Political scientist Mladen Mrdalj: “We Will Give Our Resources, and the West Will Maintain This Government

The European Union will not distance itself from Serbia after the European elections, as it was never truly prepared to bring Serbia closer. Serbia has pretended and will continue to pretend it wants to join the Union.

This is how political scientist Mladen Mrdalj evaluates the situation in an interview with FoNet, adding that this pretense will intensify on both sides. “If they truly wanted to bring Serbia closer to the EU, they would first need to address the state of democracy in Serbia, which would directly lead them into conflict with Aleksandar Vučić. He would then start tightening things up on other issues, creating yet another problem for them,” Mrdalj explained, saying that he does not expect the new European Parliament to put significant pressure on Serbia to at least start respecting democracy, as long as the main policy is “determined from above, and it seems that those above have better deals with Vučić than in the European Parliament”.

Mrdalj has a similar view regarding the appointment of a new European Commissioner for Enlargement, as long as the strategic interest of European policy is to avoid conflict with Vučić, meaning to help him remain popular and tolerate his nationalist and aggressive outbursts. As he explained, while the Union expects Serbia to align with its foreign policy, and Vučić keeps repeating that he will never impose sanctions on Russia, cooperation, investments, and money transfers continue under the table, speaking louder than any individual who might take the commissioner position.

When asked whether the recent declaration by Serbia and Republika Srpska will affect the relations between Belgrade and Brussels, Mrdalj responded that there is nothing groundbreaking new in that document and that a much bigger problem is Dodik’s pro-Russian actions, which “paint a target on Republika Srpska.”

He does not understand why Dodik is so intent on provoking the West, going to Russia and accepting honors, but he believes that Vučić had to do something to mitigate this: “Washington and Brussels reacted to that declaration, but both understand that Vučić is using such rhetoric to simultaneously mask concessions related to Kosovo, lithium, or arms exports to Ukraine,” Mrdalj said.

According to his interpretation, there is likely some tacit understanding between the Europeans, the Americans, and Vučić, allowing him to continue to anaesthetize the domestic public, while on the other hand, he “continues to work for them on their strategic interests. I think they are doing this consciously on both sides,” Mrdalj assessed, adding that the people coming from the West who stand next to Vučić while he makes thunderous statements for our public, do so precisely to enable him to show his voters how he stood up to them. On the other hand, there are whispers, although I cannot yet confirm this from independent sources, that Serbia has long been de facto implementing sanctions against some sectors of the Russian economy, which have not been publicly announced,” Mrdalj stated, then observing: “We definitely maintain that Western line, at least regarding key issues, while on the surface, the patriotic-nationalistic rhetoric remains.”

On our ship, where Vučić is the captain, Russian music is playing, but the ship is turning towards the West,” Mrdalj illustrated and concluded that Serbia’s neutrality exists only on paper and that it is actually pro-Western.

When asked how he understands Vulin’s engagement with Russia in this context, he replied that relations with Moscow have been negatively affected by Belgrade aligning more with the West “when it seemed that Russia was stuck in Ukraine.”

Russia knows that Vučić is sending weapons to Ukraine, “and Vulin’s return might be a kind of attempt to establish balance because it seems that Russia still has the initiative,” Mrdalj said.

Mrdalj believes that Vučić is trying to keep all options open, while for Moscow, it is important not to have a significant diplomatic cooling with Belgrade, as that would mean Putin “admitting he has lost another country. I think Vulin is just a figure in Vučić’s signaling to Moscow that he is still open to some kind of cooperation“, Mrdalj explained.

When pointed out that his statements imply that everyone in high politics is acting and no one cares about the citizens of Serbia, he replied that this is “optimal for everyone,” except for the citizens, who are “the least important because they do not protest. They do not protest partly out of fear, partly because they have been blinded by media tricks and a scenario in which the West participates. It tolerates the erosion of the democratic process while elections are being rigged left and right,” Mrdalj pointed out and concluded that “they are getting something out of it”.

“The fish stinks from the head,” he said, warning that, as long as it has such a government, Serbia will sell its national interests, “without getting anything in return, except for keeping those people in power. This is that African or South American banana system. We will give our resources, and the West will maintain this government. And that’s it,” Mrdalj concluded.

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