The Belgrade University (BU) Ethnics Committee unanimously overruled the Faculty of Organisational Sciences decision to punish Serbia's Finance Minister Sinisa Mali with "public condemnation" for his doctorate, saying he violated the Professional Ethics Code by copy-pasting other authors' work in a part of his thesis without an attribution, a BU statement said on Thursday.
The Commission said it would pass on its final decision “to the University Senate which should act in line with the Book of Rules on the procedure of annulling the diploma."
The years-long saga involving Serbia’s Finance Minister Sinisa Mali thesis, challenged by many scientists and professors, should be over after the Senat's decision.
The outcome is eagerly expected by students who had blocked the Rectorate building for 12 days demanding the doctorate was declared plagiarism.
After the meeting, the BU Rector Ivanka Popović confirmed to reporters that Mali violated the University's Ethics Code because he cited other authors without the attributions and showed an unacademic behaviour.
“We don’t want to pressure the Commission, but we’ll follow what’s going on and react accordingly, Mila Jovanovic, a member of the 1 in 5 million students’ organisation, told the FoNet news agency earlier on Thursday.
After the ruling, they said it was proved Mali's doctorate was plagiarism and that the BU was first Serbia's institution they had liberated from fake diplomas and other wrongdoings.
The doctorate’s saga started back to mid-2014 with an article by Rasa Karapandza, a professor of finance at EBS Business School in Wiesbaden, an academic director of Master in Finance program, and a visiting research scholar at NYU and at UC Berkeley, published by the Pescanik website.
Soon after the BU Ethics Commission decision, Mali told the state RTS TV, he would talk about that in the next few days. "I know what I know, I know I didn't do that. I cannot comment on the fact that someone is bothered with that for political reasons," he said, adding that right now he was only interested in the draft of the 2020 budget.
“I have never seen such a quantity of copy-pasting as in Sinisa Mali’s doctorate,” Karapandza wrote about the 2013 doctorate.
In January 2015, the “Organisation and Management” article based on which Mali secured the right to defend the doctorate, was withdrawn as plagiarism, the website said.
In May this year, in an interview with the Vreme independent weekly, Karapandza said: “Sinisa Mali translated the whole pages, copied illustrations, even used the same font as original authors. Speaking about percentage, Sinisa Mali copied or literally translated more than a third text in his thesis and used all original illustrations.”
Slobodan Prvanovic, a former member of the Commission, told N1 the decision meant the doctorate was plagiarism though the word was not explicitly used.
The following events included the Faculty of Organisational Sciences (FON) verdict the doctorate was not plagiarism. Two years later, the FON Ethics Commission also said the thesis wasn’t plagiarised and that it had some incorrectly cited parts but at a negligible level.
FON accepted the opinion, but the University Council did not and asked the Faculty to form a commission to investigate the doctorate.
At the same time, some 300 people holding PhD in Serbia signed a petition demanding from the BU Professional Ethics Commission a disciplinary proceeding against Mali’s mentor and other members of the commission before which Mali defended his thesis, to deprive him of the title.
Finally, after some more peripetia, and the 12-day students’ blockade of the Rectorate, the FON Professional Ethics Commission decided to punish Mali with “public condemnation,” but failed to vote on whether it was plagiarism though some members demanded that.
The students have earlier said they might block the Rectorate again if the BU Professional Ethnic Commission decided that Mali’s doctorate was not plagiarised.
The news prompted many reactions from analysts and opposition.
Boban Stojanovic, a political analyst, said Mali should resign as Finance Minister "if he has a bit of moral."
His colleague Cvijetin Milivojevic said that Mali's fate depended on President Aleksandar Vucic.
"If he (Vucic) sees that the atmosphere in the society is not friendly, Mali will be suspended for a year or so..."
But, he said, if Vucic thought the move would show some weakness, he wouldn't do that despite the Commission decision.
The opposition Alliance for Serbia said the whole Government should resign following the BU ruling.
The President of the Movement of Free Citizens (PSG) Sergej Trifunovic said that "this is one of the most important days since we have fallen into an abyss dag by these neo-radicals. The students won; they did not fall for a lie, did not accept humiliation and persevered in their struggle."