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s2smodern

An opinion article by Nebojša Zelenović, president of Together for Serbia political party and the Chairman of the Alliance for Serbia (the broadest opposition coalition in Serbia) for the renowned weekly „NIN“ from 08/22/2019:

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At the beginning of 1991 in federal Yugoslavia, the republics of Slovenia and Croatia declared independence. According to the borders drawn up after the Second World War in communist Yugoslavia, a large number of Serbs did not live in Serbia, so Milošević launched his so called "all Serbs in one state policy“, which later turned out to have one single goal: preservation of his power. Armed conflicts begin, first in Slovenia and then in Croatia and Bosnia.

Belgrade, the capital of Yugoslavia and Serbia. A party gathering in an apartment in city downtown. A well-known journalist, anti-regime and democratically minded, enters a debate with an exceptionally tall, but unknown law student. No one really knows who he is, or where has he appeared from. He represents the ultra-nationalist political views promoted at the time in Serbia by Vojislav Šešelj, leader of the extreme Serbian Radical Party (Srpska radikalna stranka, SRS), man who will become a staunch supporter of Milošević in all of his campaigns during the wars of the 1990s. As an experienced journalist, she quickly recognizes that this student absolutely does not believe in anything he is saying. And yet, he makes his points with such eloquence it leaves her astonished. A few days later she meets Šešelj in the National Assembly and says to him: „I met a student who represents your disturbing political views better than you. He honestly scared me. He left an irresistible impression that he would speak with the same thundering about anything, because he believes in nothing.“ „That's what I need!“, Šešelj told her. At that very moment, the political career of Aleksandar Vučić begins. He will be the right hand man of Šešelj for the next fifteen years. From that day forward, he was engaged in politics and the fight against his political opponents, with so much passion and ambition that it immediately crossed all the boundaries of rational. Always with one goal: power. At all costs.

Vojislav Šešelj, a convicted war criminal, once a political idol and a political father, now a committed underling-associate of Aleksandar Vučić, is a doctor of law who graduated from college in two years, with PHD thesis „The political essence of militarism and fascism.“ He founded his party in 1991, through ultra-nationalistic speeches in the war-surrounded Serbia, extreme actions and provocation of the conflict, scandals in the Assembly, and a harsh party discipline that resembled the militaristic and fascist organizations he studied throughout his life, and has a PHD in. He quickly succeeds with the full support of Milošević, making the party number two in Serbia. This party will serve Milosevic to frighten both Europe and democratically-oriented citizenship in Serbia on the principle „if you do not want me, you will get them“.

In such an environment, Aleksandar Vučić grows politically, by listening to his great leader for years. He learns from him about manipulative propaganda methods, learns how to lead the party, and how to aggressively confront with all political opponents. From the beginning, Vučić was more aggressive than Šešelj himself. This earned him the position of minister of information in Milošević's war government. He was the head of Milosevic's war propaganda, best remembered by the closure of a large number of independent media and draconian sentences imposed through his scandalous media law. Allegedly, even Vučić himself is occasionally ashamed of these episodes of his career, at least declaratively. Of course, that all began after he turned politically and became an disingenuous advocate of European values in the late 2000s. He was Minister of Information also during the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999. At that time, he advocated a policy of total conflict with NATO, whilst at the same time resolving his own personal housing issue by gaining from the Government of Serbia, almost free of charge, an apartment of nearly 120m2 in the most modern and most expensive Belgrade neighborhood, while his peers were killed in Kosovo.

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Following the democratic changes of 2000 and Milosevic's departure to The Hague, Vučić entered the opposition where he will remain for the next 12 years. He actively dealt with extremist politics and was well prepared for the moment when he would take power and apply everything he learned. During that period, his remarkable cry at the funeral of Slobodan Milošević, as he read the letter from Šešelj from The Hague, is especially well remembered in Serbia. Another thing well-remembered was his scandalous removal of a street name plaque, with the name of first democratic Serbian prime minister, dr. Zoran Djindjic, who was assassinated.

His ambition to gain both power and money forced Vučić to publicly renounce Šešelj in 2008, and declaratively change his politics by 180 degrees. Formally, he abandoned ultra-rightist ideology, realizing that he will never gain power with it. Šešelj's former unsuccessful candidate for the Chetnik duke so became a fake democrat and a pro-European politican. The move that definitely shaped the formula for his coming to power came when he swore to the international community that he will accept the independence of Kosovo. This was remarkably similar to the time when he had sworn before Šešelj, back in his early days, that „hundred Muslims will be killed for every killed Serb“.

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When he came to power in 2012, he got the opportunity to turn his obsession for unlimited power and making more money into a nightmare for the citizens of Serbia. Unfortunately, he correctly judged the situation that, if at the beginning of the governance he shows the West that he is ready to recognize Kosovo, the West would be willing to tolerate his deconstruction of democracy, freedom of media and elementary European values in Serbia, for a very long time.

So he signed the Brussels Agreement and in return – received years, which he used to nullify everything that was done to democratize Serbia after the breakdown of Milošević's regime. That is when his true mindset came to its full expression: his endless humbleness toward the greater and more powerful, in this case the international community, and, on the other hand, aggression towards anyone unprotected and less powerful - that is, in this case, any opponent of his regime.

Immediately after signing the Brussels agreement, he moves into the process of putting all the key media under his direct control. With "blitzkrieg" he conducts almost complete media censorship so that the ordinary people can not hear any criticism of the authorities.

The main lever of Serbian media darkness is TV Pink, the most viewed commercial television in the country. Its owner – Željko Mitrović, a controversial former servant of the Milosevic couple. The man whose son, with the help of Vučić's authorities, escaped a prison sentence after he ran over a teenage girl crossing at the pedestrian, while driving drunk, in a big jeep, at a very high speed. Dissolute life and a few big mistaken business moves brought Željko Mitrović into such debts that the only way not go bankrupt was to become a servant of the new master.

The second leverage are the tabloids that Vučić put under full control through various mechanisms - blackmail, threats, police, financial extortion, and eventually even bought them all, because he did not want to risk them turning against him in the future. From that moment, the tabloids manufacture daily fictitious allegations against his political opponents. They spin stories, „report“ about fake state coups, almost daily announce the „unreserved support of Putin“ for Vučić’s „personal struggle for Kosovo“, and occasionally – the support of Trump, and the admiration of the whole world for his messianic role in "salvation of Serbia“.

At the same time, his regime exerts continuous pressure on the few remaining independent media, and even media that are not entirely in favor of him. Demands are being made that certain broadcasts should not be on air anymore, that certain influential journalists who are even slightly critical of him must be fired... The free media is being financially suffocated: no state company, or any state-run institution in general, is permitted to run its ads in any media that is not under the complete regime control. Private companies are under the pressure of the financial police if they dare to pay an advertisement in these media. Journalists are publicly harassed if they dare to write or say anything that goes against the regime propaganda.

Šešelj, who in the meantime became Vućić's unofficial underling, in May 2018, in his rare moments of honesty said: "Vučić has read everything there is on the subject of propaganda and manipulation of the public opinion." And he applies it all, very diligently.

Any member of the government, and anyone allied with the regime in any capacity, is strictly prohibited from appearing as a guest in the media not fully controlled by the regime. They are also prohibited from appearing in any debate or TV duel with anyone who is critical of them. It is forbidden to disclose any disagreements, or have any kind of public debate, between ministers or government officials, no matter the issue. The role of the ministers themselves in public and in real life is reduced to the level of technical staff that carries out all of Vučić’s tasks. The Prime Minister is a subject of laughter; nobody mentions her, not even in cafés when politics is discussed. However, even there, everything to do with Vučić is being said in hushed whispers, because of huge fear among the people of Vučić's surveillance.

 

Creating a false sense of „positive expectations“ for the impoverished citizens has become a daily task both for Vučić’s media and the government officials. Variuos exact promises are being fabricated daily: „the average wage will grow this much in this time“; „this foreign investment will be completed by that time“; „this project will be finished in so long“ etc. In 99% of these cases – promises are not met, but are overwhelmed with even more new promises. No one dares to, or doesn’t have a means to, ask why no promises are being realized. With the same zeal as when he made his infamous „three dinars price of bread“ promise back in Milošević era, Vučić today makes new incredible promises – like „the production of flying cars“, or „the obligatory learning of the Chinese language in elementary schools“.

In addition to opposition politicians, every intellectual, or any public figure who dares to critically look back on government, is made into a subject of total media lynch. This mechanism is brought to perfection: Vučić personally defines the target, and then moves the avalanche of the most terrible lies through TV Pink and all of his tabloids. No one is spared. At one point even Novak Djoković was the target, after he said something Vučić did not like.

A rather unique among many of Vučić’s abuses of power is the way he handles politically-controlled employment in correlation with his creation of an entire army of so-called „botts“. Every possible employment with the state (in national or local institutions, in all the state and parastatal enterprises from all over the country, literally anywhere where the state or local government is the employer) is approved in a single (party) office in Belgrade. This cruelty gets even worse: hundreds of thousands of these people are been kept in the status of employees for a certain period of time, and then blackmailed by the extension of the contract. They are obliged to attend Vučić's gatherings, to gather capillary votes for him, to write positive comments on the leaders internet portals and social networks, to write against opposition and every critic of the regime. And they have no choice, because if they don’t do these things – they will have nothing to live of.

A false fight against corruption is one of the basic leverages of Vučić’s power. When he came to power, this marketing struggle sank to the arrest of the richest man in Serbia, Miroslav Mišković, which brought him popularity growth. This man was not even convicted, nor was anyone sent to prison after the court verdict for a serious corruption crime. From time to time, Vučić conducts marketing campaigns to combat crime and corruption: arrest some people without evidence, who are eventually released. However, he gets what he wants: creating a false image of justice being served, while his personal and party environment is illegally affluent like no one in recent history. Much more than in Milošević's time.

Vučić is establishing the „new economic elite“, as a support of his personal power, in two ways: the first is a forced purchase of successful small and medium-sized businesses where the owners are forced to sell them to people from Vučić's environment. The other way is giving job contracts with a state. It is absolutely impossible to even get the smallest contract for anyone who is not part of the regime or close to the regime.

 

Vučić manages his own party in a manner very similar to the leadership of the National-Socialist Party in Germany in the 1930s. Absolutely any critical word is strictly forbidden, the leader is listlessly listened to, and his will is always executed without question. This amounts to the extremely aggressive communication, threats and apprehension of even the closest associates. The goal is to scare everyone and anyone, and the smallest disobedience is punished, including police-prosecution and media lynching. Frightening are television releases from party meetings, when functionaries have to applaud to the great leader for fifteen or twenty minutes. We have seen it in the world history and we know well where it led.

Within the party, there are so-called „regional party coordinators“ who are nothing but unofficial centres of power, responsible only and exclusively to the leader. In reality, it is they who govern all official executive structures in each region in the country. Presidents of municipalities are responsible to them, and also the local judges, prosecutors and directors of public companies. These „coordinators“ determine which companies will get job contracts at the local level, they determine who will buy local media, they scare and harass local opposition political activists...

In the party there are special groups with а clear criminal background that serve both for the iron discipline within the party and to scare the ordinary people, especially in the municipalities in the inskirts of Serbia. These people look and act the same as the ones during the wars of the nineties - shaved heads, bodybuilders, jeeps, drugs, baseball sticks and weapons. Vučić fully manages both right-wing and extremist „football fan“ groups that are his extra street force for intimidating citizens. As a former member of such an organization, he is well aware that chanting against the president at stadiums in Serbia can easily become an initial spark of dissatisfaction in the country. That's why he legitimized the so-called „football fan“ semi-criminal organizations by giving their leaders lucrative construction projects and protecting them from being prosecuted for their criminal offenses. All this only so that he does not have problems that his predecessors had. In return, they do not chant against him at the stadiums, and the pride parades that once these groups stopped are held today without any problems, because the leader has benefited from this in international relations.

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Vučić does not have any politics, he does not respect any value, anyone or anything - his only goal is his personal and unlimited power, by any means necessary. He changes his attitudes daily, he consciously lies, manipulates, destroys institutions and the private lives of thousands of people. His only policy are the daily opinion polls and focus groups as a mean of manipulating the public. When his research shows that he should make false promises – he does that. When they suggest that he should make a statement against USA or the European Union – he engages collaborators and tabloids. When a show of friendship with Russia seems the right thing to do – he engages all the resources to glorify Putin. When he faces growth of opposition ratings – he calls them fascists and traitors. When research shows that an individual is profiled to win in a fair election, he organizes a several months long media's lynch of this individual. When the focus groups show an increase in citizens' dissatisfaction over corruption, he organizes fake arrests...

How long will this go on?