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Vučić’s “People’s Movement for the State” – New suit for the Serbian Progressive Party

President of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić at the meeting with National Convention on the EU in 2018; Photo: Tanjug

Tens of thousands of Serbian citizens have been protesting on the streets for the sixth consecutive week following two mass murders, while President Aleksandar Vučić continues preparations for the establishment of his People’s Movement for the State (Narodni pokret za državu).

In response to the massive Belgrade marches against violence, the government initially responded with harsh attacks on citizens and the opposition, followed by their own rally. Vučić’s “Rally of Hope,” held on May 26th, was accompanied by numerous controversies regarding pressure on citizens from all over Serbia to attend the rally.

According to numerous media reports, the entire public sector was mobilized that Friday, with threats of job terminations, and many employees in public institutions and companies had two choices: to attend the rally or face dismissal.

The day after the Rally of Hope in Belgrade, Aleksandar Vučić stepped down as the leader of the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS). Vučić stated at the party assembly that a hybrid war was being waged against Serbia and that he was the main target because he pursued an independent and autonomous policy. On that occasion, Vučić also announced that he would no longer be the party’s president but the president of all Serbian citizens. The current Minister of Defense, Miloš Vučević, a close associate of the Serbian president’s brother, took over the helm of the party.

Simultaneously with stepping down from the leadership of the SNS, Vučić continues the preparation for the establishment of his People’s Movement for the State. According to some sources, the formal founding of this new organization, broader than the Serbian Progressive Party, could be formalized on June 28th on Vidovdan, an important Serbian holiday.

Even before the new political circumstances that arose after two mass murders in Serbia, the President of Serbia started in March of this year to form the People’s Movement for the State. According to him, it should be a “supra-party movement”, which should “unite Serbia”.

For many, the idea of Vučić’s movement is irresistibly reminiscent of the recipe of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who created a similar supra-party movement in 2011 – All-Russian People’s Front. In the Russian case, the establishment of this movement marked the beginning of the dictatorship of Vladimir Putin.

Florian Biber, professor at the University of Graz and BiEPAG coordinator, explains that Vučić’s motives for the creation of this movement look like a rebranding of the Serbian Progressive Party, than anything of substance.

„Ever since coming to power, there has hardly been a year without elections, as well as the constant election campaign and this is part of it. It is also a classic strategy to give his party the sense of being a broad movement. After all, his party has been running with a number of satellite parties over the years and also use the strategy of support by public figures. At the end of the day it confirms that Vucic and not the party is what matters“, says Bieber.

He explains that Vučić’s regime has over the past decade become more authoritarian and also more nationalist.

„This is a trend and this is common with authoritarian systems as they consolidate the power structures and also once challenged, see Erdogan, often resort to more authoritarian means to stay in power. I would not see the movement as such as evidence of that but rather an evidence that Vucic is not an institution builder but one who is willing to use whatever vehicle to retain power. I doubt that much will be left of the party or the movement, once he is gone from the political scene“, Bieber underlines.

Srđan Cvijić, President of the International Advisory Committee of the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy (BCSP), agrees that the main reasons for the formation of this movement are the declining popularity of the SNS and the desire to identify the party to an even greater extent with the image of its president Vučić, who is more popular than the party itself, as well as to “draw in” the Socialist Party of Serbia and the other coalition partners of the SNS into this movement to prevent the situations where the SNS, taking actions unpopular with the electorate of this coalition, loses support to the detriment of its coalition partners.

“This was the case during the latest parliamentary elections on April 3, 2022. Vučić wants to put a stop to this trend and bring the entire coalition, to an even greater extent, under his control. The entire operation serves to strengthen the personal power of President Vučić”, Cvijić believes.

He notes the radicalization of the vocabulary used by Vučić, adding that Vučić publicly mentions the cooperation and assistance of “sister services from the East” in the fight against the peaceful demonstrations of Serbian citizens against his government.

“In Serbia, information about contacts between journalists and non-governmental organizations and think tanks like BCSP, as we saw in the Guardian and New York Times, appears in regime tabloids even before the publication of the articles in which our researchers were interviewed, which clearly indicates illegal interception of communication. During the SNS meeting in Pančevo, we saw something that looks like the regime’s recruitment of some kind of paramilitaries by high government officials… All this closely resembles the model that was already used in the Russian Federation at various stages in which President Putin was consolidating his dictatorship there”, Cvijić says.

However, he believes that Serbia is not Russia, and in case the local regime crosses the line in the direction of open dictatorship, the EU and the USA will pull the brake and stop such processes.

“The government of Aleksandar Vučić is completely, especially economically, but also politically, dependent on the EU and the USA, and a regime change in the direction of using open violence against political opponents would require a complete turn of the regime in Serbia towards Russia, which would inevitably cause its downfall”, Cvijić concludes.

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