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The Progressives Radically Striding to Moderation

Increasingly frequent news about the establishment of a nation-building national bloc, as well as the seriousness with which this topic is approached in public, has shown for the umpteenth time that any illogicality, provided the media prepare the ground, will come to be accepted. In recent weeks, work has been accelerated on the normalization of the creation of a new political option that will be new, yet old, nation-building, and made up of those for whom the party has always been above the state. It is not even a party, but a movement that plans to strengthen the worn-out phrase about “doing neither pro-European nor pro-Russian, but pro-Serbian politics.” The movement should accept into its ranks those still in power, but the same people will be completely different, just like their leader, Aleksandar Vučić.

If Vučić and the Progressives, who used to be Radicals, cleanse themselves of everything that has happened in the last ten years with a new name change, then it will be a completely new level of what is incredible, but possible. Because when they renounced the Radicals, the Progressives had to formally renounce Vojislav Šešelj, at least for a few years. Now the possibility is being created to get away from all the progressive moves that have made Serbia into this “economic tiger”, without giving up either leadership or privileges. After all, the sky is the limit in a country where adults look at the camera and claim that the President, despite unambiguous parliamentary session footage, never said: “Kill one Serb, and we will kill a hundred Muslims!”– and his voters believe them.


Vučić has been marginalizing the Serbian Progressive Party (SPP) for years


We intentionally say “his voters” because Aleksandar Vučić has become an institution unto himself, his associates call him “the leader of the Serbian world”: he is above the party, above the Government, the Parliament, the court, and the citizens. Any party of which he takes the helm wins the elections he organizes. We noted earlier that Vučić has been pushing out the Serbian Progressive Party for years from the name of the electoral lists and from the name of the parliamentary group in the Serbian Parliament. The MPs of that same party agree to it. Knowing also that Vučić has many times so far announced (and delayed)  his retirement from the presidential post of the SPP, the idea of creating a new movement, now that this has become certain, no longer seems so surprising.

It started just when public attention was focused on another crisis involving Kosovo, this time because of license plates. And in response to that, on 1 September, which the pro-regime media announced as the start date of “another war”, the President, if you remember, banned Europride for security reasons. He spoke at length about Pride in that period, and how everyone would like to interfere in Serbia’s business, to then suddenly present the idea  that one should be moderate. But one cannot suddenly now become moderate within the SPP – he said that it would be important to form a bloc of normality and decency: the Serbian Bloc. 

“I don’t mean national, but both civil and national, and a bloc of decency that will oppose both,” said Vučić adding that it is important to form movements in the centre that “do not have bosses abroad.” 


It didn’t seem serious


Just twenty days ago, on the last day of August, it seemed like a joke when journalist Slobodan Georgijev reacted to Vučić’s announcement and said that he believed that Vučić would create a new party based on Putin’s model, that he would perhaps include Ivica Dačić and all those who make up the new government. 

Soon, one of the most influential SPP officials, Vladimir Đukanović, chimed in and invited Georgijev to become the first member of that party.

“As I hear from Newsmax’s verified sources that we are creating a new party, and we are shutting down the SPP, I am inviting Slobodan Georgijev to be the first member of that new party,” wrote  Đukanović on Twitter. 

Only a few hours later, he wrote (at the time it seemed ironic) that they were drawing up a new statute for the new party. 

The next day he said that “more and more members of opposition parties, even some who are leaders, are asking whether the ‘Serbian Bloc’ will be open to them.” 

“People emphasize that they want to fight for Serbia in a serious way. Of course we are open because for us Serbia is of utmost importance”, he stated on 31 August, and already on the first of September, the same day when any faint sound from Pristina was carefully listened for, the Serbian bloc was the subject of his column in Kurir

“I was very pleased by the announcement of the President of Serbia about the potential formation of a ‘Serbian Bloc’, which would include all organizations and political parties that do not have a foreign boss,” wrote Đukanović. And finally, long before the new government was formed, he stated on Twitter that “The Serbian Bloc must face the next elections as strong as possible and achieve a brilliant victory.”

Why didn’t it seem serious then? Because in those days Đuka also wrote  that Miloš Vučević would be the Prime Minister and that he would be attacked by the opposition. And before that he called for the denazification of the Balkans, and then apologized for it. After that, everything became serious, and it was no longer important whether we were divided because of Pride or Ukraine, it was important to emphasize every day that one should stay away from extremes and stick to the “golden mean” embodied in Vučić and National Assembly member Đukanović from now on.

And then, like so often before, the media started to talk about the new movement, and a week later  Đukanović tweeted that the Serbian Bloc had achieved its primary goal. 

Everyone writes about it, talks about it, analyses it.  So far, it’s been going great,” Đukanović wrote on his Twitter account.

Almost every day he continued to convince the public that Serbia needs unity embodied in one party – the Serbian Bloc. 

“As long some think we receive orders from the West, the USA, the EU, Ambassador Hill, and others think we receive them from Putin and Ambassador Botsan-Kharchenko, it means that we are doing excellent, and the only possible, politics”, wrote MP Đukanović on Twitter on 21 September. 

There is another Đukanović statement that is not unimportant. 

“The SPP can be part of the Serbian Bloc only if it clears from its ranks all those who are on one of the sides in the global conflict and who are obviously working for some other countries and not for Serbia. Such are unacceptable,” he stated to his colleagues a few days ago.

At the same time, the new bloc is promoted every day on television channels with nationwide coverage, with Blic being the lead promoter among the daily newspapers in favour of the idea from the get go – starting from 1 September, when Blic explained that Vučić’s new bloc goes neither to the East nor to the West, to the most recent text stating that Vučić kills “three birds with one stone, in which Blic analysis posits that this would achieve unity, change the image of the SPP and neutralize the right-wing and Russophiles who are on the rise.

 The other daily newspapers also announced A New Bloc to Save Serbia, and there was a further analysis  in the daily newspaper Danas about whether this was just another bait for the media, and a new topic to instigate dispute within the opposition. 

Many questions arise: is this a way for Vučić to deliver on his promise that he will leave the SPP, while at the same time remaining at the helm of the strongest party? Is this a message to comrades that they went too far in their brazen behaviour at the local level? Preparation for the Belgrade elections, where the Progressives are the weakest? Keeping in check the right-wing parties that score points with their explicit position on Kosovo? The announcement of some new unexpected coalitions ahead of the decision on a possible change of policy towards Russia? 

Vučić’s tendency to move towards the centre could also be interpreted as a response to the formation of a movement called “Serbia Centre”, led by Zdravko Ponoš, the recipient of the second most votes in the presidential elections. Ponoš himself, however, rejects such a possibility because he believes that those who are really moderate and neutral would not support Vučić under any circumstances.

“I do not believe that someone who creates quarrels between us and the whole world, the region, and also between ourselves, someone who even in the announcement of the new movement uses the terminology of us and them, dividing the citizens of Serbia from the position of the head of state, is now creating something that is both at the centre and unifying,” Ponoš said recently. He also wondered whether getting the idea to create something pro-Serbian and nation-building after ten years in power implied that Vučić had been doing otherwise, working against the state until now.


Will there be room for everyone in the new movement?


This is not a new idea and it is a matter of simply changing the brand, a different label, a new lead-in for the same show. Some have succeeded, some have not, and so they would either return to their old ways or disappear.

On our political scene, the most successful brand changers were the Progressives, but that story is well known. Recently, for no particular reason, we were informed that the Democratic Party of Serbia had become the New DSS, although not having changed either its leader or its ideology. 

Out of the former Democratic Party or those adjacent to it, various movements and parties have emerged with and without the prefix “democratic”: centre, alternative, social democratic, liberal democratic, and then some civil ones, some new ones. For years, some politicians have managed to present themselves as part of the former government, when necessary, to claim credit for democratic changes, and then to distance themselves from the former government, when mistakes, privatizations, Kosovo politics are mentioned – because they are no longer called “the yellow ones” (derogatory, Democratic Party members). 

The current leader of the Democratic Party which has not changed its name, Zoran Lutovac, suggested, when appearing as a guest on the show Iza Vesti (Beyond the Headlines), that Vučić was going to attempt something his advisor Tony Blair tried to implement 25 years ago.

“What did the Blairists do? Created the Third Way. Blair has stated that the classical division into left-right ideologies no longer exists: we are progressives, we occupy the central political space. In the short term, he made some progress, however, in the long term, he did enormous damage to the Labour Party, because he distanced the social democrats from their electorate,” Lutovac said.

Blair’s walk along the Third Way, “between the old conservatism and the left,” lasted for ten years. Everything seemed to be progressing, and then the war in Iraq came, and the public realized, as reported by Deutsche Welle, that the foundation of Blair’s rule was marketing, the art of spinning and the ability to give everything a fitting image. Then came defeat in the elections and accusations of nepotism and corruption. Any parallel with political events in Serbia is currently not possible. Perhaps Serbia is one step closer to becoming a kingdom. If Vučić decides so and the media help, support will be unequivocal.