We are GSA! Miroslav Janković: Differences can only enrich our society

Miroslav Janković was born in Belgrade in 1975. He is a member of GSA since 2008 and a member of GSA Governing Board since 2010.
He is employed at OSCE Mission to Serbia (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) since 2007, where he works as a legal advisor to the Media Department. Prior to that he worked in the Youth Initiative for Human Rights, first as a researcher and then as a coordinator of program for protection of human rights.
So far he has published six publications on various topics, from the application of transitional laws to the political violence in Serbia and the status of media rights and freedoms. In March 2007 he became a laureate of the award „10 best young lawyers of Serbia“. Professionally he is oriented towards the field of human rights in both the theoretical and practical contexts. In the past few years he has mostly dealt with media laws with a special focus on the freedom of Internet, selfregulation of offline and online media, as well as documenting and monitoring cases of violations of media rights and freedoms.
Miroslav has been involved in the creation of Annual Reports on the Status of Human Rights of LGBT People in Serbia, which is one of the Alliance’s main activities, right from the start. It is from him that we learned what reports should look like, which standards they need to fulfill in order to be credible, how important it is to document cases of violence and discrimination… He has been with GSA the whole time, unconditionally, in good and bad times and in the times of upheaval. He is certainly one of the people to whom we owe an enormous thanks for everything that the Alliance is today.
Miroslav is straight person, he is married to Ivana and they have a four-month-old son Lav.

Miroslav Janković (photo by Danilo Mijatović) - click on photo for higher resolution

Miroslav Janković (photo by Danilo Mijatović)

We talked to Miroslav about the freedom of media in Serbia, their attitude towards the LGBT population, why it is important to respect human rights of LGBT people and other subjects.

You have been working in the field of human rights in Serbia for many years now. Do you find that there is general improvement in this respect and in what particular areas? Are there any areas where the situation is stagnating?
The state of human rights is Serbia is undoutably improving, although perhaps not in the way and at a rate that we would like. When I recall some of the cases that I was working on ten years ago, it is hard for me to imagine that such extreme human rights violations could be treated the same way today as they were treated back then. A good example is the case of a member of the Hare Krishna movement, Života Milanović from Jagodina, who was repeatedly attacked and seriously injured due to his religious beliefs. The situation culminated when he became a victim of a knife attack during which the attacker carved a cross on Mr. Milanović’s head. At that time there was not even a declarative interest of state institutions for Mr. Milanović’s safety. His “strange look” was the only thing that was seriously discussed. This case recently received an epilogue in front of the European Court in Strasbourg which found that Serbia had violated the rights guaranteed by the European Convention and obliged it to pay Mr. Milanović high financial compensation. And although I am aware that money is not adequate compensation for all that Mr. Milanović has been through, what I want to point out is that today we have a functional mechanisms for the protection of victims of human rights violations. This is very important. There will always be those who violate human rights, they even exist in countries with far more developed democracies and with long traditions of accepting diversity. I truly do believe that boundaries, at all levels, are moving towards greater freedom for citizens. However, no guarantee exists that achieved freedoms could be reliably counted on in the future. There exist fluctuations, but this must not discourage us. As Abraham Lincoln once said: „I walk slowly, but I never walk backward.“ That is the essence.

In the past several years you have worked most in the field of media law. What is the situation in this field and how free is media in Serbia?
When it comes to the state of media freedom in Serbia, it is noticeable that annual reports of organizations dealing with media freedom, such as Reporters Without Borders and Freedom House, have recorded a slight improvement of Serbia in this respect. A deeper look at the data shows, however, that media in Serbia is still perceived as only “partly free.”
Although progress is evident, Independent journalism, as a logical result of free media, is yet to be established in Serbia. This is a very important issue because societies in transition aspiring towards democracy, such as ours, have very little chance of success in the absence of free media which would contribute to creating an objectively informed and critically-minded public. Many studies show that citizens are slowly losing confidence in traditional media because it is increasingly difficult for such media to maintain the independence of their editorial policy. In the search for accurate and timely information, citizens are increasingly migrating to the Internet, which has positioned itself as virtually the only remaining space for the free exchange of ideas and opinions. From such a perspective, it seems that the future of media freedom and investigative journalism is very closely linked to the Internet.
In Serbia there is at the moment an ongoing reform of media laws, and we are currently in a phase on which the success of the entire process depends. All of these related events give me cause for optimism because the government has shown the willingness to systematically improve the environment in which journalists and media function.

Is the LGBT population, and the challeges that it faces, sufficiently represented in the media and what is the approach of the media in Serbia on this topic?
Some analyses have shown that emphatic stories about LGBT persons, written in a non-senstaionalist way and in accordance with the rules of the journalist profession, are timidly but surely finding their place into the Serbian media. However, these texts still represent exceptions seeing that most texts still report on the LGBT population in a way that is non-inclusive and unethical. Since I am mentioning ethics, I must point out that, according to the Code of Ethics, journalists are obliged to oppose all those who violate human rights or that advocate and promote any form of discrimination, hate speech and incitement to violence.
With respect to the negative trends in media coverage of the LGBT community, I am particularly displeased with the tabloidisation of LGBT issues. This socially relevant topic is being placed in the same category as shocking news, scandals or entertainment, something that some members of the LGBT community are unfortunately contributing to themselves. Maybe they see it as a good way to fight for their beliefs, but it does not suit my sensibilities. Furthermore, there exist media outlets that present the needs and demands of the LGBT movement as a luxury which can be afforded only by developed countries, something that is of course far removed from the truth.

You are „straight“, married, and have a child as of not that long ago. What is your motivation to, among other things, be active in the field of human rights of LGBT persons and why is this important to you?
My support for the LGBT movement derives from my belief in the universality of human rights. LGBT persons must be allowed to freely enjoy their rights because human rights standards apply to all, regardless of their sexual orientation. Seeing that sexual orientation is an integral part of our being, it must never be a source of discrimination or any other form of abuse. Diversity of identity, as well as of opinion, can only act to enrich our society. Moreover, I believe that my connection to the LGBT community came about as a result of general openness towards people. Through friendships with gay people I came to a realization that we have a lot of common interests. Those friendships are very precious to me, and they, to a very great extent, enriched and refined my life and my personality. From all this arose a natural desire to try and do whatever I can to help ensure that LGBT persons can be free to be themselves and to not be condemned and discriminated against by the society in which they live.

How important do you think the Pride Parade is for the advancement of LGBT rights?
The battle for the holding of the Pride Parade is a struggle for the visibility of problems that members of the LGBT community face. A ten-minute walk will certainly not solve all of their everyday problems, but it will work towards helping the society in which they live define a different approach to these problems and formulate a different policy. Freedom of assembly and freedom of expression are fundamental values of democratic societies, and as such, must be guaranteed to all citizens. They represent those obvious truths which do not require further explanation. We should stop the bad practice of finding empty excuses and denying problem, because ignoring them will not make them go away. The LGBT community and society in general should instead direct this precious energy towards finding sustainable solutions.

Why GSA?
The idea of an Alliance which brings together gay and straight people is a place and framework that should bring together all those who are committed to the value of freedom. I hold the GSA in high regard because it is an organization that has a stance and dignity which it does not depart from at any cost. I must say that I am often fascinated by the level of responsibility, competence and enthusiasm with which the people at GSA fight for thethings they believe in. Thanks to the leadership and all others who are involved in the work of GSA, that organization continues to evolve in the right direction because it understands the times we live in and the complexity of social issues which it addresses. Also, when talking about the GSA, we must not forget Boris Milićević who founded this organization and who is now ably „swims in the political waters“ as probably the highest-ranking openly gay politician in the region, and also all that he, in spite of many challenges, managed to do for the gay community.

Disclaimer: The views herein expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the OSCE Mission to Serbia.

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Gay Straight Alliance (GSA; Alliance) is today one of the non-governmental organisations with the most members in Serbia. Members include both LGBT and straight people, people of different political affiliations, different national and religious backgrounds, different professions, ages, social status and personal interests… And we are all gathered around the same goal – equal rights for everyone and reduction of violence and discrimination.
Over the past several years GSA has successfully built its credibility and recognisability. It brought a new approach to how the non-governmental sector functioned in Serbia at that time, it influenced the creation of a number of policies and the passing of several laws, it made a lot of allies in the fight for the protection and improvement of human rights of LGBT people, it achieved significant results in various activities… All of this was made possible due to many of our members, who, with their selfless engagement, knowledge and enthusiasm, worked tirelessly and seriously, often in very difficult conditions, and never stopped believing in GSA.
We are very proud of all of them, their professionalism and great atmosphere, optimism and respect which exists in the Alliance regardless of our mutual differences. We firmly believe that many of them are not only future leaders of GSA, but also future leaders in various other areas: politics, economics, culture, media… That is why we would like to present, a couple times a month, in the column “We are GSA!” (http://en.gsa.org.rs/people/we-are-gsa), some of GSA’s members through their short biographies as well as interviews with them on various topics.
The editor of the column “We are GSA!” is Nevena Janković with the help of GSA’s PR team. Opinions stated in this column are not necessarily shared by the Alliance as an organisation.

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