A certain excitement created by Vojislav Seselj’s return has a more tangible meaning now. It does not have to do with Seselj himself, but with Aleksandar Vucic’s reaction. Nobody expected Seselj to change his nationalist ideology and aggressive political rhetoric. And he completely lived up to those expectations: he wants to overthrow the government of the traitors Nikolic and Vucic and mobilize “all patriots” to fight the EU and NATO accession; the greater Serbia is still the main idea of Serbian radicals; he beat the Hague tribunal which only puts to trial Serbian patriots who defended their homeland; Serbia should be integrated into Russia and turn to the East. He didn’t forget to mention how pleased he was when Djindjic, a traitor and a mobster and “the dark side of Serbian history”, was killed.
He played his entire repertoire in his distinctive style. He even appeared at the liturgy held by the two patriarchs, Serbian and Russian, at the Temple of Saint Sava. He has never done that before, but he is even ready to bow to the church to hurt the “traitors”. And who has failed? It seems to me that prime minister Vucic failed to play his new role of a radical turned progressive European. And we all waited to see that, i.e. whether Vucic will pass the test of Seselj’s return. It seems to me that he has failed that test. The infallible Corax, whose cartoon depicts Vucic sitting on a potty, worrying, assures me that my feeling is right.
The day before Seselj arrived, Vucic played out another conspiracy theory through Aleksandar Vulin. This time it was done in a way that is difficult to even joke about, because it could prove to be very expensive for Serbia. Vucic’s ventriloquist Vulin said that Seselj’s return was organized by the Americans in order to destabilize the government of prime minister Vucic, because they do not like Vucic’s foreign policy – both EU and Russia, i.e. excessive closeness with Russia. Vulin added the fatal sentence that the prime minister should consider changing the foreign policy and turning solely towards Russia.
American and German ambassadors reacted to the “conspiracy”, both quite surprised by this attack. They rejected the insinuations that the Hague tribunal works on behalf of the United States, and said that destabilizing the Serbian government was out of the question. The ambassadors noted that their countries support Serbia on its path towards the European Union, and that the accusations of destabilizing Vucic’s government can only be placed in the domain of “conspiracy theories”. “Disruption from the outside”, mentioned many times before, now got its sinister crescendo, suggesting that Serbia’s EU membership could quickly melt on both sides – the Serbian and European one.
This “international conspiracy” hatched around Seselj’s return manifests how shallow prime minister Vucic’s European political career is. Our relations with the EU should have been the true U-turn and proof that he left his radical past completely behind him. But, when things came to that, that proof was lacking. Vucic simply had to respond to some of Seselj’s challenges. On his first day back, Seselj said that he will not return to the Hague tribunal voluntarily. He will have to be arrested and extradited by the Serbian president Tomislav Nikolic and prime minister Aleksandar Vucic. It will be “a paradox that I be extradited by those who were my closest collaborators and accomplices in war crimes and crimes against humanity. Do you think I’d miss such an opportunity?”
Vucic missed his opportunity by not having the courage and strength to respond to Seselj’s challenge. He should have said that the authorities in Serbia are no longer Seselj’s accomplices, because they had left that past behind and that, in accordance with the law and Serbia’s obligations as a candidate for EU membership, Seselj would be arrested. None of that happened. Instead of rejecting Seselj and confirming his new identity, Vucic made a cowardly move and ignored Seselj’s return. On the day of Seselj’s rally, Vucic gave an interview to Blic in which the subject of Seselj was completely bypassed. He said a lot of things about his great reforms and concerns, that Bogicevic took millions of euros, about helping the private sector, finding a partner for EPS and so on. A direct question about his position about Seselj’s arrival was mentioned and whether the arrival is an organized conspiracy of the United States. Vucic didn’t want to talk about it, because he never talks about conspiracies! When asked whether he has any reason to fear Seselj, Vucic repeated an already spoken phrase – “I wish him good health”.
All in all, he has much more important issues than Seselj. The message he managed to send is – I am changing and I’m not ashamed of it. Obviously, this change is insufficient, because it didn’t occur to him to distance himself from the “American conspiracy”, nor did he manage to free himself from Seselj’s paradox. When Vucic decided to ignore Seselj, he assumed that his former boss will have the opportunity to see who the real boss is only after a few days in Serbia, after he has spent some time in the city and yelled his slogans as much as he wanted, only to find that he has fallen into the media eclipse where no one can hear him. The fact that Seselj was allowed to yell in the media for the first two days and on the third day, when he held a rally, he fell on the back pages in an abbreviated format, with a dictated number of people present, proves that this was the plan. Journalists diligently talked with the participants of the rally, revealing their strong dissatisfaction and anger because so few people came to such an important rally. The battle has begun, and the outcome is uncertain, but one thing we know for sure: the elections earlier this year were the peak of popularity of Vucic’s government. Since then, it has began to crumble and this trend will continue, which will benefit the right nationalist parties, because Vucic’s unreliable electorate is likely to gravitate to that side.
By the look of things, that acceleration towards the EU and feats over Kosovo, which took place at the beginning of Vucic’s government, melted away with wooing Russia and Putin, which disgusted Putin himself at that excessive and unnecessary parade of sodden soldiers and military hardware. The initial Euro-Atlantic credit has melted into politics of the nonaligned Serbia in the fictional new cold war between the West and Russia. This is a huge mistake, because Serbia is not former Yugoslavia, Vucic is not Tito, nor is the new cold war happening. And even if it were so, Serbia had to make use of the Ukrainian crisis to get out of Russia’s embrace.
From the initial alliance with Europe to gain support for internal dictatorship, Serbia came out as an even more damaged house with two doors, without the courage to opt for the West, democracy and liberal values. The mainstream media report about languishing on no man’s land every day. They will flatter Putin, Russia (and the Romanovs!), favor Euroscepticism and nationalist parties, spit on Obama and “hypocritical Americans” and rejoice over Scotland’s possible secession from the United Kingdom and Catalonia’s from Spain. In addition, every other day you will find a routine statement that Serbia is not giving up on its path towards the EU. And Putin himself says that he doesn’t mind that path.
Vucic’s popularity has proven to be futile, because he hasn’t invested in serious changes, placing Serbia on firmer ground and its commitment to Euro-Atlantic integration. The return of a sophisticated opponent such as Seselj has raised the issue of whether Serbia will continue to move away from Europe, which was initiated prior to his return, but could now be intensified if Vucic decides to be more catholic than the Pope. The other option is for him to continue with the present futile “non-aligned policy” and subdued radical noise, which he would not find difficult in a situation of almost total control over the media. A third possibility is for Vucic to try and save himself from a tough opponent, who will win at least 20% at the next elections with other anti-European parties. In this case, Vucic could seek the support of the so-called pro-European forces (Cedomir Jovanovic and Boris Tadic), with the intention of defeating Seselj by a coalition with the opposite side and secureing a fallback position for himself. Whatever the outcome, it is clear that Serbia wont’s focus on economic issues, but rather on the strain between the East and the West.
Translated by Marijana Simic
Vesna Pešić, političarka, borkinja za ljudska prava i antiratna aktivistkinja, sociološkinja. Diplomirala na Filozofskom fakultetu u Beogradu, doktorirala na Pravnom, radila u Institutu za društvene nauke i Institutu za filozofiju i društvenu teoriju, bila profesorka sociologije. Od 70-ih pripada peticionaškom pokretu, 1982. bila zatvarana sa grupom disidenata. 1985. osnivačica Jugoslovenskog helsinškog komiteta. 1989. članica Udruženja za jugoslovensku demokratsku inicijativu. 1991. članica Evropskog pokreta u Jugoslaviji. 1991. osniva Centar za antiratnu akciju, prvu mirovnu organizaciju u Srbiji. 1992-1999. osnivačica i predsednica Građanskog saveza Srbije (GSS), nastalog ujedinjenjem Republikanskog kluba i Reformske stranke, sukcesora Saveza reformskih snaga Jugoslavije Ante Markovića. 1993-1997. jedna od vođa Koalicije Zajedno (sa Zoranom Đinđićem i Vukom Draškovićem). 2001-2005. ambasadorka SR Jugoslavije, pa SCG u Meksiku. Posle gašenja GSS 2007, njegovim prelaskom u Liberalno-demokratsku partiju (LDP), do 2011. predsednica Političkog saveta LDP-a, kada napušta ovu partiju. Narodna poslanica (1993-1997, 2007-2012).