Thousands of citizens from all over Serbia set off for Belgrade on Friday, May 26. Their destination was “the largest gathering in the history of Serbia,” as the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) announced the Serbia Hope rally .
Along several Belgrade streets and boulevards, endless columns of parked vehicles were formed. There were so many of them that in some places they were parked in four columns, on the road and tram tracks.
Among them was the minibus of the Leptirići kindergarten from Raznje, a small town in the southeast of Serbia. On it was a piece of paper with the name of the municipality and district to which it belongs.
The director of that kindergarten, Marija Anđelković , confirmed for the Center for Investigative Journalism of Serbia (CINS) that she and others from the kindergarten came to the meeting in that vehicle. When asked who paid for it and whether there was a travel order for such a trip, Anđelković did not want to give a clear answer:
“I saw all kinds of things in the previous days and that day in Belgrade, and I’m interested in all kinds of things, so I don’t call around and ask.”
This is one of at least eight vehicles that SNS supporters used to arrive at the rally, which are owned by local public companies and institutions, municipalities and cities.
These are the vehicles that CINS journalists spotted in Nemanjina Street and on Kralja Aleksandra Boulevard. These are only two of the 16 locations where buses and minibuses organized for transport to this gathering were parked.
Pavle Dimitrijević , a lawyer from the organization CRTA, which monitors elections and the work of political parties, says that there is a suspicion that it is a misuse of public resources and that it should be investigated.
“That is a problem, because the legal basis is unknown – what public company vehicles will do at the meeting of the president of the republic, that is, the president of the SNS.”
On that day, minibuses owned by the municipalities of Lebane and Dimitrovgrad were also parked together with other vehicles used to transport supporters of the Serbian Progressive Party. They were bought with money from the Ministry of Rural Affairs and should be used to transport the rural population.
Nataša Stojanović , assistant to the Lebane Municipality President, says that she did not pay attention and does not know that the minibus was there that day, while the Dimitrovgrad Municipality President, Vladica Dimitrov , says that he was at the meeting that day, but that he did not see that minibus:
“I can’t claim, but I can’t remember that minibus was in circulation”.
The secretary of the Ministry for the Care of the Village, Snežana Petrović, says that they did not know anything about this and that “they will carry out a check”.
There was also a minibus from Bor with the words “school bus” on the streets. The mayor of Bor, Aleksandar Milikić, told CINS that the minibus is owned by the Tourism Organization of this city and that on that day it was transporting the family and friends of their fellow citizen who was competing at the music festival.
“One of our children from Bor, Katarina, competes on RTS. Rock festival. She was with her parents and family at that competition.”
However, CINS reached out to Katarina Jovanović from Bor, who competed at this festival that day, and she claims that what the mayor is saying is not true:
“It is so rude that I am shocked. It is a total abuse of me for something I am expressly against”.
According to the mayor, this transport was made available at the request of Katarina’s father, Dragan Jovanović . He did not want to speak publicly, while Katarina claims that her parents came in their car.
Who will pay for it?
The progressives came to the meeting, among other things, in a minibus owned by the Municipality of Medveđa. In addition to the Municipality, it is also used by the Medveđe Sports Association.
The president of that association, Branislav Manasijević, said in a short interview for CINS that the Municipality used it for the meeting that day:
“Whoever used, paid and that’s it”.
We did not manage to get an answer from the Municipality of Medveđa .
On the other hand, representatives of some institutions whose vehicles were also at the rally did not want to say who paid for the transportation.
Nemanja Nenadić from Transparency Serbia says that there is a possibility that some of those vehicles were leased to SNS, but that the big question is whether such a lease is allowed to certain institutions at all.
According to him, there is still no indication that the public will receive official information about the price of transportation of participants to the meeting and other expenses before April 2024, when the parties will submit annual financial reports to the Agency for the Prevention of Corruption .
“Already now there are very serious doubts that part of those costs will not be found in the report. This can be expected, among other things, with minibuses that are owned by local public institutions.”
The director of the public company Komunalac from Dimitrovgrad, Saša Aleksov, whose minibus was found in Belgrade that day , told CINS that it was rented under a contract and that it was used only then. CINS did not receive an answer to the questions to whom and for how much money this vehicle was rented.
The President of the Municipality of Dimitrovgrad, Vladica Dimitrov, confirmed that this minibus was rented for commercial purposes and that it was at the meeting.
Nenadić says that the conditions under which the institutions provided their vehicles for the transportation of rally participants should be investigated by the Agency for the Prevention of Corruption , and it could do so immediately.
“In addition to the Agency, it is obvious that public prosecutors could and should do this because of the possibility of abuse by the managers of those institutions.”
He also points out that the worst option is that there was no lease at all:
“If the manager of a public institution decided to make a minibus available to a foreigner for transportation without any compensation – such a thing is directly prohibited”.