Announcement of the Law Faculty Management

regarding the Srebrenica debate

 

Contrary to one of the prejudices of those who has been for a while projecting an image of the Belgrade Law Faculty as a regressive, anti-European institution, our students acquire the basic knowledge about human rights in the very first year of their studies. At that stage, they are, for instance, introduced to the history of development and different generations of fundamental rights and freedoms. On these classes, students, among other things, learn that freedom of speech and expression is one of the corner stones of every society that tends to be founded on liberal and democratic values. At the same time, they are also taught that neither this right, recognized by constitutions worldwide, nor most of other rights, is to be considered as absolute, but rather as subject to numerous procedural constraints and contradicted legitimate claims of other individuals, legal persons or the very state. Furthermore, the implementation and the actual range for the exercise of this right are significantly historically and culturally contextualized. Germany, for instance, with the legacy of committed atrocities of the Nazi regime, vigorously sanctions all the forms of the so-called Nazi speech, including the denial of a crime, such as Holocaust. On the other hand, the US Supreme Court, faced at the time with the request of the Nazi supporters to propagate publicly their ideology by marching through the small town of Skokie, inhabited predominantly by Jews, ex-detainees of the concentration camps, has taken the position that forbidding such an event would be contrary to the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression. However, thirty years later, many American institutions, most notably universities and faculties, support the so-called “politically correct speech”, where the freedom of expression is clearly limited by the legitimate claim of certain social groups not to be exposed to the inflammatory and discriminatory designation of their identity markers.

When the students` association Nomokanon, in the middle of April, announced the willingness to organize the debate on Srebrenica, it was not cancelled due to the “public pressure” (B92), but due to the fact that the Faculty Management has decided that students` debates at the Law Faculty shall be organized only with the previous consent of the Students Parliament, the sole legitimate students` organization. Thus, a month later, when the representatives of Nomokanon association gained the approval signed by the President of Students Parliament, the Faculty Management had no other choice but to permit the aforementioned discussion to be held.

Yet, even though there were those (see e.g. “Žene u crnom” Appeal) who have argued that such an event should be banned, one may ask about the possible basis for such a decision. One of the answers would be that the abovementioned students` association is “right-wing”, “chauvinistic” or “pro-fascistic” organization. Without entering the discussion about the ideological qualification of an organization, which is by itself controversial, it should be emphasized that this association was as such registered in 2002, with the then Federal Ministry of Justice, and if there are credible basis for its outlawing, that would certainly not be the task of the Law Faculty, but the competence of the respective state authorities. Second potential basis for the ban of this debate would follow from its plausible content, which could be “anticipated” from the highly contentious topic of discussion and from the “notorious” political views of its participants. However, should a mere assumption about the content of public speech constitute the valid basis for any form of legal sanction, we would undoubtedly find ourselves even step further from the totalitarian rule of delit d`opinion.

Notwithstanding the above said, was it from the perspective of the Faculty Management politically opportune to allow the organization of this debate, which turned out to be inappropriate and highly politicized? Certainly not. Those mentioned at the beginning of the text, who have been for quite some time carrying on the media campaign against the Law Faculty, received the actual reason to proceed in doing that. On the other hand, does this mean that “the milk is irreversibly spilt”? Not necessarily. In that respect, the Law Faculty Management will promptly initiate the investigation, which might lead to the disciplinary liability, against all those who misused academic freedoms for improper political activities, who committed physical threats to their political rivals, and then, being unable to provide the minimal order in the conference hall, reached for the unauthorized request for the police intervention, thus heavily violating the autonomy of university. The Management of the Law Faculty denounces the hate-speech and violent behavior and expresses its regret that exactly such things happen at the aforementioned debate, which might cause the immeasurable damage to our faculty, and to the entire academic community.

State, for its part, should finally demonstrate serious interest for the instances of publicly misused freedom of speech, which inflame national and religious hatred and intolerance. In the same time, the society, faced with the need to legally cope with its authoritarian past, is being challenged to seriously reconsider the option of introducing the criminal liability for public denial of crimes, such as was, according to all established facts, that in Srebrenica.

We firmly believe that the Serbian road to the rule of law shall not be paved with the politically arbitrary bans on the freedom of expression, but with the effcient legal mechanisms for the isntitutionalization of the accountable exercise of this fundamental human freedom.

 

                                    Management of the Law Faculty, University of Belgrade

                                    Belgrade, 21 may 2005