2.1 General context
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Serbia’s long tradition of volunteerism officially started in 1911 when the Scouting organisation of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, predecessor of the Scouting Organisation of Serbia (Savez izviđača Srbije), was established. This organisation was one of the organisations that participated in the establishment of the World Organisation of the Scout Movement in 1922. The Scouting Organisation of Serbia has been the member of the World Organisation of the Scout Movement ever since.
After the World War II, the influence of anti-fascism and socialism ideologies became dominant in youth policy and youth treatment. The promoted values were equality, solidarity, friendship, freedom, atheism, volunteerism, patriotism and collectivism. Next phase of the youth activism was increased role of the so-called Youth Labour Actions (Omladinske radne akcije, ORA) and other forms of youth work that represented voluntary labour activities of young people. These voluntary labour activities were initiated and supported by the state and promoted as the complementary part of the education with the main aim to rebuild infrastructure damaged during the war. Youth labour actions were used to build public infrastructure such as railways, public buildings, roads, industrial infrastructure, while the participants were organized into “youth brigades”. Later on in 90s, volunteerism was further embraced through establishment of the Young Researchers of Serbia (Mladi istraživači Srbije) and its sector the Voluntary Service of Serbia (see Chapter 2/2.5 Cross-mobility projects/Other programmes).
The beginning of the 21st century was the turbulent time for Serbia, following the collapse of Yugoslavia and the process of economic transition. Nevertheless, some major milestones were achieved, such as the beginning of the first national initiative for the legal regulation of the status of volunteers in Serbia “IZVoR” which aim was to:
- promote the culture of volunteering,
- promote civil activism,
- initiate the legal regulation of the status of volunteers in Serbia,
- propose the draft of the Law on Volunteering.
The civil society organisations, by implementing voluntary activities, had advocated and influenced the establishment of the first Ministry of Youth and Sport in 2007 as the top-level authority responsible for youth and youth policy. Since then, actions that promote better conditions for volunteering and a legal basis for voluntary work took place at state level, consequently leading to the adoption of the Law on Volunteering (2010) (Zakon o volontiranju, 2010), the Law on Youth (2012), the National Youth Strategy (2008-2014, 2015-2025) together with the Action Plans for its implementation.
Final push for the adoption of the Law on Volunteering was when Serbia was selected to be a host of the World Summer Universiade. The Universiade was held in Belgrade in 2009, with more than 11 000 young volunteers from all around the world.
Today there are numerous volunteering organisations with different aims and structures. One of the biggest organisations at the national level is the Young Researchers of Serbia with three thematically different but interconnected sectors – Youth Sector, Voluntary Service of Serbia and Environmental Protection and Conservation Sector.
The Law on Volunteering (Zakon o volontiranju) in force since December 2010, defines volunteering as an organized and voluntary provision of services for the general good and good of other persons, without any compensation or other material gain. The National Youth Strategy 2015-2025 (Nacionalna strategija za mlade 2015-2025) similarly defines volunteering: “Volunteering is a non-profit activity by which individuals, independently or within a group or organisation, contribute to the welfare of their communities.”
The Law recognizes short-term and long-term volunteering (at least 3 months without interruption and more than 10 hours a week). In the case of long-term volunteering, a volunteering contract is obligatory, and in case of short-term volunteering, a volunteering certificate is issued at the request of a volunteer.
The Law also specifies the principles of volunteering, volunteering contracts, the rights and obligations of volunteers and organisers of volunteering and supervision over the implementation of the Law itself. The 6 principles of volunteering, stipulated by the Law, represent the legal framework for:
- promotion of solidarity,
- prohibition of discrimination,
- protection of the users of volunteering,
- prohibition of abuse of volunteering,
- protection of youth, and
- volunteering free of charge.
The Law defines the following:
- The organizer of the volunteering is obliged to insure volunteers in the event of an injury at work and professional illness;
- Volunteering may not replace the work of employees, nor other forms of work engagement (vocational training for independent work in the profession, professional development, professional practice, etc.);
- Volunteering is not considered to be a work as a member of an association, trade union, political party, etc.
- In the case of a long-term volunteering, volunteers may be provided pocket money (up to 30% of the net amount of the minimum monthly salary in the Republic of Serbia);
- Companies and public companies may organize volunteering only with the previously obtained approval of the Ministry of Labour, Employment, Veterans' Affairs and Social Affairs.
In December 2021, a public debate on the Draft of the new Law on Volunteering started. The rationale for this Draft Law states that there is a need to synchronise the Law on Volunteering with the objectives of the National Youth strategy (see Chapter 2/2.3 National strategy on youth volunteering). The same document states that the low involvement of citizens in volunteering activities is partly due to shortcomings in regulations and public policies in the field, which the new Law will strive to improve. Some of them are administrative difficulties to organise volunteering, vaguely defined legal categories of volunteering (short-term, long-term and ad hoc), insufficient monitoring in the field of volunteer work, difficulties to mobilise volunteers in emergency situations due to the ban on volunteering in conditions that are dangerous or life-threatening, vaguely defined conditions for engaging vulnerable groups (persons with disabilities, the elderly, children under 15) in volunteer work, insufficient recognition of innovative ways of volunteering (e.g. online volunteering, expert volunteering) and inadequate social acknowledgement of volunteer work. The next steps in the process of establishing the new Law are expected in the forthcoming period.