Serbia -- long castigated as the land whose late president, Slobodan Milosevic, launched a genocide in Yugoslavia -- is not accustomed to finding itself lauded for safeguarding human rights. But in one area of human rights protection, the much-maligned Serbia has taken an unprecedented step that puts it ahead of all the rest of Central and Eastern Europe, including states already in the EU.
In September, Serbia's Ministry of Labor, Education and Social Affairs made it official policy to integrate into society thousands of people who had been locked away in Dickensian state institutions because they have a mental disability.
With this historic move, Serbia adopted a practice that took hold in the rich, Western countries after World War II but was never applied in the communist bloc.
It is anathema to the concept of a free society to segregate people solely on the basis of mental disability, to ignore their most basic human rights, to bar them from access to education and employment, to deny them the freedom to choose where and how they live and with whom they can associate.
The policy change aimed at rectifying this grim reality in Serbia came when the ministry agreed to apply a pilot project nationwide that has, since 2003, established a range of community-based support services to enable persons with intellectual disabilities to leave the institutions where they were confined and begin living in the wider world. That pilot project demonstrated that people with mental disabilities are capable of living as equal citizens when they receive appropriate assistance.
Based upon the project's success, the ministry has committed to purchasing more than 130 apartments and homes to house people brought out of institutions and to establish services to help them cope with the complexities of life beyond the walls that once confined them. Funding for the reforms comes from the privatization of state assets -- not from aid from abroad. To Serbia's credit, the ministry made the decision knowing that the change would require belt-tightening elsewhere, but it took action because it concluded that protecting human rights was more important than saving a few dinars.
Hopefully, Serbia's decision will inspire the other states of Central and Eastern Europe, including states that have won membership in the EU, to follow its lead. It is shocking that the EU has done so little to press its members and prospective members to promote community living for people with mental disabilities.
None of the new EU member-states has concrete plans or financing mechanisms to develop networks of community-based alternatives on a national scale. While there are pockets of high-quality, community-based services in most of the region's countries, tens of thousands of people with mental disabilities are still living in institutions, and most of them have no prospect of ever leaving.
Hungary continues to segregate its most disabled citizens and spend millions of dollars on the construction of a new institutional behemoth which sits empty because it does not meet EU fire and safety standards.
Croatia is demonstrating that deinstitutionalization is not a question of money. The Open Society Institute committed over US$2 million to assist the government in closing a large institution for people with intellectual disabilities. But, almost a year into the negotiations, the government is still not ready to commit to concrete action.
In Romania last year, children were dying of starvation in one institution. The government placed the blame on local authorities; the local authorities blamed the government for allocating inadequate resources; and inmates of the institutions still look out at the world through windows that are locked and barred.
There is an urgent need to change government policies so that providing services for people with mental disabilities in the community is the norm rather than the exception. Such services must be accessible to everyone who needs them. And governments must reallocate resources from institutions -- and the bureaucracies that have a vested interest in preserving their positions -- to organizations that support community-based living.
It is time for the rest of Central and Eastern Europe to catch up to Serbia.
Dragan Lukic is director of a community-based housing project in Serbia. Judith Klein is director of the Open Society Mental Health Initiative.
Copyright: Project Syndicate
Taiwan’s status in the world community is experiencing something really different; it’s being treated like a normal country. And not just a “normal” country, more like a valuable, constructive, democratic and generous country. This is not simply an artifact of Taiwan’s successes in combatting the novel coronavirus. It is a new attitude, weighing Taiwan’s democracy against China’s lack of it. Before I continue, I should apologize to the readers of the Taipei Times. I have not visited Taipei since the opening of the American Institute in Taiwan’s new chancery building in Neihu last year, so I was unprepared for the photograph
On Sept. 27, 2002, the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste (East Timor) joined the UN to become its 191st member. Since then, two other nations have joined, Montenegro on June 28, 2006, and South Sudan on July 14, 2011. The combined total of the populations of these three nations is just more than half that of Taiwan’s 23.7 million people. East Timor has 1.3 million, Montenegro has slightly more than half a million and South Sudan has 10.9 million. They all are members of the UN, yet much more populous Taiwan is denied membership. Of the three, East Timor, as a Southeast Asian
At a June 12 news conference held by the Talent Circulation Alliance to announce the release of its white paper for this year, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) emphasized that, in this era of globalization, Taiwan should focus on improving foreign language and digital abilities when cultivating talent, so that it stands out from global competitors. I suggest the government should consider building a professional translation industry. If the public believes that there is a relationship between learning English and national competitiveness, then the nation must consider the social cost of language education. This should be assessed to maximise educational effectiveness: Is
Taiwan has for decades singlehandedly borne the brunt of a revanchist, ultra-nationalist China — until now. Ever since Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison had the temerity to call for a transparent, international investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, Beijing has been turning the screws on Canberra. This has included unleashing aggressive “wolf warrior” diplomats to intimidate Australian policymakers, enacting punitive tariffs on its exports, and threatening an embargo on Chinese tourists and students to the nation. A tense situation became more serious on June 19 after Morrison revealed that a “sophisticated state-based actor” — read: China — had launched a