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Hit from the right

The second strongest political group in Serbia is the far-right. In Sunday’s elections, they won more than half a million votes together (about 565 thousand) and almost all of them entered the parliament, and only about 90 thousand of their votes remained below the line. If they were more tightly organized, in one party or at least a coalition, they would be convincingly the second strongest political force in the country, and regardless of being in the opposition, they would strongly influence the decisions made by the state.

More than half a million citizens said in Sunday’s elections that Serbia should look like this: Give up membership in the European Union, because it considers it an enemy. Connect much more strongly with Russia, and even enter a state alliance with it. Unreservedly support Russian aggression against Ukraine. Work on the absorption of Montenegro into Serbia, because it does not consider Montenegro an independent state, as well as to work on unification with the Republika Srpska. Tighten the policy towards migrants from the Middle East, who are not wanted, as well as towards sexual minorities because their achieved freedoms are at odds with “family values”. Foreign investors should be in a subordinate position in relation to domestic companies, because the domestic economy must be protected. Turn our backs on Western companies and markets and reorient imports and exports to Asian, African and other “friendly” countries. And of course, stop any talks on Kosovo.

The list could be much longer, but we will have the opportunity to hear everything in more detail in the parliamentary discussions in the next four years by this group, which will have an enviable 35 seats (coalitions around DSS, Zavetnici and Dveri).

In Sunday’s elections, Serbia showed that it had turned to the right; Aleksandar Vučić also stated that on election night, adding that the shift was “dramatic”. His warning about this fact had a worried, not patronizing tone, because he put it in the context of European integration, emphasizing that he, as president and the majority he leads, will follow the European course, “keep the stern of the Serbian ship from going too far to the right”.

There are two reasons for the explosion of the ultra-right wave in the elections in Serbia. One is direct, and it concerns the Russian aggression against Ukraine, which coincided in time with the election campaign in Serbia and greatly influenced it. For right-wing parties and movements, this was a gift from heaven. They caught the Russian attack “in flight” and sided with Russia without any barriers, supported its operation, cheered for Russia’s success, celebrated Vladimir Putin’s determination and based on that stringed together all their earlier views that Serbia must turn away from Western integration and attach much more firmly to Moscow.

Their views had a very fertile ground with a large number of anti-Western and pro-Russian voters, so advocating a determined and radical Serbian position on the war in Ukraine could only bring success to the far right. On the other hand, the policy of the authorities in Serbia was certainly too mild and unsatisfactory for those voters, because Serbia condemned Russian aggression in the UN, joined the vast majority of UN members in that condemnation and insisted on the policy of supporting Ukrainian territorial integrity, including Crimea and Donbas. They wanted something much fiercer and more combative, and the right-wingers offered it in the campaign.

Another cause of the growth of right-wing political mood is of somewhat longer life and duration, although of equal effect. This is a slow process of Serbia’s integration into the European Union, and a general decline in the EU’s interest in enlargement to Serbia and the Balkans. If Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is an acute and sudden impulse for the growth of the right, then idling on the path to the EU is a “chronic pain”, but equally stimulating and suitable for the progress of the right. Far-right is not the only anti-EU factor that will occupy a significant part in the new parliament; it is essentially almost the entire opposition bloc, which in total took about a million votes. Its part is also the group of parties around Dragan Djilas (490 thousand votes), which has not had Serbia’s membership in the EU as one of its priorities since its first days.

They, and especially their leader Djilas, consider the EU an “accomplice” in the survival of Aleksandar Vučić in power, that is, one of the main obstacles to achieving their goal, which is Vučić’s removal. According to the mediation of the European parliamentarians in last year’s dialogue on the election conditions, they were indignant, and in the end they called the deputies from Brussels “traitors” and Vučić’s associates. In general, the EU “is not among their priorities”, as one of the leaders of this bloc explicitly said to the European ambassadors in Belgrade when they presented the goals of their association to them three years ago.

The entire opposition side of the future Serbian parliament will, therefore, be either explicitly anti-European, or will have an indifferent attitude towards the EU, to say the least. If we imagine its far-right part and their almost half a million votes implementing their ideas through state policy, the country would in a very short time look like one of the European “pockets” where there is no Europe and where Russia keeps the door open for its influence and perhaps even intervention. Similar to Donbass (no war), Transnistria, Abkhazia or South Ossetia. It would be economically ruined, deprived of trade and technological ties with Europe, aggressive towards its neighbors, primarily Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and of course self-excluded from the dialogue on Kosovo.

It is possible that half a million Serbian voters did not have this image of their country when they trusted the far-right candidates, but that ignorance would not free them from the consequences of their favorites coming to power. It will turn out that the current ruling coalition, led by Vučić, will be the main brake on moving Serbia to the right in the next mandate, which was more than clear in the last elections. With all the constant criticism from Brussels about the weakness of institutions, the state of media freedoms, balancing the policy towards Russia, it must be borne in mind that Serbia in Vučić’s period first opened accession negotiations with the EU, crossed more than a half of that path (22 of 35 chapters), tied its economy to Western production and technological chains, and imported its most sensitive issue – Kosovo, into the European and American negotiating framework.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine puts the next government in Belgrade, as well as the president in the new mandate, in the position that they must make important decisions in the short term, which will determine the fate of the country in the long run. They will have to distance themselves from Russia if Serbia wants to stay in the game for EU membership, and especially if it wants to maintain its current economic growth through its almost complete reliance on Western markets. Since the election winner announced that both strategic directions will be continued, it is quite clear in which direction the first decisions of the new authorities will go, despite the strong presence of the pro-Russian, anti-European bloc in the new parliament and certainly its great opposition. As Vučić himself announced in his victory speech, he will continue the policy of protecting state interests, and not patronizing the people.

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