Serbia: A Growing Dictatorship in Europe’s Backyard?

By DJINA MATKOVIC

Seeing the latest news report on your country’s elections in an Italian newspaper is interesting, especially when all the major domestic news and media outlets fail to report on it.

I know that most of you think that political repression in Serbia ended after the demise of Yugoslavia as well as the demise of the 90’s regime that came after. Perhaps your initial intuition won’t tell you there’s something odd about an already established Serbian Prime Minister , Aleksandar Vucic, running for president in Serbian Presidential elections of 2017, and gaining the absolute majority (over 50%) in the first circle of elections, thus securing his victory.

What if I told you that only about a quarter of the voting population votes for his agenda? Or that he was the only one that got any media coverage during the presidential elections? That there were no public debates between candidates on national television? How about the fact that there are about 800 000 more citizens on the voting list than there are actually eligible to vote. Many voting controllers have reported inappropriate voting behaviour as well as rigged election places. Other candidates, political organizations and common citizens demand for either a second election, or a recount of votes or at least addressing the inappropriate voting situations. They are inevitably repressed by the structures they found themselves in, unable to share their voice and communicate their dissatisfaction publicly.

In 2017, there is no media freedom in Serbia. A day before the elections, all major Serbian newspapers publicly endorsed Aleksandar Vucic in the 2017 Presidential Elections.This was done by printing all of the newspaper covers with his name and campaign logo on it. “Even Stalin and Kim Jong-un would be jealous” became a joke by those distressed by the fact that freedom of media have been abolished in a democratic country.

Apart from freedom of media which is deemed of utmost importance in a democracy, Vucic has managed to become so powerful and autocratic that he has a grip over all political and state institutions, such as the Serbian police and Juridical system, making it almost impossible to oppose him. This grip stretches out many private and public firms and factories, where employees have reported being blackmailed to vote for Vucic, facing unemployment if they don’t or promotions if they do. In order to prove their vote, they would either have to take a photo of the voting ballot with a smartphone or bring in an already circled voting ballot and take out an empty ballot, as proof.

During the election night, when it became apparent that Vucic was about to take his landslide victory, one sociology professor couldn’t sustain his comment: “No second circle of elections means we live in North Korea now.” The day after elections huge protests broke out. The protests gained more popularity and soon huge crowds of people were seen walking through streets of larger cities and towns, screaming insults to Vucic and claiming that he rigged the elections. Despite the fact that these started off as student protests, they have been joined by different labour unions, as well as pensioners and other citizens. The protests have been happening daily for more than month, although currently the protesters are arguing whether this is the most effective way to rebel – meaning they might unfortunately split into fractions.

The final blow was indeed the manner major Serbian newspapers reported on the protests: they either ignored protests altogether or claimed that only a hundred hooligans showed up – that these hooligans are financed by foreign traitors and that they have been violent. The only newspaper reporting insightfully was Danas (“Today” in Serbian), whilst trying to be objective but show some support to protesters. This newspaper’s popularity rose dramatically overnight.

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Under Vucic and his progressive government, Serbian citizens have been facing severe austerity measures whilst going into public debt faster than other governments. Serbia has become the poorest nation by the amount of people living below poverty line whilst the government considers making work mandatory in order to earn social welfare. People that are employed are overworked, there are no laws to protect them and their salaries are late. Public hospitals are understaffed and falling apart. This is not only a result Vucic’s politics but these conditions in combination with diminishing democratic and human rights can only expect a devastating outcome. Opposing the current Serbian government is not about whether you are conservative or liberal, left-wing or right-wing, but rather has become a fight for a right to truth.

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