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That’s Not My Signature: How My Data was Misused in Serbia’s Elections

I was tipped off that my data had been misused to support the candidacy of a political entity in next month’s Serbian elections. How many other people do not find out?

Two nights ago, sitting at home, I received notification of a message on Viber, which I don’t often use. My first thought was that it was my grandfather, some other elderly relative, or someone in the chat group used by the residents of my building to exchange maintenance info.

It was none of the above.

The sender was a member of the Belgrade City Electoral Commission whom I happen to know, asking if I had signed a statement of support for any candidates in the city’s upcoming local elections. ‘No’, I replied. ‘Why?’

It turned out my name and personal data had been used on a list of support for ‘Srbija na Zapadu’ [Serbia in the West], which is contesting elections on December 17. I gave my unique ID number to my acquaintance, who checked if it matched with the data of the person on the list. It did.

My name, my ‘signature’, and my personal data had been used for a political purpose, without my consent.

I was born and raised in Serbia, and often I have wondered what good has come from my civil society activism. In this case, it was probably the only reason I was alerted to the misuse of my personal data. But then I thought – how many other people are ‘signed up’ to support the candidacy of a certain political option, and never know?


It may seem odd that a political entity needs the signatures of citizens in order to qualify to run in an election, but in Serbia that’s the rule.

Few elections in Serbia have ever passed without reports of irregularities, manipulation and fraud.

This time, members of the Belgrade City Electoral Commission have already identified false signatures of support on documents submitted by seven entities running for election.

Two questions arise: what are the consequences for those entities? And who is responsible for breaking the law?

A person whose personal data has been misused in this way has the right to complain within 48 hours of a political entity being cleared to run. But if no one alerts them, they will not know.

An individual can check if they have ‘given’ their support by submitting a request to the competent authority, but rarely does the answer arrive before the deadline for complaints expires.

Even when a complaint is accepted, the political entity in question is simply asked to correct their submission.

This morning, I went to the City Electoral Commission to submit a request in person for confirmation of what I already know – that my identity has been misused for a statement of support. When I asked how long I would have to wait for an official answer, the official, a fairly impolite woman, replied: ‘You’re not the only one. I don’t know. That’s the procedure.’

I pressed again for an answer, but she said no one could give me one.

Elections are not a joke

I went public at a media conference organised by ‘Serbia Against Violence’ – an electoral coalition encompassing a number of leading pro-democracy parties – since it was their representatives in the Commission who first spotted my name.

Serbia on the West also responded, claiming it not their fault but a case of manipulation by the ruling Progressive Party.

The entity’s candidacy is unaffected. All that is left is for me to wait for the response of the electoral commission so I can initiate a criminal procedure. And that will take a while.

Elections are the central pillar of democracy. Such manipulations have consequences and this is exactly why many people simply decide not to vote. They don’t trust the process, and their mistrust is, unfortunately, justified. Something needs to change, most likely both in procedures and practice. Otherwise it will keep happening.

Perhaps, however, my case can serve as a motivation for action more than a reason for despair.

Democracy in Serbia cannot be enhanced if we give up and leave everything to the politicians.

There is always something that can be done; even if it is just getting angry, that’s energy we can use to defend the integrity of the electoral process.

Candidacy is not a joke. Elections are one of the most important processes, and we as citizens will treat them as such.

Sofija Todorovic is programme director at The Youth Initiative for Human Rights Serbia.

Source : Balkaninsight