A currently rather rare picture: while millions of people around the world are condemning Putin’s brutal war in numerous demonstrations and expressing their solidarity with the Ukrainian people who are struggling for their lives, the illegal campaign has met with enthusiastic public approval in Belgrade.
The loudly chanted pro-Putin and anti-NATO slogans should not, however, disguise the fact that this was a relatively small group of less than a thousand of people – mostly belonging to the right-wing extremist milieu – who, while protesting near the presidential palace last weekend, declared, among other things: “Serbia and Russia – brothers forever.”
A new piece of Putin graffiti – “Brother Putin” – that has recently appeared in the Serbian capital, not far from the Bosnian Serb war criminal General Mladić, who has also been immortalized on an apartment building wall there since July 2021 and is guarded by hooligans, is a part of this heated atmosphere.
Of course, there is one person whom none of this suits at all, because after all there are elections in a few weeks: President Aleksandar Vučić. He was also sharply attacked at the protest march: “Vučić, you have betrayed Serbia!” This accusation was sparked by Serbia’s voting behaviour at the UN General Assembly last week when, along with 140 other States, Serbia condemned Russia’s aggression.
In keeping with the tradition of Serbian seesaw politics, Serbia refused to impose any sanctions on Russia. Since then, Vučić has several times stated publicly he has been under heavy pressure from all sides, especially the EU.
And in fact, the question is how long the European Union will allow an EU candidate to get away with such capers. After all, even a candidate for accession is expected to support essential decisions or to align with the common EU foreign policy. As a reaction on the part of the EU, some in the media already fear that both visa-free travel to the Schengen area and the EU candidate status itself will be revoked.
However, the Serbian “Father of the Country” doesn’t want to spoil things with Russia or its President. After all, the country’s energy dependency on Russia is even greater than that of the EU: Serbia gets 90 percent of its gas supplies and 40 percent of its oil from there. And at reasonable prices, as Vučić is always happy to emphasise, referring to the good relations between the two countries. At the same time, Russia is also a reliable representative of Serbian interests in relation to Kosovo, alongside China. The president must also be aware that the majority of his electorate can be described as Russophile.
Perceptions and the current mood in Serbia are still deeply rooted in historical and cultural emotional connections between the two countries, not least because of the common Slavic language. However, this must be separated from the nasty and misleading anti-European and anti-Western propaganda that has been documented for years, as is practised in particular by the tabloid media.