Leader of opposition party in Serbia asks Weber to explain his praise of Vučić

Dragan Đilas; Photo: SSP

BELGRADE – Leader of the opposition Freedom and Justice Party (SSP) Dragan Đilas reacted to the statement made by Manfred Weber that President of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić shares the values of the rule of law and freedom of the media.

In an open letter, Đilas expressed disbelief over Weber’s comments, made during his visit to Belgrade earlier this week.

“In utter disbelief, the majority of Serbian citizens were listening to you giving an official statement saying that you share the same values and ideas as Mr. Aleksandar Vučić in the struggle for independent institutions, the rule of law and freedom of the media. It was very hard for us to accept your words as we remember you as one of the EPP’s leaders who rightly voted in favor of the suspension of Mr. Viktor Orban Fidesz from the EPP”, wrote Đilas, one of the leaders of the Alliance for Serbia, the biggest opposition coalition in the country.

In the letter, Đilas raised concerns over the governments record in these areas, reminding that the European Commission has adopted “a very negative report” on Serbia this year and that the Freedom House has downgraded the country from a “free” to “partially free” status.

He also accused the government of “never-ending campaigns against journalists and cartoonists, against the opposition leaders and party members, against university professors and intellectuals”, claiming that the professional journalists in Serbia are physically endangered.

Serbia has been downgraded on the freedom of the media index conducted by Reporters Without Borders in recent years, while the database of the Independent Association of Journalist’s of Serbia shows the number of attacks on journalists rising to the highest levels in ten years.

Đilas also focused on the affair concerning state-owed arms manufacturer Krušik. Father of the Minister of Interior is accused of receiving lower than usual prices for arms which he then sold abroad, making large profits. Aleksandar Obradović, whistle-blower who revealed the information, has been in house arrest ever since.

“You were also talking about values such as human rights, the importance of independent institutions and the rule of law, while the man who informed the public about the incredible theft at the Krušik Arms Ammunition Factory has been under house arrest for the last two months! Do you know that some of the most important and most powerful people from the (ruling) Serbian Progressive Party are involved into this large-scale theft?”, Đilas wrote.

Reacting to Weber’s positive assessment of Serbia’s economy, SSP leader wrote that at least 50.000 people have left the country in 2018 and that the brain drain remains a massive problem.

In conclusion, Đilas wrote that the European integration of Serbia has reached a deadlock as the Government of Serbia is not doing anything to fulfill the obligations arising from negotiating chapter.

“I am impatiently looking forward to hearing your answers to the questions I am publicly asking you. If you are praising Mr. Vučić for representing the European values, then I will have to accept that I have been seriously deluded for more than 30 years on what the European values are, for how long I have been fighting for Serbia’s path towards the European Union”, he concluded.

The third and final round of dialogue between government and opposition in Serbia mediated by the European Parliament is scheduled for next week. The Alliance for Serbia, including Đilas’s party, is refusing to participate in next year’s parliamentary election due to the lack of, as they assess, fair conditions.