Esteemed Speaker of the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia,
Members of the Parliament,
Dear colleagues from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia and Montenegro,
Esteemed fellow colleagues from independent institutions of the Republic of Serbia,
Dear guests from all, as many as 21, National Councils of National Minorities,
Representatives of international organizations,
Dear representatives of the civil society and the media,
Dear guests and friends,
It is an exceptional honor to have you all here today and I would wish to stress how much I appreciate you accepting our invitation which clearly demonstrates the significance of regional cooperation in the process of development of our societies. The development of this cooperation enhances the operation of our institutions as well, but it also strengthens our citizens’ human rights. Our presence here today reaffirms our capacity and willingness to be the driving force within wider social processes in the region.
I would take this opportunity to express my heartfelt thanks to the Speaker of the Parliament for being here to support us. In addition, although he is not able to attend today, Prime Minister of the Republic of Serbia has also conveyed his personal message of support both to this conference and to the regional cooperation and operation of our institutions as well.
Many challenges we face, each and every one of us in their own country, are not country specific or unique, but rather shared challenges with a cross-border dimension hence the response requires continuous and open channels of communication. We also share the idea which is at the very heart of what we do, namely tolerance as the basic principle our societies are founded upon. I think I will not err if I paraphrase a thought by Ivo Andrić which dates back almost fifty years, that our resentment towards and outcry against prejudice and obsolete mores make sense only if we strive to do our best in dismantling those misconceptions and replacing them with new and better ones. In one of his poems he also said that it was his eternal wish to find here what he had always been after – space and latitude, open perspectives and breathing space. I believe that indeed he would find precisely that here today.
This year’s agreed topic is discrimination in the area of labor and employment which has gathered us all here this year. This is the area in which citizens of all our countries, in the times of severe global economic challenges, encounter most problems. A considerable number of people fear for their jobs which leads them to feel not as free and to accept, in some cases, less favorable employment conditions and frequently to agree to discriminatory treatment on different grounds. This is the reason our institutions play an important role and give a significant contribution to the protection of human rights, in particular to the right to equality.
Equality of citizens in all areas of life should represent the basic principle of contemporary democratic societies. Each individual is entitled to equal legal protection, without discrimination, on any ground s. However, the violation of this right, unfortunately, can be found in all areas of life, including labor and employment. Causes of discrimination vary, but most frequently they are deeply rooted in prejudice, habits and stereotypes which take very long time to change.
What am I trying to say? All of us face some form of discrimination, for example on the grounds of age. Unfortunately, men and women over 50 years of age are unjustly discriminated against as this age is oftentimes considered as the limit of productivity; discrimination on the grounds of disability and associated challenges disabled people face; discrimination against pregnant women and new mothers who are oftentimes reassigned to lower paying job positions; discrimination on the grounds of health status, political party affiliation, trade union membership and association with other organizations. In other words, considering complaints filed with and acted upon by the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality of the Republic of Serbia, but other similar institutions in the region as well, the overwhelming number of complaints pertain to the area of labor and employment, an issue we will tackle in detail and search together for solutions in the afternoon session of the conference.
We have gathered here today believing that by joining forces we will be able to tackle numerous challenges we face in our daily work. I am also glad that we were able to agree to sign the joint Statement on Cooperation on this very day, the International Tolerance Day.
Finally, I would wish to reiterate that today in much the same way as on any other day, we must reaffirm through our work, the idea that a dignified life with full respect of equality principle is indeed possible in this part of the world as well.