When the Council of Europe (CoE), in 2009 decided to support forming the Communal Police (CP) in Serbia, citizens through the country were presented with a promotional campaign, in order to familiarize them with this new institution of public order. It was seen as a step towards the implementation of EU standards in the Serbian legislature, on its ultimate voyage towards EU membership.
Through the rose-colored glasses of this EU-supported project, realized in collaboration with the Ministry of Public Administration and Local Self-Government, a platform was launched, promising ideas relating to city sanitation, the water supply, environmental protection, cultural preservation, street and road maintenance, public transportation, etc. As a by-product of this program, residents were guaranteed friendly collaboration with the authorities, towards achieving collaborative goals.
However, instead of becoming guardians of the nation's environment, Serbian citizens reaped a modern army of gangs and mobs dressed in official police uniforms, and with state authorization to threaten and even beat their fellow Serbs without any accountability or consequences whatsoever. Instead of the "communal policeman as good neighbor", the project's promotional motto, a small Balkan nation was "awarded" with vandals, practicing intimidation in every facet of Serbia's urban life.
Examined in detail, outside as well as domestic observers will attest to a wide range of brutality, that the CP have perpetrated against Serbian nationals in the seven years of its existence.
The most lethal of these occurred on the last day of June 2016, when Serbian fruit seller, Vlada Marinkovic (55), died followed a verbal conflict with a municipal policeman. His heart gave out due to acute stress, as a direct result of the verbal abuse to which he was subjected on multiple occasions, by the CP officers monitoring the market. Although he was a vendor who regularly paid taxes for the place where he and his wife regularly sell their watermelons, he was emotionally tormented because he didn't want to purchase lunch for one of policemen - one of the well-known ways in which bribery has operated in Serbia for decades.
"My husband warned them to stop harassing him, saying that he had survived two heart attacks, but the policeman told him: "I don't care, I will not stop until you have a third one, and die", said the victim's wife to Serbian media.
The only "crime" of the now deceased vendor was that his box with watermelons was a mere 20 centimeters outside its allotted space. At the same time, the police officers ignored illegal vendors whose trucks full of watermelons stood just a few meters away. However, the latter experienced no problems, after having payed a regular bribe to the policemen. In addition, Serbian media protected the identity of the accused police officer, by using only his initials out of fear of confronting this dictatorial organization.
In a sign of revolt two days later, citizens gathered in a movement dubbed "Don't Drown Belgrade", during which they smashed 200 kg of watermelons against the wall of Belgrade's CP Headquarters. Afterwards, none of the employed dared to confront them about it.
"Communal Police should change its name to 'Communal Inquisition'" wrote Zuric Vladimir Zuja on his Facebook wall. Andrea Abraham from Subotica also opined on social media that "If you want a job with the CP in my town, you have to pay (a bribe of) 3000 euros. It's a well-known secret... "
The tragedy could have been prevented if the first symptoms of CP terror noted years ago would have been taken more seriously.
The mistreatment of Belgrade's city bus riders is the most frequent action that the CP perpetrate against their fellow citizens. In a country of rapidly rising poverty with a million unemployed, the many who do not purchase bus tickets fall victim to what the CP use as an excuse to abuse residents. In another example, a poor student without a ticket was beaten after he refused to leave the bus; another case also involved a woman without a ticket, who was brutally arrested and taken to a nearby police station. A video shows a powerless female figure screaming for help, while three strong and aggressive uniformed men pressed her to a wall, as if she were some notorious criminal.
In the city of Cacak , a municipal policeman abused a female tobacco seller in the open market. Having taken her tobacco, he squeezed her hand tightly. In an attempt to break away from him, the woman fell, and the policeman continued to drag her on the ground. The woman, a single mother of two children, has been selling the tobacco only to feed her family .
It seems there is to be no mercy even for unemployed people, illegally working on Belgrade's streets in order to survive. Poor old women, selling flowers and handmade items for tourists, academic musicians surviving as buskers and chestnut and corn vendors are all regular CP targets. All of those who do not pay fines risk ending up behind bars.
Even beggars are not spared from this urban terror.
"I organized people's support for Serbian president Tomislav Nikolic during his political hunger strike " said one of Belgrade's beggars, who wanted to remain anonymous out of fear of reprisal. Today, I beg on the streets to buy medication while I am awaiting heart surgery at one of the state hospitals, if I even live to see that day. Several times, PM Alekandar Vucic passed by here and gave me some money. Once, journalists photographed him near me, and the photo was published. Barely two or three hours later, two Communal policemen came to fine me, and I had to go from this place to another, where I had to beg a few days more, in order to pay a fine instead of buying the medication I badly needed.
At the same time, the Belgrade CP turns a blind eye to true criminal acts, as was the case with the illegal, nocturnal Savamala demolition, which caused another series of national protests against the Serbian Government.
This implies that the crucial function of "CP guys" is not to help clean up Serbia's environmental waste, but to intimidate Vucic's political opponents. PM Vucic and his ruling Serbian Progressive Party continue to push the system back into the 1990s dark ages in many aspects of life, including the re-introduction of private "paramilitary organizations". Even Nikola Ristic, head of Belgrade's Communal Police, hearkens his appearance back to the criminal-look of cheap Eastern European, quasi-mafia bosses, and encourages his subordinates to follow suit.
Serbian Ombudsman Sasa Jankovic also tagged the CP as a "paramilitary organization", following an attack on a group of Serbian journalists and activists, who were investigating corruption within a government project known as the "Belgrade Waterfront".
" Such behavior is characteristic only of autocratic regimes ", said Vukasin Obradovic, president of the Serbian Independent Association of Journalists (NUNS).
Belgrade's Municipal Police agreed to follow the Ombudsman's 32 recommendations, following the attack. The fact that they promised to work according to the law "in the upcoming period" is a telling confession that they had not respected the law prior to that time.
The state authorities remain silent, except when they are under public pressure, and/or under the rare scrutiny of objective media - the latter of which is not a pawn of Aleksandar Vucic. Citizens may raise their voices, but up to the present time, their will and influence against CP vandalism is woefully insufficient.
The only one who can stop the horde of CP vandals is the CoE, which gave the birth to this politically-manipulative and corrupt institution, that works not on behalf of ordinary citizens, but for the political elite. Otherwise, over time, the former might very easily be turned into death squads, modeled on Pinochet's " Caravan of Death", Brazil's Esquadrão da Morte or " Ceausescu's Securiateta", in order to protect the dying regime of Aleksandar Vucic and his allies, at any cost.