THE ENVIRONMENT IS (NOT) LEGALLY PROTECTED

State administration should be a corrective mechanism, the guarantor that laws are applied, but as it turns out the civil sector is the one fighting for environmental protection, says lawyer Sreten Djordjević.

In an interview with the CO-SEED project team in Serbia, Sretan Djordjević explains the challenges facing Serbia in effectively implementing its existing body of environmental legislation. Mr.Djordjević is one of only a few lawyers from Serbia who has devoted his professional career to issues in the field of environmental protection. Experts and the general public remember him from his work on several ecological important cases, including getting the construction suspended of two hydropower plants on Lim near Brodarevo.

According to lawyer Djordjević, one of the problems in the implementation of existing laws is that civil servants the lack of knowledge - from the level of ministries to the level of local self-government, as well as judges and prosecutors.

"There are judges and prosecutors with a problem, and this is probably typical of all of us, their problem is vanity. I had the opportunity to attend trainings for judges and prosecutors. They refuse to cooperate because their level of vanity is so high. They simply do not want to accept that they do not know the subject. But there are also positive examples, where colleagues are very aware that they lack of knowledge in this area and are looking for every kind of help, "says Djordjević.

Another problem is the lack of political will to actively apply existing laws and regulations. This problem is closely linked to the existence of systemic corruption, claims Djordjević.

"In today's political moment, the hardest thing is to reject a foreign, or very powerful domestic, investor. So everything ends, everything stops at the moment when one political decision decides the fate of the proscribed administrative procedures. If the state does not realize at one point that it is responsible for the irreversible destruction of the environment, and if does not realize that it must be an ally of citizens in this process - not to favor them - but to apply the existing regulations consistently, it will be a very difficult situation, "says Djordjević.

According to Djordjević, there is a legal framework for environmental protection in Serbia that is in the process of being harmonized with EU regulations. "Since 2004, at the level of horizontal legislation, a corpus of extremely important laws has been adopted - the Law on Environmental Protection, the Law on Assessment and Strategic Environmental Assessment (EIA, SEA), and the Law on Free Access to Information of Public Importance. However, the chaotic change of regulations without harmonization with the internal framework leads to the impossibility of exercising rights in a large number of situations," says Djordjević.