European Western Balkans

EPP’s strong reaction to events in Belarus again draws attention to its approach to the Balkans

Alexander Lukashenko and Aleksandar Vučić; Photo: Presidency of Serbia

BRUSSELS – Following the presidential election in Belarus condemned as fraudulent, as well as the violent acts of suppression of citizens’ protests, European People’s Party (EPP) members strongly supported the protesters and called on the regime to respect the law of its country.

Though the level of authoritarianism of the regime in Minsk is widely considered to be above what can be seen almost anywhere else in Europe, a completely opposite reaction of EPP when it comes to the authoritarian tendencies in some Western Balkan countries, notably Serbia, have once again been pointed out in the wake of the developments in Belarus.

“There are differences between Belarus and the other authoritarian patterns, be they among EU members such as Hungary or candidates, such as Serbia. The regime of Lukashenko has been more violent against the opposition for decades and has been in power for 26 years, it is more entrenched. It never allowed for a serious opposition to emerge and never made the serious transformation from the Soviet era, not least the role fo the secret police, still called KGB”, reminds Professor Florian Bieber of the University of Graz.

However, he says, the speed of condemning the crackdown is also not proportional and not just based on the nature of the regime, but also on the fact that it has not been able to build the same ties with EU-based party families, while the prevailing pro-Russian orientation of Belarus has won the regime few allies in the West.

“The irony is that the response is the strongest towards a regime that the EU has less leverage over than either its member states or the countries in the accession process. Thus, while the level of repression is greater in Belarus, it is important to keep in mind the EU could have achieved more in Serbia, or Hungary with a more consistent approach towards upholding basic principles of democracy and human rights”, says Bieber, author of the recent book The Rise of Authoritarianism in the Western Balkans.

Reactions to Belarus vs reactions to Serbia: No parallels

President of EPP and former President of the European Council Donald Tusk wrote on Twitter earlier this week that the people of Belarus have made their choice in the election: democracy, freedom and putting an end to dictatorship.

“All the people in Europe and across the world stand with you”, wrote Tusk, who called on President Alexander Lukashenko to release the official results of the election, stop the police violence and release the prisoners.

Chair of European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee David McAllister (EPP) also released a statement, stressing widespread violations and fraud in the election and urging for those arbitrarily detained during the election campaign and after to be released immediately.

This was not the first controversial election followed by the violent protests marked by the disproportionate use of police force and disputed arrest warrants that took place in Europe this summer.

In June, the ruling Serbian Progressive Party, EPP’s associate member, won 60% of the vote in the election boycotted by the majority of the opposition, which claimed that the Government has done nothing to improve the electoral conditions, which have been described as significantly tilted in favour of the ruling party by OSCE.

Immediately following the election, investigative journalists reported that the Government had been hiding the true figures of deaths and cases of COVID-19 in order to win the election convincingly, revoking all the anti-pandemic measures several weeks previously. The controversy remains unresolved to this day.

After President Aleksandar Vučić announced that the curfew will be re-introduced in Belgrade following a sharp uptick in the official COVID-19 cases after the election, citizens protested in the streets. Tensions between the citizens and the police led to the first serious violence at protests in Serbia in decades, with multiple instances of disproportionate use of police force and disputed arrests.

In this case, however, Tusk congratulated Vučić (who was not a candidate) and SNS on election victory, saying that the result is proof of the citizens’ trust and his effectiveness as a leader.

Though election in Serbia did not feature fraud on the reported scale of Belarus (watchdog CRTA reported serious irregularities at 8-10% polling stations), the 60% of SNS can only be compared to Lukashenko’s official result of 80% when it comes to recent European elections.

Unlike other European parties, there was no reaction from EPP to the protests in Serbia and the instances of their violent suppression, except a statement by European Parliament Rapporteur for Serbia Vladimir Bilčik, who condemned all violence in Belgrade.

Multiple reactions to Donald Tusk’s tweets in support of the people of Belarus pointed at the sharp contrast between EPP’s reaction to the current developments and those in Serbia several weeks ago, including the members of opposition parties of the country.

“Donald, you congratulated Vučić. Your words are no more solid than your values”, tweeted Loïc Tregoures, political science lecturer at the Catholic University of Lille.

The fact that Serbian ruling party is not as authoritarian as the Belarus regime for sure doesn’t make the EPP position less hypocritical, says Tregoures for our portal.

“Which is why their position should be dismissed as such. We’ll see what the Member States will do”, he says.

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