Serbia and Vucic: A Tale of Two Former Radicals

We usually send one journalist to the commission, “said a woman struggling with sleep, who works for Serbia’s Danas. She, like everyone else, was in the crowded hall of the party headquarters in New Belgrade, where reporters, cameramen, organizers, and others, seemingly unmarked, could barely get past each other as they shared a place in the center of gravity (at least for tonight) of Serbian politics. Stability. Vucic “.

On election night, the election commission in Serbia does not matter, and the teams sent by the media know it. That is why this time, too, they spent almost three hours at the suffocating headquarters of the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), while President Aleksandar Vucic appeared before them; heard an overview of his election triumph; some asked him awkward questions, which he was accustomed to and which he refused; and finally informs them that he can no longer answer because he deserves well-deserved champagne. The guests at the headquarters were greeted by brass music after the party members left the stage, and on it, against the background of my political symbol, came the performers.

An hour after the closure of the ballot box in the triple vote – presidential, parliamentary, and partial local – the commission began publishing real-time processed results but said it would not give a provisional one for now. Instead, the official results that all journalists recorded on their laptops and notebooks became the ones read by Vucic, himself a candidate for the job. The reading ended with his own and was followed by loud applause.

Vucic – the most important player in Serbian politics since he first became defense minister and deputy prime minister in 2012 – is not the first time. A few months ago, in a constitutional referendum, some were waiting for data from the election commission but received it from Vucic at the same headquarters. Formally, they were on Ipsos; in practice, there were no other institutional sources of information.

The blurred borders of party and state

The president was asked why he was announcing results, and that was one of the few moments when he lost his temper. Asked if Serbia has shown that it has no institutions, he replied: “You have already asked me.” He explained to the interviewing journalist that he did not know the laws because the Republican Electoral Commission had 96 hours to announce when and how he wanted, the rules allowed him to announce himself the way he did. Everyone complied with the law.

The announcement of the data was accompanied by analysis. Dragan Gilas’s list received “more than was said” in the beginning; Moramo (left-wing coalition) has received “a little more than expected”. “It is interesting” that “Together for Vojvodina” takes 0.65 and is still in parliament under this system (because it is a minority list).

All this, in Vucic’s role as party leader in an election headquarters, would not have deviated from the norm if it were not for another manifestation of the process highlighted by observers in the country: in political life, the boundaries between party and state have blurred. “Every 15th Chinese is a member of the party, in Serbia, every ninth is a member of the SNA,” reads a headline in Danas. The election only reminded me: that there is no other center of power.

List of personal achievements

There were not many big surprises in Vucic’s speech. The usual phrases were repeated. Serbia needs “good relations with its neighbors, a European path, but also its traditional friends”. His party’s election campaign is “the cleanest in Serbia’s history”. A dialogue will be sought with all political factors, even with opponents of the SNA, the priority is to avoid any risk that the Ukrainian crisis will have a strong impact on the country, it is important to work for Serbia. And there is a lot of work ahead.

“I achieved something that no one in Serbia has achieved … I won the first round twice. And it wasn’t even difficult,” Vucic explained. His party members laughed.

The speech also contained an analogy in absentia between unrecognized Kosovo by Serbia, on the one hand, and the Bosnian Republika Srpska, on the other. 90 percent of Serbs in Kosovo voted for Vucic who cast the ballot (more specifically outside Kosovo, as Pristina did not allow Kosovo Serbs to go to the polls in the country). Immediately afterward, however, the president announced that 90% of those who voted for him were also in Republika Srpska, which is part of Bosnia and Herzegovina, despite assurances from the most famous Bosnian Serb, Milorad Dodik, that one day he could be in a confederation with Belgrade. . Dodik voted yesterday (because he has Serbian citizenship) and explained that he intended to work for his compatriots to enjoy the same privilege.

The president even expressed satisfaction with how long he has been in power – a criterion by which the former Serbian prime minister leaves him in second place. However, Vucic did not fail to point out what company he is in:

“After Nikola Pasic, I will be the Serb who has been in power for the longest time.”
– Alexander Vucic, President of Serbia

When Vucic is compared to a former radical

The comparison with Nikola Pasic – whose family, by the way, some, and not only Bulgarian, historians trace back to the Teteven region – has a distant connection with Bulgaria, but is rather a lesson for Serbia.

At that time, the war with Serbia began (1885), but whatever the speculation about the connection between the clash between Belgrade and Sofia and Bulgarian support for Pasic, he was pardoned after the conflict, and after returning home he became a speaker of parliament, elected for mayor of Belgrade, paving the muddy streets. Between 1891 and 1926, when he died, he was prime minister eight times in nearly 15 years, not only in Serbia but also in the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, renamed Yugoslavia a few years after his death. He manages to survive in a difficult situation, between intrigues, he turns out to be an enemy of monarchs, a political prisoner, but he always returns, leading Serbia through the Balkan wars, during the First World War.

Pasic led an uprising as part of the Radical Party. It does not recognize Vojislav Seselj’s contemporary Serbian Radical Party (SRS). However, one of its vice presidents between 2007 and 2008 was Alexander Vucic, who after leaving (the second year mentioned) co-founded the Serbian Progressive Party with his predecessor, President Tomislav Nikolic, which has become an absolute center of attraction in ten years.

Similarities and differences

Vucic managed to model the party – and Serbia – in his image and likeness. His name, along with “peace” and “stability”, was the main slogan of the SNA, and along with the concern for economic issues important to every citizen of every country, another emphasis was on how his personality will guarantee the security of the country while balancing between all its partners.

The analogy may betray the president’s desire to think about his political legacy. However, he also reminds us that Vucic, like Pasic, must constantly comply. Pasic is constantly between intrigues of kings, other politicians, and conspiratorial forces. He has headed the government of Serbia and the KSHS many times, with intervals between which he is in disfavor, in prison, or other positions. By the way, outside Vucic’s circle, some call Pasic a “Russian spy.”

Since he was appointed information minister in 1998, Vucic has remained out of power for 12 years, then deputy prime minister and minister, and since 2014 has been prime minister for several years and president until now. Since then, the merger of state and party has helped give the impression that it holds all the reins. And it’s not quite true.

“How can I impose sanctions on Russia, when our media are pro-Russian,” Vucic asked in the days when Moscow recognized the “republics” in Donbas, and then when it invaded Ukraine. Since then, Belgrade has been under very strong Western pressure to distance itself from Moscow, especially since veteran Christopher Hill arrived from Washington as ambassador (a few days ago). The war only exposed (again) the complicated relationship with Ivica Dacic’s coalition partner, the Socialists, who openly support Russia. Vucic has always tried to take the initiative from them and show that he is the guarantor of relations with Moscow. However, Dacic’s electorate – which did not nominate a presidential candidate to ensure easy re-election of Vucic – remains stable.

Before the election, comments were heard – expressed by Dnevnik’s opposition associates in recent days of the campaign – that the most important thing for Vucic would be to strengthen his majority to get rid of Dacic and the pro-Russian line in the name of continuing rapprochement with the West to strengthen its legitimacy. With 43%, this is a difficult task; and the silence about Dacic’s current coalition partner in last night’s speech was, according to Nova, deafening. Suddenly, the “closest ally” in his speech turned out to be not the Socialists, but the Union for Vojvodina, whose result of 0.65 percent was recently called “interesting” by the president. His party is 17 points less popular than himself.

“I am sure that the SNA will be able to keep the rudder on the ship without turning right because that creates problems,” Vucic said at the time. But who could be a coalition partner if not Dacic? According to Nova, the door to a new government is open, including:

“Two sheets suffered heavy blows – ours and Dragan Gilas’s. Because of our quarrels, the others used and easily scored points.”
– Alexander Vucic, President of Serbia

Dragan Djilas is part of the United Serbia coalition, the leading opposition group, which hoped for a majority or at least 20-30% of the vote but took just 13. Djilas led his left-wing Freedom and Justice Party and was among the leading figures in the opposition alliance. together with Marinika Tepic. Does Vucic’s hint necessarily mean a new governing configuration – especially given Djilas’ uncompromising tone towards the president? However, his words show that he, like Pasic, constantly has to survive, albeit without resigning.

Thus, behind the fa├žade of victory, champagne, and a calm but at times arrogant tone, there was concern about Serbia’s difficult governance in potentially dangerous times. Vucic may be the center of power, but he cannot make everyone revolve around him.

The French may unpleasantly surprise Europe in Sunday's presidential election Previous post The French may unpleasantly surprise Europe in Sunday’s presidential election
The West assumes currency risk when trading in rubles Next post The West assumes currency risk when trading in rubles