Winning the elections in Serbia seems like an easy task. All you have to do is advocate for the country’s entry into the EU and you will attract 49 to 52% of the vote. Namely, the support of the citizens of Serbia for the entry into the EU in the last six months has been moving in that range. A little over half has been the usual level of support for Serbia’s accession to the European Union for years, but does this stable support also mean that it is wise to use it for a political and election program? Does it guarantee that you will really have an easy task, as we initially assumed?
Strange or not, in a country where support for EU membership has been more than half for years, elections are not won on that math and on that platform. The days of 2009 are long gone, when an unreachable record so far of as much as 74% of support for Serbia’s EU membership was set. But, surprisingly, after that, none of the large parties built their path to electoral success (victory) exclusively on the platform of joining the EU. Moreover, the EU has increasingly become a mandatory but only secondary element in political programs and election campaigns, not their backbone and foundation.
This is not an exclusive Serbian phenomenon, it is similar throughout the region, in countries that are in different phases of joining the Union. Nowhere is the EU a “commodity” that can be well “charged” from voters. There are many reasons, and they should be sought on both sides – in Europe and in the Western Balkans. On the one hand (European), the famous enlargement fatigue has been prevailing for a long time, and on the other hand, it consequently produces fatigue from joining (the Union). Everything has been going on for too long, the fatigue is growing from year to year on both sides, and the elections must be won.
That is why we have come to a situation in which no mainstream political option in Serbia and even in the Balkans has, as its main political prefix – joining the EU. This “Euro-extremism” is reserved for small parties, those who are looking for their place on the political scene precisely through a return to the early settings where the EU was the first and last point of the political program. The political organization “The Voice”, which was recently founded by the historian Nikola Samardžić, calls such Euro-recidivists a “political minority”, and at the same time they include themselves and their supporters in that minority.
This minority becomes even smaller when, in addition to the EU, it adds NATO to its flag, which is precisely what “The Voice” is doing. Apart from this, there is almost no political organization in Serbia that advocates Serbia’s accession to NATO. SPO leader Vuk Drašković occasionally talks about that, but his party belongs to the ruling bloc led by the SNS of Aleksandar Vučić, where Serbia in NATO is not the politics.
All previous, democratically elected governments in Serbia, regardless of who was at their head, and all presidents, no matter how different their policies were, had two constants – yes to the EU, no to NATO. Both the first and the second part of this uninterrupted series, it could be said the consistent state policy, are not the result of the persistent and strategic leadership that the majority of voters followed, but the consequence of the reverse sequence. This policy is an expression of a kind of indulgence in the majority of public opinion, which neither the government nor the president wanted to contradict.
So far, the longest-serving, democratically elected president of Serbia, Boris Tadić, has not allowed the issue of Serbia’s membership in NATO to be raised at all during his eight-year term. Whenever he was asked about it, he replied that NATO membership was “not a topic” now. Although he had full capacity, and even the obligation to decide as the head of state what is and what is not a topic, he consciously renounced state leadership in order to adjust his ratings according to the mainstream mood that traditionally keeps NATO membership very low. Serbia in NATO became a topic for Tadić only when he found himself in deep opposition, in 2015, when he cautiously suggested that perhaps membership in the Alliance should be considered.
Milo Đukanović, in Montenegro, chose a completely opposite path, although with equally poor starting parameters, setting his country’s membership in NATO as a strategic state goal, in which he succeeded 11 years after gaining state independence. Resistance was strong all the time, both in the country and abroad, and the price could have been a violent, armed overthrow, which the conspirators tried in October 2016. Last year’s political change in Montenegro, although carried out on anti-Đukanović platform is essentially based on anti-NATO and even anti-EU sentiment, and the fact that the current government of Zdravko Krivokapić does not apply it in practice is the main cause of its instability and constant internal conflicts.
The countries of the Western Balkans are experiencing a prolonged transition, much longer than in the rest of Southeast Europe, in large part because their leaders did not clearly and firmly stand behind EU accession as the only political program that would include all other, individual, policies. The European programs of the Balkan political parties, even when they won the elections with them, were programs with a reserve, with one “But”. That “but” has always been a concession to deep-rooted and widespread Euro-skepticism, which leaders have never had the courage to oppose, no matter how popular and charismatic. Easy votes have always been more important than a fundamental change, and that is a deal that is easily agreed upon here. Price is not taken into account.