From 2008 to 2019, 735 people died in Serbia as a result of drugs, according to the Republic Bureau of Statistics. Two-thirds of the dead were between 25 and 40 years old.
From the beginning of the year until November 3, the police carried out 9,490 seizures and removed 3.2 tons of various types of narcotics from the streets, according to the Serbian Ministry of the Interior. According to a study by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, adolescents are less and less likely to think that marijuana is harmful.
Milan Pekić, director of the Office for Combating Drugs of the Government of the Republic of Serbia, who spent most of his career in the Ministry of the Interior, working in that area.

Research shows that many teenagers in our country distribute narcotics. These children make so-called “sticks” in parks and schoolyards. They distribute drugs among their peers …

Unfortunately, that’s right. This is a big problem of our society and state. Dealers abuse everything they can to avoid being punished, and worst of all, they abuse children. They know that children under 14 are not criminally liable. They also know that minors are also in a special status when it comes to crimes. In addition to manipulation, dealers use children as drug dealers who will transfer a certain amount of narcotics from one point to another.

Many of them were caught by the police. What happens to such teenagers later?

They later suffer psychological and physical abuse from those who gave them drugs or some other person who has an interest in intimidating them. The Ministry of the Interior has certain methods to cope with this problem. One of the prevention method is the school police officer. The Ministry of Education is working to raise awareness of this issue. That is why the government formed the Commission for the Fight against Drug Addiction in Schools. The task of the commission is to raise children’s awareness of the harmfulness of drugs and how easily they can be involved in crime that will have great consequences for them. We have to get the children out of the “claws” of dealers, and that is the most important fight in which we must all get involved.

What exactly is the job of the government’s Office for Combating Drugs?

The Office for Combating Drugs is a service of the Government of the Republic of Serbia, which in cooperation with other state bodies implements drug policy in Serbia, and is in charge of coordinating relevant institutions responsible for combating drugs, as well as professional, administrative and operational affairs in that area.
The Office is an inter-ministerial body that looks at the drug problem in a comprehensive way, from the perspective of all competent institutions, and participates in activities related to the participation of the Republic of Serbia in the work of EU bodies and the United Nations in the fight against drugs. The Office conducted the evaluation process of the Strategy for the Prevention of Drug Abuse for the period 2014- 2021. with the support of the OSCE Mission to Serbia, the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) and eminent international experts.

We strive to involve as many different state institutions and organizations, as well as civil society organizations, in the development of national documents and the implementation of drug policies, because the multisectoral approach to the drug problem has shown the most efficient and effective results. So far, we have signed 20 memorandum with civil society organizations. In addition, it has been shown that it is necessary to decentralize drug policy, and the office is trying to include as many institutions and organizations at the local level as possible in multisectoral cooperation. Accordingly, the Office signed a Protocol on the formation of multidisciplinary teams with six local governments.

Recently, together with the Association “Izlazak” and seven local self-government units, you started a campaign called “Cities against drugs – Give a hand of support”. What is it about?

With this project, we want to draw the public's attention to the fact that the problem of addiction is an extremely complex psychosocial problem that can not be solved only within one profession, but only through effective cross-sectoral cooperation of various bodies and organizations with specific competence and responsibility.
Our goal is that every city, above all, has good intersectoral cooperation at the local level, to develop service capacities so that people who would like to enter the recovery process have precisely defined opportunities and know exactly who to turn to for help.
Unfortunately, there is almost no environment in Serbia where there is no drug abuse and we hope that this campaign will succeed in motivating and uniting all actors who directly or indirectly deal with the problem of addiction, not to look at this problem from the individual’s point of view.

How do you comment on the “Jovanjica” case?

I believe that the state bodies that deal with that will finish their work and that the court will make the final decision. The Office for Combating Drugs, as the Government's body for coordination of drug policies, mainly deals with national documents in the field of drugs, as well as programs implemented in the Republic of Serbia in this area, while the Ministry of the Interior and the relevant judicial authorities are responsible for the issue of seizures and drug-related crimes.

What do you think about legalizing marijuana in general?

In the United States, for example, some states have legalized marijuana and some have not. I had the opportunity to hear from the Governor of Colorado at an international meeting that they legalized marijuana, and then they repented because they experienced a big problem. Immediately after the legalization, 3,000 companies in that country reported that they would grow marijuana. The country is flooded with shops selling these narcotics and there are more of them than a fast food store. The issue of legalizing marijuana is not simple. My opinion is that when everything is scientifically confirmed and when reference laboratories and institutes prove that a certain substance has a healing property in a specific disease and condition of the human body, then it is quite natural to legalize it.

Distinguish between “big” and “small” dealers?

There are no “big” or “small” dealers. The Criminal Law defined everything exactly. The one who is caught with a smaller amount of drugs and who does not have the permanence of dealing with that part is treated differently from the one who distributes drugs in an organized manner. Our legislation has provided a solution for such cases and everyone in the procedure is treated according to “merit”.

Who is the biggest drug lord in Serbia?

I don’t see anyone in Serbia who stands out in that form, as you call him “narco-boss”. It is often portrayed as a cult of personality, and in fact it is the existence of organized criminal groups that compete with each other for dominance in the drug market.

The media often proclaim drug dealers from the Balkans as one of the most dangerous and resourceful in Europe, so we can say in the world. Do we really deserve such epithets? Organized criminal groups involved in drug smuggling exist in Serbia, but also in every other country. Serbia is a transit country when it comes to marijuana and heroin, simply because we are in such a position where drug routes intersect. Marijuana is also grown in our country.
I think that the Ministry of Internal Affairs is doing its job well., which shows the frequency and number of seizures and breaking up of criminal groups.
However, in Europe, it is often emphasized that when a criminal group is arrested, it is the Balkans. Okay, they are originally from the Balkans, but if they live and work in any other country, then it must be admitted that they are part of their criminal milieu. The problem of drugs is not only a problem of one country, region, but also an international problem, and that is how it should be viewed.

Aleksandar Bojović