Post-electoral Serbia: challenges and perspectives

Wednesday, 26 April 2017 09:05
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by Giovanbattista Varricchio (EPOS)
EPOS Insights


Last April 2, presidential elections took place in the Republic of Serbia, and the results have clearly showed a presidential candidate winner and have indicated the pathway through which the Serbians intend to set their country and their own future The victory of the young leader Aleksandar Vucic, 47 years old, was in the first round, avoiding the challenge of a second ballot. The head of the Serbian Progressive Party gained more than 55% of the votes, while the other candidates, such as the former ombudsman Sasa Jankovic or the young anti-establishment Luka Maksimovic, reached 16% and 9,43% respectively. The candidate who got very few votes in this electoral round was Vojislav Seselj, head of the nationalist Radical Party, with a strongly anti-European background and in favor of a closer partnership with Russia. Despite many demonstrations that recently brought Radical Party on the international medias, such as the protest against the High Representative of the European Union Federica Mogherini that was in official visit in the Serbian Parliament, Seselj got just 4,47%.

Who is the the new president of Serbia and which direction is willing to give to his country? Aleksandar Vucic is a former member of the Radical Party, who joined in 1993. During Milosevic presidency, between 1998 and 2000, he was Minister of Information. In 2008 a secession in the Radical Party took place. Vucic and many others left the party and they founded the Progressive Party, with a conservative background but a pro-European imprinting. Since April 27 2014, he has been Prime Minister of Serbia. During his mandate, Vucic has worked for a series of austerity reforms, aiming at making Serbia reach the required standards for the process of the European integration. The electoral success suggests that the way of the reforms together with the fight to endemic corruption in the country, has been appreciated by the majority of the people. There have been of course some criticism towards Vucic's management of the power.

Many political opponents, as well as analysts and intellectuals, have strongly condemned and denounced the control of the media held by the government. Political analyst Boban Stojanovic foresees a tandem between the new president and a future compliant prime minister. He also notices how the control over media has been determined for Vucic's victory. Criticism for the result of this turnout has been expressed also by Srdjan Cvijic, senior policy analyst of the Open Society European Policy Institute: Cviji points out how the victory of Vucic, paradoxically risks to be a stepback for the European Union itself. A leader that is not fully commited to democratic principles, wich imposes his presence in the mass media for even the 92% of Serbian national TV programming devoted to politics. Moreover, the analyst of the Open Society accuses Vucic of leading Serbia in the European market but with anti-European principles. Also the link with Russia is supposed to be too strong and suspecious, taking into account the frequent contact between Vucic and the Kremlin together with the recent donation of 6 Russian Mig-29, tanks, armored vehicles and cannons.

The relations between West and Russia are indeed on of the key challenges for Vucic and Serbia. On the one hand, in fact, Serbia is pursuing a consistent path towards European integration: 8 chapters have already been opened of which 2 have been provisionally closed. The aim of Vucic's refors is exactly to match the acquis of the European Union.

Currently, Serbia is facing two main obstacle to the development of the negotiations: first the recognition of Kosovo, who unilaterally declared its independence in 2008. Serbia never accepted the separation of Kosovo and consequently never gave its recognition to the new entity. To this regard, Serbia has found a strong ally in its historical and traditional friend in Eastern Europe: Russia. Even though talks are going on between the Serb and Kosovar authorities, the Serbian establishment – and the same Vucic, as he openly stated – is absolutely not willing to accept such a result, remembering that the loss of Kosovo was due also to the NATO bombing of Serbia 18 years ago. Tensions to this extent are rising again because of the decision of the authorities of Kosovar entity to establish its own army, a decision judjed critical by NATO and that has been condamned by Serbian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ivica Dadic. T

The second problem is directly linked with Russia: consistently with EU decision to apply sanctions to the Russian Federation after the annexation of Crimea and Ukrainian crisis, Serbia had already made it clear that it is not going to sanction Russia. Despite these issues, European Union authorities have a positive attitudes towards Serbia and good expectations in Vucic's leadership. Not by chance, Vucic received a letter of congratulations from President Tusk and Junker after his electoral success, in the letter a wish for good relations between Belgrade and Pristina as well as a backing for the way of European reforms were declared.

Anyway the strategy of the Serbian leadership is not just focused on the Western integration process: its multi-vectored foreign policy is bringing Serbia to conclude a Free Trade Area with another European project: the Eurasian Economic Union, in which Russia has clearly an upper hand. The FTA could provide Serbia of a new market in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, firstly unifying the agreements already in place with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan and then establishing new ones with Armenia and Kirgyzstan. Talks are already in place but the situation is considered to be quite critical due to the Serbian process of integration in the European Union. If Serbia will be able in the future to conclude agreements with both these international organizations, it will be the first case of a European Union member state that has also a FTA with the Eurasian Union.

Tensions between West and Russia catch Serbia in the middle also from a military point of view. To this extent Vucic has assured its allies that Serbia will be neutral, so it is not going to join NATO. This point is particularely important for Russia's strategy and in fact also the President of the Russian Federation, Putin has congratulated the victory of Vucic in this elections. With a statement from the Kremlin, Putin affirms his confidence that the work of the new president would contribute to further developing the Russian-Serbian strategic partnership.

In conclusion, one can say that Serbia is now trying to pursue an original way to the contemporary international relations environment: following its classical geopolitical code – a buffer zone between Western and Eastern Europe – Serbia is not a submissive ally of Russia, but instead sees it as a traditional friend. On the other hand Vucic wants to drive Serbia into the European integration project to take profit from the European common market and make its influence grow in the Balkan region. To this extent other challenges from Kosovo to Bosnia are waiting for Serbia's new president.


DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect EPOS WorldView’s

Last modified on Wednesday, 03 May 2017 06:46
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