The Last Serbian Government?
On August 11th, 2016, Serbian Prime Minister Vucic announced the formation of the new government, the appointing of ministers, some to ministries and others to government committees. The old government was officially disbanded at 7:00 pm on the 11th. All of this at face value would normally seem like a rather mechanical and banal exercise in the daily life of a parliamentary republic. But yet this is Serbia - and anyone following, even loosely, the events in Serbia and the Balkans region, will know that this government's formation came with no shortage of intrigue, and in a background fraught with danger. And what's more than that, events in the Balkans always reflect the turmoil and temperature in the world, and not only reflect, but magnify.
This government was not formed under the casual, predictable, or rote conditions by which governments are often formed following elections. It took from April until this day in mid-August to create the social, political, and - yes - international atmosphere in which a government could safely or readily be formed.
What is the background and context of this newly formed government? What were the reasons for its delay?
It is sufficient to say that the reasons for the delay were external pressures. We must recall, firstly, that this is in the background of a series of NATO attempts to create instability in this region, and further divide Balkans states from each other, and to create new micro-states out of existing Balkans states. NATO presently supports both a strong Croatia policy, a Centralized Bosnian state policy, and a Greater Albania policy, and a Mafia-state policy for Montenegro. All of these are aimed specifically at undermining the position of Serbia, which in its greater incarnations as well, is always seen historically a kind of 'Malo-Rossiya' by the Anglo power centers, and an enforcer and ally of Russia's interest in the Balkans and upon the Adriatic, and even to the border of Italy and the Vatican itself.
In the period leading up to April's election, which saw a strong-but-reduced victory for Vucic's Progressive Party, there was a legitimate nationalist reaction and upswell in response to Vucic's continual accommodations to NATO and the EU. NATO and the EU themselves are two distinct vectors that are often mistakenly considered as one.
This legitimate nationalist reaction, however, was partly high-jacked and redirected towards the aims of the pro-NATO and pro-EU liberals. Here we confronted the now standardized color-revolution formula of a 'liberal + nationalist' alliance, that we saw, recently for example, in Ukraine and Armenia. Here the upswell was of a decidedly nationalist character, and liberals played the role of confusing liberal complaints (transparency, corruption, democracy, rule of law, respectability in the eyes of the west) for nationalist complaints (sovereignty, territorial integrity, order, opposition to Atlanticism, and respect for cultural norms).
Fortunately, members of the parties, DSS and Dveri, whom the west had hoped to goose along in this plot, at a certain point, rejected it. First Dveri made an Easter appeal which, while containing some questionable words, attempted to clarify Dveri's position regarding Serbian sovereignty and Atlanticism and explicitly against a 'Color-Revolution' plot. This was a positive development. Then, within the DSS, a similar development occurred which saw a party fight resulting in the removal of Sanda Raskovic Ivic, who was forced to resign - widely seen as the leading 'nationalist' proponent of the pro-liberal alliance. Indeed, both other leaders inside the party as well as the general public did not support her talks with the US Ambasador at the US embassy, which she at first openly lied about and denied, which made her later 'reasons' for the meeting totally unbelievable. That she took part in the pro-Soros protests was also hugely problematic, so the sentiments against her had been brewing since at least April.
Raskovic Ivic will probably run again, but stands little chance of winning based on present assessments. The DSS is now torn apart, and they have to elect new president. Milos Jovanovic is likely to be the next president of DSS.
So as the attempts to forge an 'occupy' movement from nationalists + liberals petered out, there was an attempt, which also failed to stick, of introducing a Brazilian memetic formula, the 'Rubber Ducky' branded protests. We know of course that the 'Rubber Ducky Revolution' was that which was implemented to justify the coup in Brazil, that ousted Rousseff.
This was clearly a change in tactic, away from nationalist, and towards liberal. But this all reflects a divided and weakened Atlanticist position in terms of mass-popular politics.
Among many reasons for its failure, was a cultural one. Serbia has not yet quite reached full modernity, and post-ironic or even ironic elements of western post-modern culture will normally fail to gain traction outside of a small minority of urban younger demographics with educational, residence, or business connections to the 'hipster' West. This protest tried to use the rather normal, administratively based, destruction of a few ramshackle illegal bars as the moral foundation for a mass protest. While the west will use, of course, any pretext it can latch onto, Serbs will not rally around just any pretext they are handed.
While these produced a few 'one time' marches of some significance, they did not cohere into the kind of 'tent city' or 'occupy movement' where the protestors refuse to displace from public places, and try to force some media spectacle of a confrontation with the state's gendarmerie.
Another big reason for the failure of the Rubber Ducky movement, was that it was widely and broadly seen by the majority of Serbs as being an outright 'George Soros' plot. Some figures from official Moscow, including Marija Zaharova, and semi-officials and experts from Russia, were successful in communicating this to Serbia, and also helped in disseminating this point of view through pro-government and activist media. The pro-government's media position on this should be noted and not casually set aside.
But nevertheless, it would an error of gigantic proportions to then conclude that the influence of the West has somehow been frustrated. To the contrary, the Atlanticist centers of power wield tremendous influence both in oppositional party politics, and within Vucic's party, and indeed over Vucic himself. The Atlanticists have incredibly financial control, and can even in part determine things like the rate of inflation of the Serbian dinar, and presently have (even if waning) institutional control at very high levels, including within the security apparatus itself.
Vucic has tried, to the extent possible under the force of this gravity, to surgically move in or out, this or that minister or party functionary - in some 'safe way', without 'rocking the boat' too hard, to consolidate some modicum of internal power away from the hands of the Atlanticists.
But these processes do not take place in a vacuum, in the abstract, and cannot be achieved through sheer force of argumentation or some abstruse will to power. The threat of Atlanticism hangs over Vucic's head like a guillotine, and to varying degrees he must implement their bidding. At the same time, it is clear that these never ending demands from the West will destroy Serbia, and in so doing, even from the politics of personal pragmatism, will be his undoing as well. We can think in some ways of Mubarak or Assad, who, despite struggling to make every dream of the Atlanticists a reality, at a certain point had their own red-line, a breaking point. At a certain point, the sovereigntist element of their power base comes into collision with the Atlanticist. And this is the predicament that Vucic finds himself in today.
Vucic is sitting in two chairs, and exists in a world not of his own making, much greater than him, but of course shaped in some way by his own personality-based idiosyncrasies, habits, weaknesses, and strengths. It is sufficed to say that this dangerous game cannot go on forever, and this is a very dangerous game for Vucic and Serbia indeed. But how a change away from this ultimately disastrous course is a matter of heated debate, of 'Serbian' proportions, and one which Vucic - whatever his proclivities, desires, and commitments may or may not be - will be not able to handle on his own, or handle very easily.
Summarizing the meaning of the new government appointments
So broadly, to understand the Serbian government appointments is to understand that the West has failed to successfully build a liberal+nationalist alliance. And, as those following will know, Russia has increased its attention to Serbia, in the spheres of military, politics, culture, and economics. Vucic's commitment to the Turkish Stream or South Stream projects, either of which mean approximately the same for Serbia, and are one of the primary, short-term, practical problems that the west has with Vucic, and has been a deal-breaking sore point for the West.
In the last election in April, the US embassy openly endorsed his liberal opposition. Now, one can take a conspiralogical or 'psy-ops' point of view here, and say that the west did this to conceal their actual support for Vucic. But in light of all of the extenuating circumstances, history, and present balance of power, this seems highly unlikely. In this case, the US gave both open and tacit support to the liberals and the liberal+nationalist alliance (two vectors, but related) to those they actually support.
In short, Lavrov and Nuland both wanted their people in the government, and both got them, but to varying degrees.
The Brexit and the failed coup in Turkey, and the recommitment to Turkish Stream were no doubt factors which led to the announcement of the Serbian government, immediately after, and in the same week, as these history shaping events.
In terms of continuity and stability, the government is pretty much the same as the last one, with some notable changes.
The US received two overt American players, Zorana Mihajlovic (the incumbent) and Ana Brnabic (a new one, but replaced another American player), which they had expected to. But their ministries are not important, and so this decision can be considered as a 'painless' one. And yet even the appointment of Brnabic - widely viewed as a pro-western liberal, may have some positive consequence on Serbian sovereigntist discourse. She is the first 'openly gay' minister in Serbia, and this fact alone has outraged large cross-sections of the Serbian electorate. This fact can be used for or against Vucic of the course of time.
The Russians probably gained the most here, because their people, Dacic and Antic, received the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the ministry of energy (oil, gas, etc), both significant promotions for both men, respectfully. This is incontrovertibly connected to the developments of the CSTO in a forward direction, Putin's official shift of attitude towards Kiev, and the moves towards rapprochement with Turkey which, of course, features also the return to the Turkish Stream. We must restate that it was these external events that created the space for Vucic to move to make these exact appointments.
As an aside, one more member of the pro-Russian wing of the SPS socialists, Slavica Djukic-Dejanovic, was appointed to the government. She will not have a ministry but will do different sorts administrative things, significantly 'Demography'. But her bureaucratic and committee-control skills will perhaps prove useful nevertheless. And demography may seem like a rather benign or innocuous position, but in Serbia, its struggle is of course a demographic one. And the powers delegated to this person can be increased in relation to her usefulness.
The Ministry of Culture and Media also experienced a significant change from Ivan Tasovac, a pro-American, over to Vladan Vukosavljevic, a patriotic minister. This is perhaps yet another position which, at first glance, may seem less important. It does not carry the prestige or apparent significance of Finance, Energy, or Interior. But matters of culture and media, much like demography, are so incredibly important to the future of Serbia that it would be a tremendous error to consider these appointments as 'throw away' appointments, or simply a matter of 'making friends happy'. There is little doubt that these will be quite proactive and impactful ministries under their new patriotic and pro-Russian leadership.
Others, like Rasim Ljajic, Minister of Foreign and Domestic Trade and Telecommunications are pro-American, but the electorate does not fidn him problematic, his existence is rarely if ever cited by Serbia's nationalist critics of Vucic, and he was in every government since the 2000's. Substantively, however, we must recall Vucic's final pull-out from the proposed deal to privatize Serbia's telecom. This earned him public support, and was, as an aside, an important policy change publicly encouraged by the author of this report.
We can summarize these appointments as being reflective of the present balance of geopolitical factors, not just in the west Balkans, but in the world at large.
There were no significant changes to other ministerial appointments, but this lack of change is in itself an important point to consider. Serbia's internal politics has apparently moved forward, not unscathed but nevertheless coherent, from the last several years' political campaign to create political instability. The present appointments are reflective of a higher degree of stability, than not. It would nevertheless be very careless and inaccurate to say that the general position of Serbia is 'stable' given the very heated and tumultuous geopolitical situation at present, which Serbia always plays an unusually large role in shaping. Indeed, danger still looms
Danger still looms: Serbia's present geopolitical position in present and historical perspective
It is therefore at first glance strange that such a seemingly small country tucked into the West Balkans would be so significant on the stage of world history. Yet any cursory assessment of history, even the recent history of the 19th and 20th centuries, undoubtedly demonstrates the absolute significance of Serbia and Serbians, in their several incarnations, upon world events. For over a thousand years, fortunes have been made and destroyed, grand and ambitious plans for global hegemony, like those of Germans or Turks, have been loftily dreamed and executed, only to be then smashed upon the rocks of the Dinaric Alps or drowned in the Sava and Danube rivers.
Today, the Atlanticist, that is the thalassocratic mercantile forces of NATO, are locked into a final struggle of life and death with the Eurasian, that is the telluric land-power forces of the CSTO and SCO. Serbia then is like the prize child being pulled and torn this way and that. But a Solomon's Judgment is precisely what NATO would like, a further recreation and intensification of the parallel and prior destruction of Yugoslavia itself. Not only have we already seen in the last decade, the partition of Montenegro and Kosovo from Serbia, but now NATO is eyeing an independent Vojvodina to the north and Sandjak to the south-west.
It is for these reasons, and more, that the creation of this Serbian government is a matter of geopolitical importance. And given the grave world situation today, and Serbia's position in it, this government may be its last - at least this Republic with its present constitution.
Since the Serbian Progressive Party was formed, which launched Vucic into power, there have been conflicting views and opinions, both within the Serbian public and expert community, and in the halls of Brussels and Washington, of what this party and this man represent in terms of Serbia's trajectory on the world map and in history.
What is indisputable is that Vucic has been seen, at least until recently, by both vectors of the 'West' - the EU and US - but also by the Russians and Chinese, as a flexible player who is ready and willing to work to make a deal. But in the last two years, the West has increasingly began to distance themselves from Vucic and even vilify his persona. Complaints about 'democracy, transparency', and 'rule of law' have become all too common western backed criticisms of the Vucic 'regime'.
To start with, Serbia does not have a tremendous amount of leverage and is at best semi-sovereign state, but in reality it is closer to sovereignty in name only. Serbia is a power of the third level. At the same time, it is neither a vassal to a single power, but instead its fate at present, and in the foreseeable future, is tied to the balance of powers in the world.
Power in the world is organized hierarchically, and Serbia's small economic and military capacity, along with its population of just 7.5 million, is insufficient to obtain even an adequate level of defensive sovereignty, in the absence of international alliances.
Therefore it is obvious to see that the formation of the new Serbian government will reflect this balance of power in the world. It will be a reflection, but not an exact reflection. It will be a representation, but will represent not just the balance of world power as it exists, but the balance of forces - chiefly the Eurasian sphere vs. the Atlanticist sphere - which have taken the greatest interest in Serbia, and/or who have had the greatest successes.
The short term situation is stable, but the mid-to-long term projection is unstable
This whole context better sets the stage of our understanding of the newly formed Serbian government. It represents a combination of forces and pressures, some friendly, others hostile, from Moscow, Beijing, Brussels, the City of London, and Washington-Wall Street.
As the Turkish Stream or South Stream projets will be underway, the situation in Serbia is going to become extraordinarily intensified, and outright violence is not out of the question. The US still maintains the power to project considerable damage upon the Balkans, and their prearations are already underway. The US can literally set the Balkans on fire.
As a sign of NATO's displeasure with Vucic's increased support to and from Russia's President Putin, Croatia received 15 attack helicopters from the US, free of charge, and is being actively encouraged to increase the capacities of their armed forces, including size.
Serbian pro-governement media, on the other hand, are reporting that Russia will probably sell more armaments to Serbia, rumors are actively spreding that this will include KUB missiles and six MiG-29's. Sometimes these reports are accurate, other times they are not. But what is actually significant here is that these are being pushed by pro-government media forces, which speaks volumes about how pro-government media - and by extension the state itself - wants the public to view its relationship with Russia and Serbia's defenses. All in all, the situation is quite volatile.
The internal political situation has cooled off a bit since last Spring, and internal destabilization efforts will only appear in concert with continual big changes on the world stage. Hard nationalists and liberals will both take issue with the present government, because it too closely resembles the last one. The more ideological nationalists will not understand or appreciate the significance of some of the appointments in connection with the orientation away from NATO and the EU, and will also continue in-fighting amongst themselves in the Serbian tradition.
But among the whole Serbian electorate, Vucic is seen as a balanced moderate, neither too pro-Western nor too 'unrealistic' in his Pro-Russian proclivities. He will continue to trend well in polls, with the exeption of some major disaster on the military or economic front. Only in such an instance will he be able to make a decisive move that can consolidate Serbia's gravitation towards Eurasia, or, on the other hand if he fails this test, make his own final undoing.
The economy of Serbia has improved in relative terms, and the finances are better in terms of the budget, and even a major proponent of the liberal + nationalist alliance and editor of NSPM, Vukadinovic, has admitted that such is true. The Chinese are slated to increase their investments, and the Chinese railway and other transport projects inside of Serbia are actively on the table. Serbia has just moved into the top 5 growing economies in terms of GDP, and next year will experience the biggest growth in relative terms in all of Europe.
If the world situation were stable, Vucic would have little problem maintaining a government for at least eight (8) more years. But because things are clearly not, this remains highly questionable
In fact in several more years, or by the time of the next election, the pressures are likely to be so great that this newly formed government may in fact be Serbia's last government under its present constitution.
Vucic and Serbia will be forced by the weight of historical circumstances to either self destruct, or make a clear and final move to the Eurasian Union and CSTO.