From Germany With Love

A major international publishing house has confirmed that an academic article written by Belgrade mayor Sinisa Mali was plagiarized. Mayor Mali’s doctoral dissertation was the subject of a close analysis published by the Serbian portal Pescanik in July (English version on Balkanist), and also appears to include multiple examples of plagiarism — even entire sections lifted directly from Wikipedia.

Mayor Mali has also come under harsh criticism for his attempt to cover up his response to the catastrophic flooding in the Balkans in May. The mayor urged residents of the Belgrade municipality of Obrenovac to stay in their homes, and dozens who did died. Later, Mali removed the original instructions not to evacuate Obrenovac from the City of Belgrade’s website. International confirmation that Mayor Mali has in fact engaged in plagiarism comes as the latest in a series of scandals that have damaged the credibility of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party.

German publishing house De Gruyter has confirmed that the article authored by Belgrade mayor Sinisa Mali which granted him the right to defend his doctoral dissertation at the Faculty of Organisational Sciences (FON) is plagiarism.

The article in question, “Value Creation Through Restructuring – Key Value Drivers and Value Creation Models”, was co-authored by the mayor, Sladjana Barjaktarevic-Rakocevic and George Savoiuem in 2013 and published in the international scientific journal Organisation and Management by De Gruyter.

At a meeting held on March 25th, 2013, the Council of the Study Program for Doctoral Studies at FON granted the right to defend the doctoral dissertation, and concluded (page 2, paragraph 005):

“The candidate MSc Siniša Mali has published the following works that qualify (a.n.) him to defend his doctoral dissertation: 

1. “Value Creation Through Restructuring – Key Value Drivers and Value Creation Models”, Siniša Mali, Slađana Barjaktarević Rakočević, Gheorghe Savoie, Organization and Management, Volume 4, Issue 173, February 2013, p. 109-120. 

2. “Privatisation Through the Sale of Equity – Conceptual Framework and Results Achieved in Serbia”, Siniša Mali, Enterprise Economics, January – February 2013, p. 149-162”

After Professor Rasa Karapandza wrote an article for Peščanik (English version on Balkanist) in July alleging that Mali’s PhD thesis was heavily plagiarized, FON’s Dean, Milan Martic, stated that the publication of the aforementioned article in an international journal had already proven the “validity” of the thesis:

“I ordered Ondrej Jaskov, who was a mentor to Sinisa Mali, to examine whether there are parts of the doctoral dissertation which were plagiarized. He said the work is good and that, based on this PhD, a scientific article was published in an international journal.” (Danas, 10.7.2014.)

With this statement, Professor Martic tried to shift the public’s focus from the specific allegation of plagiarism to the supposed “scientific contribution” of Sinisa Mali’s other work. Martic also based part of his defense of the mayor’s academic integrity on the scientific article — which has been declared plagiarism and will consequently be scrutinized and revoked from the international journal in which it was published.

Almost two months after publication of the analysis by Professor Karapandza, competent national institutions — FON, the University of Belgrade and the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development —  are still trying to cover up the plagiarism case. However, international actors have expressed their willingness to review the charges. Thus, the editorial board of the journal Organization and Management, following the instructions of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), one of the most authoritative international bodies on ethical issues in scientific publications that investigates charges of plagiarism for dozens of publishers in hundreds of international scientific journals, concluded that the article by Sinisa Mali is plagiarism.

The article in question includes a vast amount of plagiarized text from Dr. Hailemariam’s PhD dissertation Corporate Value Creation, Governance and Privatisation: Restructuring and Managing Enterprises in Transition – The Case of Eritrea, defended in 2001 at the University of Groningen. According to Professor Karapandza, mayor Mali literally copied an entire chapter of that same work for his own doctoral thesis.

This raises the following question: if it was decided to withdraw the international article over a far smaller amount of non-original text (about which a detailed explanation by the editorial board will be published in a retraction note), how is it possible for a far larger amount of copied text from the the same source — indeed, almost an entire chapter — to not prompt the Faculty of Organisational Sciences or the University of Belgrade to declare Sinisa Mali’s doctorate invalid? For starters, why hasn’t FON offered an answer to the simple question of whether a greater part of the second chapter of Mali’s PhD coincides with the text of the dissertation authored by Dr. Hailemariam?

This case also brings up some other issues. As former FON students pointed out in an open letter to Dean Martic, how was it possible for a member of Sinisa Mali’s PhD defense commission, Sladjana Barjaktarevic-Rakocevic, to jointly author a research paper with the candidate in question, when publishing such an article constitutes an overt conflict of interest? Why did FON allow a PhD defense based on an article co-authored by a doctoral candidate and a member of the defense committee responsible for awarding him a PhD, which is a constituent part of the doctoral thesis itself? Why did FON ignore the request of signatories to the open letter addressed to Dean Martic — to investigate this case of an apparent conflict of interest?

Now, when an international publisher has made a formal decision that Mayor Mali is a plagiarist — and that based only on the part of a chapter published in his PhD thesis that is also a section of the scientific article that he co-authored with a member of his defense committee, the University of Belgrade must immediately, without further delay, strip Sinisa Mali of his doctoral title. Legally and procedurally, universities can and must respond to such cases that occur within their faculties.

The Dean of the Faculty of Organisational Sciences, Milan Martic, as well as Mali’s mentor, Professor Ondrej Jasko, must otherwise suffer the relevant consequences for protecting a plagiarist, and an attempt to cover-up this case.

In the end, Sinisa Mali must resign as the Mayor of Belgrade and any other public posts, as well as publicly apologize to those authors whose works he misused. If, however, Mali, in spite of everything, still believes he has the credibility to carry out one of the key political functions in Serbia, Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic should know what to do. As he said in his keynote address, he will not tolerate degrees of dubious quality.


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Natalija Miletic

Natalija Miletic is a Berlin-based freelance journalist and a regular correspondent for the GermanDeutsche Welle Radio. She holds an MA degree in Peace and Security Studies from the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg, Germany.