Is it in Serbia’s interest to support Trump’s re-election?

Ivica Dačić; Photo: Tanjug / Dragan Kujundzic

BELGRADE – Donald Trump will either carry on as the President of the United States in 2021 or relinquish that position to a candidate from the Democratic Party – but is there a difference between these two outcomes from the perspective of Serbia? Two opposing answers to this questions could have been heard in Serbia and US this week, and the main actor of this controversy has been the Foreign Minister of the former, Ivica Dačić.

Initiative that was laid out by Dačić in Serbian tabloid newspaper Srpski telegraf on Tuesday, consisting of rallying Serbs in the US so that they can support Trump in the election, has been criticized by Michael Carpenter, former Foreign Policy Advisor to former Vice President and currently Presidential candidate Joe Biden.

“The Serbian Foreign Minister plans to interfere in US domestic politics by rallying Serbian Americans to support Trump in 2020. I personally think he’s making a big mistake, and US support for Serbia’s European path should remain a bipartisan issue”, Tweeted Carpenter, whose former employer is, at this moment, the favorite to win Democratic Party’s nomination, as well as presidential race against Trump.

Dačić did not let the comment remain unanswered, stressing that rallying US citizens of the same origin so that they could support a Presidential candidate is nothing new.

“And when Jewish people vote for Trump, that is not interference, nor when Albanians vote for the Clintons or (Congressman Eliot) Engel? I am not talking about Serbia as a country, I am talking about US citizens of our origin. This is how things work in America. In Engel’s constituency, Albanians are the ones who bring him victory”, Dačić stated for Politika.

However, despite the announcement of this initiative, as well as appointment of John Bolton as the National Security Advisor last year, and even Dačić’s presentation of the support of Serbian tabloid newspaper to Trump two years ago, during the mandate of the current president there has been no initiative that is significantly different from the policy of previous administrations.

US supports Serbia’s EU path, and the relations with Kosovo should be normalised – this is what Serbia has heard in the past two years from all three Washington’s representatives for the Balkans – Hoyt Brian Yee, Wess Mitchell and Matthew Palmer. The fact that both processes do not advance with a great speed, despite the additional engagement of some European leaders, such as French President Macron, make the comment of Michael Carpenter on the lack of partisanship when it comes to US’s policy towards Serbia sound convincing.

On the other hand, foreign affairs commentator of Politika Boško Jakšić stated for our portal in March that the United States have become more active in the past year or two, and that, in contrast to “inefficient” EU, they could speed up the reaching of the agreement on the normalisation of relations between Kosovo and Serbia, necessary condition for Serbia’s membership in the Union.

These developments, obviously, have not happened yet, and the question is how much the elections in Kosovo and Serbia will influence the speed of normalisation. However, Programme Director of the Belgrade Fund for Political Excellence Marko Savković believes that certain differences between Trump’s and previous administration exist anyway.

“The change that has happened is, I would say, of two kinds – on the one side, State Department has, since 2018 and the marking of the 100 years since the end of the First World War (in which Serbia and US were allies), lead a very successful and good campaign of public diplomacy. On the other hand, there are indications that the administration of the President Trump has, also since the middle of the last year, showed “understanding” or “more understanding” for the position of Serbia”, Savković says for EWB.

He points out that the “understanding” is often interpreted as a mere support to the idea of border change between Kosovo and Serbia which, according to him, is not completely precise.

“US has repeatedly stressed that it will accept any solution on which the two sides reach an agreement, which does not undermine the stability of the region and which will lead to mutual recognition. There are nuances here”, Savković emphasises.

However, he adds that Dačić’s comment is to an extent directed at domestic audience, and that a “campaign” he proposes would have a limited effect, since the part of the US citizens of Serbian origin will vote for the Democrats either way.

“I think that the US policy will not be changing in one aspect, whoever is the next President – and that is the wish that the relations with Serbia are much better, as well as US’s image in Serbia. The way it currently stands, Serbia’s policy is against the national interest, be it “fight for Kosovo” or, which I hope is the case, more honest ambition to become an EU member”, Savković concludes.

Presidential elections in the United States are taking place in November 2020, and Donald Trump’s challenger will probably be known only at the beginning of summer next year. This leaves more than enough time for Dačić’s campaign of support, if it is anything more serious than a daily-political prop.