Elections, politics and the future in Serbia: Views of young people in diaspora

The rhetoric about the Serbian diaspora is quite present in the national political debate but it rarely transcends the limits of a generic call to patriotism or, more trivially, of the financial support from abroad which many Serbians are still relying on to cope with their everyday needs.

But there is another kind of Serbian diaspora, made of thousands of talented and well-educated men and women who were unable to find a job matching their skills and expectations in Serbia. This intellectual diaspora could be a great resource for the country’s development. However, the political debate before the presidential elections of next Sunday is almost entirely missing the point.

We asked four young Serbian professionals living in Brussels, the capital of the European Union, to talk about their desires and fears regarding national politics, and to share with Serbian Monitor their views about the country’s image abroad, the political scenario and their future in relation to the future of their homeland.

Their prevailing reaction to the actual political debate in Serbia is skepticism.

Stevan is a Brussels’ public affairs consultant and lobbyist. He is focusing on repercussions of tech developments on data protection, audiovisual, e-privacy and other policy aspects. Stevan is a graduate of the Faculty of Political Sciences in Belgrade and the College of Europe. The professional experienceof Stevan Randjelovic includes the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Serbia, the European Commission (DG CONNECT), European Young Innovators Forum (EYIF),  the European Gaming and Betting Association (EGBA) and the European Association of Communications Agencies (EACA)

“Nothing will change. We are all locked in our social media bubbles which, at least in my case, suggest that there will be a shift in public perception about the ruling party and its invincibility. But that’s my social media bubble, and I am aware of it. I peak into others’, to see in which direction are things moving, and the answer is simple: no change. At least not for another 5 years… Serbs are a resilient crowd”, says Stevan Randjelovic, corporate communication consultant and lobbyst in Brussels, and a contributor to the most respected Serbian newspaper Politika.

His view is echoed by Gavrilo Nikolic, a European affairs specialist at Schuttelaar & Partners: “I do not see any change coming. The only scenario I can see coming is the current Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic winning the elections in the second round in the landslide. Without a single candidate and parliamentary elections being held at the same time, the opposition does not stand a chance”.

Gavrilo Nikolic is an European Affairs Specialist at Schuttelaar & Partners, working on EU health and agriculture policies. Following Bachelor studies in International Law at the University of Belgrade, he attained an MSc in European Politics and Policies from KU Leuven. Although a citizen of Brussels, he still follows closely political developments in Serbia and the Balkans.

Gavrilo adds: ““Vucic proved to be a smart player in the Serbian political arena by not making the same mistake as Boris Tadic did in 2012 when he called an early presidential election together with the regular parliamentary one. Should Vucic do the same, he would have lost both. However, he proved to be experienced enough not to make the same mistake”.

Ksenija Simovic, PR and communication officer at COPA-COGECA, points out: “Sometimes memory seems to be short-term. Most of these candidates have been on the political scene for quite some time. I think that if we really want to act like responsible citizens, first we must vote and do so in a rational and well informed manner. I would just like the whole population of Serbia to be well informed, evaluate well and decides based on the past, current and future agenda’s of the candidates”. Jana Zaric hopes “to see as a change after this election in terms of creation of a new or at least refreshed opposition that would hopefully lead to a political change in the next election cycle”.

Ksenija Simovic is Communication Officer at COPA-COGECA, the united voice of farmers and their cooperatives in the European Union. Previously she has been a blue book trainee at the European Commission in Brussels and worked for the European Food Safety Authority in media and external relations. After she got her BA in International Cooperation and Development from La Sapienza University in Rome, and an MsC in European Studies from the University of Twente, Ksenija enrolled into Master studies in Advanced European Studies at College of Europe in Parma.

All of our four interlocutors agree about Ljubisa Preletalevic – Beli’s presidential bid as being a positive thing.

“I know Ljubisa (e.g. Luka) personally. He is a very smart guy and his movement proved to be a strong force on the local level, mostly due to the fact that it gathers prominent non-political figures and youth. However, the time has come for them to grow and evolve to the national level. Unfortunately, without parliamentary election they won’t be able to rally much support. On the other hand, he himself will most certainly gain a few percents of votes, thereby mitigating the issue of ‘white papers’, a well known word describing absenteeism in frequently held Serbian elections. In any case, I definitely see his movement growing. The Serbian ‘Five Star Movement’ was born thanks to the civil courage of Luka Maksimovic (e.g. Ljubisa Preletacevic Beli) and is yet to see its heyday”, says Gavrilo Nikolic.

“I like Beli because he exposes the existing nonsense of our political system and the fact that people are tired of seeing same old faces. However, I shall not praise it, as it makes me sad to see that this is what the Serbian political scene has come down to: to be ridiculed. It does deserve the ridicule but, at the same time, it should be better and more dignified”, stresses Stevan Randjelovic. For Jana Zaric “the idea as such is very potent”. “Its content is unfortunately rather poor and inconsistent. It is a very healthy social movement but it is also a very  “unhealthy” political sign as political problems cannot be resolved by good jokes”, she adds.

Jana Zaric is a management graduate and has over 13 years of professional experience in media and project management. After participating in launching and then running online media coverage of Serbia’s accession to the EU in Belgrade, as a part of the pan-European online media network, Jana was offered to join the headquarters in Brussels. She moved to Brussels in the summer of 2016.

Ksenija Simovic sees Luka Maksimovic (the real name of Ljubisa Preletacevic – Beli) as “very smart and charismatic”. “There is a wave across the world, generated by easily shared information through social media, which nowadays gives space to everyone. If you are smart, you learn how to surf. He’s surfing quite well. His campaign, I think, actually got a lot of young people involved, and we know that the turnout of young voters is in general a problem. I have doubts about his capabilities to be an actual politician and represent Serbia in the best light abroad. We need to be taken more, not less seriously”.

Stevan Randjelovic is shocked about “very few TV debates between all the candidates”. “This is a common practice all over Europe and the world, apart from Serbia. What is missing in Serbia is a proper debate about different issues. Candidates usually discuss each others’ families and not how to boost the sinking economy and working force”.

In regard to Serbia’s image abroad, our interlocutors agree in certain points and disagree in other depending on  their experiences in studying and living abroad. “Serbia’s image has changed. Serbia is not regarded as a nemesis anymore – at least not as it used to be up until only a couple of years ago. This is mostly due to the migrant crisis and the positive role Serbia still plays in it. The Serbian government needs to recognize this trend and use it to promote Serbia more abroad”, considers Gavrilo Nikolic, while Ksenija Simovic goes even deeper with her analysis of the Serbian mentality: “Having lived in many different countries in the past 10 years I now understand that Serbia is really a country full of contrasts. There are so many passionate, hard working inspiring people who are open minded and a true treasure of our country. Unfortunately, for each one of them there is at least one that is complete opposite, searching for an easy fix to anything, and believing in some false greatness about themselves that rarely has a hold in reality. Therefore, there is a sort of status quo. Serbia seems a country stuck in the “status quo-survival mode”. The status quo and the fear of “things getting worse” don’t really allow things to get much better”.

After so many years abroad Stevan Randjelovic thinks that “Serbia is not that a bad place to live in, as we often tend to think. But I also think that our politics is often robbed of decency”.

Finally, what would push these brilliant minds to come back in Serbia?

“Better opportunities for both professional and personal growth. I love my country, I always try to be its best ambassador abroad always. However, I did find it difficult to do what I love and be adequately awarded for it, creating some kind of security that would allow me to have the lifestyle I like. I am passionate about agriculture and I think I would like to come back if I manage to start my agricultural production business in Serbia. However, having access to land, and starting up a business that can generate fair revenues in this area are not so easy and adequate support is still lacking”, Ksenija replies.

“Politics and bad economic situation are not as important push factors as they used to be. The most relevant push factor in my opinion is the lack of focus on youth in all this political melodrama. The youth is leaving as it cannot afford to be constantly told that is not worthy and that its time will come ‘soon’, although it is capable of taking the responsibility for the future of the country immediately”, says Gavrilo. Jana says that “there is no need to push, I would gladly go back home once I finish this phase of my life in Brussels”. Stevan sums it up for everybody: “A meaningful opportunity to work and earn a decent living, and humbly helping my country”.

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