DW: The end of Serbia’s double game?

Vučić’s rule rests on clientelism, failure to solve the Kosovo problem and Western diplomacy’s assessment that Vučić is the solution. At the same time, Serbia’s image in the West, based on the 1990s template, is often dark and distorted, Deutsche Welle writes in the Swiss media.

The Zurich-based daily Neue Zürcher Zeitung has published an article titled “Serbia must end its double game”, written by the journalist Andreas Ernst who assesses that Serbia, as the most important country of the Western Balkans, must assume its responsibility for the stability of the region and that the European Union must warn Serbia of consequences otherwise.

The reporter writes: “Serbia is the eternal disruptive factor and Russia’s helper who is offered to the Kremlin as a gateway to Europe. Serbia is arming itself for war in order to ‘bring Kosovo home’. Serbia, which dreams of a ‘Serbian world’ that unites all Serbs is ready to accept the destruction of neighbouring countries. The image that a large number of European countries have of the largest Western Balkan country is dark and distorted. But the distorted image is easily accepted because it fits the template of the 1990s.”

“That was the time,” the author recalls, “when Milosevic tried to force the formation of the Greater Serbia out of the small Yugoslav empire but he failed. Today, times are different: Serbia is surrounded by NATO and the European Union members. Troops of that military alliance are stationed in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo and what is even more important is that Serbia is an EU candidate.

The confrontation between Western Europe and Russia eventually led to the EU rethinking geopolitics and wanting to expand to the east. This limits the foreign policy room for manoeuvre of the previous candidates. Admittedly, the EU is far from being a bloc, but it exerts considerable pressure on members and candidates to take a front line against Russia’s attack on Ukraine. What is the biggest difference today in the region compared to the 1990s is the experience of bloody disintegration which took away from the Serbs, as well as other peoples of the region, any desire for war adventures. And yet Serbia is a problem – not only for the region but also for the EU.”

Serbia according to Orban’s standards

The author then analyzes the problem. According to him, in the last ten years, Serbia has turned into an illiberal democracy dominated by an autocratic president. He then points to the revanchist tone that has prevailed in the country and that makes it impossible to normalize relations with Kosovo, as well as good relations with neighbours. The article’s author identifies the model of political rule as the main generator of those problems. According to him, after a short democratic breakthrough, i.e. after the death of Zoran Đinđić, the politicians that followed were mediocre to say the least until Aleksandar Vučić came to power.

“He is a power master of the first rank, who honed his craft under Milošević’s rule as his Minister of Information,” writes Neue Zürcher Zeitung. The article states that his rule has been inviolable since 2017 at the latest, since he became the head of state. “Since then, he has been purposefully reorganizing the country to reflect the Hungarian model. It is the Belgrade variant of illiberal democracy which implies weak separation of powers, strong executive power and complacent media. That is largely done.”

Clientelism as the first pillar of government

“The central place in this regime is the clientelistic system of the ruling party, which reaches deep into society and gives the majority of the population the feeling that they are somehow profiting from the rule of Aleksandar Vučić,” writes the Swiss newspaper. Solid economic growth, based on foreign investments, which count on the stability of the system, helps Vučić maintain power.

But, “clientelism is only one pillar of the legitimacy of Vučić’s system. The second is the problem of Kosovo.”

The Kosovo problem as the second pillar of power

“The majority of Serbs have not come to terms with the loss of Kosovo, but at the same time, they know that they will not be able to return to that area. That neurotic disorientation opens up space for the quasi-politics of the rulers. The problem is propagandistically exploited, but not solved. Vučić has been profiting from that for years. At home, in a dramatic tone, he promises he will never let Kosovo go down the drain. At the same time, he cold-bloodedly makes concessions to Western mediators, which actually result in the de facto recognition of the new state. He chooses to fulfil these concessions or not, depending on current interests,” writes Neue Zürcher Zeitung.

“That double game has become second nature to him over the years which he does to gain time. At the same time, no one supports him more than Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti. He sees ‘his’ Kosovo Serbs primarily as a security risk and as Belgrade’s fifth column. Therefore, he refuses to give them collective self-government and tries to bring them under his control. Belgrade’s media propaganda gratefully accepts this by spreading terrible stories about ‘pogroms’ and ‘ethnic cleansing’. And who will bring salvation? Only Vučić.”

Western diplomacy as the third pillar of power

The third pillar, according to the article’s author, is the diplomacy of Brussels and Washington, which believes that through Vučić, they will finally solve the problem of Kosovo. Despite criticism from the opposition, Washington and Brussels diplomats would rather work out some kind of agreement with the dominant figure, than wait idly until he leaves power. And Vučić is clear that concessions would threaten his position, so he prefers to keep the Kosovo problem ongoing.

Finally, the article suggests that Vučić is given a choice – to implement the Ohrid Agreement or to give up access to European funds. “And if Serbia continues to interfere in a destabilizing manner regarding Kosovo, re-introducing Schengen visas for Serbian citizens will be considered.”

Author Andreas Ernst notes that the same rules should apply to Pristina too and its refusal to introduce partial autonomy for municipalities with a Serbian majority ten years after the signing of the Brussels Agreement.

In the end, there are several prerequisites for Serbia’s accession to the European Union – “The assumption is that Vučić’s system should be dismantled and the media freedom must be re-established, so that the voice of the authentic Serbian public could be heard. Serbia must decide. In order for the country to do that, the alternatives would have to be clearly presented to it.”

(N1, 25.10.2023)


This post is also available in: Italiano

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