Accepted paper:

'From patient to citizen': human rights and disability policy reform in Serbia

Author:

Marek Mikuš (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)

Paper short abstract:

Human rights discourse is central to the ongoing 'Europeanisation' of disability policy in Serbia, but the reform has been uneven and contested. Appeals to human rights are being mobilised in struggles over public resources between various kinds of civil society organisations working on disability.

Paper long abstract:

Appeals to human rights and international law that codifies them are central to the ongoing 'Europeanisation' of policies toward disabled people in Serbia. Government documents and reform advocates describe it as a shift from a paternalist 'medical model of disability' to a rights-based 'social model of disability.' The emphasis is now on non-discrimination and equality of disabled people and their full integration into the society, including the labour market. However, given the implementing capacities of the Serbian state and the condition of the economy and physical infrastructure, this ideological shift has remained a promise rather than a reality. As protests of disabled people in 2011 revealed, it is also largely out of tone with their actual acute problems. Still, human rights discourse has become a symbolic marker mobilised in the struggles over limited public resources for civil society organisations dealing with disability issues. Professionalised NGO-type organisations use it differentiate themselves from what they call 'traditional' associations of disabled people, which they characterise as obsolete, inefficient and often corrupt, and to bolster their own demands for changes in funding policies that would privilege them over the former. However, the stereotypes about 'traditional' associations do not adequately describe a more differentiated and dynamic reality. In general, the shift to a rights-based disability discourse and policy has been uneven, contested and, in the current Serbian context, marred by a worrying association with the neoliberal rhetoric of individual self-reliance.

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