Serbia is one of the few countries that passed the Law on Protection of Whistleblowers. Whistleblowing is a disclosure of information about the violation of regulations and violation of human rights, or information about life threats, public health, safety, damaging the environment. A whistleblower is a natural person who performs the whistleblowing in connection with his/her work engagement, and who is, due to that, entitled to special protection. The Law on Protection of Whistleblowers binds the employer to notice the employees about the whistleblowing protection and to protect the whistleblower from potential harmful action of third parties.
Besides the employer’s obligation to notify its employees about the whistleblowing protection, an employer is also obliged to alert them regarding protection against harassment at work. Namely, the Law on Prevention of Harassment at Workforbids any repetitive active or passive behavior directed towards an employee, which is intended to constitute a violation of the dignity, reputation, personal integrity, health or position of an employee, which causes fear or which creates hostile, degrading or offensive environment. The employer is obliged to inform the employee, in writing, about the prohibitions of harassment at work and about the rights, obligations and responsibilities of the employee and the employer in connection with the harassment.
Case study: Serbia’s first success after the adoption of Whistleblowers’ Protection Law
Marija Beretka is the first person in Serbia who obtained protection as a whistleblower, after Serbia adopted the Law on Protection of Whistleblowers in 2015.
She reported to the police about the corruption at the City Administration of Novi Sad in June 2015, where her supervisors hid the fines for improperly parked vehicles in the green areas. Once she reported, she started to have issues at work with colleagues and then she was transferred from her supervisory position twice within one year to other positions, which didn`t fit her qualifications, without any explanation.
Marija had to go to the court to be reinstated in her initial position and to prove that she had the right to be protected under the Whistleblowers` Law. Mariia`s friend, Zoran Pandurov, who supported and helped her, asked for court protection as he feared retaliation as well.
Marija had 3 different trials. After the second decision of the Court or Appeal Marija was able to enforce protection as a whistleblower and in May 2017 she has finally won the case and got her job back, receiving money compensation in the amount of 100000 dinars from the City of Novi Sad. Zoran Pandurov also won his case and received compensation as well.
Moreover, in 2018 former mayor of the City Administration for Inspection Affairs of Novi Sad and former Marija`s supervisor Vladimir Balaban was sentenced to four years probation for involvement in corruption and abuse of office against Marija Beretka and Zoran Pandurov. Two other officials from the Inspection Directorate Mirko Gajic and Illija Rosic also had court proceedings regarding corruption.
- A Belgrade court ruled in favor of Dr. Borko Josifovski, who exposed criminal ties between emergency doctors and funeral companies. Josifovski was represented by the NGO Pištaljka.
- In Serbia, an anonymous whistleblower, a police officer who raised concerns about police corruption, described an incident whereby the individual’s apartment was red upon in the middle of the night, causing a risk of serious harm to the whole family. The police officer moved several times over the course of a short number of weeks but did not feel able to trust his superiors to provide his new address. Vladimir Radomirović, editor in chief of Pištaljka, also based in Serbia identified that:
“The most common form of retaliation is termination of contract but there are also some more severe forms of retaliation where the persons who were reported by the whistleblower would go to any lengths to threaten and force the whistleblower to be silent including threats against families. Six months ago, there was a case in Novi Sad [the second largest city in Serbia] where a person who assisted a whistleblower to report on corruption had his car set on re in front of his apartment building…”
Blowing the whistle on corruption at an ammunition factory
Aleksandar Obradovic worked as an IT specialist at the Krusik Holding Corporation, which is a state-run ammunition factory in Valjevo, Serbia. He found out about corruption at the plant and started to gather proving documents since 2014. Aleksandar tried to approach trade unions about the issues, but as they were a ‘yellow’ trade union, receiving privileges from the factory`s administration, they closed their eyes on corruption. Obradovic went to investigative journalists to report. On September 15, 2019, the story was released online about the GIM company, connected to the father of Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic, which buys weapons at preferential prices, much lower than the real competition, at Krusik factory for ISIS in Yemen.
On September 18, 2019, the whistleblower was arrested at his workplace at the Krusik factory for disclosing a business secret. On October 14 Aleksandar was put into house arrest and he is currently awaiting the trial, not even given a chance to get protected by the law on whistleblower`s protection. On October 19 there were mass anti-government protests due to whistleblower`s arrest. Council of Europe and civil organizations are working to support the whistleblower in their struggle.
Corruption in the Serbian education system
Goran Peric worked as a lecturer at the Blace Business School in Serbia. In April 2017 he was fired from his position by the school principal Ljubisa Milacic after he pointed out the conflict of interest in the process of school`s accreditation by hiring Damjan Radosavljevic, who is a member of the National Council of Higher Education, as a ‘professional accreditation person’. However, Radosavljevic is the member of the second-ranking authority within the National Council, which is not the decision-making body. Goran Peric filed a complaint to the police about the corruption at the educational establishment and warned the Ministry of Education and the Prime Minister of Serbia as well as Serbian media. After Peric was fired, his colleague Bojan Vasovic, a computer lab technician, who supported the whistleblower, started to suffer from mobbing by the principal and at the end was dismissed.
Thanks to the Law on Whistleblowers` Protection, Goran Peric won the case and had to be reinstated at his previous position. However, the principal Milacic appointed him as a night guard at the school premises, saying that there were no vacancies for his qualification. Peric and Vasovic filed against Ljubisa Milacic for abuse in March 2018 and won the case. The educational establishment has become a part of the Belgrade Business School, while Milacic was fired after the Anti-Corruption Agency`s investigation in August 2018. Peric and Vasovic were reinstated at their previous positions in 2019 in the restructured Business School of Applied Studies in Blace.
Reporting a threat to public safety
Darko Nenadic worked as a mechanical engineer in the Pozarevac public utility company “Water Supply and Sewerage” since 2007. In October 2017 he found out that there was a potential threat in the usage of synthetic glue for the Pozarevac-Dragovac pipeline repair works. He pointed out the possibility of toxicity of the water and danger for people`s health to the director of the company Vladimir Stojimirovic orally and then by email. Nenadic started to get mobbed by his supervisors, while his report was not taken into consideration. Then the whistleblower informed the compliance officer of the company Miljan Markovic regarding the construction violations and mobbing, which were also ignored, while Mr. Markovic got the promotion soon after the incident.
In the end of 2017 the whistleblower Nenadic was dismissed from the company per new job architecture, although there were 2 positions opened, which he could fill according to his qualifications. Based on the Law on Whistleblower`s Protection, the court ruled in favor of Darko Nenadic, who was fired because he blew the whistle and not because of company`s restructuring, and he was returned to work in 2018 and was paid 141,000 dinars as reimbursement of court costs.
In May 2019 the director of the company Vladimir Stojimirovic was arrested for receiving bribes from the owner of the private company “Telekomunikacija” from Blace in order to get a bid worth more than 100 mln dinars in the public procurement procedure. And in the end of 2019, Darko Nenadic reported about conflict of interest in procurement procedures of the company in his social media account and informed Serbian Anti-Corruption Agency. All the bids for public procurement within years 2015-2018 went to ‘KLT Co’ company, owned by the “Water Supply and Sewerage” executive director Milorad Trifunovic` son-in-law Vukasin Krstic. The total value of all these works is more than 9 mln dinars (approx. 85,000 USD). The Anti-Corruption Agency believes that there is a connection between former director Stojimirovic and executive director Trifunovic in this corruption scheme. The investigation conducted by the Agency continues, while the ongoing public procurement contracts with ‘KLT Co’ were terminated.
A whistleblower persecuted at work for reporting illegal construction permits
Vladimir Pantic is a whistleblower from Valjevo, Serbia. He worked as a lawyer in the Department of Urbanism and Construction of the city administration in Valjevo. Vladimir saw illegalities in issuing construction permits for the investors, so the investors got the premises at lower costs, and informed his managers about them in December 2017. Shortly afterwards he started to be pressured and harassed by his supervisors to issue illegal construction permits for ‘Gorenje’ and ‘Gate’ companies, the buildings of which were already being built, but the whistleblower refused. He was immediately transferred to the beginner`s position in the Department for Emergency Situations and Defense Affairs, and the construction permits were issued for the above mentioned companies right afterwards.
The whistleblower filed a criminal complaint to the Valjevo prosecutor`s office against the city deputy mayor and other officials of the city administration and also reported about the illegal construction. The city administration explained Pantic`s transfer as a part of a new job architecture. Pantic had several court hearings and finally received a status of whistleblower under the Law on Whistleblowers` Protection in August 2019. But the fight continues, as Pantic`s reports and complaints were not being investigated and city administration officials were not charged.
A worker reports abuse at a foster care facility
Petar Vladetic was a defectologist at the Home for Children and Youth in the Belgrade suburb of Sremcica, Serbia. He worked there for several years and with the new director of the institution Gordana Kovic, the situation has changed to worse in 2018 for both the staff and the wards. Kovic gave more workload to the staff members, which influenced the quality of care to the wards of the institution. Children with disabilities were suffering from physical punishment, and also there was an accident in the home, when one of the wards died. Vladetic sent a letter to Kovic with the warnings and informed the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs about the unhealthy situation in the institution, but no one reacted. That`s why, the whistleblower decided to report it to the media. After this, Vladetic started to feel pressure at work, his salary was reduced and in May 2018 he was fired as he ‘damaged the reputation of the institution’.
The whistleblower went to the court and with the help of the Law on the whistleblowers` protection, he was reinstated at his position of the defectologist in Sremcica in October 2018, while Gordana Kovic resigned shortly after she fired Vladetic.
The law on whistleblowers' protection in action: a whistleblower reinstated at work
Tomislav Veljkovic was working as a janitor at the municipal administration in Raca, Serbia. In 2017 he figured out that the administration paid 600,000 Euros for the construction of the wastewater treatment plant and it was not built. Veljkovic reported about corruption to the Serbian Anti-Corruption Agency and later to the media. After the whistleblower reported about corruption, he was dismissed.
The Anti-Corruption Agency started an investigation based on the whistleblower`s report and issued a recommendation to dismiss the director of Raca administration Ivica Marcovic after finding out about other instances of corruption. Marcovic was dismissed and Veljkovic was reinstated in his position of the janitor on January 10, 2018 with the help of lawyers, who used the Law on whistleblowers` protection.
Alleged misuse of funds in the Association of Jewish Communities of Serbia
The whistleblower, who didn’t want his identity to be published, informed the Budget Inspection of the Ministry of Finance of Serbia about the misuse of funds in the Association of Jewish Communities of Serbia on March 18, 2019 by email. He claimed that the Association received EUR 950,000 from the state per the Law on Elimination of the Consequences of the Holocaust. Serbia has been obliged to pay this amount of money each year for 25 years since 2017 till 2042. The money should go to the Holocaust survivors and the Jewish communities of Belgrade, Zemun and Kikinda. But per whistleblower, the Association has invested this amount of money into the investment funds of Komercijalna Banka and Raiffeisen bank.
The whistleblower was waiting for the response about the outcomes of the investigation from the Ministry in 15 days according to the Law on the Protection of Whistleblowers. However, the Ministry hasn’t sent any information regarding the whistleblower`s allegations. That`s why, the whistleblower sent another request in April 2019, which also didn’t have any effect. The third attempt happened in December 2019, when the whistleblower referred to the Law on the Whistleblowers` Protection. The Ministry didn`t respond again, so the whistleblower reported the issue to lawyers. The Ministry responded to the lawyers saying that they sent the notification to the whistleblower, however, they didn`t. When the lawyers asked to provide the proof that the notification was sent, the Ministry responded that they didn’t provide the information regarding the inspection`s work and assessments per their regulations, which contradicts the Law on the Protection of Whistleblowers. The struggle continues as the Ministry still refuses to act per the Law, while Jewish communities in Serbia haven’t received the funding.
A whistleblower exposing corruption schemes in Prokuplje city administration
Sanja Marjanovic worked as a budget analyst at the Department of Budget and Treasury of the Prokuplje city administration in Serbia. While doing her work, she figured out that the planned budget deficit was higher than allowed and found out about corruption schemes in the administration. She blew the whistle in 2017 for the first time to the city mayor and she started facing problems at work since then. Her supervisors gave her more work, humiliated her at the workplace and didn’t pay her overtime. Due to the stress and mobbing at work, she took a sick leave, during which her supervisors demanded her to perform work from home. In the meantime, the whistleblower`s reports didn`t have any effect, so she informed the Administrative Inspection of the district and the Ministry of State Administration and Local Self-Government regarding all illegalities she knew about. After that, her management downgraded Ms. Marjanovic to the job with the lower salary and title at the education and culture department. They explained it with the new job architecture, which was implemented after the whistleblower was downgraded.
Ms. Marjanovic received the court protection as a whistleblower in March 2018 per the Law on the Whistleblowers` Protection and in October 2019 the High Court in Prokuplje ruled that she had to be reinstated in her previous job and get paid 70,000 dinars as compensation, which she received in 2020.
Workplace mobbing as a means of intimidation against whistleblowers
Divna Sakradzija is a whistleblower from Zitiste, Serbia. She worked at the Zitiste municipality as a registrar. For some time she was pointing out some illegalities in the actions of the registrar office, which were neglected, to the administration. Due to her reports she was first transferred to a lower position in 2019 and started to suffer from mobbing at work. Then she reported to the police about her doubts regarding the validity of the work experience certificate of the head of municipal administration Mladen Ajdukovic. After this incident she was fired.
The whistleblower informed the Administrative Inspectorate and Serbian Anti-Corruption Agency regarding corruption in the municipality and her dismissal. The Administrative Court of the Novi Sad department ruled in Sakradzija`s favor to return her to work per the Law on the Whistleblower`s Protection. However, during several months the municipality did not act according to the court`s decision and avoided taking the whistleblower back per so called ‘job architecture restructuring’, where her position was abolished. Then in February 2020 they finally returned the whistleblower back to work, but at another office 6 km away from Zitiste, in the village of Torak, and she is absolutely alone in the office, under the pretext that there was no work for her in Zitiste. The struggle continues, while the whistleblower still suffers from mobbing.