Just days after its adoption, the Serbian government abolished a decree that would have prevented independent research in many fields, thus undermining academic freedoms and violating the constitutional right to freedom of expression.
The decree, passed a few days earlier, allowed the government to refuse consent to cooperative research with foreigners if it believed that such research endangered the country’s national security.
A senior researcher at the Belgrade Center for Security Policy (BCSP), Jelena Pejić Nikić, told EURACTIV.rs that the decree was outrageous and was drafted with the intention of placing all research under the supervision of the Department of Defense.
“The breadth of this field can also be seen from the list of fields set out in the decree – from natural and mathematical sciences, through technical and technological sciences, to the humanities. This also includes the very current issues of exploration for Serbia’s mineral resources, which have recently caused nationwide protests,” said Pejić Nikić.
The now invalid decree also referred to regular periodic opinion polls on the reintroduction of compulsory military service, Serbia’s military neutrality, but also to epidemiological research in the context of the pandemic.
“One can only guess what the range of ‘defence material’ topics under the concept of ‘total defence’ is,” Nikić said.
Adopted at the end of 2019, Serbia’s defense strategy introduced the concept of “total defense”, which is carried out by all citizens on different fronts at all times – whether in times of peace or war, or in the event of an emergency. ’emergency state.
According to her, the decree only targeted research involving people who do not have Serbian nationality or which is funded by foreign legal persons, institutes or foreign universities, including the EU or the OSCE.
The BCSP senior researcher also said the canceled executive order “virtually inhibits international research cooperation rather than encouraging it, especially under conditions where national funds are limited.”
According to Academician Dušan Teodorović, passing the decree had been “nonsense in the North Korean style”.
“There is no Serbian science and Croatian, Macedonian or Montenegrin science, there is only world science,” Teodorović told N1 TV. President Aleksandar Vučić proved to be smarter than the government when he called for the decision to be overturned, he added.
A decree with the same title was on the government’s agenda nearly five years ago, but failed to pass after causing public outcry.
At the time, the National Convention on the EU and representatives of the scientific community and civil society asked the Ministry of Defense to withdraw the draft decree because, according to them, it violated the Constitution and prevented almost all researches.
“Compared to the text of the 2017 preliminary draft, it can be seen that the text of the new decree has been written ‘from scratch’ and a little more precisely, but with the same intention, and that is that is, to put all research activities considered ‘defence-significant’ according to vague criteria under the control and supervision of the Ministry of Defence,” said Pejić Nikić.
[Edited by Frédéric Simon]