The Prime Minister of the Republic of Serbia came to the police station on Sunday afternoon and demanded his hearing. This was followed by a surprise press conference of the Minister of Interior of his government. Not only for the information that the President, Aleksandar Vučić, was innocent and that this was proved on polygraph. It was different because of others present at the press conference. The minister was not accompanied only by the people from his security service, but there were representatives of all police forces behind him, dressed in camouflage uniforms and armed with long-barrelled weapons.
The entire event has begun one week ago as a commercial war for taking over of the prominent Serbian daily Politika. In fact, it was the intention of the purchase of receivables of big German publisher WAZ towards the mentioned takeover target. The owners of another top-selling Belgrade daily should have bought the receivables. They were convinced of their success because they favoured the current government, and primarily its president, in their editorial policy. Later, they were informed that, allegedly, German dealers of receivables had been instructed from the very top of the Serbian government not to sell receivables, especially not to them. And then, a complete change in editorial policy happened. First, with a completely unexpected criticism towards the Prime Minister, then with a big apology to the citizens of Serbia and statement that they concealed the real circumstances with their messages in favour of the government and its president. They finished with accusations that Vučić cooperates with persons of controversial past and criminal pedigree.
That should be the reason why Vučić went to the police the last week of November. This was followed by a new turn of events.
Just few hours after the Interior Minister’s press conference, the republic public prosecutor published her statement too: the prosecutor’s office shall prevent endangering of the constitutional order and destabilization of the country with the immediate initiation of criminal proceedings.
The public prosecutor’s statement was followed by the Serbian Minister of Defence’s statement that the Prime Minister is the most threatened person in the country in terms of security and that, due to this, a special unit was formed to coordinate the work of all civil and military offices in charge of Vučić`s security.
Suddenly, it was not only about a controversial media buying, but about the intent of a coup d’état or a change of power and a serious threat to the President’s personal safety.
I have to stop with the description of the further course of events here and return to the core issue. Is such an assessment of the situation in the country completely new? Or is it a manipulation in consolidation of public opinion and alignment of party electorate and the parties of the government coalition, or are there actual threats to changes and the Prime Minister?
In the Serbian political history, such threats occur almost as a rule on the eve of the state’s decision-making on its development. The late Prime Minister Zoran Đinđić was probably the most descriptive in such an assessment. Immediately after the election victory in October 2000, he presented the program of the then coalition. We have to start, practically immediately, he said, the biggest process of modernization of the state since the murder of Prince Mihailo (in 1868), who wanted to change the oriental state based on personal relations, clans and their interests. And that’s why he was assassinated. This way, Đinđić set a time and material point when the ruling becomes dangerous. The period of changes. Prince Mihailo wanted to make Serbia more modern, based on then advanced Austro-Hungarian administration. The same thing Aleksandar Obrenović wanted a good fifty years later. His assassination was also prepared for several years. Above all, by repetitive descriptions of catastrophic conditions in the country allegedly caused by his ruling. Petar Stambolić, President of Serbia in the former Yugoslavia, was also assassinated. They killed him because he obviously wanted to prevent a large manipulation of power.
When the only permitted parties of the socialist countries already started to collapse, and when the Berlin Wall was collapsing, Slobodan Milošević carried out a coup through the instruments of so-called anti-bureaucratic revolutions and promoted himself as the leader of a completely new politics of the new era. Due to this, it was necessary to physically remove Stambolić.
The common point of those murders was the difference in political understanding whether Serbia should be a modern state of the Serbian people or a state of all Serbs. And what was the content of the Milošević’s program if not slogan about the cohabitation of all in the new big state?
A difference in opinion on this matter was exactly the reason for the assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Đinđić in March 2003. I am going back to the time of his government again. Almost to the very beginning. His program platform was a breakpoint itself. We have two options, he said in one of the consultations with the ambassadors. Or Serbia will clam up and just wait for possible repeating of the old conditions, or it will be open to Europe and the world and become comparable. These are two different concepts that will decide the country’s path.
A prominent and respected analyst of conditions (I was her host for the conversation we had in my Belgrade residence), Dr. Latinka Perović, illustrated this with the following thesis: remove Milošević from power and at the same time maintain the continuity of social and national ideology, or see his removal as a first step of consistent break-up with such ideology of power. Đinđić was convinced that Europe will not wait for Serbia. Therefore, it was necessary to respect its international obligations and rules. Starting with the compliance with the requirements of the international tribunal for war crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia in The Hague. It is one thing, and I quote him again for the description of the differences between the two concepts of the state, to build on the social and national demagogy, as well as promises of a great state, and it is something completely different and much riskier to establish new development strategy, adopt a series of reforms and believe in the new European expansion and new development in a country with a destroyed economy, tired citizens, with minimum national income.
Đinđić was in a hurry. He was in a hurry to join European Union. He knew there was not much time. That it was the only possible breakup with the other political program that recognizes the clammed up state.
The current Prime Minister, Aleksandar Vučić, knows that too. He is probably one of the very few prime ministers who have secured all the support in the national parliament. His party has almost a constitutional majority. These days, Serbia is starting the last round of negotiations with the European Union. In May this year, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, he spoke about his personal disappointment related to the European Union; however, he added that there was no return when it comes to the commitment to membership. That the decision is final. And it’s because of this he was able to lead the Brussels negotiations with the authorities in Priština in such a successful manner, a negotiations that were still undesirable when requested by Đinđić.
It is true that Vučić is practically the only one in the state who makes strategic decisions; it is true that he is often faster than institutions in terms of decision-making, thereby dangerously diminishing their importance; it is true that the membership of his party is not homogenous in terms of government policy, and it is also true that the country does not have a serious opposition. However, this cannot be a sufficient reason to not recognize Vučić’s key influence in the choice of a state concept of a European Serbia.
Former President Boris Tadić added, after yesterday’s dialogue with Michael Davenport, European ambassador in Belgrade, that the problem was mainly in the fact that the Serbian path to the European Union was slow and still not irreversible.
We should not therefore shake our hands too soon to the latest events in Belgrade and see them as the staged creation of emergency conditions in the state. We should understand their rational core.