At the end of his term in Belgrade, Ambassador
Sannino discusses the results of his mission, the
strengthening of institutions in Serbia the independent
media and what he sees as the essential next steps
in Serbiaís democratic development.
How do you assess your mission in Belgrade?
Well, I think we have managed to achieve a certain
number of things. We should maybe go back to how
the OSCE was considered in this country, the legacy
of the KVM (Kosovo Verification Mission) and the
past Ė the OSCE had quite a negative rating in Yugoslavia.
So what I hope Iíve managed to do is to get a different
perception of the organisation and its work and
how it can support the development of democracy
in the country. I think weíve also had some specific
achievements Ė clearly the management of the crisis
in South Serbia is one of the most relevant issues
that we have dealt with, but there are many other
areas, from the police, the judiciary, to the environment,
media and others. I think we have tried to do our
part to support the development and rebirth of democracy
in the country.
Is there anything you feel you are leaving undone?
Maybe this a short-term perspective but I would
very much like to see the situation calming down
in South Serbia, to get over this post-election
turbulence and to allow the new councilors, the
mayor of the municipality, to really start working
for the development of the south. I think there
has been too much polarization in Bujanovac and
this needs to be overcome. In general, what is needed
now is to proceed in the exercising of democracy.
I think that the building blocks have been created
and they need now to be set in concrete.
You are known for having strong personal contacts
with senior government officials. How did you achieve
When I was last here, serving at the Italian Embassy,
I was in contact with the then opposition that has
become the new government. So thatís why I think
Iíve managed to develop a certain number of contacts
with a percentage of these who are now ministers
or high officials in the government. Not only them,
but also in the media and in NGO society.
Since you are familiar with the political situation
in this country, could you comment on the new political
crisis in the Serbian parliament? Do you see it
as the errors of the old regime being repeated?
No, I think we have to be careful about comparisons
with the past. We cannot give this kind of message
since it would be wrong from all points of view.
As I said, the building blocks of a democracy are
there and all this is done in a completely different
manner Ė in the open, sometimes with very harsh
confrontation - but at least people know whatís
happening. There are no hidden deals, so no comparison
can be made. Concerning the political situation,
we are going through a new phase. At the beginning,
essentially, all parties agreed to overthrow Milosevic.
That created the situation of a very long honeymoon
among parties, peoples, NGOs. I remember the feeling
very well. I think itís normal in a way. It was
very positive and it was extremely exciting. The
first months I spent in this country soon after
the new government was in place really were months
of great excitement and common understanding. This
finishes, it comes to an end. Then you have the
political confrontation, parties with different
views, different opinions. This is now becoming
more evident. Without going into the crisis in detail,
what I would like to see in the future is clearer
debate on the substance of the issues. Thatís what
is important. From the most recent public opinion
polls itís clear the average people are much more
interested in living standards, jobs, employment,
rather than stories about parties or what certain
people may, or may not, have done. I hope this kind
of public debate will be more apparent in the future.
Do you consider it democratic to push out one
party, whose members are representatives of the
This issue is now under the scrutiny of the courts.
A complaint was filed and the federal constitutional
court has ruled in a certain way and I think itís
important that all parties have accepted that ruling.
If I can add in brackets, what we have tried to
work on very much over almost two years is the development
and the strengthening of the institutions in the
country, meaning the rules of the game that must
be recognised by everybody. Once you have rules
that are recognised by everybody then you can play
the game properly and do what is necessary, so I
think itís important this continues to be done.
Concerning this specific issue, now, on one side,
there is a criminal complaint that is going to the
court and they will rule on this. On the other hand
there has also been a request for an opinion on
this issue, which our organisation will certainly
do - from that point of view we are still within
the mandate of our mission. But what is more important
is that the public debate will be enhanced. Itís
not about what an international organisation can
say - this is a legal opinion, thatís fine, we have
legal experts, and thatís fine, but itís the people
of the country that must judge the soundness of
these political moves. In one way or another itís
going to happen. There is a clear responsibility
that each party has in doing certain things and
whatís important is that theyíre done openly, transparently,
so the people can judge.
Can you explain why the OSCE supported the Broadcast
Law despite radical changes to how the Council will
be elected and the possibility of greater political
influence on the media?
The law on broadcasting, as I have said and repeated,
is a good law in general. Itís a law that provides
a legal framework for the media and is badly needed.
The situation created during the Milosevic period
was extremely complicated and needed to come to
an end and, in a way, be settled. There was a need
to support the transformation of RTS into a public
broadcasting service, to provide a legal framework
for the whole media, and to provide a degree of
independence. This law specifically is an advanced
law, especially when compared with many other pieces
of legislation in other countries of the region
and Europe in general. The text that was originally
drafted by the working group is different in the
section you have mentioned concerning the composition
of the agency since it provided more room for representatives
of the civic society. But we have to be intellectually
honest - no one is absolutely independent since
even the representatives of civic society have their
own opinions and preferences when it comes to party
affiliation. So, if this was the overall agreement
of the political forces in the country then I think,
once again, the outcome was positive because it
provides this legal framework. It could have been
betterÖmaybe. But then this is also part I think
of the internal democratic control of society. So
once again it is the society and the people that
can change things and this is important. The external
actors certainly are relevant in this context but
then there is the judgment of the people- they can
vote, they can express their feelings, they can
make their voices heard, and they should make their
voices heard, to their politicians.
But how can we talk about the voice of the people
when the government has the majority in the council?
The voice of the people is not heard only through
the council. The voice can be heard in so many other
ways, to make it clear to the government what the
people of the country want.
You say itís a fairly positive, democratic law.
But when talking about European norms, perhaps we
should take into consideration the specific media
scene in Yugoslavia. There are fifty radio and television
stations that now face losing their frequencies
or licences because theyíre not acceptable to certain
No, I think this has been taken into consideration
and if you look at the law there are provisions
which take into account the role that the independent
media played in the struggle against dictatorship.
So I donít think this has been completely disregarded.
On the other hand I think the independent media
has to reconcile itself with the idea that the role
of the independent media is not just to fight against
someone, but to provide a service for society and
to be able to compete in an open market economy.
This is the other point Ė how to now transform those
media into qualitative, competitive systems.
Then whoís left to be critical?
Itís not only a question of being criticalÖ
Iím always very afraid of this word objectivity
because you are always subjective because you are
expressing your view, and I think thatís good. I
donít think itís a bad point, being critical, itís
part of journalism because itís the critical conscience
of the society, coming up with good stories, good
news, investigative journalism, and also good quality.
Thatís one thing that goes with ethics in journalism
- not just trying to use scandals, coming up with
striking titles to hit one person or another.
Itís being said in media circles that you sacrificed
I donít think B92 has been sacrificed. B92 has
played an extremely relevant role in the past ten
years, not only because it was an independent media,
but because it was a good media. Itís done a wonderful
job and itís not by chance that Iím having my last
interview with B92 because Iíve always believed
in the quality of the information provided by B92,
even in the coverage of issues such as the relocation
of mandates. B92 has always been very balanced,
always trying to be, as you say, objective, trying
to report faithfully without trying to use, or pull
or push things in one direction or another just
because itís convenient to use one argument to hit
someone else. So I donít think B92 has been sacrificed.
I hope and Iím sure that B92 will be able to continue
its work, improve its quality and broaden its audience
and continue to be a very relevant actor on the
And how do you see your relationship with the
independent media at the end of your mandate here?
Well the independent media should answer that.
Iíve tried my best to fight to provide a proper
legal framework. I know itís a bit repetitive what
Iím saying but I believe in it very much. I donít
believe my role and the role of the organisation
was to favour specific media against others, but
to try to provide a proper legal framework where
all the elements weíve mentioned Ė capability, competitiveness,
journalistic ethics, and the contribution given
to the struggle for democracy Ė are taken into due
consideration. Then, I think there are sufficient
strengths and forces in the country to fight to
find their place and fight for their rights.