BELGRADE – Serbia’s opposition to joining NATO is Belgrade’s deliberate choice, said Alexander Vucic, the country’s president. He voiced this position at the fourth “Belgrade Strategic Dialogue”, an international conference that was held today, Monday March 18th.
“I am sure that NATO, which always says that this is for Serbia to choose, would be more willing to accept Serbia faster than it did other countries in the region, who ran to join NATO. We always and everywhere say that we do not want to join NATO, and we are saying this openly, ” Serbian press company Tanug quoted the president earlier today.
The politician added that the Serbs want to defend their independence and freedom with the help of their own army. In February, Serbia re-instituted its long abandoned selective service requirements for young men. The aim here is to build up Serbia’s reserve forces, knowing that NATO countries and allies surround the lone-star state on all sides. Meanwhile, Russia is building an emergency response center in the south Serbian area near Nish, into a military and intelligence hub.
“I believe in the strength of the Serbian army, and we experienced too many of hardships 20 years ago just to forget about it today. Our duty is to forgive, but we can never forget, ” stressed the Serbian leader.
Vucic’s public reminder comes as nationalist and liberal oppositions have continued their alliance to unseat the president, with more violent sections resorting to extra-legal means. While some of these protests have numbered in the 10’s of thousands at their peak several years ago, several million voted for Vucic in a transparent, clean and fair presidential election held in 2017, which began his present 5-year term.
The comments appear timed and timely, as this position of Vucic shared by Serbian nationalists, including those in the nationalist opposition, and also the majority of socialists.
Nationalist and liberal oppositions share no common ground outside of a shared, increasingly emotional, opposition to Vucic as well as both overt and covert support by the US through the state department, NATO’s Atlantic Council and related media, US-AID, the NED, and the George Soros Foundation. Many of the accusations against the sitting president are, at face value, either incoherent or conspiratorial in nature – ranging from accusations of homosexuality or that he is dying of an incurable disease. These vague and defamatory smears against the elected president are a necessary component of the strategy given that there is a lack of common ground on substantive issues within the opposition.
The liberal opposition criticizes Vucic for not moving quickly enough on accession to the EU. This is even as Vucic signed the Brussels Agreement – which established some level of dialogue with Pristina, the capital of the self-declared break-away republic of Kosovo – something the Brussels considers an important step on the path towards joining the EU. A significant portion of the liberal opposition furthermore wants Serbia to join NATO.
Meanwhile, the nationalist opposition faults him specifically for signing the very same Brussels agreement, and accuses Vucic for being a proxy of both the EU and NATO – indeed the opposite accusation made by the liberal opposition. Both today’s comments re-affirming Serbia’s commitment opposed to NATO, as well as the re-introduction of selective service requirements, were aimed at securing his own nationalist base as well as mitigating the talking points of the nationalist opposition. Liberal opposition were forced to speak openly against Vucic’s selective service policy as well as his re-stated opposition to NATO, while the nationalist opposition has no choice but to support these policies. Hence, Vucic succeeds at placing to the forefront the very real differences that have the effect of dividing the eclectic opposition.
Nevertheless, both the nationalist and liberal oppositions have full access to new media – Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and countless websites – none of these are restricted or filtered in Serbia. With this are an array of online publications and memes in the Serbian language, entirely accessible to Serbs. High-speed internet access is available almost everywhere in the country, and can cost as little as $10-$15 (in USD) a month, and smart-phone net plans are close to this price-point. For these reasons and others, and given that Vucic has long been considered a problem to NATO, and increasingly so as well to the EU, virtual spaces in the English language are disproportionately skewed to Serbian audiences, including in the diaspora.
These audiences are exposed more to opposition viewpoints than to those of the plurality of voters, the government, private and independent media in-country, or the public run and state-controlled media.
There are both moderate nationalist and moderate liberal wings within Vucic’s Progressive Party, which governs in coalition with the Socialist Party. Initially Vucic ran for Prime Minister on a platform which included EU accession. At one point in time, as many as 65% of Serbians supported the proposition. In the interim, Euroscepticism has grown significantly in Serbia, perhaps a reflection of increased economic literacy in the country, as well as a reflection of increasing Euroscepticism in Europe overall. Today, the number is approximately reversed, with the same number now opposing EU integration.
Officially, Vucic still supports EU integration – something the nationalist opposition entirely opposes. But in reality, Vucic has stalled negotiations and cut short a number of meetings. Of more than 30 chapters required for tentative agreement to join the EU, only two have been closed. Historically, at full speed, it takes 4 to 6 months for a chapter to be closed. This means that EU integration looks unrealistic anytime in the coming decade, unless the EU changes its requirements and offers Serbia a tremendously better deal.
The moderate nationalist and liberal wings inside of Vucic’s Progressive Party meet in the middle; the opposition therefore can only exist as a protest movement that can ultimately destabilize the state with the US’s help, using a strategy of tension, violence, and baiting the state’s gendarmerie into ‘bad optics’ scenarios.
Still the opposition without the possibility to form a government based on a substantive platform. The Socialist Party with whom it has formed a government, exists by and large as an official interest group for the public sector, retirees, and public infrastructure. Serbia today is on the balance a social-democratic state, with socialized healthcare, and higher education on a merit basis – but its sovereign institutions are still weak in the aftermath of the NATO military and economic campaign against Serbia, and a sizable portion of its economy is today foreign dominated, largely by European firms.
NATO forces bombed Yugoslavia (including Serbia and Montenegro) from late March to June 10th, 1999. Attacks led to many thousands of casualties. As a result of the Color Revolution known as the “Bulldozer Revolution” in the fall of 2000, President Slobodan Milosevic was essentially overthrown.
In 2006, Montenegro came out of the former Yugoslav state, which since 2017 has been a member of NATO. In 2008, the Kosovo parliament unilaterally declared independence. Currently, this state is partially recognized by Western countries, but Moscow and Belgrade, as well as governments representing the majority of earth’s inhabitants including India and China, continue to consider this region as part of Serbia.