Get to know Serbia 2020 better, before you react hastily to the demands of a compromised group of people who have captured the concept of the democratic opposition in Serbia

Open letter of CEAS Director Jelena Milic to MEPs - Tanja Fajon, Klemen Groselj and Viola von Cramon regarding their support for the request to form an EC expert group due to the alleged capture of the media and the state in Serbia, submitted by members of the Alliance for Serbia: Freedom and Justice Party, Democratic Party, People's Party, Dveri, the Movement for Reversal and the Trade Union "Sloga", as well as the Civic Platform and the "Free Serbia" Movement. 

 

Dear Madam(s), Sir, 

The latest request of a diverse group of structures from Serbia - allegedly pro-democratic and certainly pro-Kremlin-minded - where the colourful assemblage has, so it seems, more members than supporters all together, and whose assessments you clearly respect while supporting their ideas of additional involvement of the European Commission - requires a deeper analysis of their profile and partners, better knowledge of current events and trends in Serbia and similar examples from the recent practice of the European Commission in the Western Balkans. It is absurd that the above-mentioned leaders quote the said examples as adequate mechanisms that can be applied in Serbia, having your support for that.

Creating the illusion of having more activists and sympathisers is legitimate in the fight against an authoritarian regime, and we in the Otpor movement did that when we fought non-violently against Milošević. However, it is very questionable if it misleads the well-intended representatives of European bodies and other actors who assess the degree of democratisation of Serbia, trying to identify weaknesses and looking for ways to overcome them.

The situation becomes even more awkward if those mentioned above who are allegedly fighting to improve democratic practices, use non-democratic methods themselves and abuse the non-harmonised legislation to stay in the Parliament - supposedly as independent MPs - thus misleading the public and you (unless you do not mind the fact) regarding the status of the new non-parliamentary groups whose leaders or prominent members they are at the same time.   

The situation becomes absurd and calls into question the good intentions of those who support them - including you - when you take into account their ties and long-term cooperation with various structures from Russia, a country known globally as a "bastion of democracy and media freedoms." Check it out - it is not difficult to look at the series of reports on these issues prepared by the Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies from Belgrade, the organisation I head. No one has ever denied these reports or proved that there was anything incorrect in them - neither the Russian actors nor those whose demands you support and whose assessments of the state of democracy and media in Serbia in 2020 you deem valid. 

Make and inquiry about the cooperation of Mlađan Đorđević, the alpha and omega of the Alliance for Serbia, with Dimitrij Medvedev's wife; on visits to illegally annexed Crimea; on support and cooperation with those convicted of attempted terrorism in Montenegro in the period before its accession to NATO; on collaboration with the Military Union of Serbia, also close to the Kremlin structures, which for years - in so-called pro-democratic demonstrations including the latest one where Russian footprint becomes increasingly evident - calls for unconstitutional and illegal actions of members of the army and police (do you think it has anything to do with the way the police reacted, which was inappropriate in several circumstances, of course; do they have information that we could not hear in public?); inquire about the 'coincidence' where they put forward the same ideas about forming a transitional government in Serbia as Yevgeny Primakov, presently not only a member of the Duma but also the director of the state Rossotrudnichestvo, a man who came to Serbia with the so-called Russian humanitarian mission partly financed by the Russian Federation, only the day after Kosovo introduced tariffs on goods from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, while there were still fresh dairy products on the shelves, to mention only a part of that aspect of their activities. 

The members of the said Mission claimed that they would forcibly enter Kosovo due to the alleged humanitarian catastrophe, and if it is prevented - it will be a proof of "Albanian cannibalism". Check the commitment to the transparency of the activities of Marinika Tepić, the leader of the Alliance for Serbia, based on sources from the Intelligence Agency of the Russian General Staff (GRU, still in use for easier discerning). I hope you are aware of what GRU means and what it does, not only in the Western Balkans but also in Great Britain, for example. Or perhaps you don't mind this either, and it does not matter. By the way, it was not President Vučić and the 'authoritarian' SNS who sold the gas and oil industry of Serbia to Russia for price cut to the bone, but the above-mentioned leaders of micro-parties, derivatives of the former Democratic Party while it was in power, who turned to you for help which you hastily provided. 

Support for the demands of the above-mentioned and their alleged commitment to fighting against the captured state and the media, goes beyond the absurd and questionable, event straight to tendentious and unfair towards Serbia in 2020 if one takes into account the homophobic and racist behaviour of the Alliance for Serbia founder, Dragan Đilas. His statements include the degree of freedom that members of the LGBT community should have and where such rights should be determined by him and not by human rights as such. His behaviour towards the Roma community, while he was the mayor of Belgrade, is also notable. The second self-proclaimed leader of the "democratic opposition", Boško Obradović is famous for his support to the Nazi ideology of Dimitrije Ljotić and such person is also among your key sources on the state of democracy and the media in Serbia. Homophobic and misogynistic statements towards our Prime Minister Ana Brnabic, a gay person, belong to no other than one of the leaders whose demands you support - Željko Veselinović from the "Sloga" Union.

Incidentally, they were absolutely silent on the tabloid-incited lynch of civil society organisations in Serbia a few years ago. They assess the situation in the media exclusively from the aspect of how they are treated, so you will never hear them, for example, being bothered by the Sputnjik news agency or by the fact that the editor-in-chief of the said agency persistently represents it as a Serbian media outlet, whereas it is a branch of official Moscow. 

Your support for their idea of conducting a situation assessment and mediation process for Serbia, such as the one carried out by the Priebe Commission in Macedonia, overlooks a critical point - SDSM was indeed a pro-democratic and European-oriented party in the opposition at the time, while the regime was compromised by close ties to Moscow and kept opposing the name agreement that would unlock the doors of the Euro-Atlantic integration of the then Macedonia as the best way to continue democratisation and improve the separation of powers and democratic control over the security system.

In Serbia in 2020, the situation is reversed. The current regime is trying to find a compromise between Kosovo's new status and the continuation of European integration, which would help strengthen the rule of law and improve the media image. 

Quasi-democratic opposition that you support (and let us not forget that even in Serbia in 2020, the word 'opposition' as such does not have a value connotation as it can be even more decadent and undemocratic than the government) persistently tags as a 'betrayal' a compromise that would be verified in the Parliament. It is with this and not with the situation in the fight against COVID-19 that they mobilise violent protesters and most likely provoke the police in an organised manner, which was also noticed by the US and Norwegian embassies here. However, it seems that for you, they serve as less relevant sources about the situation in Serbia, which implies an additional concern. What then constitutes the support for democratic procedures - the former or the latter? What is in the interest of the Euro-Atlantic world and what is in the interest of Russia?  

Dear Madam(s), Sirs, 

Do not serve as useful idiots of truly autocratic regimes like the one in Moscow because of your inner antagonisms and superficiality, or because of the de facto implementation of the hidden agendas of some EU centres that do not want Serbia to join the EU under any circumstances or because of systemically dysfunctional ones like the one in Priština, who brutally abuse the privilege of the victim, and whose hostages we are all slowly becoming. 

In your current way of public action, you have inadvertently or intentionally joined a range of Western journalists, commentators and decision-makers who for two years now keep presenting a series of incorrect articles about Serbia, while overseeing many good trends, deliberately or accidentally, and all that ever since hinting at the possibility of correcting the administrative line as an element of the multidimensional agreement between Belgrade and Priština.  

If you are still sincerely committed to helping my country democratise and improve the situation in the media (and no doubt that there is still much urgent work to be done) and achieve its deeper integration into Euro-Atlantic structures, I believe you will respond to the call to actively follow the upcoming 8th Belgrade NATO Week, a traditional high international conference organised by CEAS twice a year. 

This year's gathering is held under the slogan "This is us". For more information on topics and some of the exceptional speakers such as Baiba Braže, NATO's Assistant Secretary-General, EP Rapporteur for Serbia Vladimir Bilchik, KFOR Commander Major General Michele Risi, National Assembly Deputy Speaker Vladimir Marinković, US Atlantic Council Executive Vice President Damon Wilson, please register at https://natoweek.rs/sr/. 

Get to know Serbia in 2020, to which the ones whose assessments and demands you regard and support, have not contributed at all. Moreover, they are actively obstructing these trends. You will hear about: our improving relations with the great democratic country of the United States; the support of the Serbian public to strengthen this process and the position on related topics based on the latest research we conducted with the renowned research organisation CESID made on a representative sample; plans to deepen and expand cooperation with NATO, and - based on another new extensive research - how certain actors in political life spoke on these topics during the election campaign. 

Dear Madam(s), Sir, 

You will realise that the media picture is not as it is currently presented by you and the ones whose demands you support. CEAS has also been reporting on this for years. Nobody has ever denied the findings of these reports nor those on Russian influence working silently behind the back of the official Belgrade.

Russian touch is also evident in the current, fortunately declining, violent demonstrations whose choice of timing and the manner of implementation amidst a new round of negotiations with Priština, coincide with the previous critical attempts by undemocratic pro-Kremlin structures to halt the efforts aimed at reaching a name agreement with Greece in then Macedonia, or Montenegro's membership in NATO which ranged from attempted violent incursions into the respective parliaments to provoking police. 

Dear Madam(s), Sirs, 

The compromise between Belgrade and Priština that would keep Serbia on the path of strengthening the integration into the Euro-Atlantic world, and which Serbia - led by President Vučić and Prime Minister Brnabić - is trying to achieve based on quite valid arguments and moves that their voters do not necessarily support, remains to be the best and probably the only way to continue the systemic improvement of the situation in the areas of the rule of law and media instead of its constant discrediting in cooperation with quasi-democratic and value-compromised structures close to the Kremlin.  

The author is the director of the Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies (CEAS) from Belgrade and a member of the expert team of the Atlantic Council US DisinfoPortal project.