Serbia is not Texas

OSCE representatives were almost arrested in 2012 in Texas, where they were supposed to observe the validity of the procedure in the presidential elections. The Texas Attorney General then warned Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that foreign representatives had nothing to ask for in the US elections, that their opinion was not relevant to the course of the elections and that they would be prosecuted if they approached any polling station in less than 30 meters.

Prosecutor Abbott has consistently enforced the law of his country, and he did not care about the fact that America is the member of the OSCE and that it is completely common for people from this organization to observe elections around the world and give an assessment of their democracy. And can he be blamed? The elections in the United States then took place in complete peace and order, Barack Obama won a second term, no one in the country or in the world disputed his victory, he remained the president for the next four years.

Serbia is not Texas; it does not occur to anyone here to arrest foreigners while observing the elections. We are used to them and to that good democratic practice that has been going on for three decades since the multi-party system existed. That is why the new arrival of the mission of European parliamentarians to Serbia, for the purpose of agreeing on election conditions, is not a special sensation for Serbian political circumstances. They also stayed in Belgrade last year, on the eve of the parliamentary elections, they participated in inter-party talks and contributed to some of the conditions being changed, improved and incorporated into the election legislation. Their arrival was demanded by the opposition, and the authorities agreed without saying a word, all in the desire to remove even the slightest shadow of doubt from the election process.

There was gloating in the opposition ranks at the time that the election process was successfully internationalized, that the arrival of Europeans was a clear sign that the EU also doubts the regularity of Serbian elections and that things are inevitably changing in favor of the opposition. It is a rather naive assessment that Aleksandar Vučić invited European mediators because he realized that he was weak and under great pressure. The sobriety arrived quickly and was harsh. The victory of the ruling bloc was even more convincing than four years ago, the boycott did not impress much, and those who led it soon admitted that it was a big mistake.

In anticipation of new talks between the government and the opposition, with the participation of members of the European Parliament, the same type of temperature that we saw a year ago is rising again. The expectations of one opposition column from those talks are, to say the least, exaggerated and are on the best way to cause another wave of great disappointment. Again, the arrival of Europeans in Belgrade is seen as a sign of Vučić’s weakness, and not his strength and indifference. Again, the dialogue on technical issues is expected to have political consequences, and even to replace elections and bring about a change of government. The boycott is still hanging in the air, probably as a threat, and lately, it has been joined by the announcement of street demonstrations with possible “broken heads” (Marinika Tepić), if the election conditions are not satisfactory for that part of the opposition.

It may be contradictory, but when the dialogue starts, the MPs from Brussels will have a bigger problem with such opposition hopes and attitudes than Vučić and, specifically, Dačić, who should lead these talks. MEPs, not the Serbian government, will have to explain to the boycott-opposition that their concepts are unattainable in a democracy, neither the Ministry of Elections, nor the parallel editing of News on RTS, and that they can achieve their policy only by participating in the elections. And that is probably the biggest problem.

It certainly does not suit Aleksandar Vučić that there is almost no opposition in the Serbian parliament, which is a fact that is often pointed out in Brussels as a problem that needs to be overcome. He himself recognized that beforehand as a potential problem, so the decision was made to reduce the electoral threshold from five to three percent, just as a way to ensure greater pluralism in the Assembly. Why no one from the diverse opposition could cross this lowered threshold, that is certainly not Vučić’s responsibility, but it remains a problem for democracy in the country that is addressed to him, as the head of state and president of the strongest party.

In order for the next election cycle to meet democratic standards, the upcoming dialogue must be conducted within a democratic framework. Here again, much more is demanded of Europeans and the opposition than of the authorities. It is inevitable to resolve the question of who can participate in that dialogue at all. About 120 political organizations are registered in Serbia, and formally, all of them have the right to come to the Assembly for a pre-election dialogue. What will be the criteria for participation in the conversation and who should set those criteria? If such a mass gathering is organized it will be considered as a government hoax by the boycott-opposition, convinced of its exclusivity and dominance on the opposition scene, probably expecting that only it should be against the ruling bloc. But who among the Europeans can support this without participating in a grave violation of democratic procedure? Just like advocating for the beginning of the dialogue as soon as possible, which the authorities are allegedly stalling, because there is only a year left until the next elections. We must remind them, as well as European parliamentarians, who say that the parliamentary elections are already “scheduled” for April next year, that the only “scheduling” is prescribed by the Constitution that envisages them in 2024, and that the ruling bloc, government and president will decide on any change, in accordance with their assessments and authorities. As everywhere in democratic Europe.

The excess of passion before the new rounds of the election dialogue, and especially the excess of unrealistic expectations, were not a good ally of the opposition a year ago, as they are not now. If they did not or do not want to learn that lesson, that is only their problem, but the question remains for the democratic institutions of the EU whether they still want to participate in their repetitive adventure.