Conference on the legal past of Germany and Serbia meets with great media interest

On 15 April 2016, the IRZ together with the Serbian "Society for the Study and Reception of German Law" organised a conference in Belgrade on the reappraisal of the legal past throughout various authoritarian systems. This topic, about which many people have their reservations, is of great importance in Germany and in Serbia. The event should inspire discussions on the subject.

In his welcome address, German ambassador Axel Dittmann (video clip) talked about the importance of the subject and explained that the present and the future can only take shape if we address our past. Dittmann went on to say that, in Germany's experience, it is very difficult to agree on a shared future without addressing what has happened in the past.

The main German speaker at the conference was Dr. Oliver Vossius, President of the German Association of Notaries, who talked, amongst other things, about the involvement of people in his profession in Aryanization during the National Socialist era. He also explained that efforts to deal with the legal past in post-war Germany met with particular resistance with regard to the biographies of lawyers who had made their careers during the "Third Reich" and were still active after the war.

One of the main lectures from the Serbian side was given by Professor Jovica Trkulja, who also publishes the journal "Herecticus - Časopis za preispitivanje prošlosti" (Hereticus – magazine for re-examination of the past). Another lecture was presented by Professor Tibor Varady, previously of Novi Sad University and now lecturing at the European University in Budapest. The latter recently wrote a book published in Serbian and Hungarian on the abuse of the law in Vojvodina over a period of more than a hundred years, based on the well-maintained legal records kept by his father and grandfather.

Professor Trkulja took a critical overview of Serbian history over the past century. He drew the conclusion that this had been characterised throughout by authoritarian systems. Consequently, there is a strong need to explain the legal past. He divided recent Serbian history into four main phases:

  • 1944-1952: Fighting enemies of the people and of the state,
  • 1953-1968: Fighting enemies within,
  • 1969-1980: Fighting enemies of self-government,
  • since 1980: Continuation of authoritarian styles of rule during the Transformation.

Within the period that extends up to the present day, Professor Jovica Trkulja gave the period between 1990 and 2000, the Milosevic era, the term of "Tsardom by plebiscite". Trkulja pointed out the strategy of authoritarian regimes of constantly forming new groups of alleged enemies of the regime through "differentiation" in order to legitimise their own regimes.

Professor Varady used outwardly comparable cases from various years, in which members of other ethnic groups had fallen victim to the justice system, to demonstrate the general mechanisms and consistent methods used to abuse the law. It became clear that nations cannot in any way be named as victims or perpetrators, because the nationality of the perpetrators and victims changed constantly.

There were some intense and lively discussions after each of the lectures. One of the reasons for this was the fact that some of the lecturers and the participants were themselves subjected to reprisals and significant professional disadvantages during the Milosević era. Another participant in the talks was Professor Vladimir V. Vodinelic, author of the book "The Past as a Challenge to the Law – Serbian side of the legal coping with the past", which can be downloaded from the website of the Helsinki committee in Serbian: Download as a WinZip word document.

The significance of the topic was underlined by lively media interest. State television and major Serbian newspapers and Internet portals reported on the conference. Detailed regulations from German law, which only had an indirect connection to the actual topic of the event, also received a considerable amount of interest. In the Serbian legal examination system, until now there has only been a score of "passed" or "failed". In this context, the German system of differentiated scoring for legal exams and the introduction of a state note in the report in "Blic", one of the most widely read newspapers in the country, is considered to be a mechanism for preventing low-achieving candidates with good political connections from being chosen over those with better qualifications.

Conference supporting arbitration in Belgrade

In many of its partner countries, the IRZ handles the alternative resolution of disputes. In this respect, for many years now it has been organising regular events on arbitration, along with the German Chamber of Commerce in Serbia (AHK), the German-Serbian trade association and the German Institute of Arbitration (DIS).

This year's conference on "Procedures for resolving construction disputes" was held on Thursday 19 November in Belgrade, against the background of a wide variety of building projects that are currently in the planning stage in the Serbian capital.

The event was met with great interest by participants from the legal profession and business. The importance of this topic, particularly with respect to the current situation in Serbia, was emphasised by the Head of Economic Affairs at the German Embassy, Gabriele Bennemann, in her welcoming speech to mark the start of the conference.

Prof. Dr. Tibor Varady, a world-renowned expert on arbitration, and Ruth Mosch, a lawyer who used to work for the DIS, then presented the particularities involved in resolving construction disputes in arbitration proceedings. The speakers underlined, amongst other things, the importance of upstream mechanisms for de-escalating construction disputes due to the necessity for further cooperation between partners.

Multidisciplinary regional conference on "Constitutional Jurisdiction and the Media" held in Kladovo, eastern Serbia

A regional conference on "Constitutional Jurisdiction and the Media" organised jointly by the IRZ and the Constitutional Court of Serbia took place in Kladovo, eastern Serbia, on 4 and 5 September. Representatives of the Constitutional Courts of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Montenegro also attended the conference.

The conference was a continuation of the long-lasting and successful cooperation between the IRZ and the Constitutional Court of Serbia. The cooperation has involved, amongst other things, advice and support from the IRZ for the introduction of constitutional complaints to Serbian law.

The aim of the conference was to hold direct discussions between constitutional courts and media representatives, as the President of the host court, Vesna Ilić Prelić, pointed out in her welcome address. This was also reflected in the people attending the conference. As well as representatives from the various constitutional courts, Serbian participants in the closed conference included journalists Aleksandra Petrović ("Politika" daily newspaper) and Vojislava Crnjanski Spasojević ("Večernje novosti" daily newspaper) and Ljubiša Obradović, editor-in-chief of the online edition of the state broadcasting company, RTV Serbia. The journalists, all of whom had a legal background, talked with representatives of the various constitutional courts, who primarily covered the relationship between constitutional jurisdiction and the media in their respective countries. The following presented national reports from their own constitutional courts:

  • Vesna Ilić Prelić, President of the Constitutional Court of Serbia
  • Zlatko M. Knežević, Vice-President of the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Dr. Katja Senjak, Constitutional Judge, Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Dr. Duška Šarin, Constitutional Judge, Croatia
  • Dr. Teodor Antic, Secretary General of the Constitutional Court of Croatia
  • Milorad Gogic, Constitutional Judge, Montenegro

Representing the German side were Dr. Dieter Hömig, a former judge at the German Federal Constitutional Court and the Karlsruhe correspondent for the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Dr. Wolfgang Jasnisch. In addition, Nina Salomon, who works in the press office at the European Court of Human rights, presented the public relations work that takes place at the court in Strasbourg.

The multidisciplinary composition of the conference led to some interesting discussions, during which media representatives and constitutional judges were able to gain deeper insights into the nature of each other's work and develop an understanding of the other point of view.

There were, however, differences of opinion even within the same professional groups. These concerned, for example, the question as to how much criticism, particularly unjustified criticism, of the constitutional courts by the press should be acceptable.

During the discussions it became clear that, in certain respects, the situation in Southeast Europe differs considerably from that in Germany. In Southeast European countries, it is the exception rather than the rule for journalists reporting on the activities of constitutional courts to have formal legal training. This trend will probably intensify as a result of the increasingly strong competition between the media in Southeast Europe. In addition, the scope of the media criticising the constitutional courts - sometimes unjustly and harshly - is wider in the Southeast European countries attending the conference than is the case in Germany, for example. On the other hand, the attendance of journalists with a legal background at the conference proves that there are also media representatives in Southeast Europe who are interested in having an objective dialogue with the constitutional courts in their countries.

The event made it clear that talks between the two professional groups are necessary and promising. All the more so because the objective and critical observation of the administration of justice is just as important for its own future as it is for the perception of the case law by the citizens.