Serbian opposition in EP: State and media capture make fair elections impossible

European flags in front of EP Building in Strasbourg; Photo: European Union

BRUSSELS – Leader of Freedom and Justice Party Dragan Đilas, Mayor of Šabac Nebojša Zelenović and the Vice President of the Democratic Party Dejan Nikolić participated yesterday in a panel on election conditions in Serbia, hosted in the by the Socialist and Democrats (S&D) group in the European Parliament.

The panel was initiated but the Alliance for Serbia, the biggest opposition coalition in the country, which wanted to explain the situation before the parliamentary elections, said the moderator of the discussion, the Cypriot MEP Demetris Papadakis.

Alliance for Serbia has announced that it would boycott the parliamentary elections next spring, leaving a possibility that there will be no opposition party represented in the National Assembly.

One of the mediators of the currently ongoing dialogue between the Serbian government and opposition Tanja Fajon, chair of the EP Delegation to Serbia, stressed in her opening speech that about 60% of OSCE recommendations on free elections have not been implemented yet.

“Serbia is in a delicate situation, not to say a political crisis. Before the inter-party dialogue began, freedom of the media was, and still is, at a very low level, there is no equal reporting, especially at the national level,” said Fajon and underlined that real changes are needed, but they had not happened yet.

The Vice President of the Democratic Party Dejan Nikolić assessed that the visits of EP delegation to Serbia illustrate a deep political crisis .

“If there were reports like Priebe’s for Serbia, we would see that the country is in even deeper crisis than North Macedonia was,” said Nikolić.

He added that seven years of a captured state in Serbia cannot be resolved in three months.

“The latest European Commission report showed that judiciary, legislature, and executive bodies are bowing before the authoritarian regime”, said Nikolić.

He also emphasized that in the atmosphere of state and media capture citizens were deprived of their right to choose freely, adding that there was complete government control over all media with national frequency in Serbia.

“And if people are not free to choose, can these elections be called legitimate? That is a question for everyone”, pointed out Nikolić.

The Mayor of Šabac and the leader of Together for Serbia Nebojša Zelenović reminded that recently the whistle-blower Aleksandar Obradović had discovered the father of the Minister of Interior was involved in a suspicious arms trade deals. “Instead of protecting the whistle-blower, the prosecutor put him in custody, which shows that the judiciary subordinates to high state officials,” said Zelenović.

Đilas added that 80 percent of politicians that appear in the media with a national frequency in a positive or neutral context are members of the government, while the opposition is presented in the negative context.

“Opposition members are accused of plotting to kill members of the government without evidence”, said Đilas.

The panel was concluded by Tonino Picula, coordinator of the S&D Group on the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the European Parliament. He assessed that it is not easy to leave parliament and protest and invited the Serbian opposition to reconsider this carefully.

“It is easier to leave than to return”, said Picula, adding that “there is a time when it is necessary to say “No” to authoritarian government. “But that must not be confused with saying “No” to institutions, because authoritarian government exactly wants to remove institutions”, said Picula.

He concluded that S&D Group will support partners from Serbia as they share common values and that he plans to visit Serbia soon, just like other MEPs had already done.