26 April, 2012

The Continuity of Fraud and Deception of the Belgrade Authorities

Belgrade is very specific in relation to the rest of Serbia because back in 2002, the French „Brigitte Bardot Foundation“ conducted a campaign of mass neutering/spaying of street dogs and thus established for the first time, not only in Belgrade but also in Serbia, CNR (catch-neuter-release) system as the only truly humane system of solving the problem in the long run, making him the method that even World Health Organization recommends and which is inevitable transitional period in the resolution of the problem of dogs on the streets, along with the introduction of systematic mechanisms for its suppression. On that occasion, FBB has sterilized 900 Belgrade street dogs. However, although the Republic of Serbia approved the arrival of the FBB and the pilot project, i.e. the introduction of CNR system, and Belgrade pledged not to catch CNR dogs, BB dogs, and subsequently signed the appropriate document – "The document of good intentions", the City began to catch dogs immediately after FBB departure, even those BB dogs, and took them to Ovcha facility to be killed although they were neutered and peaceful! These dogs were marked by a tattoo number and a blue collar around their neck and in that way they were, even from the far, very obvious and recognizable to the dog catchers.

If the local coordinators (associates) of the FBB hadn’t opposed Belgrade’s deception and murder, forming the organization "European Initiative 17”, all BB dogs would have been killed, and it is likely that the CNR would never come to life in Belgrade. The fight was terrible and debilitating, as is any fight for the animals in this country. Authorities cheated, lied, typed the wrong addresses from which the dogs were captured, horrible media campaign was conducted, they enlarged number of dogs in the streets and, at one point, banned taking dogs from the Ovcha, which meant complete liquidation of the dogs, but also of the CNR in Belgrade.

Then the "European Initiative 17" decided to organize a protest rally in Belgrade, on 13th December 2003, at 12.00 at the Republic Square, on the eve of the elections, a protest for the dogs’ right to life and for removing the embargo on taking dogs from the Ovcha. At the protest there were over 700 people. Although the City backed off a bit, the struggle continued fiercely until the end of 2004, when the pressure of the City eased and when we succeeded to prevent them from taking CNR dogs, as they were neutered and peaceful, which was more or less respected from 2005 to 2008. This is the only period of relative peace. Reports on the dogs were sent to us for a check though the danger of us being deceived was always lurking. But thanks to all of this, many dogs, not only BB dogs, had the opportunity to live to old age although the City carried out the euthanasia.

Isn’t the similarity in many aspects to the present situation obvious? It seems that all of us to constantly fight against the City leaders and their policies that have never been in the public interest: Is this normal?

The question here is, where would we be today if the City of Belgrade hadn’t killed a single CNR dog as the solution of the problem and reduction of dog population in the streets?

Belgrade is also specific in that, for these ten years, there has been the movement developed and habit among a large number of citizens to use their own funds, not only for taking care of these dogs, but also for neutering them, which is not the case in any other town in Serbia.

Over the last nine years Belgrade has practiced the CNR system, but as a political decision (enacted in 2002, then confirmed the 2006 by late Mayor Bogdanovic, and later in 2008), which, however, was not confirmed by adopting proper legal City act. All these years the position of all of us who care about street dogs has been discriminatory because we were misled (constantly expecting for City authorities to fulfill the promise they made – to legalize CNR), while in practice one call against the dog was enough to remove him from the streets although the dog didn’t do anything to anybody, and with that all our efforts and emotions would be annulled, without any basis and purpose. To be truly engaged and to invest our own efforts and resources, and not have any rights and to live in constant fear presents not only the grossest discrimination, but abuse of us, the human beings.

It is well known fact that in every town in Serbia dogs have always served for the purpose of making illegal money by the local authorities who have not been under any control. Even in Belgrade, the local authorities used to neuter dogs with money from the budget and then they would kill them, also with money from the budget.

Although we have endured years of pain and discrimination and despite the promises made by the new City authorities (2008) that CNR will be legally and officially confirmed, they ventured out on, so far the most massive crime against the dogs, through the most perfidious trick that was well planned and is implemented gradually, which is contrary not only to the Animal Welfare Law, but to all other laws of the Republic of Serbia! Specifically, the City decided to conduct gradual liquidation of dogs in a way that will deceive the public: without any objective reason – firstly, there is CNR, secondly, Belgrade CNR dogs are not aggressive, they are friendly and socialized (the percentage of street dog bites on an annual basis is insignificant compared to the number of inhabitants and dogs in the streets – 2009: 0.09%, 2010: 0, 11%, this is much below the percentages in countries which have no street dogs) – and in the midst of the economic crisis and in a heavily indebted country, the authorities built shelters for more than 3000 dogs, one with the capacity for more than 1000 dogs, while continuing to build other shelters. For this purpose, the authorities are using the facilities of the former Yugoslav agricultural combine PKB (now shelter Kovilovo) and Agricultural & Industry Combine Zemun (PIK Zemun).

We are not aware that any country in recent times on European continent dared to maintain thousands of dogs in one place, because it is well known that such conducts represents horrible torture and silent and delayed death of dogs, which is already happening en masse, but far from the public eye.

Such a decision was presented to the ignorant public as „humane“, because people don’t understand the problem, while the media blockade has denied us the right of addressing the public. This decision of the City authorities is in contrast with the Animal Welfare Law: welfare cannot be ensured in such conditions, rules on shelters and on the training of the personnel in animal welfare weren’t adopted, NGOs did not take part in making this decision, not even the Program for control and reduction of the stray animal population (Serbian Animal Welfare Law, Article 54) is adopted and so on, culminating with the authorities insisting in the media that everything is according to the European standards?!

Outright dictatorship has been introduced: there are two shifts of dog-catchers that the public knows nothing about; dogs are taken away without any criteria. No one, not even representatives of NGOs can enter the shelter in Resnik. They do not reply to letters, the officials of the public company Veterina Beograd[1] are not allowed to communicate: no one has the insight and there are no institutions that would control the situation! And for comparison, since 2006, although such legal obligation didn’t exist, it was possible for organization to have their own observers in Ovcha.

On top of this, on 21 September 2011, the City authorities adopted a Strategy in which have pledged to legalize CNR, but in practice they are brutally violating it far from the eyes of the citizens, by applying the most terrific methods: emotional and financial blackmailing of the dog guardians, including NGOs, coercion and threats! Releasing of dogs from the shelter is conditioned with forced “adoption”, i.e. people are forced to sign an adoption contract and they are threatened that they will pay a fine of 500 Euros if they return the dog back on the street. Street dogs that the City had chipped on their guardians before, are treated as owner’s dogs, and without a shred of conscience they charge impoverished citizens 55 Euros for caching the dog and 4,5 Euros per day of stay in the shelter! The City authorities are brutally removing all administrative traces of their own CNR that they applied until recently, doing that at the sole expense of the citizens, while making money from them (?!). This is really a PRECEDENT – as much as we were deceived by the City authorities in the past, we never had this kind of legal violence and deprivation of rights!

How can the Democratic Party (DS), that presents itself to the Serbian and foreign public as the only political force in the Serbia’s European path who provided Serbia EU candidate status behave in such a way? This kind of terror did not exist even in the times of communism!

Legal violence, blackmail, threats and extortion of money, certainly aren’t democratic values, let alone Europe’s!

CNR – objectively – as an interim solution, has no alternative in Belgrade and if we want to work in the public interest and in the interest of the citizens. CNR is the only viable and sustainable solution for the City because there are no costs, as NGOs and other independent guardians care for dogs and the only method that through process brings reduction of dog population, and we are close to achieving that since in Belgrade dogs have been neutered for years and recently has had a noticeable decline in the inflow of new dogs. With aforementioned decision, the City authorities are annulling a huge financial and human investment, taking us back to ZERO: as if no one ever worked on solving the problem, which must not be allowed!

As Belgrade in 2003 wanted with its irresponsible move to cancel a major investment both material and nonmaterial, and RESISTANCE prevented that, unfortunately today, in 2012, almost the same thing is happening and the City has almost succeeded in their intentions. So the question is how long are we going to allow frivolous and incompetent political party cadres not to do the job for which they receive a salary from the taxpayers' money and how long are we going to allow them not to work on the cause, i.e. the system itself. Until that happens the dogs will always get hurt on the pretext that they have "a problem" and that they "need" to do this or that, when in fact the only guilty party are the authorities themselves!

We believe that this non-institutional “decision” by the City authorities is motivated by the forthcoming elections. By boasting about removing the dogs from the streets and “adopting” them and “punishing” unconscientious owners, they are pretending that they are solving the problem, when actually they devised to throw the guilt on the CNR dogs and their guardians, who were blackmailed, while the real culprits (unconscientious owners) will be bypassed again! This has never happened before!

The truth is the other way around: in a situation where there is no single instrument for the implementation of the Animal welfare law, and therefore for the prevention of causes for the existence of street dogs, i.e. their abandoning, it is certainly not in the interest of solving the problem that the CNR dogs be removed and it is also not in the interest of the safety of citizens because new untreated and not socialized dogs, which can maybe be a threat, will soon take place of the removed ones. We believe that the plan is to bring new dogs to fill in the space of the dead dogs in shelters, and in that way Belgrade will be killing dogs, but slowly, so that it will not even look like killing!

The Serbian society is overwhelmed with violence. Violence against animals is not only tolerated, but it is encouraged through the media by calling to dog lynch, so it has reached unbearable dimensions. Dogs are mutilated, poisoning of dogs is widespread and has become the number one social problem. However, City authorities are not interested, just as they are not interested in the fact that citizens are freely handling toxic substances, as if they were candy. There is not a single regulated and civilized state where this would be possible. In spite of the excellent laws, no one, including the police and the prosecutors, are abiding by them in the case of dogs. They do not even react to violence of people over dogs?! Dogs are dying on Belgrade balconies as a result of negligence and starvation and no one is reacting?! If this kind of a conduct of the authorities resembles the conduct of EU bodies and institutions, then we have no comment!

From our press releases that haven’t been published, we can see that all laws are flagrantly violated, and that when the dogs are concerned, not only the street dogs, everyone is allowed to do anything: to freely kill (even though it’s a criminal offense), to maim and torture them, the journalists are allowed to lie and NOTHING HAPPENS! Dogs, street or owned, and the people behind them, are the most persecuted in this society, and one wonders whether Serbia has more important problems and how this is possible in a country that has adopted anti-discrimination law, and was granted EU candidate status.

We cannot take it anymore that the City authorities do what they want with us and with dogs, instead of doing what they have legal responsibility and for which they are paid from the budget. Dogs that they are supposed to catch they are leaving to us, and they catch the ones that they should not! Powerlessness and complete disenfranchisement, which we are exposed to, are more than unbearable, and we wonder how long we will all be held hostage by incapable and uninterested people.

From everything that is said, one is bound to conclude that the authorities are the only ones to blame for decades of continuous dog suffering. Because of their failure to act and work on the cause, they have been exposing dogs to such a fate and then they have been always using them for their own purposes and interests!

European initiative 17

[1] Veterinary Institution "Veterina Beograd" is an institution responsible for the affairs of public animal hygiene in Belgrade. "Veterina Beograd" is under the jurisdiction of the Department of animal hygiene, City Secretariat for Utilities and Housing Services of City of Belgrade, who takes care of and provides conditions for operation of institutions and shelters for animals in their composition and exercises control and constant supervision of their work.



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