Gains expected for far right groups in Serbian parliament election

Gains expected for far right groups in Serbian parliament election
By Ivana Jovanovic in Belgrade April 18, 2016

The Serbian Radical Party (SRS) led by ultra-nationalist Vojislav Seselj is expected to return to the parliament after the April 24 election, amid an upturn in support for the far right. Seven far right groups are among the 20 electoral lists approved by the Serbia's Republic Electoral Commission (RIK) to run in the early general election, and polls show two of these groups could take seats in the new parliament.

All the parties in the current parliament support EU integration, but the economic hardship that has increased since the start of the crisis in 2009 has encouraged some of the population to look to nationalist, pro-Russian parties.

Jelena Milic, director of the Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies (CEAS), a Belgrade based think-thank that aims to accelerate the process of EU integration, forecasts that since nationalism is still a popular idea among Serbs, right wing groups will gather some 10% of the vote. This segment of the population is extremely radicalised and openly opposes democracy.

Gaining support in the election - even if most of the groups fail to pass the 5% threshold to enter the parliament - will make far right parties more visible and influential, which could have damaging consequences for democracy and the rule of law in Serbia. “A couple of years ago, they didn’t have legitimacy or space in the media but now ... they have again got legitimacy and media space even though they do not advocate democratic trends,” Milic told bne IntelliNews.

The main ideas of the far right parties are closer economic, cultural and military ties with Russia, an end to negotiations with the EU and the restoration of Kosovo to Serbia. The last is particularly important to Serbians; the slogan “Kosovo is the heart of Serbia” still motivates people to vote.

The biggest and the loudest among these parties is the SRS led by Seselj, who was acquitted of war crimes and crimes against humanity by a UN war crimes tribunal in the Hague on March 31.

During the March 2014 general election, Seselj was in detention in the Hague, and the SRS did not manage to pass the threshold to enter parliament. Now that Seselj is back in Belgrade and free to actively campaign for his party, the SRS is again at the doors of the parliament.

Seselj has been vocal in his opposition to the EU, including peddling the conspiracy theory that further negotiations on EU membership will lead to the loss of the autonomous Vojvodina province and autonomy for the predominantly Muslim region of Raska. He argues that Kosovo’s independence, which is supported by most EU members, could set a precedent for other parts of Serbian territory.

He advocates stronger ties to Russia, which doesn’t recognise Kosovo as an independent state and has vetoed Kosovo’s membership of the UN.

The conservative coalition between the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) and the Dveri movement uses the same rhetoric. According to the latest poll from Factor plus, along with the SRS, the DSS-Dveri coalition has a chance of getting seats in the parliament on April 24.

The other far right groups - For a Free Serbia-Zavetnici-Milica Djurdjevic group, Russian Party, Serbian-Russian Movement, Serbian Rebirth and Despite - United for Serbia - also promote similar principles, but are not expected to pass the 5% threshold.

Milic believes that the growing number of right-wing parties and coalitions and their increased presence in Serbia’s political life is due partly to Russian influence in Serbia and the Western Balkans. “Russia wants to diminish support for European integration, and to discredit the concept of expansion and the values of those who participated in ending autocracy in the region,” Milic told bne IntelliNews.  

However, there is also speculation that some within Serbia’s ruling coalition now want a voice for opponents to EU integration, due to the threat the government’s anti-corruption campaign and planned reforms to state-owned enterprises pose to their interests.

A record 30 political groups submitted party lists, of which 20 have been passed to run in the election. According to RIK, 6,737,808 citizens will have the right to cast their ballots in the parliamentary elections, which will coincide with regular local and regional elections in the northern province of Vojvodina.