Survey: 80% of Serbian citizens against NATO membership, but only 33% against cooperation

Serbian flag; Photo: Tanjug / Sava Radovanović

BELGRADE – The survey conducted by the Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies (CEAS) and the Center for Free Elections and Democracy (CeSID), presented during the 8th Belgrade NATO Week, shows that there is space for improvement when it comes to informing Serbian citizens about Serbia-NATO cooperation.

“This is the fourth survey cycle that CeSID and CEAS had performed together on the representative sample of the citizens of Serbia to see what is the attitude of Serbian citizen towards Euro-Atlantic integrations”, said Ivo Čolović, Project Director at CeSID.

It shows that if a referendum on Serbia’s accession to the EU were to be held about half of the Serbian population would vote to join, while around 36% would vote no and around 14% would abstain. Čolović says that there are no major changes when it comes to those who are against accession to the EU.

“If we take a deeper look into the structure of those who are in support or against EU membership, it is quite concerning that there is a large percentage of young people, those between 18 and 29, that are against Serbia’s accession to the EU”, says Čolović.

He says that there is a deeply rooted group who are against the EU accession and they overlap with those who are older than 60 years of age.

“On the other hand, those who are in favour of Serbia’s accession are the most educated layers of our society. Those who live in the urban areas and generally in well-developed regions of Serbia”, explains Čolović.

When the citizens were asked if the EU were to become a supranational entity with binding defence policy, around 46% thought that Serbia should continue European integration, while 29% think that Serbia should abandon European integration and 25% does not know or cannot tell.

“However, if we cross-reference these results with the results of the previous question we see that there is a small drop in the number of citizens who would be for EU membership if EU would become a supranational entity. It shows that citizens still feel a bit cautious when it comes to supranational entities due to the heritage of the past, especially 1999”, says Ivo Čolović.

Sentiment towards NATO

Regarding their sentiment towards NATO and NATO membership, two-thirds (80%) of the citizens do not support membership in NATO, 15% would not vote, while one in every 20 citizens (5%) would be in favour of Serbia joining NATO.

Čolović says that if they look at the more specific demographic characteristics of the respondents who are for Serbia joining NATO, it shows that those people are mostly highly educated having university diploma, master diploma or PhD.

“Within these groups, 18% are those who are in favour of Serbia joining NATO which is double in compression with the general sample of Serbian society. This is the small group but an influential one if we were to talk about the promotion of the idea of Serbia’s membership in NATO”, adds Čolović.

However, only 31% of respondents know that nearly all EU members states are also NATO members, 21% thinks that there are fewer than one-half of the EU member states are also NATO members, 10% fewer than one-third, while 3% responded that all the EU member states are also NATO member states. Around 35% of respondents also stated that they do not know the answer.

“This is the question that points to the fact Serbs actually do not have too much information about which countries are members of NATO who are also EU member states”, says Čolović.

Around 54% of the respondents have a negative opinion about NATO, 37% have neutral, 6% positive and 3% does not know or cannot tell.

“So we see that 80% are against membership, but on the other hand on how they perceive NATO it is milder. This is a bit softer attitude of the general public”, explains Čolović.

Čolović adds that when it comes to the current state of cooperation of partnership between Serbia and NATO, the negative percentage is dropped even further to less than a half (33%), while 47% are neutral and 14% respondents say that this is a positive thing.

Riggio: NATO remains committed to the region

Commenting on the survey results, Daniele Riggio, Press Officer at NATO Press Office, says that survey shows an increase of support for Serbia’s EU accession while attitudes toward NATO are concerning.

“I think it is important to distinguish between Serbia’s NATO membership and NATO-Serbia relations in their own merit. I think that the trend is pretty much steady, but with the respect to the latter aspect, as the presenter pointed out, the results are much more nuanced and not insignificant portion of respondents who have a neutral position with the respect to NATO-Serbia relations”, says Riggio.

He says that the high percentage of respondents who are not well informed about NATO is very interesting, which provides space for more regular and more tailored information about Serbia-NATO relations.

“Pool indicates that there is an information gap that needs to be filled. From this point of view, NATO remains fully committed to continuing communicating about the development of the NATO-Serbia relationship”, says Riggio.

He adds that this comes in various forms. Trough the daily activities of the NATO Military Liason Office in Belgrade, but also through the regular engagements with Serbian media and civil society representatives, including the level of NATO Secretary General.

“Having said that, we do have a long-lasting relationship. NATO and Serbia are close partners in their own merit and therefore there is good reason to explain the aspects of that relationship which troughout the years has continued to develop through regular political consultations and trough practical cooperation in specific areas”, says Riggio.

He adds that Kosovo remains an important issue for the Serbian public opinion and NATO’s engagement in Kosovo strands trough KFOR mission which from 1999 operates under very strict UN mandate. Furthermore, NATO believes that the constructive dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina is key for regional stability.

“Our overall commitment to the Western Balkans remains loud, clear and solid. This is the region of importance for NATO. Regional stability has direct implications for our Euro-Atlantic security. So we see the region’s future in Euro-Atlantic cooperation and integration for those who want it”, emphasized Riggio.

In this respect, NATO remains determined to help the countries in the region implement the reforms necessary to further the well-being of their citizens, given the economic prosperity is an important driver in the perception of the Serbian population and the population across the region.

The 8th Belgrade NATO Week is organised by the Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies and supported by NATO Public Diplomacy Division, Balkan Trust for Democracy, Norwegian, US and Czech Embassies in Belgrade.