who was a Hungarian citizen and (b) a basic knowledge of the Hungarian language. Apparently the latter requirement is being leniently interpreted.[…]
Two things make this more controversial than it might sound. One is that substantial chunks of Hungary’s neighbors were, at times in the last century, Hungarian territory. That means that a lot of Serbs, Slovaks, Romanians and Ukrainians are potential claimants, and it may make some of those neighbors worry about whether Hungary’s leaders have really given up the dream of recreating the “Great Hungary” that existed prior to 1920.[…]
The BBC reports that more than half a million people have taken advantage of the new law since it came into effect at the beginning of 2011, with about 100,000 from Serbia alone.