Feature 20 May 13

Serbia’s Right-Wingers Dream of Nationalist Resurgence

The protests over the Kosovo agreement revealed deep divisions among Serbia's right-wingers, but they could still become a serious force if they tap into public disappointment with the government.

Nemanja Cabric
BIRN
Belgrade
Milica Djurdjevic eyeing the small Serbian flag on her desk | Photo by Nemanja Cabric

Sitting under a religious icon next to a map of Kosovo at the Belgrade headquarters of the new Zavetnici (Testifiers) movement, Milica Djurdjevic dreams about unifying all the movements that are fighting against European Union membership and want to keep Kosovo within Serbia.

Djurdjevic, political science student, said that her organisation, launched in February last year, has several thousand members. It uses a modern internet approach to popularise its views and membership is growing, she insisted. 

“We are fighting for a change in the way the state is run - a change of government, looking towards Russia and against EU membership,” Djurdjevic explained, eyeing the small Serbian flag on her desk.

Zavetnici was one of the various right-wing groups that protested in the capital against the EU-brokered Brussels agreement between Belgrade and Pristina on May 10th . Demonstrators included some leading Orthodox Church officials, opposition groups like the Serbian Radical Party and Democratic Party of Serbia, DSS, the conservative, pro-church Dveri movement and the banned ultra-nationalist organisation Obraz.

The protest, organised by Kosovo Serbs, attracted several thousand people | Photo by Beta

The protest, organised by Kosovo Serbs, attracted several thousand people. The demonstrators demanded that the Serbian constitutional court challenge the Brussels agreement that saw the Serbian authorities agree to dismantle their institutions in northern Kosovo and put them under Pristina's jurisdiction in exchange for an EU accession date. 

The demonstration should have been a showcase for a united and vigorous nationalist movement but instead revealed its core weaknesses.

The turnout was played down by mainstream Serbian media but was still too low to show serious power.

“There is more talk about unification than real action,” said Djurdjevic.

She remains optimistic, however: “This is the moment when all political fractions should act together. That could at some point result in a joint political platform and participation in new elections.”

However, that point does not look likely to come soon. The nationalist bloc in Serbia is far from united. Some organisations are banned, others have differing strategies, many struggle to find funds, they lack clear support from the Serbian Orthodox Church and only one party represents their views in parliament: the opposition DSS, led by Vojislav Kostunica.

On top of that, they have a hard time getting media attention as Serbia's mainstream outlets are traditionally aligned with the government.

Protest under the slogan "We Stay in Serbia" took place on May 10 | Photo by Beta

June 28th, the anniversary of the battle of Kosovo in 1389, would be one possible date to showcase right-wing unity but the nationalists are already squabbling over who will rally where. There are two major events announced for the same day, one in Belgrade and the other at Gazimestan in Kosovo, where a monument to the battle stands.

Traditionally, right-wing groups together with church officials, politicians and ordinary people from across Serbia gather at Gazimenstan, under police protection, to commemorate the battle which is seen as a symbol of Serbian patriotism.

Marko Jaksic, a DSS deputy from North Mitrovica in Kosovo, who bitterly opposes the Brussels agreement, told BIRN that this year he wants to see opposition parties like the Radicals and Dveri as well as the DSS organise a protest in Belgrade.

“The issue of Kosovo and Metohija is not only an issue for Kosovo Serbs, it is a nationwide issue and everyone should get involved more actively in the defence of Kosovo and Metohija,” he said.

But the Serbian National Movement, known as SNP 1389, a right-wing organisation with tens of thousands of members which says it wants to “unify all Serbian lands”, says it will go to Gazimestan on June 28th, instead of attending the Belgrade protest.

“I think it is more important to be at Gazimestan on Vidovdan (St Vitus' Day) and show that Kosovo is still Serbian than to participate in a promotion of political parties,” SNP 1389 representative Igor Jovanovic said. 

“The big question is whether the Belgrade rally will be a wide popular protest or just a rally of languishing opposition parties,” he added.

A detail from the May 10 protest - poster made bz SNP Nasi depicting governement officials with Albanian traditional hats | Photo by Nemanja Cabric

Another group, SNP Nasi (‘Ours’), which was united with SNP 1389 until 2010,  will also go to Gazimestan and not protest in Belgrade.

Ivan Ivanovic, the president of SNP Nasi, has also announced a series of events across Serbia aimed at bringing down the current government of “traitors”.

Zavetnici will however, participate in the Belgrade protest, and will join other Kosovo gatherings either the day before or the day after.

As well as lack of unity, the right-wing bloc is also suffering because of the contradictory messages coming from the Serbian Orthodox Church, widely perceived as the defender of Kosovo and the nation. 

In April, Patriarch Irinej sent an open letter to Prime Minister Ivica Dacic, asking him to quit negotiations with Kosovo officials. During the Belgrade protest on May 10th , two top bishops -  Amfilohije Radovic from the Montenegro eparchy and Atanasije Jevtic, a retired bishop - denounced Dacic along with Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic and deputy prime minister Aleksandar Vucic as traitors. They held a public prayer for the Serbian government to come to its senses. However, just a day later, Patriarch Irinej slammed the clerics for participating in the protest without his blessing.

Zavetnici in their office in Belgrade (President Stefan Stamenkoviski sitting, on the left, Milica Djurdjevic on his right) | Photo by Nemanja Cabric

In Zavetnici’s small office, packed with flags, posters, and leaflets, some of the movement’s members lamented that there is no political party or organisation that is standing up for what they believe.

“Over 30 per cent of Serbian people support the causes we stand for,” said Zavetnici president Stefan Stamenkovski.

“We need a consensus from all political sides to get what we want: to stop the implementation of the Brussels agreement and create that long-awaited nationalist bloc,” he said.

Political analyst Jovo Bakic explained that the Radicals, before their split with Nikolic's Progressive Party, used to be the driving force that united all these movements ideologically.

The ruling Progressive Party has changed dramatically since the split in 2008, going from patriotic defenders of Kosovo to eager EU supporters. As a consequence, a significant number of right-wing voters, some 20 to 25 per cent of the electorate, are not represented in parliament, Bakic argued.

“If unified, this might be a force in the next elections and I don’t see how any government could be formed without them. They will profit more from the economic crisis, the issue of Kosovo and the loss of territories where Serbs live,” he said.

Bakic believes that the Church would support a unified nationalist bloc because it shares a similar ideology: traditionalism, family values, xenophobia and homophobia.

Milica Djurdjevic carrying a poster with words "Serbia, dont allow your hearth to stop" | by Slavko Dimitrijevic, courtesy of Zavetnici

He sees the lack of a strong and authoritarian leader as the right-wing bloc’s most serious weakness.

“I am not sure who will emerge as a leader, bearing in mind that Kostunica is an old and outdated figure, while the Radicals’ leader Vojislav Seselj is on trial in the Hague and the Dveri political party has so far not delivered a strong personality. Still, I think that this is the bloc that has the biggest growth potential,” he said.

Milica Djurdjevic has similar hopes.

“I am disappointed in both the ruling parties and the opposition. The problem is that we do not have an opposition that is strong enough to stand up against the government,” she said.

“Our goal is to enter politics because we can win the battle there. That is how we can avoid media censorship and marginalisation,” she insisted.

“Yes,” Stamenkovski agreed enthusiastically. “We need to penetrate the system.”

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