Serbia: Bloggers Demand Health Minister's Resignation

The blogging community in Serbia is obviously a small one, yet in recent days it seems to have become more organized and effective in representing public opinion on current events in the country.

Nearly two weeks ago, another scandal broke in Serbia, just months after the arrest of Serbian model and business woman Katarina Rebraca who still stands accused of having embezzled funds intended for purchasing medical equipment through her charity. Thus far six people have been detained by authorities under suspicion of having been involved in bribery and the misappropriation of funds of the Oncology Institute in Belgrade.

Vreme, a Serbian weekly, reported (SRP over a week ago on their site:

On Wednesday, June 30, Belgrade police detained the Director of the Oncology Institute, Nenad Borojevic… Aside from Borojevic, his Assistant Director has been detained, the Chief of Pediatrics of the Institute, Zoran Bekic, and the head of the Institute's pharmacy, Dr. Ivana Popovic. Making the scandal greater yet, three top executives from the local representative offices of some of the largest global pharmaceutical companies in Serbia have also been detained…

The facts of the case that have been revealed to the public up to this point show that there was an obvious misappropriation of funds from the Institute to these companies, meaning far greater sums were paid than necessary for cytostatics used in chemotherapy. The question that remains, however, is whether these were just blown up payments, making it another case of embezzlement, or whether larger quantities of cytostatic medication were in fact purchased, delivered and actually administered to patients at the Oncology Institute.

Serbian Minister of Health, Tomica Milosavljevic, denied any possibility of these drugs having been delivered to patients in quantities larger than those prescribed by the Institute's doctors and that all patients were treated in accordance with the globally acceptable medical standards.

Blic, a Serbian daily, reported after a press conference with Milosavljevic on July 6:

Milosavljevic emphasized that inspectors had, by method of random choice, reviewed the medical history files of patients treated at that Institute from 2003 to 2010 and that no irregularities or malpractice in treatment procedures had been found.

Obviously, the Serbian public was not satisfied with the impromptu investigation or the Minister's assurances as no real evidence or explanation as to the question at hand had been given.

As the scandal unfolded, an initiative was forged by a handful of Serbian bloggers. Not only did this small group create an on-line petition asking for the immediate resignation of the Minister of Health, but they launched a new blog aptly titled Resignation (Ostavka), claiming that “the enraged citizens of Serbia” had had enough.

The petition reads (SRP):

The enraged citizens of Serbia demand that the Minister of Health, Tomica Milosavljevic, finally take responsibility for the yet unheard of affairs and misconduct in the health industry by resigning…

The petition was not instrumental in achieving the Minister's expected resignation, however. The genuine rage it seemed to awaken among the public and the blogging community was. Within less than a week, dozens of blog posts and editorials were written on the subject, many demanding the minister's resignation. Groups of citizens gathered in protest in front of the Institute, leaving messages and slogans (SRP) on government buildings and throughout public medical facilities.

Among the first ones to report the Minister's expected resignation was one of the firestarters of the whole “united bloggers” initiative, Ivana Momcilovic. To further instigate the public protest, Ivana wrote on her blog today (SRP) that Serbia's Minister of Health had already handed in his resignation today, unable to deal with public pressure any further. Although no resignation has been confirmed, both bloggers and many citizens are hopeful as we wait for the next press conference to be held by the Minister or other government officials. Ivana, better known in the local blogging community as Charolija, later stated that she hoped Serbian bloggers and the public would continue to pressure the government to demand the Minister's resignation and many hope that a full in-depth investigation will be launched into the matter of whether surplus medication was purchased for the Oncology Institute and, if so, what was done with it.


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