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Bogdan Živkovic, historian

Serbia has Election Fatigue

Serbia enters the December election period in a remarkably calm mood, weary from overexploited political issues, passions and ideas. Nothing points to change. However, the calmest period is sometimes the one that comes before the storm

There will be no issues that prove decisive in these elections, despite that seeming otherwise in the first half of the year. The French-German plan brought the Kosovo issue to the fore. Then came the mass shooting at the Ribnikar Primary School that triggered mass protests among the civic-minded opposition. Over the course of just a few months, both of these issues disappeared from public discourse and their power to mobilise opposition voters was lost.

Several factors served to ensure that the government wasn’t seriously shaken by the Kosovo issue. On the one hand, the national-oriented opposition didn’t prove to have matured enough to handle the situation. The recent unsuccessful negotiations on the unifying of nationalist parties provided yet more evidence of this shortcoming. On the other hand, President Vučić had many allies on this issue – from the West and from Serbia’s own pro-Western opposition.

The school massacre was, on the other hand, an apolitical issue. It is very difficult to make the government culpable for this event, even with all the mistakes in the handling of the crisis. This tragedy has roots that are deeper than daily politics issues. As such, it is no wonder that the initial fiery reaction and mass rebellion collapsed of its own accord as a result of its apolitical undertone.

Vučić is the best possible collaborator for the West, because he can mobilise a good part of the nationalist and anti-Western electorate in Serbia. Regardless of how much the civic-minded opposition offers itself up to cooperate with Western players, they clearly recognise that Vučić is a far better collaborator for them

The fading of these two major issues caused an anticlimactic atmosphere to spread among the opposition. However, the government is also awaiting the elections in a similar mood. At the national level, SNS failed to attract some significant non-party figures, as it has previously. In Belgrade, internal party divisions and the short and not particularly successful term of Mayor Šapić didn’t provide a ratings boost. But the opposition still threw SNS a lifeline. The candidacy of Vladimir Obradović, a vapid technocrat, doesn’t appear to be a move that will contribute to a change of government.

We must nonetheless take the stance of Western players into consideration. Serbia is completely dependent on the West in a geostrategic and economic sense, with the West possessing an enviable media and para-political structure of NGOs in the country, and Western stakeholders gladly meddle in internal affairs. The visit of Ursula von der Leyen provided a reminder of some constants of Western policy: Serbia must recognise Kosovo independence; the prospects of EU accession are a long way off; and Vučić is the best possible collaborator for the West, because he’s able to mobilise a good part of the nationalist and anti-Western-oriented electorate in Serbia. Regardless of how much the civic- minded opposition offers itself up to cooperate with Western players, they clearly recognise that Vučić is a far better collaborator for them – provided he wants to collaborate.

As such, Serbia enters the December election period in a remarkably calm mood, weary from overexploited political issues, passions and ideas. Nothing points to change. However, the calmest period is sometimes the one that comes before the storm.

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