Balkan threat: Vučić and his authoritarian regime

Balkan threat: Vučić and his authoritarian regime

Founder and member of the Board of Directors of CEDEM

Prof. Dr. Srdjan Darmanovic

BALKAN THREAT: VUCIC AND HIS AUTHORITARIAN REGIME

The violent inauguration of the Metropolitan of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the Cetinje Monastery once again, after some previous regional events and indicators, showed that there will be no political stability in the Western Balkans, and perhaps no lasting peace, as long as the regime of Aleksandar Vucic is in power in Belgrade.

Cetinje events from 4-5. September will have various and far-reaching consequences on the internal Montenegrin political scene, and probably in Montenegrin society as well.

All domestic actors involved: the current government, the current opposition (former government), the Serbian Church, political leaders on both sides, as well as church dignitaries, have yet, when and if the passions subside, to reassemble who is in this crisis and a critical political and social event of what and how much he gained and what he lost. And that, depending on those estimates, they are likely to determine their future strategies.

There is, however, one “external” factor and actor about which it is necessary to say something here. The violent inauguration of the Metropolitan of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the Cetinje Monastery once again, after some previous regional events and indicators, showed that there will be no political stability in the Western Balkans, and perhaps no lasting peace, as long as the regime of Aleksandar Vucic is in power in Belgrade.

In order for this conclusion not to be just one political claim, it is necessary to consider what kind of regime it is and why its prolonged duration causes and will cause even greater problems for the region in which we live in the future.

“PEOPLE’S STATE AND PEOPLE’S PARTY”

Aleksandar Vučić is a continuation of a ruling pattern which, with certain short-term interruptions, has been dominant in Serbian history for the last almost a century and a half. Zoran Djindjic described this pattern as a young doctoral student in Germany, saying that one of the pillars of Serbian conservatism was the idea and practice of “a people’s state with a people’s party as a connective tissue.” He certainly had in mind the long rule of Nikola Pasic and his radicals, Tito and the Communist Party in Yugoslavia (and Serbia), and, of course, Slobodan Milosevic and the SPS, whose regime he will overthrow in 2000.

RETURNING THE HISTORICAL CLOCK

Since the parties of the former regime took power again in the 2012 elections, and Aleksandar Vučić, first de facto and soon de jure, became the new leader of the country, the historical hour has been brought back to the “natural state” in Serbia. politics, what Djindjic wanted to change – “a people’s state with a people’s party as a connective tissue.”

Since then, and nota bene since the 2014 elections in Serbia, an order has been (again) established under Vučić, which, whatever you call it, is certainly not democratic.

According to all the important characteristics, this is in fact a neo-Milosevic regime, adapted to function in the 21st century.

Dušan Pavlović, professor at the Faculty of Political Sciences in Belgrade, in his striking article on the political economy of Vučić’s rule, calls this regime a system of “extractive institutions”, ie an order in which everything is subordinated to public finances and extracting money from big state affairs. in order to control the most important institutions that guarantee long-term rule – elections, media and the judicial system. [1]

Such regimes in which a multi-party game exists, but the field on which it is played, as well as the conditions under which the game takes place, are not equal, but adapted to only one player, are typical of modern undemocratic rule.

“HARDWARE” AND “SOFTWARE” DICTATORS

This type of regime, established once, in the 1990s under Milosevic, by the means and methods of a classic, we could say “hardware” dictator, has been restored, revived, adapted and strengthened by the coming to power of Aleksandar Vucic. Many techniques of rule typical of the Milosevic era are also used by Vucic, who came from that era and was the Minister of Information, but as an autocrat of the digital era, he uses them much more in a “software” way.

Vučić entered his authoritarian phase, which lasts until today, during the parliamentary elections in 2014, and since then, he has turned the most important institution of a democratic society – free and fair elections – into a mere means of legitimizing his authoritarian rule.

Dieter Nohlen, one of the most famous researchers and authors on elections in the world, long ago established that, in addition to the above legitimizing role, the function of elections in authoritarian regimes is to: exercise political appeasement inwards; contribute to gaining a reputation for the outside world; at least partially integrate the opposition into the system and make adjustments within government structures and thus contribute to stabilizing the order. [4]

All these elements are represented in Vučić’s regime and the elections that are taking place in a sign of aggressiveness of the activists of his Serbian Progressive Party towards the voters. Means such as intimidation, corruption, ballot manipulation and the deafening noise of a huge number of media obedient to him, have become standard and have deteriorated from election to election.

How Vučić understands the elections and what they serve him for is probably best evidenced by the fact that, following the example of his autocratic predecessor Slobodan Milošević in Putin’s style, since the 2012 elections, including the 2017 presidential election, never in a single televised debate. did not meet and cross arguments with any representative of the opposition or opponent. [5]

In the election process, he descends exclusively from the Olympic heights of absolute power and leads several-hour monologues in front of the cameras in the media that he controls. Something like this is unthinkable in a democratic society and is always a sure indicator that something is wrong with the order in which it is happening.

The degradation of institutions that should be the pillars of a democratic society under Vučić has reached the point that the central institution of democracy – the Parliament (National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia) has comparisons only with the Russian Duma in Moscow and the Belarusian Parliament in Minsk. only MPs from the ruling parties or their satellites and like-minded people are sitting.

Except in these three countries, a similar situation can no longer be found anywhere in Europe. The same degradation was experienced by the Government of Serbia, according to the Constitution, the center of executive power, ie the body that should lead the country’s foreign and domestic policy. However, as in Milosevic’s time, constitutional hypocrisy is at work, because the Serbian government, whoever its prime minister is, is mostly only the executive body of the President of the Republic and follows his instructions, although the head of state has relatively weak powers under the Constitution.

PAN-SERBIAN PROJECT

Authoritarian regimes, although per definite prone to violence and potentially dangerous to their environment or even beyond, do not necessarily pursue an aggressive foreign policy. Josip Broz Tito with his non-alignment, Juan Perón in Argentina, Franco after the Second World War, the rulers of the UAE today, are just some of the examples for this statement.

However, the regime of Aleksandar Vučić is following in Milošević’s footsteps. With the same goal as his predecessor in the 1990s, to “solve the Serbian national question”, Vucic adopted a revisionist and aggressive approach in his regional environment. Here, too, in relation to Milosevic, an adaptation has been made to time and circumstances. There are no wars and open forces, but the already mentioned “software” approach is used.

As Janusz Bugajski notes, this is a masked pan-Serbian project that is being implemented with patience and flexibility, manipulating the vulnerability of neighboring states and societies, and without directly attacking their formal sovereignty. [6]

The most important actors that Vučić uses for this creeping campaign in the region are the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC), loyal elites in neighboring countries (Dodik in BiH, the Democratic Front in Montenegro) and the media machinery in Serbia itself. Relatively invisible actors such as the intelligence services, and perhaps parts of the underworld and crime, are simply implied in this subversive activity.

ATTACK ON MONTENEGRO

How it looks in practice is shown by the prolonged attack on Montenegro (almost two years) in which the regime’s media, portals, bots and other means of the digital era are one of the main weapons.

Like Vučić’s opponents in Serbia itself, public and private media, brutal propaganda, false news, fictional events, incredible conspiracy theories and always the most difficult possible vocabulary are attacked by the command in the campaigns that last as long as necessary.

In this (mis) use of the media for regime goals and needs, Vučić certainly surpassed Milošević, although many (naively) believed that what was done with the media in the 1990s was difficult to repeat.

Cheap and low-level journalism and the media are ready to become someone’s political megaphones, they also exist in democracies, but their absolute dominance and readiness to concentrate on the ruling moment, like today’s situation in Serbia, is completely unthinkable and unacceptable in a democratic society. This is also one of the sure indicators of the type of regime in question.

In addition to permanently maintaining political instability in BiH and delaying any solution in relations with Kosovo, the violent enthronement of the Serbian metropolitan in Cetinje, Vučić showed that he is ready for more risky actions.

After the “success” in the Montenegrin capital, he acted smug, victorious, confident in his power and, like Saddam Hussein or Muammar Gaddafi, addressed his opponent, the president of another country, with the derogatory “You”, which is the manner of dictators, not democrats. politicians.

In doing so, it again acted as a replica of its predecessor.

While waging wars in the former Yugoslavia, Milosevic constantly emphasized that Serbia was not at war, but only defending itself against various opponents, real or imagined, because their propaganda production was never a problem. Vučić launched a similar, but even more grotesque inversion, claiming that he would “defend Serbia from 30 years of Montenegrin aggression” against her!

Politics is full of absurdity, many of them happen in democracies, but there is no such inexhaustible source of all kinds of miracles, for “believe it or not”, such as authoritarian regimes and their leaders.

EU and BALKAN 

As is the case in domestic politics, Serbia, a candidate country for the European Union, under Vučić’s regime does not care much about EU principles and values ​​in foreign policy, nor is it considered obligatory to harmonize it with Brussels, like other candidate countries. Instead, it is arming itself from Moscow and routinely supporting the Russian occupation of Crimea, as well as Chinese human rights violations in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.

Edward Joseph, a lecturer at Johns Hopkins University in Washington and a connoisseur of the Balkans, called the situation a “charade” and stressed that a dangerous equilibrium had been established in the Western Balkans in which Western-accepted countries were placed under much stronger scrutiny. in matters of corruption and ethno-nationalism, rather than an actor who openly renews and updates Milosevic’s “Greater Serbia” and at the same time promotes an authoritarian model in alliance with Moscow and Beijing.

Bearing in mind that Belgrade already has an already consolidated authoritarian regime in power, which suppressed initial democratic reforms in Serbia and created institutions tailored to autocratic rule, and which, after this internal consolidation, turned to aggressive and revisionist foreign policy in the Western Balkans. where Montenegro is one of the main targets of such a policy, at least some, we would say, essential questions arise.

First, what is and what is the role of EU policy in all this?

One of the main characteristics of the EU is that, in addition to economic, it is a community of political values ​​- liberal democracy and the rule of law. In the name of defending its essence, the EU has repeatedly shown readiness and determination to subject its own member to sanctions for endangering these values ​​- in the 1990s Austria under Haider’s ultra-right nationalists, and today Hungary and Poland for Orban and Kaczynski’s anti-European or liberal policies.

If it knew how to treat its members in this way, the question arises as to the EU’s attitude towards the candidate country, which, contrary to all EU values, has an authoritarian regime that pursues an aggressive and revisionist policy towards its neighbors. with geopolitical opponents of the West.

Until when will the EU, contrary to its values, accept a country with such a regime as a legitimate candidate for membership in its club and open and close chapters on enlargement with it, without drawing any “red line” on what a candidate country can be? he can, and what he must not do, at least not without consequences. Is the EU accession so far perhaps one of the reasons why such a regime has been freely established in the candidate country and believes that the time has come for what Milosevic did not achieve with his wars to be achieved “by other means”?

Maybe the time has also come for Brussels to think about this.

THE NEED TO REVIEW THE POLICY OF “NON-INTERFERENCE”

The second and analogous issue concerns NATO, a military-political alliance based on the principle of “all for one, one for all” and member states take this principle seriously.

In the Western Balkans, there is currently a situation in which one of the allied countries has been exposed to more or less open pressure and assault (albeit for now by hybrid means, without open violence) by more than a year and a half. a non-NATO member that is an ally of its authoritarian role models in Moscow and Beijing.

Is this situation, which, among other things, opens the door to even greater influence of the Alliance’s geopolitical rivals, acceptable to NATO members, without deserving any, even diplomatic, reaction? As in the case of the EU, is the policy of “non-interference” perhaps one of the reasons why this situation was created at all? Perhaps the time has come for some conclusions to be drawn at this at Alliance headquarters.

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