Serbians dreaming of EU membership feel betrayed by Vučić’s government

Serbians dreaming of EU membership feel betrayed by Vučić’s government
Serbians dreaming of EU membership feel betrayed by Vučić’s government

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - BELGRADE — Ten years after Serbia began talks to join the European Union, pro-Western, democracy activists in the country said they feel betrayed by their government and the EU for failing to move the process forward.

Predrag Vostinic, a 48-year-old activist, has founded a grassroots movement in the Balkan nation as a way to fight back against the rising authoritarianism of President Aleksandra Vučić’s government, its corruption, and the organised crime gripping the country.

The movement has led weekly protests against Vučić as part of a wider movement calling for the president to step down following two deadly mass shootings on May 3 and 4 that shook the nation.

Nine students and a school guard were killed in the first shooting, when a 13-year-old opened fire at an elementary school in central Belgrade. Another eight people died in the second shooting committed by a 20-year-old using an automatic weapon in two villages south of the Serbian capital.

Protesters accuse Vučić of fueling hate, intolerance and violence in the country — claims that the Serbian president has denied.

But protesters like Vostinic are facing threats in the streets and on social media, while government opponents have been sidelined at work or fired from their jobs in state-run companies.

And while there’s anger and disappointment towards the Serbian government, democracy activists like Vostinic also blame the EU for not stepping up to stop Vučić’s leadership from taking an autocratic turn, taking control of the national media and installing loyalists in key government positions.

“This is one of the reasons why the EU is losing credibility and why the pro-European part of the Serbian society is in a defensive position, because there is nothing to defend,” said Vladimir Medjak, deputy head of the European Movement in Serbia and a former member of the EU membership negotiation team.

The problem, Medjak said, is that Vučić’s government’s autocratic turn “happened during the EU’s watch.” The EU, which has found Serbia’s membership bid problematic both for the country’s economic situation and the controversy at the border with Kosovo, whose independence Belgrade doesn’t recognise, has not punished Vučić for his autocratic turn.

Even when Serbia refused to join Western sanctions against Moscow, the EU didn’t push the country away. Both the EU and the US have also worked closely with Vučić to try to reach a deal with Kosovo, with which tensions have boiled up in the past year.

In recent years, Serbia has sought stronger ties with Russia and China, despite declaring EU membership one of its strategic goals. At the moment, some 40% of Serbians support EU membership in their country.

Vostinic said that democracy activists in Serbia are so disappointed with the EU that “we who support the respect of European values are starting to feel uneasy.”

Dragan Djilas, a former mayor of Belgrade who is now one of the leaders of a pro-European coalition that is challenging Vučić’s Serbian Progressive Party in parliamentary and local elections on 17 December, is even more critical of the EU.

“EU politicians largely are allies of Aleksandar Vučić,” he said. “As a student, my dream was Serbia as a part of Europe, of the European Union. I have to admit that now the dream is sometimes turning into a nightmare.” — Euronews

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