The democratic push is similar across the region, but political contexts differ. It remains to be seen whether democratic opposition parties, movements and civil society groups in Serbia can join forces and hold their nerve in the difficult and risky political finale that awaits us in the coming years.
Political change is often a regional phenomenon. In the early 1990s, a partial democratisation of communist authoritarianism in our region left behind hybrid regimes. In the early 2000s, most of these regimes became democracies, with the exceptions of Montenegro and Albania. In the following decade, the demise of democracy in North Macedonia and Serbia represented only the most visible outcomes of the global democratic recession; authoritarian practises abound across the region, such as major violations of media freedoms and minority rights.
The latest shift of the regional political pendulum has fostered democracy. Democratic forces toppled Gruevski in North Macedonia and decisively undermined Đukanović in Montenegro; new governments represent major but unsteady steps towards democracy. More recently, insurgent social movements won election victories in major Croatian cities, by fighting for ‘green’ causes, but also against corruption and widespread authoritarian practises. The question is whether the latest regional swing will influence Serbian politics, and if so how.
The obstacles confronting democratic forces in serbia seem to be greater than those in neighbouring countries. The question is whether the latest regional swing will influence Serbian politics, and if so how
To an extent, political change is already underway. After several years lost in the wilderness, democratic forces are on the rise again. A large wave of weekly protests against authoritarian rule unfolded across the country in 2018-2019. These events emboldened the democratic opposition to boycott unfair elections, which left the legitimacy of the national assembly in tatters. Various local movements and coalitions have fought, with some success, against shady business deals between government and its cronies, which damaged the environment and fostered corruption at a major cost to the public purse.
And yet, the obstacles confronting democratic forces in Serbia seem to be greater than those in neighbouring countries. The push for democracy is similar across the region, but political contexts remain different. Opposition parties in North Macedonia and Montenegro took several years to organise and confront their authoritarian rulers successfully; our opposition parties have only just started rebuilding their organisation beyond large cities. Green and other movements in Croatia exploited a considerably more open political context and conflicts between, and public discontent with, the two largest parties.
Serbia’s authoritarianism has become progressively more closed and repressive, characterised by a personalist and arbitrary rule that undermines all public institutions. It remains to be seen whether democratic opposition parties, movements and civil society groups can join forces and hold their nerve in the difficult and risky political finale that awaits us in the coming years.