European Western Balkans

Election campaign revives the narrative of the destruction of Serbian army by a “NATO general”

Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin; Photo: Ministry of Interior

BELGRADE – Parliamentary and presidential elections in Serbia are being held in less than two months. The candidacy of Zdravko Ponoš, on behalf of the united opposition in Serbia, gathered around the Freedom and Justice Party (SSP), People’s Party (NS), Democratic Party (DS) and Free Citizens’ Movement (PSG) revived in Serbia the narrative of destroying the Serbian army before the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) came to power.

The negative campaign began even before the opposition “United Serbia” presented Ponoš as its presidential candidate, and before he accepted the candidacy. Pro-government media everyday publishing different accusations against Ponoš, writing that he is a “NATO general”, that “Croats are happy” about him because, in addition to Serbia, he also has Croatian citizenship

Minister of Defense Aleksandar Vulin stated that the presidential candidate Zdravko Ponoš would not ask the citizens what they think about NATO, “he would drag us where Serbia does not want to be”.

Ponoš worked in the early 2000s in the Serbian Army on establishing cooperation, both with NATO member states and Russia, and he explained on several occasions in Serbian media that “he was implementing what was state politics at the time”.

Zdravko Ponoš; Photo: FoNet

“The country’s orientation towards membership in the Partnership for Peace program is a political orientation that the Army only implements. I implemented it in accordance with my power”, Ponoš said, adding that cooperation with NATO has never been more “dynamic than in the years since the SNS in power.

Cooperation with NATO has been at a much higher level for years than acknowledged in the media and the public by government officials. While the government accuses Ponoš of bringing Serbia into NATO, cooperation between the Alliance and Serbia was raised to a higher level in 2014, when Serbia received the Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) and thus entered the ranks of the highest possible partnership with the exception of membership.

According to the analysis published by Belgrade Center for Security Policy (BCSP) defense cooperation with Russia received far more space in the media in Serbia than cooperation with the United States and NATO. Thus, for example, the military exercise „Slovenian Shield“, completely occupied the attention of the public before and after its holding in October 2019.

“In order not to lose points at home and endanger relations with Russia, the political elite in Serbia avoids talking about cooperation with the US and other NATO members, and pro-regime media report accordingly”, the BCSP analysis said.

BCSP’s analysis shows that every year, Serbia and the US conduct about 100 different bilateral activities. In the eyes of the Serbian public, perception of relations with the United States, and especially perception of military cooperation, is burdened by the NATO intervention in 1999.

“In order to avoid losing political points at home and endangering relations with Russia, the political elite in Serbia avoids talking about cooperation with the United States and other NATO members, and the pro-regime media report accordingly”, analysis stated.

With the candidacy of „NATO general“, the narrative of „melting tanks“ returned to the Serbian public space, for which the government had previously accused former Defence Minister Dragan Šutanovac.

There is no evidence for a story about melting tanks. Representatives of the former government strongly oppose such narratives. Experts explained for European Western Balkans that these narratives are used to discredit political opponents and have a double role – to attribute problems in the army to the former government, and to present the current government and the President as saviors who „raised the army to its feet“.

After our portal reported that the narrative of melting tanks was used for political purposes, without facts, the Minister of Defense said that there was no context in which various analysts could put and that they managed to convince someone that Ponoš and the former did not disarmed the Serbian Army.

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