By Taulant Elshani for The Geopost
The major changes in the global geopolitical landscape are heavily influencing the Balkan region as well. Serbia is undoubtedly the critical node of this branch of changes, openly articulating the political idea for revisionism through the “Serbian World” program and clearly manifesting the readiness to endanger the peace in the south-eastern Balkan region with harsh nationalist rhetoric and open aggression against the Republic of Kosovo, as well as ongoing obstructions in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro.
In the political context, revisionism refers to the opposition and open challenge of established historical narratives, political systems or international norms. In this logic of definition, not recognizing the reality in the new state of Kosovo, eroding the institutional stability of Bosnia-Herzegovina and interfering in the domestic affairs of Montenegro, Serbia openly challenges the current political and security order in the Balkan region.
A powerful impetus for the reformulation of the Serbian Balkan policy has undoubtedly been the Russian Federation’s aggression in Ukraine as well as China’s warnings about the invasion of Taiwan. The dismemberment of Ukraine since 2014, and the inability of the international community to prevent it, as well as China’s aggressive military maneuvers in the Taiwan Strait are examples of how state borders, political orders, and critical and fragile regional balances are subject to change by military force. In particular, the large-scale invasion of Ukraine in the sense of global security is a devastating earthquake, because it undoubtedly heralds the era of revisionism, that is, of the continuous change of borders by force, thus, this is not an isolated local development.
In the state ideological sense, modern Serbian revisionism is represented by the slogan “Serbian World” (Serbian: Srpski svet; Cyrillic: Српски свет). This slogan is strongly trumpeted in the public discourse in Serbia, by influential politicians at the highest levels of official Belgrade as well as in the state-controlled media. The catchphrase “Serbian world” that began to be widely used sometime in the mid-2010s is the continuation of the official policy for territorial expansion that has its roots in the Načertanije political program formulated by former Serbian statesman and Prime Minister Ilija Garašanin, where he drafted the idea of a Greater Serbia that would absorb all the Serbs of the region.
Map of the Balkans Source: Panthermeadia
Serbia’s Unholy Trinity: Nationalist Fantasies, Criminal Entanglements, and Authoritarian Ambitions
To grasp the essence of Serbia’s current state, one must delve into the intricate inner workings that shape its political landscape and developmental standing: political life, the level of development, relations with the countries of the region and its current position in the context of aspirations for integration. In the framework of the internal dynamics of power in Serbia, I have selected the intense interaction with deep consequences of the nationalist fantasy, the gangrene of crime and the mafia, as well as the authoritarian ambitions of the political power. In the following, I will briefly elaborate each.
The fantasy and intoxication of primitive nationalism largely dominates the political and social life in Serbia – taking hostage the democratic development processes within and contributing to the ongoing tension of the situation in the region. Currently, Serbian nationalism plays the role of the oxygen tube that keeps alive and feeds politics in Serbia, and vice versa, politics sustains nationalism with the promise of restoration of “greatness” based on medieval myths, thus creating a catastrophic vicious circle that has inextricably gripped political and social life in Serbia.
The second component of this trinity is undoubtedly the world of crime, which is organically connected to the institutions of the Serbian state, which acts as a consolidated pillar of political and social power. Mafia clans in Serbia date back to the early 1990s when they were created and empowered by the state for the needs of the genocidal wars in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo. Mafia and criminal clans are still maintained and are still utilized for the exclusive advantage of internal politics and projecting Serbia’s influence in the region. In Serbia, mafia clans secure votes for the current president Aleksandar Vučić, and in return receive impunity and business favors. In the sense of Serbia’s regional ambitions, mafia clans carry out the job functioning as the secret hand of the Serbian state, as in the terrorist attack in Banjska, to present the country’s institutions as not involved in aggression against sovereign states.
The third component is the authoritarianism of the political power in Serbia, which is actually a legacy of the lack of democracy since the establishment of the first political and bureaucratic institutions during and after the rule of the Ottoman Empire. The authoritarianism of Aleksandar Vučić, the monopolization of political-economic power, the media, the control of public life largely determines the current position of Serbia, as a destructive state, with extremely great potential for jeopardizing regional peace. Vučić is currently undoubtedly the pyramid of this complex network of traditions, institutions and interests that acts as a vanguard and guarantor of Serbia’s already known ambitions for revisionism, which in the Balkan context amounts to a violent change of borders.
Can Serbia forcibly alter the political boundaries of the Balkan region?
Serbia has undertaken a significant modernization effort to bolster the capacity of its armed forces and its intelligence apparatus, clearly reaffirming that it is ready to accompany nationalist rhetoric and plans for a revisionist approach with real military force on the ground. The encouragement and support of the president of the Republika Srpska entity in Bosnia, the ultra-nationalist secessionist Milorad Dodik, the game with the demographic complexities and the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro, as well as the open aggression and the terrorist attack against Kosovo are the first indications that the plan for the “Serbian World” is not just rhetoric, but a real ambition in the agenda of politicians in Belgrade. History has taught us that whenever there has been a shift of power in world politics, the regional powers have tried to implement their plans for regional hegemony. The same can happen with Serbia, and in a favorable geopolitical case, or of any sudden change, Serbia could pursue the establishment of a unified “Serbian World” through technical-military means.
Western powers should take these ambitions of Serbia very seriously, and not tolerate them; forcing Serbia to accept the new reality, and pushing it towards domestic democratization. Any other approach would be wrong.