If it turns out that the regime in Belgrade, with all the pressure, bribery, with all the irregularities with phantom voters, fails to transfer the 50 percent plus one to gather a majority in the Belgrade assembly, it will be a clear signal that this is the beginning of the end of the Vucic regime, assesses in interview for Geopost Milivoj Beshlin historian and senior research associate at the Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory in Belgrade.
He cautiously adds that it remains to be seen what will happen when the election results arrive.
Bešlin believes that the large-state project is something that is mainstream on the Serbian political scene.
“I even called it the doctrine of limited sovereignty of the neighboring states of Serbia, where Vučić nominally recognizes the borders in the region, the independence of these states of our neighbors, but basically does not recognize their sovereignty”.
Vučić presents himself, emphasizes Bešlin, not as the president of all citizens of Serbia, but as the leader of the Serbs in the region, and therefore everywhere where the majority of Serbs live in the region, namely Bosnia and Herzegovina, in the north of Kosovo, in Montenegro.
“He believes that he has the right to represent at least part of the sovereignty of those countries, that is, he basically does not recognize their right to sovereignty, more precisely, that their sovereignty must be limited by his will and those countries should be some kind of satellite states of Serbia”.
When asked if there is a force in Serbia that actively opposes it, Beshlin answers that “almost none”.
The future will tell us whether and to what extent Vucic learned his lesson after the terrorist act in Banjska, says Beshlin.
“I think that it will depend primarily on the outcome of the European elections that follow in 2024, and much more on the outcome of the American presidential elections. If Trump is the candidate of the Republicans and if he wins those elections and, again, if Vučić’s very frequent and very dear guest here, Richard Grenell, becomes the Secretary of State, I think it will be a very clear signal for a completely disorganized, aggressive behavior of this regime in the region and that then various kinds of unpleasant surprises are possible”.
The Geopost: Citizens of Serbia are electing a new government and local authorities today. If we take into account the pre-election polls that predict a narrow victory for the opposition in Belgrade, can we talk about the beginning of the end of the rule of Aleksandar Vučić or is it too early for that?
Beshlin: I would first wait to see the election results. The pre-election polls really talk about the possibility that there will be either a very close result in Belgrade or a victory for the opposition, although, of course, the big question is what the opposition actually means now. This, let’s call it that, pro-European or centrist list “Serbia against violence” is not disputed, but it is disputed how these ultra-right parties, that is, the right-wing opposition, will break and who are actually Vučić’s sleepers and who are not.
What is also an unknown is the actual number of voters in Serbia, primarily in Belgrade. What we see as information not only in independent media but also in direct contact with people, with citizens of Belgrade, friends, colleagues, is that there is a huge number of people, more precisely voters, whose places of residence are from various parts of Serbia or the region, primarily Bosnia and Herzegovina transferred to Belgrade. So, the real number of voters and those who will actually vote in those elections is largely uncertain, which speaks of a rather irregular nature of these elections. I am not participating in the elections, I am not looking for any alibi for the possible defeat of the opposition or anything similar, but I am only pointing out that these elections will have a very high degree of irregularity and that it is therefore quite uncertain and ungrateful to anticipate the possible outcome of those elections because we have too much or beyond measure unknowns in that equation.
But if it turns out that the regime, with all the pressures, bribes, with all the irregularities with phantom voters, we also saw a large number of people who are unfortunately no longer alive and who received invitations to vote, will have a minority, that is, they will not manage to transfer that 50 percent plus one to gather a majority in the Belgrade assembly, it will be a clear signal that this is the beginning of the end of Vučić’s regime. It really remains to be seen what will happen when the election results come in.
The Geopost: Where during the campaign was the idea of a ‘greater Serbia’ or a ‘Serbian world’, more precisely, in which parties do you recognize these tactics and does Serbia have a list, party or coalition that has the potential to fight against such an idea that dreams of uniting all Serbs?
Beshlin: Obviously, this large-state project is something that, I dare say, is mainstream on our political scene. So, when disguised radicals came to power in Serbia in 2012, it was clear that, despite the fact that previous Tadić’s regime was marked by nationalist activities and certain pretensions that he showed not only when it comes to Kosovo but also to Montenegro and about Bosnia and Herzegovina, but he did it a lot, at least from this distance it seems toothless and sloppy.
When the disguised radicals under the name of progressives came to power after only a year or two, when all their so-called reform narratives failed, they in fact returned to their basic idea, which is extreme nationalism, a large-state project in the region, an aggressive and expansive policy in the region that basically denies our neighbors and their sovereignty. I even called it the doctrine of limited sovereignty of the neighboring states of Serbia, where Vučić nominally recognizes the borders in the region, the independence of these states of our neighbors, I mean Serbia’s post-Yugoslav neighbors, but basically does not recognize their sovereignty.
Namely, as we know, the sovereign is the people, and since Vučić presents himself not as the president of all the citizens of Serbia, but as the leader of the Serbs in the region and therefore everywhere where the majority of Serbs live in the region, which is Bosnia and Herzegovina in the first place, on north of Kosovo, Montenegro, he believes that he has the right to represent at least part of the sovereignty of those states, that is, he basically does not recognize their right to sovereignty, more precisely, that their sovereignty must be limited by his will, and those states should be a kind of satellite states of Serbia. If we see the behavior of Montenegrin President (Jakov) Milatović in Vučić’s presence, if we see what kind of moves (Milorad) Dodik is making, thanking him as well, and what the entire politics of BiH looks like, then it is clear that they are basically in some way satellites of Serbia and that is Vučić’s in fact, the doctrine of limited sovereignty of the neighboring states of Serbia, i.e. if it cannot already create that large-state project, if he cannot, at this moment, due to international frameworks, change the borders in the region, then he can create a new factual situation, and he has already created this new factual situation.
So, thanks to that, he moved the entire public discourse of Serbia terribly towards nationalism, and most of the opposition actually competes with him in that nationalist project. In particular, I am now thinking of this right-wing and ultra-right-wing opposition, where we have really heard some of the strange proposals – from the right-winger (Vuk) Jeremic’s proposal that the representatives of Serbs from BiH and Montenegro have guaranteed seats in the Parliament of the Republic of Serbia to the already empty warmongering statements coming from others representatives of this ultra-right opposition – from Zavetnik to Dveri and DSS. So, in a way, unfortunately, because of that changed blood picture of society, that is, the atmosphere in society, those narratives are now completely normalized, and on the other hand, what you asked, is there anyone who actively opposes it – there is almost none. This central opposition list, as far as I can see, does not directly participate in the promotion of Vučić’s big-state plans, but it does not actively oppose them, while some truly smaller opposition lists like ‘Serbia in the West’ are the only ones more actively opposed to Vučić’s big-state, expansive and nationalist policies.
The Geopost: So, they are very afraid of the electorate
Bešlin: Exactly, the fear of the electorate, which, like our entire society, has been shifted to the right thanks to Vučić’s ten-year radical propaganda, and then they all fear for their popularity and in fact compete with Vučić in that big-state and nationalist project. When I mentioned Zavetnik, DSS and Dveri and Jeremic, we should not forget this right-wing list of (Boris) Tadić and (Sasa) Radulović (“Good morning, Serbia”).
The Geopost: During the week, Vučić expressed concern about the situation around Kosovo, which he described as increasingly ‘inconvenient’. Is he thereby announcing new conflicts, or did the case in Banjska, where a greater bloodshed was prevented, show that Kosovo is a point beyond which the West will not tolerate any activities by Serbia or Russia?
Beshlin: I think that the terrorism that was committed in Banjska was, after all, the crime that led to the armed confrontations in Kosovo, that was the red line where the West, the great powers, saw that the trust they gave to Vučić that he would to solve it soon, he just hasn’t solved the Kosovo issue for ten years now, that this is quite a futile expectation. I think that we have a very uncertain period ahead of us. After that terrorism, it was made clear to Vučić that it would not be tolerated any further, although not much was said about it in public, although he was ultimately asked to withdraw the army he had concentrated in the south of Serbia towards Kosovo, to extradite Radoičić, who is suspected of being the perpetrator of that terrorist act, to the state authorities of Kosovo. That already said that somehow the climate towards Vučić in the West is changing. In the end, according to what we know, some of the key EU states, that is, European states, actually warned the institutions of Kosovo about Vučić’s real intentions. So, all of that said he was lost somewhere at that point. The future will tell us whether and to what extent he learned his lesson, but I think that it will depend primarily on the outcome of the European elections that follow in 2024, and much more on the outcome of the American presidential elections. If Trump is the candidate of the Republicans and if he wins those elections and, again, if Vučić’s very frequent and very dear guest here, Richard Grenell, becomes the Secretary of State, I think it will be a very clear signal for a completely disorganized, aggressive behavior of this regime in the region and that then various kinds of unpleasant surprises are possible.
The Geopost: And Ukraine depends on the US, where Republicans question the continuation of aid for Kiev’s war effort. In the case of the eventual ‘fall’ of Ukraine, what consequences would it have for the Western Balkans?
Beshlin: Putin’s victory in Ukraine will first of all not be a defeat for Ukraine, but a defeat for Europe and the political West, and this is something that will tragically reflect on our region. This is something that will encourage all these pro-Russian and expansionist forces in both Serbia and BiH, and I do not exclude some very negative scenarios in the Western Balkans region.
The Geopost: So, we have a rather uncertain year ahead of us
Beshlin: A very uncertain year 2024. And a lot will depend on the outcome of these super elections, namely these European and American elections.