Speech by the Prime Minster of the Republic of Serbia, Ana Brnabic
Belgrade, September 15, 2017.
Dear guests from abroad and the country,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I have the need to, right from the beginning, emphasize that your invitation to open this Conference on Hate Speech and Hate Crimes has made me happy and honored. Not because it is an international event attended by esteemed experts in these areas, nor because it is an event of exceptional social and media importance, and the least because I, as Prime Minister have an obligation to support such events.
I am looking forward to it, and the reason why I am here is because, personally, I sincerely believe that discussion, confrontation and the opening of the most difficult questions is the best way to overcome the problem both on the individual level and as part of the social agenda.
Serbia and we, as a country, have over the past decades in many ways lived through the history. When I think about it, we created and observed history, live. In these processes, we did and uttered to one another so many horrifying things, while at the same time we did so much to ourselves, that I have the impression that it can hardly be placed in a usual lifespan. Looking at oneself and looking for a new, different and better path often seems like looking into the mirror from where an unknown face is looking at you. But the outcome of this confrontation is at the same time, I believe, the path towards open acceptance of others that are different from us, with the acceptance that differences do not have to lead to conflict.
As a representative of the state, I am proud that our country has adopted anti-discrimination laws and that the reports of relevant international bodies and organizations confirm that the area of human and minority rights in Serbia is improving. The level of discrimination of minority groups and members of national communities is in decline.
This society had the strength to make a step away from an environment that openly demonstrated physical violence against those with opposing views, and step into an atmosphere that is not threatening and does not threaten all of us who will walk the streets of Belgrade peacefully on Sunday. And all this has happened in less than 15 years.
When I think about us as individuals or as society as a whole, I often think that we all give too much importance to a loud minority that does not in any society give up its proclamation as the only correct one. That is why I always have the need to remind us all of those facts that inspired in me, primarily as a citizen, and only then as Prime Minister, and here I speak of the pride and sincere admiration of this society and the steps forward that we have made.
In spite of the wars that have left a deep scars, there are now 26 ethnic or national minorities in Serbia, which is more than anywhere else in Europe. 55,000 children are being educated in 15 languages, while there are six official languages in use in as many as eight local self-governments. National or ethnic minorities are represented by as many as 21 Councils of National Minorities, all of them receiving allocations from the budget, which indicates that the Government is working on their integration into the wider community. Proof of this is the fact that the Council of National Minorities is chaired by the Prime Minister.
Over the past three years, this society has passed a new test – the migrant crisis. Over a million people from endangered countries have passed through our country, and our citizens have shown great hospitality by helping people in distress. Serbia has never closed borders or raised walls, of which society as a whole we should be proud. Last year, in cooperation with UNICEF, 200 migrant students attended schools in Serbia, and this year as many as 645will even attend schools on the territory of 17 local self-governments where there are collective centers.
I always like to mention these things, because I’m constantly under the impression that we are not aware of what a big and significant path we have crossed as a society, and again I have the need to publicly emphasize it, because one step forward gives the strength to make new steps.
All these achievements, although important and great, cannot, however, diminish the importance of initiating a dialogue on tolerance and respect for interlocutors with whom we disagree in public speaking and acting. It should not be an excuse to tolerate hate speech just because such a speech is not accompanied by physical violence. Yet we must also remember that, until a few years ago, hate speech was a prelude to physical violence.
We ought to remember that representatives of minority groups on leading public positions are rare even in much more developed societies. Nevertheless, societies differ from one another not by the number of minority members who take prominent positions, but rather by how society treats them. Even though we have made progress in the field of human rights, our society in some segments still shows a sort of confusion and misunderstanding that diversity is not a disadvantage, but rather a basis for its development, giving everyone equal opportunities. It is important that we find the strength to talk about it, because silence distances us from the society we want to become, which is a society based on the rule of law in which every individual is important and where tolerance towards is the adopted code of conduct.
Diversity and tolerance must not be reduced to recognition and appreciation of members of the LGBT population only, but must encompass other minority groups as well.
Rhetorical, but also essential questions are – how many, for example, Roma are potentially and really in jeopardy once they step out of their homes, how many of them do not report violence, not because of the police, which I have to commend on this occasion, but because reporting implies disclosure of reasons and social exposure. I must mention people with disabilities who often do not even have access to state institutions where they need to take care of some business. Let us remember women and children victims of violence, people suffering from severe and rare diseases…
We must never forget the actor Dragan Maksimović. He was killed here, in our neighborhood, in the center of the city, not on a periphery, just because the murderers assessed he did not meet their criteria for belonging to a particular ethnic group.
The distance from hate speech to hate crime is not that big. And we certainly have experience with that.
I am convinced that hatred cannot be eradicated only by punishment, good laws and their strict application. The answer to the expression of hatred must be something else.
Conversation, respect of a different opinion, understanding criticism, patience, openness, dealing with oneself, politicians who give an example, teachers in schools who teach children about tolerance, the media that need to play an educational role. I see all this, but certainly not only that, as a way to improve the relationship of one to another, in various areas.
We all know that the degree of democracy of a society is measured by the attitude of the majority towards the minority. But, as a member of this minority, I have the right to say that that we, too, must have patience. I do not want to be misunderstood, I do not mean the acceptance and endurance of brutality – I mean human patience.
As problematic as it is for one family, regardless of where they live on this planet, when faced with the fact that one of its members is different from the family tradition, so is changing deeply set stereotypes and attitudes equally traumatic for society as a whole. Serbia is no exception to this, and I think that in recent years, with the great effort we have made in accepting diversity, we made a lot of progress.
The subject of human and minority rights is a topic that never ends. The degree of these rights, which are undeniable, is not decisive even in the most democratic and most tolerant countries, because the modern age is constantly posing new challenges. It is human nature, it is our essence, to constantly have this need for the continuous conquest of as much freedom as possible. That is why, among other things, the conquest of freedom is one of the most difficult, most complex and most exciting topics in various social, scientific and artistic areas.
As a citizen, I want to live in a society where the Pride Parade is news only at the level of information related to the closure of streets for traffic. Where that event is significant to those who are organizing it, along with citizens who want to participate in it. Without tensions several months before and after.
As Prime Minister, I have the obligation and duty to say that this state and its institutions decisively stand besides their citizens, equally protecting their rights – regardless of whether they belong to the majority or are members of minority groups by birth, orientation or personal decision.
That is my message.
Allow me now to express certain personal views.
Many criticize me. Yet I have no problem with that, because I am on a public position which is subject to the scrutiny of the public. What bothers me though is the unfounded criticism based on superficial estimations. I don’t know what’s bigger nonsense – when I hear that because of a different sexual orientation I am not fit to lead the government, or to the contrary – that I have been placed in that position, to lead the government, for that reason alone.
I thank you once again for giving me the opportunity to speak here in front of you. Let this conference be an additional incentive for our society to make another step forward. After an undoubted decrease in the number of physical attacks on people who are different from the majority, it is equally important that we stop hurting ourselves with words. No matter how much pain A SLAP IN THE FACE may cause, the weight of a word is often far more painful. Therefore let this conference contribute to mutual understanding and appreciation, the freedom to manifest ourselves as individuals without fear of personal guilt and social condemnation.
I wish you a successful conference and I declare it now open.