President Vučić has destroyed democracy in Serbia, writes Đilas for Euractiv

Dragan Đilas; Photo: SSP

BELGRADE – “Vučić points out that democracy in Serbia is in danger. And that’s true. However, this was not due to ”self-proclaimed opposition leaders”. The truth is that democracy in Serbia was conquered and destroyed during the eight-year-long autocratic rule of Aleksandar Vučić”, writes the president of the opposition Justice and Freedom Party Dragan Đilas in an opinion piece for Euractiv.

European Western Balkans previously published conclusions from an opinion piece written by the Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić for Euractiv, where Vučić states that democracy in Serbia is under attack by self-proclaimed opposition leaders. We also published the responses of the representatives of Serbian opposition – the leader of the Free Citizens’ Movement Sergej Trifunović and People’s Party leader Vuk Jeremić. Both parties are members of the Alliance for Serbia – a coalition of opposition parties founded in September 2018.

Đilas assesses that the previously published opinion piece by Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić is “rich with unbelievable, false statements”.

“For eight long years, Serbia has been a captured state. The prosecution, the judiciary, the police, the media – all institutions that should be independent – are completely controlled by the Serbian Progressive Party, headed by Aleksandar Vučić”, claims Đilas.

He also warns that space for public criticism against the current regime has been shrinking gradually since Vučić was elected in 2012.

“Anyone who dares to criticize the regime of Aleksandar Vučić is discredited by tabloids which are personally edited by Vučić”, stresses Đilas.

He also notes explains that the reason why opposition MPs have been boycotting the sessions for almost a year and a half is the “systematically diminished” influence of the National Assembly.

Đilas writes that “opposition politicians were thrown out of the session and were denied the opportunity to speak every time they raised even the mildest criticism of the authorities and the government”, reminding that the Speaker of the Parliament Maja Gojković used to turn off the microphone to any MP who mentioned the name of Vučić, which was also mentioned in European Commission’s Serbia Report 2019.

Đilas argues that it is the same opposition leaders that Vučić accused of denying voters basic democratic rights by boycotting the parliamentary elections were almost killed by activists of the Serbian Progressive Party.

He also reminds that the November 2018 attack on Borko Stefanović, the Vice President of the Freedom and Justice Party, was the reason for the start of demonstrations against the regime, which are still held every Saturday. Đilas also adds that “several dozen people who support the opposition or are members of opposition parties have also been beaten by activists and members of the Serbian Progressive Party in the course of last year”.

Referring to Vučić’s point that the parties which will boycott the elections ”failed to win the hearts and minds of the voters, while the Serbian Progressive Party succeeded in free and fair elections”, Đilas claims that the ruling party uses corruptive practices to secure the voters’ support.

“About 350,000 people, mostly ruling party members, are temporarily employed in the civil service and public enterprises. “Unless each of these people secures at least 10 votes for the ruling party, their contracts will not be renewed and they will lose their jobs”, writes Đilas. “Furthermore, those voters are obliged to take a photo of their ballot with their ID card at the polling station and provide it as proof that they really voted for the Serbian Progressive Party”.

Đilas also argues that, while “Aleksandar Vučić boasts about the alleged economic success and reduced unemployment rate”, the key reason for the reduction of unemployment is the fact that almost 50,000 people leave Serbia every year (about 170 a day) “because they do not want to live in a country where the current regime has destroyed the dignity and perspective of anyone who refuses to support the regime”.

Đilas reminds that “Vučić “forgot” to mention that under his rule, Serbia moved from the free to the category of partly free countries, which is also discussed in the Freedom House report, listing several recent examples of shrinking space for activists, journalists and citizens to speak and act freely.

Đilas assess that under the rule of Aleksandar Vučić, Serbia become a country where the majority of media are captured by the regime, reminding that “not a single opposition leader has guested on these televisions for the past four years”.

He also comments on the recent decision of the Serbian Parliament to reduce the election threshold from 5 to 3 percent just two months before the parliamentary elections, scheduled to take place in April, explaining the decision as an effort to provide more space for minority parties. The real reason for the reduction of the threshold, reckons Đilas, is that “it is easier for him to engage in electoral engineering with a reduced threshold, allow false opposition parties which he fully controls to act as the “opposition”.

“It is clear that in Serbia there are no conditions for free and fair elections. Our people have been living in complete media darkness and manipulation for eight years”, points out Đilas.

He also underlines that while the boycott of the elections, announced by several opposition parties, exposes “the nature of Vučić’s regime and its brutality, lies, and deceptions”, Vučić’s article for Euractiv represents just another example of this.

“The upcoming parliamentary elections in April already have no legitimacy since the entire opposition gathered around the Alliance for Serbia is boycotting them because of the violation of all electoral laws, rules, and procedures”, concludes Đilas. “Our struggle is focused on Europe, which should finally realize that we want to establish free and democratic society”.