President of the Cajetina municipality Milan Stamatovic is one of the country’s local leaders who have a large influence over citizens, owing to which he can openly and freely engage in clashes with the central authorities.
He started his political career as a delegate in the local assembly 21 years ago. Today, he is into his fourth term as president of the municipality, a position that he has held for 13 years and is now a candidate for Serbian president.
He declared his nomination for Serbian president in October last year. He said that he would not be running for president as a candidate of the Serbian People’s Party, which he belongs to, but as a candidate “nominated by the people.” The Cajetina Assembly also backed his candidacy at a session on Oct. 6, 2016, which is unprecedented in political practice.
Despite being a candidate, he has not left the Serbian People’s Party. Recently, he said that “if someone thinks that I am working against the party’s interest, they have every right, the capability and leverage to expel me from the party; I am definitely not going to leave it.”
Party leader Nenad Popovic has also said that he is intensely thinking about running for president himself. If rumors that Popovic will run for president are true, having two presidential candidates from the same party will be yet another precedent on the Serbian political scene.
Stamatovic said that he is in the race for president to direct attention to bad decisions, laws and the regime’s plans because as the president of a small local self-administration his means are limited and it is hard for him to reach to the public and talk about issues that are important to national interests.
When he first became president of the municipality in 2004, Cajetina was an underdeveloped and unstable area. Today it qualifies as one of the most successful and richest local self-administrations in Serbia. The municipality has a population of 14,745, who live in 24 settlements and one small town that has 3,340 inhabitants and it controls one of the most popular resorts on Mt. Zlatibor, where tourism is year-round.
During his term many local roads were paved, and infirmaries and kindergartens were built in rural areas. Even his opponents cannot deny that Cajetina is more orderly, cleaner and communally equipped than ever before.
He has criticized the incumbent national authorities in areas in which the Serbian People’s Party, a partner to the reigning Serbian Progressive Party on the national level, was silent about. He publically called the state out for donating state property in Zlatibor.
He has been embroiled in a dispute with the Ministry of Construction for two years now over 2,213 hectares of state land which the government wants to give to the PK Zlatibor company. Two years ago, the Ministry of Construction filed charges against him for signing building permits without authorization for two investors in 2013 for building facilities on around 2,500 square meters in Mt. Zlatibor, thereby allegedly causing damages to the state.
At the end of November 2016 he contacted the embassies of several countries in Belgrade asking for protection from what he said was “the discriminatory attitude of Serbian state officials toward the self-administration and the lynching of political opponents.” Then ombudsman Sasa Jankovic offered him support in his battle to protect the general interest in Mt. Zlatibor and state property.
He was the first to say that Andrej Vucic, the brother of Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, was appointing and dismissing officials around Serbia. He remarked that he “has the highest office, which is the brother of the prime minister.”
After publically calling out a family for appropriating a lake in central Mt. Zlatibor and 200 hectares surrounding it, he was prosecuted for slander and ordered to pay a RSD300,000 fine and have the 13-page verdict published in newspapers. He paid the fine and published only a part of the verdict in a newspaper.
Because of this, private and public executers went to his house, where they wrote up a list of his possessions and property and threatened to seize all of it, after which he had to pay an additional RSD270,000 fine. The attorneys in the case could not recall that the court had once issued a verdict that the defendant was due to publish the entire verdict in a newspaper.
The case of building a gondola lift in Mt. Zlatibor collapsed into a “war” between the small town of Cajetina and state, i.e. Stamatovic and the Ministry of Construction. After the Ministry refused to issue a permit for building the gondola lift, Stamatovic called on citizens to attend a large-scale work drive on Feb. 11 called “The Zlatibor volunteer work drive –the people building a gondola lift,” which started the construction job.
Even though his opponents were sceptical, around 2000 people responded. The gondola lift, the construction of which costs EUR13m, the amount that the municipality raised on its own and also bought the cabins and other equipment in France, was supposed to be nine kilometers long, with 55 passenger cabins each with 10 seats, and link central Mt. Zlatibor with the Tornik peak.
Only two days after the volunteer drive, a construction inspector passed a decision on stopping the work. Cajetina said that it would not honor the inspector’s decision and drop the construction project. The authorities in Cajetina have reiterated that they want to build the gondola lift legally, but that the state was stalling the project because it wanted to grant 2,213 hecatres of state land to tycoons.
Stamatovic is for some a quixotic figure, a rebel against the state, a fighter for justice, for his hometown, for Cajetina and Zlatibor, while for others, he is a “boss and chief” whose rule in Cajetina is unquestionable and sovereign and who turned Cajetina into his own feud.
His political opponents, officials of the Serbian Progressive Party and the Democratic Party, have accused him of corruption. State overseers often visit the Cajetina management and they have filed charges against him none of which have been processed.
One of the things that his detractors likes to point out is that he is uneducated. Stamatovic is one of the rare politicians who does not disguise the fact that he only has a high school education and that he has not tried to obtain an express university diploma while in office.
Even so, the locals are pleased with his rule which spans across a decade. Their impression is that life is better, that Cajetina is a better place for living, and that Mt. Zlatibor is being more and more visited. At a Tourism Fair in Belgrade it was stated that Mt. Zlatibor had seen a record number of visitors – 250,000 tourists, of which 30 percent from abroad, and a million overnight stays in 2016. The construction of the gondola lift is regarded as “the job of the century,” which will enable Mt. Zlatibor’s development and contribute to the greater attractiveness of the site for tourists and they do not understand why the state is holding the job up.
In politics, Stamatovic relies on his “crew” of associates he started his political career with and who are loyal to him.
He describes himself as a patriot and moderate rightist, a Russophile and Euro-sceptic working in the interest of Cajetina and Serbia. The denizens of Cajetina say that he is the representative of a special mentality characteristic of Zlatibor, a highlander, who is not scared, does not give in easily, and like to be their own person. In the Democratic Party of Serbia to which he once belonged people speak about him with respect, and many would like for him to return to the party.
Milan Stamatovic was born in Cajetina on May 24, 1960. He finished high school where he studied to become a technologist-technician. His first job was for PIK Zlatibor in 1980. After two years he took up a new job in Agroindustrija Zlatibor and worked in Metaloplastika in Cajetina from 1984-1997.
He started his political career in 1996 as a delegate of the Democratic Movement of Serbia (DEPOS) in the Cajetina assembly. From 2001-2004 he served as president of the Cajetina assembly’s executive committee as an official of the Democratic Party of Serbia. In local direct elections for the president of Cajetina in 2004 he won a decisive victory over the Democratic Party’s candidate with 59 percent of votes. He was re-elected in local elections in 2008, 2012 and 2016. He has been president of the municipality for 13 years and in four mandates.
In the last local election in 2016 he headed a three-member coalition of the Serbian People’s Party, Democratic Party of Serbia and Party of United Pensioners of Serbia, which won a landslide victory against the Serbian Progressive Party headed by Aleksandar Vucic and went on to independently establish as local government. The Serbian People’s Party-Democratic Party of Serbia-Party of United Pensioners of Serbia “Milan Stamatovic” coalition won 56.33 percent of votes and 21 seats in the assembly as opposed to the “Serbian Progressive Party Aleksandar Vucic” ticket, which picked up 19.93 percent of votes and earned seven seats in the local assembly.
Stamatovic was a member of the Democratic Party of Serbia from 2000 to 2014 and during that time he occupied the highest positions in the party, from president of Cajetina chapter to member of the party’s steering committee (he was picked in 2008) and presidency member (2010).
He left the party in 2014 after 14 years and went to found the Serbian People’s Party with Nenad Popovic and a group of party members and has been its vice president ever since.
He is married to Miljana and has two daughters. He lives in Mt. Zlatibor.