European project in Serbia is now at mercy of Aleksandar Vucic

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Protestors carry a banner with picture of Slobodan Milosevic that read 'All is the same only there is no him' during protest in Belgrade, Serbia, 7 April 2017. Several thousand people protested because of the results of presidential elections. Protesters are denouncing the 2 April presidential election victory of Aleksandar Vucic. [Koca Sulejmanovic/EPA/EFE]

After eight years of democratic erosion, the regime of Alexander Vučić has fully restored authoritarianism. Today, he commands more unchecked political power than Slobodan Milošević did at the height of his rule in 1990, writes Filip Ejdus.

Filip Ejdus is President of the Board of the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy

„Kosovo is the heart of Serbia“… “NATO fascists”…„ Russia and China are our brothers“…“Americans, Croatians and Albanians are our enemies“.

In the 1990s, political statements like these made the backbone of the nationalist propaganda propelled by the authoritarian regime of Slobodan Milošević.

In October 2000, he was overthrown, Serbia started mending the relations with its neighbours and with the West, but these ideas associated with his regime survived.

Twenty years after the outset of the democratic transition, Serbia has made a full circle. In 2012, parties and leaders who led the country into dictatorship, wars, sanctions, isolation and economic collapse returned to power.

After eight years of democratic erosion, the regime of Alexander Vučić has fully restored authoritarianism.

With the entire government, parliament and media under his firm control, Vučić today commands more unchecked political power than Milošević did at the height of his rule in 1990. This was also confirmed by the Freedom House which downgraded Serbia, for the first time in 17 years, to the category of a Partly Free country in its 2020 report.

But from its early days, the Vučić regime also engaged in the gradual restoration of the ideology which was prevalent in the 1990s. This has entailed both the depiction of the post-2000 transition as a period of weakness, corruption and humiliation but also the restoration of the main political narratives of the 1990s.

Our survey, which has been conducted in October 2020, attests that the public opinion followed suit. For the first time in twenty years, the majority of respondents oppose Serbia’s membership in the EU (51%). Also, the majority of them (59%) think that Serbia will never join the EU.

While only 13% agree that Serbia should harmonize its foreign policy with the EU, which is a precondition of membership, 57% hold that it should do it with Russia and China. A staggering 68% of the population holds that the influence of the EU on Serbia has been negative, even more than the US (59%).

At the same time, the vast majority of respondents evaluate China’s (87%), Russia’s (72%) and Hungary’s (70%) influence as positive.

Although the support for NATO membership has never been high in Serbia, it has now reached its historic rock bottom (3%). The old mistrust of the neighboring countries also returned. The neighbors which top the list of national enemies are Croatia (30%) and Albania (20%).

The list of most significant friends is topped by Russia (40%), and China (14%) Almost 3/4th (72.7%) of respondents don’t expect that there will be peace between Serbs and Albanians in the Balkans.

While the whopping 54% fear the creation of the Greater Albania, a similar proportion (58%) of respondents support the creation of Greater Serbia through the secession of the Republic of Srpska from the Bosnia and Herzegovina, and its integration into Serbia.

When it comes to Kosovo, despite almost a full decade of EU-led normalization dialogue, 71% hold that the dialogue hasn’t changed anything and 73.2% don’t expect peaceful and normal relations between Serbs and Albanians anytime soon.

While only 7.8% agree to recognise Kosovo in its current borders, half of the respondents (53.2%) don’t expect that the final agreement between Serbia and Kosovo will ever be concluded.

The survey results presented above demonstrate full well that the Western-supervised democratic transition in Serbia has lost domestic legitimacy.

The only thing which still, however fictionally, ties Serbia to the European project, is the mercy of Aleksandar Vučić. If he were to openly sever these ties and chart a new geopolitical course in the footsteps of Putin, Orbán and Erdoğan, he would incur little audience cost.

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