VIENNA – “The silent majority in Serbia is pro-EU, and they support Serbia’s accession for different reasons, the main one being the political and economic stability that it offers”, said Srđan Cvijić, a Senior Policy Analyst at the Open Society European Policy Institute, member of the Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group (BiEPAG) and a Europe’s Futures non-resident visiting fellow at the (Institute for Human Sciences).
At an event titled “Eroding Trust: Serbian Democracy from 5 October 2000 to COVID-19” organised by the Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen (IWM) and Erste Foundation, Cvijić said that after the revolutionary democratic change of 5 October 2020 in Serbia, the country has been in the process of transitioning to an established democracy and joining the EU, and that these processes have been interrupted mainly due to the lack of trust between the citizens and the government.
“After almost two decades of work and research on EU enlargement, the intention is to use the example of Serbia to demonstrate how the “one size fits all” model designed to guide the EU’s transformational experiments in the countries aspiring to join the Union does not match the needs and expectations of citizens. In this way, the example of Serbia can also serve as an analogy for all other EU member states or candidate countries that have emerged from the post-WWII communist experience”, he explained.
Cvijić addressed the case of the assassination of Zoran Đinđić, the first democratically elected Prime Minister of Serbia, as well as the highly controversial case of missing babies considered to be stolen by a criminal network and given to illegal adoption, and says that these two cases, together with the unreformed security service, and the recent mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic by the current regime can be seen as the reasons for the lack of trust between citizens and their elected government(s).
“The failure to provide justice and accountability in these cases is really a litmus test for evaluating the success of Serbia’s democratisation until now”, Cvijić argues.
The mismanagement of the crisis imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic by the current regime in Serbia, Cvijić claims, can be seen in the initial downplay of the seriousness of the virus, through brutal lockdown of the entire country and the premature announcement of the “victory over the virus”. He also criticises the decision of the government to reopen the country right before the elections were announced, and argues that the elections, which resulted in the ruling party winning more than two thirds of the seats in the new parliament, were completely unfair.
“Similar to the period of one party rule, the parliament now is filled with representatives of the governing coalition, their allies, and a few minority representatives”, Cvijić emphasised.
Another point that he addressed and heavily criticised was the “unnecessarily brutal repression of the protest against the government mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic in July”, and argued that it was the manifestation of the current regime’s fragility, and not its strength.
“Throughout the modern history of Serbia, it is indeed difficult to find an example of incompetence that would match the mismanagement the coronavirus pandemic by today’s government”, he added.
Answering the question about the main pro-EU leaders of Serbia today, Cvijić claimed that the president Vučić and his party are not the main pro-EU forces, but that it is the silent majority of the society that does not find the translation into political sphere.
“The silent majority in Serbia is pro-EU, and they support Serbia’s accession for different reasons, the main one being the political and economic stability that it [the EU] offers. The government knows that the moment they would declaratively turn away from this political goal, they would lose that silent majority”, he argues.
Commenting the European Commission’s 2020 report on Serbia, Cvijić said that the report rightfully criticises a lot of individual cases of abuse, of violations of the acquis and the rule of law, unlike the previous reports.
Finally, he emphasised that, compared to other countries, the Serbian report is particularly critical, and warned that the biggest problem is that the general population does not read these reports, but that, instead, they hear only what the governments want them to hear.
“How does the European Commission communicate in general in the Western Balkans? There have been improvements in the past year, but it’s not enough. It needs to be bolstered to a degree where it needs to combat the disinformation at the local level, where local politicians try to present these reports as normal”, Cvijić argues.