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The Macron Paradox

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Deep Purple performed in Belgrade again this December, and it was an occasion to recall how much more relaxed the atmosphere in Serbia had been when this band last performed in Belgrade, in March 2014, and when the top stars among the audience were then Serbian President Tomislav Nikolić, dressed in a tight, black, leather jacket, and First Lady Dragica, also dressed in rocker’s apparel

Toma’s people aren’t even in politics any longer and, when it comes to the state of democracy, a certain nostalgia for Nikolić has emerged, to such an extent that he would be a welcome sight as a guest of the opposition Alliance for Serbia. The Serbian year of sobriety (‘Junker’s date’ – 2025 – is no longer realistic when it comes to EU accession) was framed by Putin’s visit to Belgrade in January, only for Vučić to now, in December, to be in Sochi. Laconic and rational, Putin did not behave in Belgrade as was expected by a large section of pro-Russian Serbs – like his former ambassador to Belgrade, Konuzin, by at one point asking the people gathered in front of Saint Sava Temple – “Are there any Serbs here?” Surely the amassed crowd would have broken out with “We’re heading to Kosovo!”. The Sochi meeting followed an espionage affair in Serbia with a Russian element, which served to advance conspiratorial tales. Immediately before heading to Sochi, Vučić emphasised that there wouldn’t be a new 1948 – the symbolic year when Tito severed relations with Stalin. If he were to break ties with the Russians, Vučić would not receive even close to the the compensation that Tito got in the West.

Macron visited Serbia this summer and won over the sympathies of its citizens. The Macron phenomenon is also an attempt to seek a ‘subsequent Serbian Gensher’ (patron), while the Macron paradox is that Serbia’s greatest friend in the West is a politician who most coldly tells the country to its face that nothing will come of EU accession prior to the internal reforming of the union.

The Macron phenomenon is an attempt to seek a ‘subsequent Serbian Gensher’ (patron), while the Macron paradox is that Serbia’s greatest friend in the West is a politician who most coldly tells the country to its face that nothing will come of EU accession prior to the internal reforming of the union

The Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) is an associate member of the European People’s Party. Vučić didn’t attend its congress in Zagreb this November, confirming that the politics of Serbia and Croatia remain crucially defined by wartime narratives, and not their common European future. If they missed out on the chance to be the France and Germany of the region, Croatia and Serbia are working hard to be the Pakistan and India of the region. By making a spectacle of foreign policy, Vučić compensates for the increasingly apparent shortcomings of domestic policy. Zagreb is no longer a place where the Serbian president can easily earn points, as he did in February last year. A new chance will be provided by the EU-Western Balkans summit in May 2020, when Croatia will preside over the EU.

After a long initiation process, Prime Minister Ana Brnabić also became a member of SNS in 2019 and, by constantly proving herself, squeezed Dačić out of Vučić’s vision of ‘co-prime ministers’. Socialist Party of Serbia leader Dačić chief devoted himself to his foreign ministry and concentrated on lobbying for countries to revoke their recognition of Kosovo’s independence. When that was done by Ghana, he was even praised by opposition figure and former foreign minister Vuk Jeremić, but in a country of paranoia that brought him into an uncomfortable position.

The opposition marked the anniversary of the demonstrations. They have gradually collapsed, with the focus of tactics having shifted to uncovering regime scandals and promoting a boycott (of elections) as the most expensive Serbian word (after Kosovo).

The opposition likes to compare Vučić to Orbán and Erdoğan, but in the dogmatism of boycott they don’t like to be reminded of the victories of opposition leaders Ekrem İmamoğlu in Istanbul or Gergel Karácsony in Budapest.

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