Corruption is one of the central political problems in Serbia, with far-reaching, negative effects on the functioning of the political system, state institutions and the Serbian economy. The systemic corruption in Serbia in the first lines of a legacy of the Milosevic era. In the context of ethnic warfare, international sanctions and the expansion of authoritarian power in Serbia, the state monopoly of power was overturned by state actors in the 1990’s, and the boundaries between security organs, justice and other state institutions on the one hand, and criminal milieus on the other, were blurred beyond recognition. Systemic corruption today is found primarily in the award of public contracts and the distribution of other state budget funds, as well as in health and education. Corruption in the economy takes place primarily at the interfaces with state institutions. Corruption among the police has decreased in recent years. On the state side, there is an independent institution that deals with the fight against corruption, the anti-corruption agency; Transparency International deals with the phenomenon of corruption in Serbian civil society. Pressure on the Serbian authorities to fight systemic corruption more effectively comes primarily from the EU. The UN Development Program (UNDP) also provides support in fighting corruption in Serbia.
After the new government started working in 2012, the deputy prime minister and chairman of the largest ruling party, Aleksandar Vučić, who was also appointed government coordinator for the fight against corruption, publicly presented himself as a fighter for the eradication of rampant corruption in Serbia. Vučić has announced the fight against corruption in the highest circles without political consideration. Among others, the entrepreneur Miroslav Mišković, one of the most prominent among the so-called “tycoons”, who has built up a considerable empire since the 1990’s and who is said to have links to various parties, was arrested on suspicion of corruption. The campaign made Vučić the most popular Serbian politician overnight, but at the same time brought him massive allegations of a politically motivated campaign. However, it remained unclear from the start whether these high-profile steps are the beginning of a really systematic fight against the structural corruption in Serbia. In any case, until the end of 2014, the fight against corruption persisted with the initial spectacular arrest of individual tycoons and the adoption of strategies and action plans to combat corruption.
Little changed later. Spectacular arrests were carried out by special task forces headed by the prime minister and were thus the result of political intervention or will, not the regular work of the police and prosecutors. The necessary transition from an interventionist to a systemic fight against corruption did not materialize. The outcome of the various high-profile corruption proceedings initiated remained uncertain; On June 20, 2016, Miroslav Mišković was ultimately charged with 3 million euros in tax evasion Sentenced to 5 years imprisonment, his son and the accused three and a half years. This verdict was significantly disproportionate to the political campaign the government originally built around the arrest. At the same time, the work of the state anti-corruption agency remains characterized by structural weaknesses. In contrast, the very agile Anti-Corruption Council suffers from the fact that its recommendations are inadequately implemented by the government. The fight against corruption is one of the central reform conditions of the EU in Serbia’s accession negotiations and in chapters 23 and 24 of justice. Ultimately, the initial vigor in the fight against corruption fizzled out, a systemic effect could not be missed. This made it clear afterwards that Vučić’s anti-corruption initiatives had primarily served political purposes and weakened the opposition.
The lack of progress in the fight against corruption in Serbia is reflected in the annual rankings in the Corruption Perception Index of Transparency International. According to estatelearning, in 2017, Serbia fell five positions to 77th place. The increasing deterioration in 2018 led to a dramatic drop of ten places to 87th place. The negative trend continued in 2019 with a further decline to 91st place.
Political scandals without consequences
In the autumn and winter, Serbia was rocked by a series of political scandals, all of which had the same characteristics: all of them concerned high-ranking representatives of the regime; All of them remained without political consequences and thus showed how far the power structure in Serbia is now permeated by systematic corruption and there is a lack of political responsibility. First of all, the University of Belgrade revoked the incumbent Finance Minister Siniša Mali from his doctorate after it classified its dissertation as plagiarism. Demands for resignation were rejected by him and the head of government. At the same time, independent media reported on the questionable nature of the university degree of Interior Minister Nebojša Stefanović, who officially has a degree in economics from the economics branch in London of the private Serbian University Megatrend, but which is not even registered as a university in England.
Stefanović was also at the center of a far-reaching scandal over politically sponsored sales of the state military company Krušikthat has been in the red for years. Thanks to the help of a whistleblower from the company, the media reported that a private company, for which Stefanović’s father works, had bought grenade launchers at a price below production costs and sold them at high prices in the Middle East. The Ministry of the Interior is responsible for authorizing arms sales. Despite this conflict of interest and the fact that President Vučić confirmed that Stefanović’s father worked for the company, the Interior Minister denied any responsibility and did not take any action. Instead, the whistleblower was initially arrested and, after public protests, placed under house arrest, without charge and therefore without any legal basis. At the same time, the US imposed sanctions on an alleged Serbian arms dealer, Slobodan Terzić,
Eventually, it became known that the Serbian police had excavated one of the largest marijuana plantations ever discovered in the Western Balkans on the premises of the Predrag Kovulija farm. The company received extensive state subsidies and was part of President Vučić’s business delegations on trips abroad. The opposition accused the Vučić family of ties to Kovulija, which the president rejected.