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.