RFE/RL – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (Author)
BELGRADE -- Several hundred protesters have marched in the Serbian capital to call for the ouster of Finance Minister Sinisa Mali after a Belgrade University ethics committee ruled that he had plagiarized his doctoral thesis.
The November 25 rally, organized by the activist group Don't Give Away Belgrade, saw marchers walking around the Finance Ministry carrying giant red cards in symbolic reference to a soccer penalty for game expulsion as others shouted, "be gone" and "resignation."
From there, they walked to the government building, where a note was posted at the main entrance calling on Prime Minister Ana Brnabic to have Mali dismissed via a parliamentary vote by November 28.
Otherwise, Radomir Lazovic, leader of Don't Give Away Belgrade, said protests will resume if Mali doesn't step down or isn't dismissed.
"Because this is not a state in which we want to live where plagiarists, fraudsters, and thieves are in power," Lazovic told the crowd.
On November 21, the university ethics committee found that Mali had engaged in "nonacademic behavior" and called for his doctorate thesis to be annulled because he lifted material from other authors without providing attribution.
Mali, President Aleksandar Vucic, and Brnabic have described the committee's ruling as a political decision.
Brnabic said Mali, a former mayor of Belgrade, would remain in his post, while Vucic has sent mixed signals.
Initially, he called the decision political, then, the following day, he told reporters that Mali would have "to pay a political price."
In May, the same ethics committee controversially announced that Mali's text did not amount to plagiarism.
After the latest university committee ruling, Mali denied the plagiarism.
"I know that I didn't do it," he said. "I will address this issue in the next few days separately and, for now, what I care about is the Serbian budget and things for which I'm being paid."
Similar cases have led to public uproar or resignations by national leaders and government officials in Central and Eastern Europe.
In 2012, Hungarian President Pal Schmitt resigned after his credentials were found to be inflated. Last year, two Czech ministers quit.
In Ukraine, former President Viktor Yanukovych boasted a doctorate in economics that many questioned. He further raised doubts after misspelling "professor" on his application to run for president. He abandoned office and fled to Russia in the wake of the pro-democracy Euromaidan movement in February 2014.
Four years ago, then-Slovenian Education Minister Klavdija Markez resigned after five days on the job after reporters found she plagiarized the bulk of her master's thesis.
And the head of the Bulgarian agricultural fund received a suspended prison sentence in 2012 after admitting she had falsified her diploma.
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