Recent case that happened in Serbia raised the question of proper enforcement of rule of law in Balkans. Djordje Rankovic, twenty year old from Barajevo was firing from gun in public, threatening his relatives with an axe and verbally abused citizens around him. After a local police patrol arrived, he demolished their car too. It was only until special police unit arrived that Rankovic was stopped, and after pointing his gun to the policeman threatening their lives, and when he did not obey to the call to lay down his gun, he was shot twice in the head. At the time of writing, offender is in hospital where doctors are fighting for his life.
While some witnesses argued that police officers misconducted by excessive use of force, others witnessed that police acted properly and within the boundaries of the law, even jeopardizing lives of fellow policemen and other citizens by not acting more efficiently.
By reading about the case, and allowing myself to be uninformed about the circumstances, I would agree with those. Why? I’ll try to explain.
Basic premise of rule of law in well-developed democratic society is harsh and immediate enforcement of statutes and other laws. We can argue about the aim of the each and single letter of law, is it justified or not, is it righteous one or not, but the fact that the law was adopted by the relevant authority, that is, the parliament which hold democratic capacity to do so, puts every citizen into position to obey it unconditionally. This is how democratic state structure is built, and this is the only way that this structure should operate on its subjects, to equalize every citizen in terms of respect of the common authority (state). And most certainly, it is the ONLY way that each society is functioning, no matter what the political trend is. In this case, there is a law that prohibits the use of gun in public places, even holding one (if it is not registered within local police authority, and if the owner does not have the license to carry a gun), so it is clear that there was a breach of public rule. Not to mention other unlawful behavior such as demolition of public property and threatening police officers.
State needs to be in position to enforce laws, and, as it is the case in every democracy, main enforcer is the police as part of executive apparatus and other authorities that are dealing with the internal matters. Now, one can say that Balkans is somehow specific: While it is true that we have a long history of servility towards the political power and THE STATE in general (and this is common for all peoples that lived under totalitarian regime), it is also true that during those two decades of hybrid democracy, image of police in general experienced a significant decline among the common people. Why?
Primarily because of the strong relation between those that should enforce the law and those that benefit for not doing so, that is, because of the state and organized crime connection and widespread corruption. In such society, cases of false arrests, intimidation without the hearing, racial profiling, political repression, surveillance abuse and other types of misconducts are common thing.
Secondly, and somehow paradoxical, due to the euro-integration process, where it is required to adopt some of the European criminal proceeding legal principles that are focused on protection of human rights, those can create a huge margin for misinterpretation and some kind of abuse by the criminals, especially in the society where unlawful behavior is measured as success and the way of life. So, the first step that each country in Balkan Peninsula should take is the one that deals with both of those problems – wide fight with organized crime and corruption, but also redefinition of some of its strategic goals, at least in the area of unconditional transposition of foreign legal principles. This is the only way to regain confidence in rechtsstaat.
Taking into consideration known circumstances of this case, nobody can claim that those officers that literarily protected their fellow citizens were misconducting in terms of police brutality. In more developed societies, and in democracies where rule of law is proscribed as main pillar of state existence (such as USA), state police (not to mention federal-level agencies such as FBI), in comparison with police agencies in Balkan states, practices excessive authority and harsh arrest procedures. Also, their effort to do their job properly is highly measured in terms of financial compensation for all the dangers that they are exposed to on everyday basis. That is why enforcement of law is successful, and that is why this should be the first step towards the rule of law in Balkans.
And that is why those police officers should be praised for saving many lives even by taking one, if this was the only way to fulfill their duty that they were obliged by taking the oath.