By XHABIR DERALLA
Vucic has once again shown that he knows the international and Balkan political reality quite well. Moreover, he has shown his exceptional ability to adapt to that reality. In the long video address, seemingly inadvertently, with the well-known accusations against the West, the Serbian President said that, nevertheless, he is ready to fulfill the German-French plan for normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo. His explanation was realistic – if he doesn’t accept the plan, Serbia will be isolated and poor (like the Macedonian state during the time of Gruevski). The road is firmly paved – EU membership, is what the Serbian ruler said unequivocally.
At the same time, Vucic also said, “we also need peace with the Albanians and a responsible approach”. A European one. An average Balkan nationalist (Serbian, Albanian, Macedonian or some other) surely must have had problems digesting this.
Vucic, like in the past decade of being in power in Serbia, knows well how to package and sell his decisions to different audiences (and voters). Certainly, when I say well, I mean the Balkan standards for a politician. (A character who thinks that the public has even shorter memory than it really does. Moreover, they are usually right.)
A fight with himself
Vucic is in a constant fight with himself. What does that mean? Apparently, the Serbian autocrat often experiences ideological political transformations. He plays on the very verge of logic skillfully and well, which is characteristic for a good part of the Balkan politicians (and beyond). He knows and understands real politics.
So, he often makes statements, and even makes decisions contrary to previously made statements. He constantly finds himself in conflict with his own nationalism and populism. After all, the politics in the Balkans, unfortunately, often come down to confrontation of the political elites with the reality they themselves create. And for their “change of course”, they receive applauses and financial packages for economic recovery and “strengthening the democratic institutions”.
A big plus for Serbia and the region
Let’s be realistic, Vucic’s readiness to implement the plan for normalization of relations with Kosovo is a big plus for Serbia, but also for the entire region. However, it’s not a big surprise. Signals that Vucic had already tailored his European hat were there before.
There are numerous examples of how Vucic successfully balances between different audiences in his country and different centers of power outside of Serbia.
Example 1: He called Kurti a “terrorist scum”, and then sat at the same table with him in Tirana
On December 1, last year, he made a live phone call to TV Pink (completely under his control) and poured out an avalanche of insults and hate speech against the Serbian politicians in Kosovo, Rashic and Trajkovic (he called them the “worst Serbian scums, from the bottom of the barrel”) and Prime Minister Kurti (he called him a “terrorist scum”). “I would rather be gone than hand [Serbia] in your hands. And that is why no one from Serbia will go to Tirana [at the EU-Western Balkan Summit]“, exclaimed Vucic with a high-pitched tone, pathetically, in the telephone statement. Five days later, he gave a reconcilable statement, and several days later, he sat down in the chair at the Summit in Tirana.
With this behavior, he satisfied the appetites of all –the nationalists with the hate speech, and the progressive entities with the reconcilable tone immediately afterwards, and Brussels with the participation in the Summit.
Example 2: Vucic signed agreements for economic normalization with Kosovo
Back in 2020, like a little student, Vucic sat in front of former US President Donald Trump, and afterwards signed the agreements on economic normalization with then Kosovo Prime Minister Avdulla Hoti. There is no need to emphasize that the nationalists both in Kosovo and in Serbia assessed this act as betrayal in their countries. However, everyone signed, and Trump added another international diplomatic success to his account. Both then, and now as well, Serbia is still far from recognizing Kosovo as a state, but is moving towards that.
Example 3: Three in one
In September 2022, Vucic at a usual long and theatrical press conference, said that EuroPride has to be postponed or cancelled. (EuroPride was held.) At the same time, he announced that the prime ministerial mandate of Brnabic was being extended. His explanation for cancelling EuroPride was contradictory. He complained that the state didn’t have the capacity to deal with, as he called it, the “crisis” in the relations with Kosovo, and in the same sentence said that the country was preparing for “Open Balkans”. Three in one.
The same day, from a tweet by Joseph Borrell, the public learned that an agreement had been reached that resolves the dispute between Serbia and Kosovo regarding the license plates.
Example 4: There is no alternative to the EU
During the violent protests of the radical nationalists against the European negotiator, Vucic gave an interview for TV Sitel, in which he unequivocally showed his EU commitment and even strongly recommended it to the Macedonian anti-European opposition. “Make sure you move forward” – said Vucic, testifying that the negotiations with Brussels are difficult and that the item regarding Kosovo is painful, but that there is no alternative for the path to the EU.
At multiple meetings with colleagues, I often claimed that – if there was anyone in Serbia who might make real moves to overcoming the dispute with Kosovo – it will be precisely Vucic. Even though he is best known as a populist, autocrat and nationalist, and started his political rise as a Eurosceptic, and is in cahoots with the Kremlin, even in the middle of a brutal aggression against Ukraine.
Why does he do those political looping? Because he knows how to see reality when he must inevitably accept it, one way or another.
Maybe Vucic isn’t a good example, but it would be good if the nationalists and radicals in our country would at least follow his example.
Translation: N. Cvetkovska