— The perception of these protest demands probably sounds different outside the Serbian political and cultural context. Tolerating violent communication, justifying violence, relativizing crimes, and glorifying criminals has been common in the mainstream media in Serbia for a long time. And even more than that, all of this has practically become the main purpose of all (directly or indirectly) government controlled media. Violence against political opponents is an integral part of this process that devastates Serbian society. A good example of the media manipulations of the regime of Aleksandar Vučić was the analysis of the front pages of the five Serbian daily newspapers with the largest circulations carried out last year by the Raskrikavanje portal. Recent shootings are just one dramatic illustration of the consequence of the permanent degradation of society over the last 30 years. In the last 10 years, this retrograde process has escalated, a development Serbian opposition parties have often communicated to the relevant organizations in the international community. But obviously our Western friends never took it seriously enough. However, it’s clear to everyone inside Serbia following the protests that the goal of “Protest Against Violence” was the fulfillment of this very list of demands, including demands to name those responsible. That list is really the “beginning of the beginning” to solving all the overwhelming problems of our society.
— Why did calls to end violence in the media turn into demands for Vučić’s resignation?
— In the previous decade, Aleksandar Vučić became the personification of direct and indirect political manipulation and violence in Serbia. These range from the completely unfiltered hate speech and political incorrectness common to him and his political allies to the various hooligan, criminal, pro-fascist, parapolice and paramilitary groups he controls. In the last ten years, the digital and print media under his control have engaged in a permanent campaign of misinformation. They deliberately place events out of context, spin, or simply maliciously invent insults and false accusations against political opponents or public figures who oppose the regime or its interest groups in any way. Any change in our society that doesn’t, in one way or another, lead to his departure from the presidency would simply not make sense.
— Liberal media in the West often call Vučić a close ally of Putin (at the recent EU summit he refused to join EU’s sanctions). Is this accurate?
— Aleksandar Vučić is the protector and representative of the interests of the Serbian financial elite. This elite has an origin very similar to the Russian financial elite that Putin protects and represents. Both of these elites were formed on a thin line between the security services that disbanded in the USSR and Yugoslavia and the criminal underworld that these security services traditionally controlled and used as a source of specific human resources. If we look at things from that historical perspective, it becomes clear that the security services of Russia and Serbia at the end of socialism were in fact one service. When we put things this way, it becomes understandable why the interests of the financial elites formed by these services are so similar. This is not about some kind of Slavic or Orthodox brotherhood, but about the clan connections between Russian and Serbian billionaires and their common economic interests. Aleksandar Vučić and Vladimir Putin are political figures, but politics is always, at least in capitalism, primarily guided by the interests of rich clients and their lobbyists that politicians, especially right wing politicians, almost always unconditionally represent. The Western media are not wrong here. But they fail to shed light on the essence of this connection between the Russian and Serbian financial and political elite. The Western public should understand that only the permanent neutralization of these Serbian elites will guarantee that Serbian society will emerge from the vicious 30 year cycle of violence and misery and become a constructive factor in the future of the region and, ultimately, Europe. If the Western public begins to understand this, the assumption is that Western politicians will also become less tolerant toward Aleksandar Vučić.
— Is there a strong pro-Russian sentiment among Vučić’s supporters?
— There is both a strong pro-Russian and anti-Russian sentiment in Serbian society. This is the result of various historical and cultural ties, and the ebb and flow of past relations between Russia and Serbia. Now the situation is even more complicated because there is a big difference between support for the Russian people and support for the Russian political leadership. Among Aleksandar Vučić’s supporters and right-wing groups in general, there is strong support for Vladimir Putin, and this is a direct consequence of the influential propaganda machinery controlled by the regime. However, there is a very clear embrace of the over 200,000 Russian emigres who recently fled to Serbia to escape Putin’s regime and his policies that led to Western sanctions.
— Has Vučić abandoned his aspiration to join the EU?
— It is a very big question whether Aleksandar Vučić ever sincerely intended to complete the process for Serbia to join the EU. The potential accession of Serbia to the EU would be one of Vučić’s goals if the EU would first be degraded by the implementation of the right-wing agendas of Viktor Orban, Jarosław Kaczynski or Marine Le Pen. Or again, possibly if the Serbian regime were allowed to take part in that degradation. Though it is highly unlikely, even hypothetically.
After the inevitable collapse of Aleksandar Vučić’s regime, Serbia must have a serious, in-depth evaluation of the economic and social situation as well as a reevaluation of all the formal steps that have already been taken to join the EU. It is very questionable whether any part of that process meets the EU’s expectations, or is in the best interest of our country. Over the last 30 years, we’ve lost communal and local cultural centers, local public libraries, almost all public dental service, and any public psychological or psychotherapeutic care. The possibility of free education has become almost unattainable. Pensions are so low that people who have worked their entire lives are literally on the edge of starvation. At the same time, free medical treatment is obstructed by bureaucracy in the public health care system. People needing serious medical care sit on waiting lists that delay treatment for months, even years. Workers labor in diapers (so production isn’t interrupted by bathroom breaks) for wages insufficient for any kind of dignified life. Factory owners, in contrast, receive tax breaks, privileges and financial assistance for just employing them. Affordable housing in big cities has literally become an elusive dream for the vast majority. Yet, we have a dozen billionaires (calculated in U.S. dollars), nearly a hundred millionaires, a few hundred wealthy people hovering just below them. A hundred thousand people receive high earnings to serve the rich clientele , creating the illusion of a high average salary in Serbia. All the while, the median salary received by the majority of Serbian workers is barely enough for survival. Less than 5% of Serbia’s population live in the Aleksandar Vučić’s “Golden Age” while the rest of society lives in the most brutal version of capitalism. In this state, our society is not ready to participate in the EU. It first needs fundamental reconstruction and regeneration — and Aleksandar Vučić can’t be part of it.
— Could you briefly describe your group, PP Solidarnost?
— Solidarnost is the third attempt in the long process of bringing together progressive left groups and movements operating in Serbia in the twenty-first century. We are currently involved in the green-left coalition Moramo (We Must) and the Zajedno (Together) party, which bring together various local, environmental, activist and left-wing groups in Serbia. Solidarnost is also a partner of the Euroleft coalition of parties in the EU. The basic principles of our political platform are social equality, broad political participation, ecological sustainability, gender equality and international solidarity.
— How did you participate in the protests? What were your demands?
— In contrast to opposition protests over the last decade, we now have consensus among all opposition political parties to not auction off our individual demands, but to stand united around the demands presented at the first meeting of “Serbia Against Violence.” The opposition has agreed not to give up on these demands until the regime is ready to fulfill them. The crazy thing is that in the wake of the mass shootings, , the regime tried to privatize 23 public companies, including those that manage the National Parks. PP Solidarnost was on the front line fighting this decision , which (we hope) has been withdrawn for good. In a normal government, there would be meaningful proposals for improving work with children, psychological and other support, better organization of social services, etc, after such a tragedy. But with this government , which has so fundamentally devastated the entire social system, who should we ask for reform and improvements? To whom should we propose these measures? To those who intentionally and selfishly ruined that same system? That doesn’t make any sense.