By Daniel Serwer, @DanielSerwer ,
Washington, 15 December 2023, dtt-net.com / peacefare.net – Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić’s Progressive Party won an absolute majority in national parliamentary elections, with double the vote of the main opposition coalition yesterday. His party also won a plurality in the Belgrade city council. The election was “free” in the sense that all registered citizens could vote, but far from “fair.”
The government exploited media control, pressure on voters, abuse of institutions and public functions as well as forged signatures and phantom voters. Elections in Serbia are stolen before election day. Elected autocrats are all the rage these days.
Stronger and more recalcitrant
The new parliament replaces one in which Vučić’s party had only a plurality. He gained that in an election that much of the opposition boycotted. The election thus strengthens his hold on power, which is going eleven years. If it sticks together, the one-quarter of the parliament that the main opposition coalition, Serbia Against Violence, gained will give it a platform for its anti-violence, anti-corruption, anti-inflation messages. But it will not be able to block legislation or exert substantial influence on foreign and defense policy, which is the prerogative of the president.
We can expect continuation of Serbia’s current strong lean towards befriending fellow autocrats in Russia, China, Belarus, Azerbaijan, and Hungary. While the Progressives ran on a nominally pro-Europe ticket, they have done little to move Serbia closer to the European Union. Instead they have successfully straddled the East/West divide. Vučić pursues a “non-aligned” hedging policy that flirts with both in order to extract valuable concessions from Moscow, Beijing, Brussels, and Washington.
Some might hope Vučić would use his victory to settle Serbia’s conflict with Kosovo and move definitively in the Western direction. That isn’t going to happen. He has locked himself into intransigient opposition. He refuses even to acknowledge Kosovo’s de facto independence. This would be easy to do. He could turn Milan Radoicic, who led a failed terrorist rebellion in northern Kosovo September 24, over to the Pristina authorities. Serbia recognized the validity of their judiciary in the 2013 Brussels agreement that Vučić has been trying to get Pristina to respect. But he won’t do that. Or anything else to make amends for sponsoring a well-equipped armed rebellion intended to lead on to a Serbian military invasion.
Europe and the US will do nothing
The US, UK, and EU could in the aftermath of this flawed election their pressure on Vučić. They say they want Serbia solve its problems with Kosovo, adhere to Ukraine sanctions against Russia, and speed reforms required for EU accession. But the five EU member states that don’t recognize Kosovo will prevent any push on Kosovo issues. Hungary will block any pressure on Russia questions. The EU as a whole is much more concerned with Ukraine and will let Serbia slide.
The Americans are still claiming that they’ve convinced Serbia to embrace the West. This is laughable but no one in Washington these days wants to tell the would-be emperors they have no clothes. They prefer to pretend that agreements Serbia has renounced in writing are legally binding.
“They are being written into the requirements for accession” State Department officials like to explain. That is fine with Belgrade, which knows full well accession is a distant horizon, at best.
I might have some hope for the UK, which isn’t committed to the American pipedreams and isn’t constrained any longer by the EU. But London hasn’t been vocal in denouncing Serbia’s current behavior. It is likely shy of offending Brussels and Washington and anxious to protect its own equities in Belgrade.
What’s the then some?
Vučić’s party wasn’t the only one to do well in yesterday’s elections. Some ultra-nationalists and outright pro-Russian parties did too. That gives Vučić an “Après moi, le déluge” argument. If you are not nice to me, look what might come next!
Some in Kosovo might hope that now at least Pristina can be relieved of the “consequences” the EU mistakenly levied in response to its deployment of mayors to municipal buildings and police to northern Kosovo, where they blocked an armed rebellion. We’ll have to wait and see, but I doubt Pristina will get satisfaction. The EU has developed a habit of favoring Serbia that is going to be hard to break. The US is not far behind.
President Vučić has won his cake. Now he’ll eat it. That’s not good news.
Daniel Serwer is a Professor of the Practice of Conflict Management as well as director of the Conflict Management and American Foreign Policy Programs at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
This opinion was first published at peacefare.net website.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of dtt-net.com .