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Comment By Zoran Panović

Post Ohrid

Although spring has only just sprung, I would already nominate “red lines” for 2023 term of the year. Everyone has them – from Putin and Xi, via the “collective West” (as Putin likes to say), all the way to Vučić and Kurti. The implementation of the European plan for Kosovo, or the Annex from Ohrid, will imply a way for both the Serbian and Albanian sides to relativise those “red lines”, while they simultaneously remain a sacralised part of the narrative

This is a test of both the political skill and technology of the governments of Kutri and Vučić.

Resistance among the opposition, in both Belgrade and Priština, supports the assessment that it is nonetheless a compromise agreement at a given moment – with the clarification that the agreement was written by countries that have recognised the independence of Kosovo, and it thus cannot really be “pro-Serbian”. However, with a certain sensitisation of the “collective West” (more the U.S. than the EU) towards Serbian interests, Vučić still managed to get some wiggle room for a creative interpretation of the Agreement, primarily on the domestic front.

In this case, Kosovo again serves to prove that the Serbian division between those for and against Vučić is not the main division in the country, as it cannot be used to interpret the essential dilemmas of Serbian society, which is itself increasingly conformist and apolitical. Pragmatic mimicry behind aggressive quasi patriotic devotion. For now, the majority of public opinion, According to the research of Demostat, for now the majority of the public silently supports Vučić on Kosovo. Provided you don’t sign, that’s enough for us, and we know the reality – so reach agreement, implement.

The Serbian president’s announcement on the formation of the People’s Movement marks a certain rebranding of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party, but it also represents an attempt to fortify the political centre. Due to the situation (both internal and external), Vučić must – partly out of inertia and partly due to his own engineering – move towards the centre (and even usurp it) in order to legitimise the “new reality”.

Due to the situation (both internal and external), Vučić must – partly out of inertia and partly due to his own engineering – move towards the centre (and even usurp it) in order to legitimise the “new reality”

Anyone who remains outside the People’s Movement (originally the Serbian bloc) will be presented if not as “extreme”, then as “irresponsible” regarding the interests of the state and the nation. Moving to the centre will not mean accepting a centrist worldview (nor will the West exert pressure regarding that issue), but rather the propaganda will continue to be deafeningly progressive, as a “scorched earth” tactic towards opponents, patriotically charged to the max in order to anaesthetise the right and its accusations of “betrayal” on the issue of Kosovo. It is paradoxical that the “third way” on the Serbian political scene is being formulated by a leader who has spent more than a decade in power.

In March (due to the anniversaries of their deaths), the posthumous charisma of Milošević and Đinđić crossed paths again. This year was also the “jubilee” (20-year) anniversary of Đinđić’s assassination, which only strengthened the symbolism.

In terms of identifying himself with Đinđić, it is enough for Vučić to enhance the level of misunderstanding in reformism, in swallowing frogs on the Kosovo issue, and drawing parallels regarding threat levels. Although, paradoxically but pragmatically, Vučić criticises post-5th October policies in order to highlight the importance of policies after his SNS came to power in 2012, or in order to relativise the disastrous impact of the policies of the ‘90s, when – during certain important phases – Šešelj’s Radicals (which included the young Vučić) participated in the Milošević government.

Although he clearly respects Milošević, Vučić is extremely careful not to enter into the kind of irrational conflict with the West that led to the ruin of Milošević. The Dayton Agreement didn’t change the character of Milošević’s regime. Will Ohrid change Vučić’s? Not in essence.

On the issue of ideology, Vučić is agnostic. His political ideal is probably Đinđić’s software and Šešelj’s hardware. It might look like Frankenstein’s monster, but it works.

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