The Decline of the Patriarch

It is almost impossible, in the midst of the European democratic monotony, to conceive of an image of a ruler locked up in his presidential palace, who proclaims he is not afraid because the worst thing that can happen to him is getting killed. Such an image would be perfectly understandable during the major changes in communist Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall, or in a unique world of literary tragedies and the inexorable fate of their heroes. Yet, it is all happening now, in mid-March, in one of the European capitals this time. The Serbian President, Aleksandar Vučić, was surrounded by protesters in his governmental palace. He said he was not afraid of being killed and, as proof of his power, he played chess with the interior minister. The opposition protests, on the weekend of March 16 and 17 in the capital of Serbia, were different, not because they would recall the memory of Slobodan Milošević’s democratic elimination in 2000, but rather because they crossed the line, for the first time, in their demands for democracy and freedom. The fact that the murders and exiles of rulers in Serbia were part of its political history was merely mentioned by Vučić. This is how Karađorđe and Prince Miloš and Mihailo, as well as Aleksander Karađorđević, had lost their power. Prince Mihailo was killed, King Milan was exiled, and his son Alexander was finally assassinated as well. Petar Karađorđević had to resign, King Alexander was killed in 1934, just like Ivan Stambolić and, a few years later, Dr Zoran Đinđić.

Vučić’s Sunday message did not mean that he could actually be killed, he was simply too protected for the protesters to break into his palace. This was not even the intention of Vučić’s message. Vučić was rather trying to convey to his supporters and, above all, himself, that he is joining the ranks of the greatest historical names of the rulers of Serbia.

This was an important part of his political program from the time he took power and ever since.

Bill Montgomery was a designer of Croatian political power during his ambassadorial term in Zagreb, and he played a relatively similar role as the American ambassador in Belgrade. His ambassadorial mandate started about the same time as mine, immediately after the democratic victory of Zoran Đinđić. Montgomery’s collaborators monitored closely the changes in Serbian public opinion. They saw some serious changes during the presidency of Đinđić’s successor, Boris Tadič. Namely, the possibility that the seceding political party of Vojislav Šešelj, the Hague prisoner, could win the parliamentary elections. Tomislav Nikolić and Vučić were the duo that led the new radical party, the Serbian national party. The first was politically naive and gullible, while the second had already set up a program for taking power. The then President Boris Tadić estimated that his democratic party was more likely to win the parliamentary elections if early presidential elections were to take place simultaneously, which ultimately resulted in him losing the elections. Nikolić becomes a relatively unimportant President of state at this point, while Vučić becomes first Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister. It was reported that the formal Prime Minister was Ivica Dačić, however that all decisions had to be discussed and agreed upon with the first Deputy.

By that time, Vučić had already prepared a program to take over the state. It had three points, all carefully selected, to gain the necessary attention of the influential leaders of the Western world and of the voters at home, who were wishing and waiting for a new leader. Vučić sent messages to Europe, informing of his readiness to compromise on relations with Kosovo, while also ensuring that Serbia’s strategic decision is to become a member of the European Union. The first one, in particular, sounded politically binding now, after the hesitations expressed following Đinđić’s presidency. An agreement was thus signed on the new negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina. At home, Vučić said that he would deal with all those who robbed Serbia. What followed was the arrest of the richest citizen, Miroslav Mišković. This is only the beginning; the new Serbian ruler promised at the time. Vučić won absolute power in the 2014 parliamentary elections. No longer wanting to be only first Deputy Prime Minister, he took over the government. He had, at the time, already mastered the ways of giving an optimal public value to his political agenda. He subordinated the media space to himself. Not a party, not a government, but to himself, to Vučić, as a lone horseman who rides Serbia out of the hands of dark history, out of the collapse of economy, organized crime, corruption, and out of the disrespectful relations with the great countries of Europe and America. He was able to take advantage of the international stage, to which he was increasingly often invited. We were together during one of the visits with German Chancellor, Angela Merkel. After a good introduction about the solutions to the problems with Kosovo, he promised her that they would be able to speak in German at one of the next meetings. He showed his dedication in Serbia as well. When snowfall caused a section of Vojvodina’s busy highway to get cut off from the world for several hours, in February 2014, he came with a helicopter and brought along with him ministers and national television cameras. All in order to record how he had gone into the snow by himself and, like a protector, carried a small child to safety. Vučić built his image of savior, who is not afraid of anything and anybody. So close to the great people from the Serbian historical myths.

This Saturday, the opposition’s protests against his regime have changed. Some protesters violently broke into the premises of the national television. However, this was not in order to remove the media blockade. This time, Boško Obradović took the lead and the demands he made were the following two; let Vučić immediately stop negotiations with the EU and, also immediately, establish the closest political, economic and security ties with Russia.

Vučić despised the opposition protests at first, yet now he got scared. On Tuesday, he announced that he would pardon and release from prison all who were arrested during the protests this weekend. This will not be enough, however. He will have to start talks with the pro-European opposition, open the media space and listen to them. A whole new week is awaiting Vučić after Sunday. He can no longer be the lone rider with control over everything; he will simply have to share his power, as is the practice in the whole democratic world.

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