“The wheels of justice turn slowly, but grind exceedingly fine”, Sun Tzu – a Chinese general, writer and philosopher – said almost 2500 years ago. In Serbia, where many litigations and trials have been around for decades, another concept seems to prevail: “Justice delayed is justice denied”.
By Nikola Mikovic
Although the Balkan nation is not a member of the European Union, Brussels is playing a crucial role in reforming the country’s judicial system. Indeed, the Serbian government is pursuing judicial reform in accordance with the national strategic framework and the European Union`s accession requirements.
Nothing unusual, given that Serbia has been a candidate for EU membership since 2012 – a long process with an extremely uncertain outcome. The problem, however, is that the very reform process also lasts for too long, and there is no prospect that it is going to end anytime soon. Even biggest mafia trails last for decades.
In 2009, the Serbian police have arrested several members of a notorious crime group in Valjevo, a city in western Serbia. Among them was Milan Miljanovic, who worked as a police officer at the time.
According to ‘official’ reports, he lent his official uniform to the leader of the Valjevo criminal group, not knowing what it would be used for. In that uniform, Zoran Jelicic, another gang member, killed a local businessman Zeljko Djedovic. Trail against those involved in this crime has been going on ever since, and the court case was overshadowed by numerous scandals.
In 2019, during the trial before the Special Court in Belgrade, defendant Zoran Jelicic slit his throat in the courtroom. According to media reports, Jelicic raised his hand to be given the opportunity to speak, stepped out to the court booth saying “I will kill myself in front of everyone now”. Jeclic then took a sharp object out of his pocket and slit his throat. In the end he survived the suicide attempt, the court downplayed its significance.
In May 2020, Jelicic reportedly sent a threatening letter to the judge promising to kill her. Other members of the “Valjevo group” claim that they were being denied the right to effectively present their defense, which is why the court case lasts for 12 years.
“The Totò Riina trial didn’t last that long”, Miljanovic told The Levant, referring to Sicilian mafia’s “boss of bosses” who led powerful Cosa Nostra.
The former policeman is still formally innocent, given that a verdict was never passed, even though he spent seven years in prison. He was eventually released and now regularly participates in legal proceedings.
While waiting for a verdict, he wrote to the Head of the EU Delegation in Serbia, hoping that they would pressure the Serbian judiciary to speed up the litigation. Instead, they advised him to continue to pursue his case before the local institutions.
“This trial will set a Guinness World Record. I expect a guilty verdict in the case by the end of the year, but then I will appeal against a court decision to a judge in a higher court, which means that I could have a new trial”, said Miljanovic who also plans to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.
But first he will have to end his case before all the local courts that could soon be overloaded if lawyers launch a general strike. They recently staged a rally in Belgrade, Serbia’s capital, protesting a draft law on court proceedings which they believe aims to prevent individuals from exercising their legal rights.
Indeed, there is an increasing number of lawsuits by Serbian citizens against banks – vast majority of them being European banks operating in the Balkan country – mostly due to illegal calculation of loan costs. It is believed that the foreign banks are pushing a new law on court proceedings in order to prevent people from suing them.
Meanwhile, the EU will likely keep insisting on further reforms of Serbia’s judicial system. Officially, that is one of the key conditions to speed up accession negotiations between Belgrade and Brussels. In reality, even if the reforms are eventually fully implemented, the Balkan country will unlikely join the EU any time soon, if at all.
Nikola Mikovic is a Serbian journalist and a senior Geopolitical Analyst he publishes often for The Levant News.