The Office for combating drugs of the Government of Serbia signed on 10 January 2018 Memorandum of Understanding with 11 civil society organisations from Serbia, confirming the importance of civil society organizations and the need for their active involvement in the implementation of drug policy and promoting a new concept of cooperation between state bodies and civil society organizations. Civil society organizations now have the opportunity to join together with state authorities in establishing a broad social platform needed for creating an effective, global standards based and comprehensive drug policy.
The Memorandum was designed in partnership with the Office for Cooperation with Civil Society of Government of Serbia and civil society organisations. Organisations were invited to apply through a public call.
Drug Policy Network South East Europe was one of 11 organisations with whom the Memorandum of Understanding was signed: Nova Plus, Izlazak, Re Generation, Prevent, Duga, Timočki omladinski centar, Jazas Pozarevac, as well as from Novi Sad, Kokoro and Zemlja živih.
The Acting director of the Office for combating drugs of the Government of Serbia Milan Pekić underlined that civil society organisations are significantly contributing to implementation of the Strategy for combating drugs. He also stressed that CSOs have direct access to people using drugs. They have an important role in implementing plans and organising activities, from prevention to treatment and harm reduction.
Civil society representatives emphasized that cooperation with the Office for combating drugs is a huge step forward, significant recognition of their work and an opportunity for working together.
Ministry of Health of Serbia proposed changes to the Law on psychoactive controlled substances at the end of 2016. Very limited proposal and the public debate which was organised during 4 weeks of festive days caused serious concern among civil society organisations in Serbia. DPNSEE with two member organisations Prevent and Re Generacija, along with three other partner organisations, made large number of comments and proposals to improve the draft.
Unfortunately, there were no reply from the Ministry for more than 9 months. Finally, with the support of the Office for Cooperation with Civil Society, a meeting was organised on 4 October to discuss our contribution. Representatives from the Ministry of Health, Office for Cooperation with Civil Society, Office for combating drug abuse and Ministry of Interior met with the aim to present civil society organisations comments and proposals and exchange about which of them should be incorporated into the next version of the draft.
Although we were prepared for qualified discussion about our proposals, it turned out that the Working group in the Ministry of Health already prepared the next draft and that some of our proposals were accepted. Despite the requests to specify which proposals were accepted and which not and why, the representatives of the Ministry remained on the position that it will be possible only when this new version will be sent for the next round of consultations.
The meeting had a limited success because we presented comprehensive and qualified approach to dealing with legislation and stayed on our positions regarding very important issues related to drugs: need to ensure involvement of civil society organisations in all issues related to drug use, wider set of services of the early warning system that is to be established (including field work and consulting), right to bring samples of substances for checking, wider distribution of naloxone around the country, use of language that will not stigmatise people who use drugs, respecting the right to information and protection of sensitive information, better coordination of all the stakeholders, especially reporting about drugs, etc. The proposed amendments to the Law still have to pass a few levels to come to the Parliament and we are ready to keep advocating for a better Law.
The Belgrade Open School, together with the Office for Cooperation with Civil Society of Government of Serbia, organized the Third Annual Regional Conference ’’Move. Link. Engage – Rethinking Europe and Western Balkans’, on 18th and 19th of September in Belgrade. The Conference was supported by ’Europe for Citizens’ Program and Kingdom of Sweden. The goal of the Conference was to promote and encourage regional approach in solving shared problems and better cooperation among citizens and civil society in the European Integration Process.
At the main panel of the Conference, titled ’Western Balkans in Motion: Berlin Process Aftermath’, prominent speakers and participants stressed out the importance of the Berlin Process, which is recognized through shifting focus towards economic and social questions and contribution to European Integration Process of all states in the region. Participants of the session dedicated to the Civil Society Participation in European Integration Process came to the conclusion that civil society is the bridge between decision makers and the citizens, and that it is important to build alliances founded in European values and closely watch and follow the decisions that authorities make on behalf of citizens. Civil society organizations agreed that there would be no progress in the European Integration process without strong institutions and common values, and pointed out that European Integration Process should be founded in citizens’ participation in developing public policies, transparency and accountability.
During the conference, a regional workshop was organized, dedicated to project preparation within ’Europe for Citizens’ Program, as well as official diploma awarding ceremony for 24th generation of students of the ’Future studies’ Program of Belgrade Open School.
The Conference gathered more than 200 participants, numerous representatives of organizations from Serbia and the region, representatives of institutions and foundations, as well as representatives of the media, researches, activists and students. Milutin Milošević, the Executive Director, represented DPNSEE at the conference. That was a good opportunity to meet with peers from the civil society sector and representatives of authorities.