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Stefano Sannino

Thursday, August 1st 2002.

Stefano Sannino, head of the OSCE mission in Belgrade, completes his tour of duty this week

He gave his last interview in Belgrade to B92ís Irena Milojkovic on Thursday, August 1.

 

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 this?

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 people?

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 political partiesÖ

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

Objective?

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 B92Ö

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 media scene.

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.

 


© B92, 2002