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Making the Western Balkans safe for whistleblowers

Across the region, Transparency International chapters and partners are supporting courageous whistleblowers who face retaliation for exposing wrongdoing. They are using their cases to advocate for stronger laws and effective enforcement, so citizens in Western Balkans can speak out in safety

Emir Mešić's case highlights how Advocacy and Legal Advice Centres (ALACs) across the region are raising awareness about whistleblower protection. Photo: Transparency International Bosnia and Herzegovina

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In 2020, Milenko Jovanović, Head of Air Control at Serbia’s Environmental Protection Agency, publicly opposed the agency’s decision to change the criteria for measuring air quality, which was made by the acting director to potentially hide the true pollution levels by making them seem less severe. This would prevent Serbia’s capital, Belgrade, from featuring among the world’s most polluted cities. Shortly after speaking out, Jovanović was fired.

The agency claimed he was dismissed for inadequately maintaining air quality measuring stations, but when Belgrade’s High Court ruled that it should reinstate him while the dispute was resolved, the director abolished his post. Jovanovic didn’t give up his fight for justice and pursued his case with the support of specialised lawyers from whistleblower protection and media organisation “Pištaljka“. Later, he established contact with Transparency Serbia, which also operates the Advocacy and Legal Advice Centre (ALAC), as he recognised the systemic nature of problems in public sector management.

This ALAC is part of a network run by Transparency International chapters and partners across the Western Balkans, that has a dual function: They are offering free, confidential legal support to people who speak out against wrongdoing often putting themselves at risk and advocate for legal and cultural change to promote transparency and fight corruption, by using evidence from individual cases.

Our Advocacy and Legal Advice Centres (ALACs) are here to help. No one needs to report corruption alone. Across the world, ALACs act to ensure people reporting wrongdoing are kept safe and that their stories help bring justice. On top of that, we also keep on pushing for legal protection so that whistleblowers can safely expose and help prevent corruption, ultimately building integrity across our societies. When corruption is reported we are looking into systemic causes and proposing ways to address them.

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Weak whistleblower protection: A regional failing

Effective protection for whistleblowers is essential for exposing corruption. People need to feel safe to speak up when they encounter wrongdoing – yet failure to protect whistleblowers is a problem across the Western Balkans. Transparency International’s regional report of the National Integrity Systems (NIS) shows weaknesses and gaps in whistleblower legislation. Few countries in the region meet the standards required by the 2019 EU Whistleblower Protection Directive – a requirement under their EU accession process.

Where strong whistleblower laws do exist, implementation is often weak and public awareness of the right to expose wrongdoing is low. In Serbia, poor treatment of whistleblowers like Jovanović has led to declining numbers of whistleblower reports, yet his case shows how speaking up can drive positive change.

Investigating further, ALAC staff realised the Serbia’s Environmental Protection Agency’s acting director was one of many senior civil servants appointed unlawfully without a fair process. Since 2015, he had been reappointed 20 times, despite the legal limit of six months for such appointments. In 2021, the ALAC challenged this practice through the Public Prosecutor’s Office. Finally, in 2023, the Administrative Court ruled that the government could not reappoint the director, making Jovanović’s dismissal unlawful. TI Serbia has since challenged 50 more such appointments in court, even applying for their annulment in half the cases.

Whistleblover Emir Mešić is challenging the BiH Prosecutor's Office decision in the European Court of Human Rights. Photo: Transparency International Bosnia and Herzegovina

From “spies” to champions: Rebranding whistleblowers

Across the Western Balkans, the authorities rarely handle whistleblowing cases like Jovanović’s properly. The TI regional advisor Lidija Prokic points out that public prosecution systems often ignore the wrongdoing they expose, sometimes investigating the whistleblower rather than the alleged offence, while judicial systems are slow and may focus on minor offences. Some whistleblowing cases remain unresolved years later and serious cases involving senior decision makers rarely lead to sanctions.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, tax authority employee Emir Mešić reported corruption involving customs revenues to the Prosecutor’s Office in 2018. The country’s anti-corruption agency, APIK, granted him protected whistleblower status, but the authorities did nothing. After waiting almost two years, Mešić decided to speak publicly about the corruption he had uncovered – only to suffer extensive reprisals. Despite his protected status, he was demoted and suspended by the tax authority, so turned to TI Bosnia and Herzegovina for help.

The chapter’s ALAC called on APIK to protect Mešić, before providing full legal support so he could challenge the reprisals in court. In response, the tax authority claimed he was damaging its reputation and in 2021 fired him. While the court case was underway, the Prosecutor's Office decided not to investigate Mešić’s original report of corruption – similar decisions are documented in the NIS report on Bosnia and Herzegovina. Mešić is challenging the decision in the European Court of Human Rights, supported throughout by TI Bosnia and Herzegovina.


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Overcoming fear of reprisals

Transparency International’s NIS report gives fear of retaliation as the main reason people are reluctant to report wrongdoing. Yet in a region that discourages people from exposing corruption, whistleblowers are essential for raising the alarm when public money is spent for private gain.

In Montenegro, where whistleblowers often face retaliation, the country’s Agency for Prevention of Corruption (APC) offers little protection. Even within the APC, whistleblowers may not be safe. In 2023, Dusan Drakic, head of political finance, was suspended alongside nine colleagues after exposing the alleged misappropriation of funds by agency director Jelena Perovic. Transparency International’s partner organisation in Montenegro, MANS, helped Drakic file a criminal complaint against Perovic. The APC claimed the suspensions were over administrative disputes and denied Drakic whistleblower protection. When Perovic was finally arrested in 2024 on suspicion of misappropriation of funds , she even referred to the whistleblowers as “spies”. Although the employees who spoke up remain suspended, the case has raised public and media awareness of whistleblowers’ vital role in upholding integrity.

After exposing misappropriation of funds Montenegro’s Agency for Prevention of Corruption, whistleblower Dusan Drakic faced retaliation. Photo: Boris Pejovac

Evidence-based advocacy for effective whistleblower laws

To improve the situation, the NIS report recommends that Balkan states align their whistleblower laws with the EU directive, covering reports on any breach of law and threat to the public interest. These laws should contain measures to ensure their effectiveness, including support for whistleblowers suffering retaliation and dissuasive penalties for violations of whistleblower protection.

Transparency International’s ALAC in North Macedonia is using a prominent case to advocate for effective whistleblower protection laws. In 2022, leading film director Milcho Manchevski approached the ALAC to report conflicts of interest in a competitive bid for funding from the National Film Agency. ALAC investigations confirmed his allegations, so staff held a press conference in 2023 – the state anti-corruption authority also spoke out. When the film agency retaliated, filing a criminal complaint against Manchevski and withdrawing funding, the ALAC supported him in court.

Although the government dismissed the agency’s director at the anti-corruption authority’s request, Manchevski’s case remains ongoing two years later. As part of a working group, preparing the recommendations for the in the new national Whistleblower Protection Act, TI Macedonia is proposing robust protection measures, based in part on the testimony of whistleblowers including Manchevski. 

Strong laws must be well enforced

Although Kosovo’s legislation already aligns with the EU directive, whistleblowing remains a little-known concept and people who expose wrongdoing can face hostility. In 2023, a public official made an anonymous report to the ALAC of Democratic Institute of Kosovo (KDI), describing a corrupt recruitment procedure at his institution. When the ALAC’s investigation revealed numerous violations of labour laws, staff made an official complaint to the labour inspectorate and helped the whistleblower, who wishes to remain anonymous, appeal against the biased appointment. The inspectorate confirmed the violations and ordered the institution to re-advertise the job. The whistleblower was selected on merit, but in 2024, the institution launched a disciplinary procedure against him, which he is challenging in court with legal support from the ALAC.

The case has sparked a debate in Kosovo, demonstrating how individuals can drive positive change through whistleblowing, providing a crucial public service. But it also shows that strong laws must be properly implemented to be effective – including support and safeguarding for whistleblowers throughout the reporting process.

From individual cases to regional change

Across the Western Balkans, cases like these are strengthening whistleblowing culture, encouraging people to report wrongdoing and defend their rights. Through legal assistance to information campaigns, advocacy work, providing recommendations and partnering in coalitions and working groups, Transparency International chapters and partners are committed to making sure that when citizens speak up, their voices are heard, and the law will protect them from retaliation.

In the meantime, the region’s ALACs continue to champion individual whistleblowers, while advocating for systemic change that nurtures a culture of speaking out against wrongdoing. This will enable people to expose corruption safely, knowing they have legal protection and public support.

Transparency International and our partners in the Western Balkans region supported the whistleblowers in these cases through the project “Promoting Active Citizen Engagement to Fight Against Corruption in South Eastern Europe” (ACE), funded by the German Federal Foreign Office (Auswertiges Amt). Under the project, the Advocacy and Legal Advice Centres run by our chapters and partners have received over 4,000 citizen reports and carried out campaigns and advocacy at national and regional levels to promote effective anti-corruption and whistleblower protection measures across the region.