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Midnight Purge Of ''Misfit'' Attorneys

Written by Luka Jovanović
attorney-at-law and FSD Program & Communications Director 

The story of attorney protests took an interesting and unexpected turn on the night between the 23rd and 24th of July.

In the dead of night over two hundred attorneys, mostly young colleagues that are part of various bar associations under the Serbian Bar Association were purged from a private Viber community “Young Attorneys Association” (YAA), along with all the community moderators, by an unknown perpetrator under as of yet undetermined circumstances!

That YAA Viber community remains closed off at this time. For how long? “Until new young moderators are found, more capable than their predecessors in fighting for the room and the topics for the young” - as it is stated in an announcement from the “Young Attorneys” account, an unknown individual, who took over the group. The true identity of the current “owner” of the “Young Attorneys” account remains unknown.

The following must be noted, however: The “purged” attorneys included among their number (1.) attorneys involved in the organization of the June 2021 protests against the amendments to the Civil Procedure Act, (2.) speakers at said protests, as well as (3.) attorneys who galvanized their colleagues over social media and urged them to join the protests.

As is already known, the protests revealed the existence and inner-workings of alienated power structures within the bar associations themselves as they took the side of the Ministry of Justice against their own colleagues in the bar associations. These structures, as well as individuals connected to them, were directly involved in the drafting of the disputed amendments which were supposed to pass through public consultations without major resistance. However, the unexpectedly tumultuous reaction of the attorneys gathered at the protests, as well as the reactions of the public, forced the Ministry of Justice to reconsider its already planned-out strategy.

At this time connections between these alienated power structures (that did not support and which actively sought to undermine the June protests) and the hijacking of the YAA Viber community that happened on the night between July 23rd and July 24th cannot be established with absolute certainty, nor can they be connected to the “Young Attorneys” account. However, there is no doubt that the consequences of this act mostly impact those attorneys who oppose these structures, and that the event itself marks a turning point in the ongoing struggle between these groups in the bar associations.

What was the goal of this “midnight purge” if not an attempt to exclude the opposition to said alienated power structures from social media and to thwart any transparent and coordinated resistance to future backroom deals with the Ministry of Justice? As well as stop the forming of an opposition platform ahead of the upcoming elections in the Belgrade Bar Association?

This purge, which in this context can only be viewed as a sort of political persecution, was preceded by a multitude of other pressure tactics against the organizers of the June protests as their public discrediting was sought out at any cost.

Recall: One of the motives for these pressure tactics was the disclosure of various irregularities in the work and financial reports of the bar associations (which might be the main reason for their insistence on a “partnership with the state” policy) that reacted to them by launching a multitude of disciplinary charges against the attorney whistle-blowers.

A part of this campaign of reprisal was experienced first hand by the President of the Forum for Security and Democracy who was only recently interrogated by the police over a Facebook post from last October that relayed later debunked information about Serbian Bar Association affairs. All in an attempt to incriminate one of the organizers of the June protests.

This unusual event on social media clearly demonstrated that the legal profession has fallen victim to unresolved social conflicts that are reaching ever more drastic proportions. Under the current circumstances in which all institutional channels for the peaceful resolution of political disputes have been blocked off the only space for dialogue and communication that remains is social networks. An attempt to plug that remaining valve for the piled-up discontent can only contribute to further divisions which will be even harder to overcome.