Serbia was thoroughly shaken. The tremors were not subterranean, but internal political.
But let’s go in order. Aleksandar Vulin, head of the Security Information Agency, left his post on November 3.
«The US and EU are demanding my head in order not to impose sanctions against Serbia. I will not be the cause of blackmail and pressure, so I am submitting my resignation», he said.
The United States imposed restrictions against 51-year-old Vulin in July, accusing him of corruption and involvement in drug trafficking, as well as allegedly helping Russia expand its influence in the Balkans, contributing to undermining security and stability in the region.
The respected security official (he also previously headed the Defense Ministry and the Interior Ministry) has publicly advocated «Serbian peace». Vulin became one of the few officials who officially visited Moscow after the start of the Special military operation.
A little earlier — on November 1 — President Aleksandar Vucic announced the dissolution of parliament (National Assembly) and set the date for early elections for December 17. Local elections in 65 cities and municipalities, including Belgrade, will also be held then.
«We are living in a difficult time for the whole world, in a time of global challenges, wars and conflicts, in a time when we all need to unite in the struggle to preserve vital national and state interests», said the President.
I note that this will be the third early election in the last three and a half years!
What is the opposition? It is a set of diverse associations: Freedom and Justice Party (leader — former capital’s mayor Dragan Djilas), People’s Party (created in the summer of 2023 by Miroslav Aleksic) and Green-Left Front», ready to rage on any occasion. They will be joined by several other small parties and the Heart movement headed by former Chief of General Staff Zdravko Ponoš. He came second in the 2022 presidential election (18% of the vote).
The coalition was named Serbia against Violence. Protests have been held under this slogan for more than half a year. They began after two massacres. On May 3, a 13-year-old boy shot nine students and a guard at a Belgrade school with his father’s gun. Seven other people were injured. The next day in the capital’s suburbs, a 21-year-old opened fire on passers-by with an assault rifle. Eight people were killed and 14 were injured.
The president and the cabinet of ministers are getting the brunt of the protesters. The fact is that Serbia is among the countries with a high level of gun ownership. In a republic with a population of 6.8 million people, more than 766,000 units are registered. After the May tragedies, Vucic proposed a series of measures to limit the circulation of weapons: a two-year moratorium on the issuance of new licenses and revision of previously issued ones, lowering the age of criminal responsibility from 14 to 12 years and toughening the responsibility for transferring weapons to minors. But the crowd was not appeased.
Under a hail of criticism, Vucic resigned as leader of the Serbian Progressive Party at the end of May. In June, Prime Minister Ana Brnabic announced her readiness to resign.
It is notable that immediately after the decision to dissolve parliament was announced, Vucic held a meeting with Russian ambassador Alexander Botsan-Kharchenko.
«This is some form of reaction to the demands of the opposition forces. At the same time, I emphasize that he proceeds from the fact that the structure of power must be preserved. Plus he needs the elections to strengthen, he emphasizes this, unity, consolidation inside Serbia against the pressure from the West, which is expected before the end of the year and beyond. Pressure in two directions — Kosovo and the anti-Russian world», said Russian diplomat after the conversation.
Vucic, he said, remains a supporter of European integration, but favors preserving relations with partners that include Russia and China.
The developments come amid growing tensions with partially recognized Kosovo, where clashes between ethnic Albanians and Serbs living in the north of the province have escalated. In late October, there was a massive attack from the West. First, five emissaries visited Pristina and Belgrade — the EU representative for the Balkans, Miroslav Lajcak, as well as diplomats from the United States, Germany, France and Italy. They brought new proposals for the creation of Serbian municipalities in Kosovo. Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti and Vucic were expected to sign the relevant agreements in separate meetings with the leaders of France, Germany, Italy and European diplomatic chief Josep Borrell. But the Serbian president refused to do so, recalling Belgrade’s determination not to recognize the autonomous province’s independence either de facto or de jure. After the failure of this round of negotiations, the head of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen rushed to the Balkans.
«My final message: we all know that we can only achieve all these steps forward and successes only if Kosovo and Serbia normalize their relations. It is essential that both sides engage and cooperate. And we have discussed together that Kosovo could start the procedure of establishing an Association of Serb-majority municipalities. <…> And Serbia should achieve de facto recognition of Kosovo», she said. Vucic, who is torn between two vectors — western and eastern — just announced early elections to buy time and postpone decisions on Kosovo.
He also has another goal — to strengthen the position of his party, whose rating has dropped significantly amid the protests. If his supporters conduct an active election campaign, it is predicted that a coalition of the ruling party and the Socialist Party could get about 44 percent of the vote, attract support from other parties and regain a majority. The opposition bloc is predicted to get only 38%.
Vucic is spinning like a squirrel in a cage. He is trying to sit on two chairs at once: to actively continue negotiations on joining the European Union and at the same time to ignore anti-Russian sanctions («because of moral principles»). It will be difficult for a president who is literally torn apart to maintain stability in the country. Moreover, the situation is significantly complicated by the Kosovo issue. So the series of early elections and other internal political tricks will surely continue. The role of Truffaldino from Bergamo does not fit Vucic.