European Parliament concerned about the Savamala affair

After ten months, and no judicial progress, lawmakers in the European Parliament are discussing the destruction of privately owned buildings in the centre of Belgrade last year. EURACTIV Serbia reports.

The incident took place during the night on 24th April 2016, following snap elections, when a whole street was demolished without prior notice by masked men using heavy machinery, opening the way for a contested, UAE-financed, Belgrade Waterfront luxury real estate project.

The Savamala case subsequently became politically sensitive for the government, because citizens continue to demand answers and periodically gather at rallies organised by the civic initiative Let’s Not Drown Belgrade, with the most recent protest organised on 15th February.

In a Draft Resolution on Serbia, to be discussed by the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee on 27 February, MEPs express concern due to the “controversial events” in the Savamala district and are calling for a quick resolution of the case.

Several amendments were also submitted, some of them calling to emphasise that the affair concerns private property.

In its new annual report published on 22ndi February, Amnesty International also criticised Serbia for the case of destroying the buildings in the Savamala district in the centre of Belgrade, putting the affair in the context of housing rights. Amnesty explains that since the beginning of work on the luxury project, more than 200 families have been evicted in the central part of the city.

The destruction was organised, it appears, with the tacit approval of the authorities, as heavy machinery was used and police didn’t react to the call of the citizens affected even when their basic rights were violated as they claimed they were handcuffed and had their mobile phones or SIM cards taken away. This was the conclusion of the Serbian Ombudsman’s report last May.

However, the weekly NIN was sued by the minister of the interior for an article calling on the responsibility of the police for failing to act during the demolitions and was condemned to pay the minister €2400 in compensation. In the meantime, there was no tangible progress in an investigation of the event.

New evidence was offered by Marija Mali the ex-spouse of Belgrade Mayor Sinisa Mali, who, in an interview with the Krik investigative network earlier this month, said that the mayor had admitted to her right after the events that he participated in the destruction of “some slums” to enable proceeding with the Waterfront Project.

“I had a problem, some of them didn’t want to move. I organised the clearance action. Men came in the night and broke some things there. I didn’t do anything serious,” the Belgrade mayor said, according to his ex-spouse.

She also stated that he revealed the name of the company from which the machinery was taken, but didn’t want to share this info in public.

The majority of Serbian media remained silent regarding this issue or at least didn’t give much attention to this interview, which is freely accessible.

Even if the statement by Marija Mali may be questionable, having in mind her difficult court proceedings with her ex-husband concerning the custody of their three children, criminologist Dobrivoje Radovanovic said that the prosecutor should interrogate Marija Mali.

“For the sake of the rule of law, the Prosecutors Office should intervene. The statement was given after the divorce dispute, but the prosecutor should establish whether the statement is reliable. Based on that, the procedure could be launched to see what happened in this case,” Radovanovic said in a statement to the EURACTIV partner Beta in Serbia.

No info was shared in public that the statement had followed.

The mayor of Belgrade’s office told Beta that he wouldn’t comment on his ex-spouse’s interview with Krik.

(Euractiv, 23.02.2017)

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