How to make a leap from a truck driver to foreign diplomacy? – Party affiliation and employment

For a long time, no one in Serbia has been surprised when they see that it is easy to get a job if you are a member of a certain political party. The very fact employees are not chosen based on professional competence, but rather on political affiliation, causes various problems.

What has been normalized for a long time is illustrated by the example of twenty-year-old Javorka Ramić, who a few days ago stated in the morning programme of Pink TV that she worked at the Serbian Foreign Ministry. Ramić was born in the village of Žitorađa just like the head of the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), the former Foreign Minister and the current Interior Minister, Ivica Dačić.

As she clarified during her appearance in the morning programme, as a finalist of the Miss Serbia beauty pageant, before she found a job in the Foreign Ministry, she was a truck driver. When asked by the programme’s host, Jovana Jeremić, whether she studied, she confirmed that she was a first-year student at the (privately-run) Futura Faculty.

“I study at the Futura Faculty, first year. I’m from Žitorađa. I work in the Foreign Ministry”, said Ramić. And when one of the programme’s guests noted that she and the Interior Minister Ivica Dačić both hail from Žitorađa, she addressed Dačić as her “dear boss”. She also pointed out that she graduated from high school of traffic management and drove a truck for a while, but that she is now focused on working in diplomacy.

As Minister Dačić took over the Interior Ministry at the beginning of May and Marko Đurić became a new foreign minister, it seems that this was the end of Ramić’s diplomatic dreams. Namely, when NIN inquired about Ramić’s employment, the Foreign Ministry stated that Javorka Ramić “performed administrative tasks in the Ministry as a clerk in the Minister’s Cabinet from September 4th, 2023”.

“Her employment in the Minister’s Cabinet was temporary, in accordance with Article 14 of the Regulation on principles for internal organization and systematization of workplaces in ministries, special organizations and government services (The Republic of Serbia Official Gazette, no. 81/07, 69 /08, 98/12, 87/13, 2/19 and 24/21), as long as the Minister was in the cabinet. Her employment ended on May 3rd, 2024”, the Ministry’s responded.

This brief episode is not particularly peculiar in itself, except that it was spoken about so nonchalantly on national television. It is only a small fragment of the huge mosaic of people being hired because of their political affiliation that has permeated every pore of the public sector.

According to the data collated by the Serbian Statistical Office, every fourth employee in Serbia works in the public sector, institutions and enterprises managed by the state. Remember when the Serbian President, Aleksandar Vučić, announced that the system where one party had all the power would be dismantled?

“We want to get rid of the party-run, parasitic system. Our country is more important to us than a political party. We have to conduct many reforms. My hair stands on the back of my neck when someone does nothing and yet wants more money”, said Vučić on January 4 last year (announcing the hiring of Norwegian experts to be board members of the Electric Power Industry of Serbia – EPS).

However, a Faculty of Political Sciences professor, Zoran Stojiljković and Zlatko Minić from Transparency Serbia say that the problem of employing people based solely on their political affiliation escalated precisely under the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) rule. Additionally, they agree that an even bigger problem lies in the fact that such hiring has been normalized, i.e. it’s something that shouldn’t be done in a democratic society.

Normalizing the Abnormal

Stojiljković states that such a practice in the public sector results in hiring people who are loyal to the political party that made their employment possible but have no qualifications to do the job and produce below-average results.

“The result of this is the creation of a wide clientelistic network that includes tens of thousands of people. Local parliaments decide on the appointment of nearly 30,000 people, from the kindergarten and elementary school principals to the top political officials. After 2012 and the catastrophic election defeat of the opposition parties this clientelistic network led to the top officials having complete control over everything”, Stojiljković points out and adds:

“This political affiliation-based hiring is becoming widespread because research shows that a third of people would become a member of a political party if that meant employment for themselves or their relatives. This information should be taken very seriously and we need to ask ourselves where is all of this heading to.  According to conservative estimates, the SNS alone has about 700,000 members. Suppose we estimate that half a million of them have some kind of job and show loyalty to their party rather than to professional associations or trade unions. In that case, the scale of this phenomenon is extremely worrying”, underlines Stojiljković.

“In the last decade or so, we have normalized the abnormal, something that is beyond institutions and legal rules, something that has become a tacit practice which we verbally condemn, but participate in it on this or that level. In practice, such behaviour has led to rigging public tenders or adopting various laws in haste – i.e. politics has been criminalized. We are far from a healthy society and we are to a considerable extent, not only a captive society, but also a society that shows pathological elements of the normalization of what should never be a practice in a democratic society. What do you need state institutions for if you pacify them with some kind of loyalty and by hiring politically affiliated personnel in key positions? You only devalue them. We have to evolve from subjects to citizens if we want to see change happening”, Stojiljković adds.

“There is hardly anyone working in the public sector who did not complain about having a so-called phantom worker in the office who either does not show up at work or if they do show up, they do absolutely nothing. Some people publicly admit that they have been hired because they are members of a certain party. Then there are people who did get a job through political affiliation but are doing the work they’ve been hired to do. Our research show that these are the people who are usually hired as temporary workers, for a six- or a twelve-month period, after performing certain services for the party, usually during elections”,  Zlatko Minić from Transparency Serbia says.

Minić also believes that political affiliation-based hiring is an extremely important mechanism for the ruling party to stay in power. He notes that it is an important mechanism for survival and for exerting pressure on employees, who did not necessarily get a job because they are political party members, but are nevertheless threatened with being fired if they don’t do what the party tells them to do.

“The current situation is such that public companies, institutions and the public sector cannot provide the citizens with what they need because they do not have enough capacity. There are people who want to leave such a system at any cost because they cannot progress if they are not members of a certain party. As a result, we have a system that is collapsing and provides poor quality services”, Minić concludes.

(NIN, 21.06.2024)

This post is also available in: Italiano

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