Vucic has destroyed democracy in Serbia

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

Protesters against President Aleksandar Vucic hold a banner 'reading '#1 out of 5 million' in Belgrade on 29 December 2018. [EPA-EFE/SRDJAN SUKI]

A recent op-ed by Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić is rich with unbelievable false statements, according to Dragan Djilas. As the deception of EU officials has become Vučić’s common practice, the former Belgrade mayor sets out to refute almost everything Vučić wrote.

Dragan Djilas is the former mayor of Belgrade, one of the founders of the Alliance for Serbia and president of the Freedom and Justice Party.

Vučić points out that democracy in Serbia is in danger. And that’s true. However, this was not due to ”self-proclaimed opposition leaders”. The truth is that democracy in Serbia was conquered and destroyed during the eight-year-long autocratic rule of Aleksandar Vučić.

For eight long years, Serbia has been a captured state. The prosecution, the judiciary, the police, the media – all institutions that should be independent – are completely controlled by the Serbian Progressive Party, headed by Aleksandar Vučić.

Every critical voice against his regime, from artists, academics, professors, journalists, activists, and especially opposition politicians and activists, was mercilessly silenced. Anyone who dares to criticise the regime of Aleksandar Vučić is discredited by tabloids which are personally edited by Vučić.

Because of the systematically diminished influence of the National Assembly, opposition MPs have been boycotting the sessions for almost a year and a half.

Opposition politicians were thrown out of the session and were denied the opportunity to speak every time they raised even the mildest criticism of the authorities and the government.

Parliament Speaker Maja Gojković used to turn off the microphone to any MP who mentioned the name of Vučić. This was also mentioned in last year’s European Commission report.

The same opposition leaders that Vučić accused of denying voters basic democratic rights by boycotting the parliamentary elections were almost killed by activists of the Serbian Progressive Party.

Borko Stefanović, the vice president of the Freedom and Justice Party, escaped death after being hit in the head by knuckle duster in November 2018. This heinous attack was the reason for the demonstrations, which are still held every Saturday.

In addition, several dozen people who support the opposition or are members of opposition parties have also been beaten by activists and members of the Serbian Progressive Party in the course of last year.

Vučić cynically points out that the parties which will boycott the elections ”failed to win the hearts and minds of the voters, while the Serbian Progressive Party succeeded in free and fair elections.”

How does the Serbian Progressive Party do this? About 350,000 people, mostly ruling party members, are temporarily employed in the civil service and public enterprises. Unless each of these people secures at least 10 votes for the ruling party, their contracts will not be renewed and they will lose their jobs.

Furthermore, those voters are obliged to take a photo of their ballot with their ID card at the polling station and provide it as proof that they really voted for the Serbian Progressive Party.

Aleksandar Vučić boasts about the alleged economic success and reduced unemployment rate. At the same time, he forgets to mention that about 170 people leave Serbia every day because of him and his regime.

Almost 50,000 people leave Serbia every year because they do not want to live in a country where the current regime has destroyed the dignity and perspective of anyone who refuses to support the regime. This is a key reason for reducing unemployment.

As many as half a million people in Serbia live in absolute poverty.

Vučić “forgot” to mention that under his rule, Serbia moved from the free to the category of partly free countries, which is also discussed in the Freedom House report.

Reporters Without Borders points out that Serbia is not a safe country for journalists, and all corruption indexes unequivocally testify to the dramatic increase in corruption.

Vučić did not mention that under his regime, whistleblowers are arrested after they expose the unbelievable corruption involving the highest state officials, ministers and their families.

Speaking about democracy under attack, we wonder why Vučić failed to write about one investigative journalist whose house was set on fire and burned to the ground because he reported about the corruption of the president in his municipality.

As you might guess, the president of the municipality, who is on trial because of this murder attempt, is a member of Vučić’s party.

Speaking about the alleged recommendations for the upcoming elections, Vučić again “forgets” to mention that he has been in an active political campaign for eight full years.

On all national-frequency televisions, it is only possible to see him insulting opposition leaders. No single opposition leader has guested on these televisions for the past four years.

The situation is similar on public TV, financed by all citizens. The opposition is hardly talked about, and if it is mentioned at all, it is invariably in an entirely negative context.

The electronic media regulator that Vučić mentions in his article is fully controlled by his party. Under the pressure of the boycott, after three years, the missing vacancies in this regulatory institution were filled but again with people close to the authorities, but there has been no substantial improvement.

Under the pressure of a boycott, the coalition assembled around his party voted just two months before the election to reduce the threshold from 5% to 3%. Vučić justifies this as a greater opportunity for other parties, as well as for minority parties, and again “forgets” to say that there are already 33 political parties in the current National Assembly.

The real reason, however, is that it is easier for him to engage in electoral engineering with a reduced threshold, allow false opposition parties which he fully controls to act as the “opposition”.

It is clear that in Serbia there are no conditions for free and fair elections. Our people have been living in complete media darkness and manipulation for eight years.

The boycott exposed the nature of this regime, its brutality, lies and deceptions. Vučić’s article is an example of this.

The upcoming parliamentary elections in April already have no legitimacy since the entire opposition gathered around the Alliance for Serbia is boycotting them because of the violation of all electoral laws, rules and procedures.

Citizens support the boycott because they respect European and democratic values that are long gone in Serbia. Our struggle is focused on Europe, which should finally realise that we want to establish a free and democratic society and end the denigrating process in Serbia established by Aleksandar Vučić.

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