The 2022 Serbian General Election: Who Are the Nationalists?

This Sunday, the 3rd of April, Serbia is holding general elections. Europa Terra Nostra Serbian board member Stefan Brakus gives all information about the nationalists’ alternatives to help you know who to cheer for.

Background to the General Elections

With every year that passes, government elections come and go somewhere in Europe, whether at a local or national level. Regardless, all political elections are important, for they provide the people with the opportunity to vote for which political party and/or individual candidate they wish to represent their community and/or nation. This is the system that we know as democracy, and whether you are a supporter of this system or not, it is the one that dominates over all of Europe today. This Sunday, on the 3rd of April, Serbia – a small but still regionally significant country in the Balkans – will be taking part in a full-blown general election, meaning that it will be holding both its presidential and parliamentary elections in a single day. There is also an election for the Mayor of Belgrade and some smaller local elections, but these are lesser issues by comparison.

Aleksandar Vucic (President of Serbia)

This is a crucial election for Serbia, as not only will the Serbian people be voting for their next president – who will be in power for a term lasting five years – but the people will also be simultaneously voting for the parties which they wish to see represent the country as the voice of the people in the national parliament. More often than not, the popularity of each political party, in general, can differ significantly from the popularity of the individual presidential candidates themselves, further providing us with an example of how dynamic and unpredictable Serbian elections can be. The equally-unpredictable nature of voter turnout numbers – which is a common trend in elections in all post-Yugoslav states – also factors in. This upcoming general election is further deemed crucial for Serbia because it is the first general election held in the country since 1997. Since then and up to now, the presidential and parliamentary elections have each been held in different years. Any which were held within the same year were subsequently held on different dates.

The Current Ruling Party & President

Why should Serbia be a country that nationalists across Europe must keep a watchful eye on during these elections? Serbia has been known for being an extremely proud and nationalistic country throughout the course of its history – even coming across as being somewhat stubborn in its reluctance to effectively collaborate with nationalists of other European nations – but the country has also proven to be a significant actor in European geopolitics, despite its relatively small size and poor economic status. An entire book could possibly be written on the geopolitical significance of Serbia, but to stick to the current day and age, Serbia and its ruling government, led by the right-wing, but pro-EU, Serbian Progressive Party, led by Aleksandar Vučić, is the second-largest political party in Europe in terms of membership numbers (second only to United Russia) with over 750,000 registered members. The party have also officially stated numerous times that their long-term intention is to forge and consolidate friendly relations with both the European Union (of which Serbia is not a member of) and Russia, respectively. However, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine at the end of February, this strategy of “playing both sides” cannot pragmatically continue. While the Government of Serbia has officially condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it has firmly refused to impose any sanctions against its closest ally. This decision has garnered much criticism from Western powers, accusing Serbia of siding with Russia. The European Union has been especially critical of Serbia’s decisions, even going so far as to condemn Serbia as part of a draft resolution against Russia. There had even been whispers of smaller-scale sanctions against Serbia for its refusal to align with EU foreign policy, but nothing has come of such rumours so far. As expected, Serbia’s ruling government is struggling to remain on both sides of the geopolitical table, with the overwhelming majority of the population being supportive of Russia and against Western powers.

Despite being in power for the past 10 years, it is still relatively unclear as to where exactly the Progressive Party can be placed on the political spectrum, as their policies and long-term plans often fluctuate in nature, depending on what the issue at hand is. For example, party leader and Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić have often cited former German Chancellor Angela Merkel as one of his political idols and role models, even going so far as to wish to adopt a similar stance as her towards issues such as migration and the promotion of EU membership, the latter of which the Progressive Party is committed to. The party has also espoused economic plans akin to neo-liberalism. Such ideals can be placed on the centre-right of the political spectrum. However, the Progressive Party and Vučić himself have also openly declared their strong commitments to social and national conservatism, and have also openly made statements critical of the LGBT community and the notion of same-sex civil unions (same-sex marriage alone is an overwhelmingly unpopular concept among Serbs). However, it must be mentioned that the current Prime Minister of Serbia is one Ana Brnabić, who is an openly lesbian woman and whose girlfriend, Milica Djurdjić, gave birth to a baby boy, Igor, in February 2019 (presumably via IVF). Despite this socio-political anomaly, the Progressive Party’s commitment to the continued preservation of traditional Serbian culture and society can place the party on the right-wing of the political spectrum.

The fluctuating nature of the Serbian Progressive Party’s politics, as well as their antagonisation of the Serbian people in the bigger cities over their alleged “dictatorship” and high levels of media control during elections (the party is most popular in the rural areas for its large-scale local development programmes), means that there is a relatively high level of popular opposition against the ruling regime. With the general elections coming up on Sunday, it is a crucial time for the Serbian people to make their voices heard and to bring into government a more nationalistic force, dedicated to halting Serbia’s accession into the EU and to adopt a far more defiant stance against both internal and external political forces who would see Serbia deviate from its proud traditionalist heritage and adopt a more “progressive” and “modern” path.

The Nationalist Options

At this stage, it is pretty much common knowledge that Serbian society itself, in its very nature, is extremely socially, culturally and nationally conservative. The country has proudly embraced its status throughout its modern history as one of the most nationalistic countries in Europe. This has only proved to be a crucial advantage to the country politically, as it means that the corrupt ideologies of liberalism and left-wing “progressive” identity politics has yet to create any sort of foundation in Serbia. However, the ruling Progressive Party and President Aleksandar Vučić risk damaging the country further with their neo-liberal policies that threaten to drag the country further and further towards eventual EU membership and all of the inevitable corruption and harm that comes from it.

So, what are the alternative options? What are the nationalist options? While most political parties in Serbia are nationalistic to some degree – even many left-wing ones – the following five parties are especially significant examples which sit firmly on the hard right of the political spectrum and can be regarded as strongly nationalistic in nature. The following list is by no means exhaustive, given the sheer number of registered political parties in Serbia.

Vojislav Seselj (Serbian Radical Party)
  1. Serbian Radical Party (Presidential Candidate: Not Declared)

The party’s core ideology is based on Serbian nationalism, which is exclusively ethnic in nature. Controversially – especially from the perspective of pan-European nationalists – the Radical Party supports the creation of the “big” version of Greater Serbia, which is effectively the territory that made up the former Yugoslavia but is envisioned to be exclusively under full Serbian rule, with the nation-statehoods of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro and North Macedonia largely removed in their entirety. The Radical Party is also strongly opposed to the European Union and globalisation, advocating for even closer ties with Russia instead. The party advocates the use of military force to fully retake the disputed territory of Kosovo and to re-establish Serbian rule over the region. The ruling Serbian Progressive Party split from the Radical Party in 2008 due to the then-leader Tomislav Nikolić declaring his support for Serbia’s accession into the EU. His pro-EU stance led to his formal expulsion from the Radical Party.

The Serbian Radical Party maintains ties with the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia and also maintains small ties with the Golden Dawn party in Greece, as well as Forza Nuova in Italy. The Radical Party has also expressed support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The party advocates for a neutral position on the Israel-Palestine conflict, desiring to balance Serbia’s current positive relations with both states, understanding the nature of both Palestinian and Israeli Jewish claims to territory in the Levant. On the 9th March 2016, the Radical Party and the Slovenian National Party signed a formal agreement with the intention of bringing the two parties closer in terms of partnership and political alliance. Another highly controversial element of the Radical Party was their endorsement of a video published by a group of Russians who chanted, “Donbass – Russia! Kiev – Russia! Kosovo – Serbia!” Considering that most Serbs also regard the Ukrainian people as a brotherly people – alongside Russians – the Radical Party’s endorsement of a video that depicts support for a “Russian Kiev” was criticised by both supporters and opponents of the party.

The Radical Party are not running in the presidential election, but their leader, Vojislav Šešelj, has been campaigning to become Prime Minister of Serbia, if the Radical Party end up becoming the biggest party in the Serbian Parliament. However, it is not the electorate who decides upon who becomes Prime Minister. Instead, it is the elected President of Serbia who personally chooses who he/she wants to become Prime Minister. Since the Radical Party is not running for the presidency, it is unclear exactly how Šešelj will hope to gain the position of Prime Minister of Serbia.

Milica Djurdjevic (Oathkeepers)
  • Serbian Party Oathkeepers (Presidential Candidate: Milica Djurdjević)

The Oathkeepers define themselves as a conservative and Russophilic political party. However, the strength of their sense of nationalism makes them more ultranationalistic in nature, rather than simply conservative. The Oathkeepers strongly oppose Serbian membership of the European Union and any form of co-operation with NATO entirely.

The Oathkeepers’ presidential candidate is 31-year-old Milica Djurdjević. She distinguished herself as the leader of ultranationalist protests – with the support of other nationalist organisations – against Kosovo’s declaration of independence in 2008 (when Djurdjević was only 17-years-old). She had also led protests against the arrests of Radovan Karadžić, Ratko Mladić, the Hague Tribunal verdicts against the two, the implementation of agreements on border crossings between Serbia proper and Kosovo, and the Brussels Agreement, which was an EU-brokered deal aimed at normalising relations between Serbia and the ethnic Albanian government in Kosovo. Protests were also organised by her against the state visit to Serbia of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the ratification of an agreement between Serbia and NATO on cooperation in the field of logistical support. Djurdjević participated at a rally in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and also at the rally in support of Russia, following the latter’s annexation of Crimea. Djurdjević also held protests supporting ethnic Russians fighting in Donbass against Ukrainian forces.

Djurdjević’s popularity has been rising rapidly in Serbia for years, with both her television and public appearances raking in significantly large audiences and growing. Her popularity can also be attributed to her youth and how she appeals universally to both young and old voters alike. Unlike many other political candidates, Djurdjević also frequently goes out in public and personally meets and speaks with the everyday Serbian citizen, enhancing her image as a woman of the people who do not shy away from the public eye or personal attacks from her political opponents. Her defiant stances and powerful counters against her opponents have even led to instances where the latter would sometimes walk out of interviews and public debates.

Misa Vacic (Serbian Right)
  • Serbian Right (Presidential Candidate: Miša Vacić)

The Serbian Right was founded in 2018 primarily with the intention of resolving the issue of the status of Kosovo but has since developed into a more significant ultranationalist party, dedicated to consolidating Serbia’s nationalistic nature and advancing the country’s own internal interests over the neo-liberal nature of the Progressive Party and its pro-EU ambitions. However, the Serbian Right does support the Serbian Government’s proposed initiatives in opening up further dialogue on the status of Kosovo, and that the Serbian Right must be given a formal invitation for active participation in the said dialogue.

The Serbian Right’s presidential candidate is 36/37-year-old Miša Vacić (born in 1985). After spending a few years in Germany, Vacić returned to Serbia. His return was influenced by his love for his country and his desire to enter politics, as he felt that “every injustice done to the Serbs hurts”. Prior to forming the Serbian Right in 2018, Vacić partook extensively in ultranationalist youth movements in Serbia, with the most notable being the 1389 Movement, which was influential enough to the point that it eventually became recognised and supported directly by the Serbian Orthodox Church itself.

Vacić has made appearances at conferences organised by the European nationalist party the Alliance for Peace & Freedom (APF), and has most recently represented the Serbian Right at a nationalist conference in Madrid, Spain on the 26th of March.

Miroslav Parovic (People’s Freedom Movement)
  • People’s Freedom Movement (Presidential Candidate: Not Declared)

Led by Miroslav Parović, the People’s Freedom Movement officially advocates a conservative ideology and believes that “only an orderly, legal state can be free and sovereign”. Alongside standing for conservatism, the party is openly nationalistic. The People’s Freedom Movement is anti-globalist and promotes the idea of a Europe free from the European Union. The party stands for a “Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok”, with the “Paris-Berlin-Moscow axis”, believing that Belgrade is set to be one of the cornerstones of a new, post-EU Europe. The party have declared itself to be sovereigntists, dedicated to the principles of freedom, equality and solidarity among the people of Serbia.

The People’s Freedom Movement maintains good relations with numerous right-wing nationalist parties in Europe. Representatives of the party have been seen at events in the company of members from the French National Rally and the Republicans. Representatives have also been seen at events accompanying members of the Freedom Party of Austria and Alternative for Germany.

Bosko Obradovic (Dveri)
  • Dveri (Presidential Candidate: Boško Obradović)

Over the past several years, Dveri has gained a significant level of popularity among the Serbian electorate since its transition from a political movement to a fully-fledged party. This is largely due to the party’s intense efforts in organising mass protests and speaking out vehemently against the ruling regime and its pro-EU and neo-liberal policies. Strongly nationalistic, militantly defensive of Serbian culture, heritage and tradition, Dveri have also gained significant attention from the public due to the party’s hardline stance against the LGBT community and its intense promotion of traditional family values. Dveri is also strongly anti-EU, as with most other nationalist parties in Serbia. Recently, the party officially adopted environmentalism as one of its most important policies, desiring to see Serbia literally clean up its act and tackle the issue of pollution in the country. This policy gained even more popularity from the Serbian electorate following the country’s rejection of a damaging lithium mine being constructed by the Anglo-Australian Rio Tinto mining corporation.

Dveri’s presidential candidate is 45-year-old Boško Obradović. A staunch nationalist and one of the most influential figures within the Serbian political scene, Obradović’s popularity is constantly increasing. One of his core beliefs is that both the ethnic Serb entity of Republika Srpska in Bosnia and the state of Montenegro must territorially and politically unite with Serbia. As per his party’s official policy on the matter, Obradović is also strongly anti-LGBT and often makes these views public, considering sexual orientation to be a very private matter and something that must never be made public, especially homosexuality and bisexuality. Obradović is also extremely against transgender rights. He has also frequently argued for the return of mandatory military service in Serbia. The practice was halted on the 1st January 2011 (service lasted for 6 months, with an alternative of 9 months of civil service). Obradović referred to military service as “one of the most important schools of life” and that another key purpose of military service is that “men can become men again…Men won’t be slackers, but men”. In December 2016, Serbian sociologist Srećko Mihailović conducted a nationwide survey with a sample size of 1,200 adults on whether Serbia should bring back mandatory military service. The subsequent results showed that 75% of the 1,200 surveyed supported a return of conscription in Serbia. Most recently, Dveri formally adopted monarchism as part of their official ideology, desiring to see the Republic of Serbia reformed once again into the Kingdom of Serbia.

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