As thousands of young people are flooding the streets of major cities to show their dissatisfaction with the results of presidential elections in Serbia, European Union officials were quick to rejoice and congratulate the winner, prime-minister-turned-president Aleksandar Vučić, hailing him as the “factor of stability in the Balkans” and the assurance of a pro-European road.
Yet there is nothing European about a prime minister so consumed by the need for power that he simply decided to control and occupy not one, but two most important seats in Serbian politics. There was nothing European about the electoral campaign, which came down to a one-man show and a race that was everyone else’s to lose. The post-electoral week started off with 30,000 people in the streets of Belgrade, and thousands of protesters in Novi Sad, Kragujevac, and other major cities across Serbia. Their message is clear—we do not accept the election results, because the elections themselves were illegitimate. Most media outlets either ignored these events, or branded protesters as “vandals, hooligans, drug addicts and drunk youth.”
It seems like a sad déjà vu of famous students’ protests that spanned through the cold winter from November 1996 to February 1997 when similar disappointments in the rigged election process drew tens of thousands of citizens and students to the streets. But the saddest difference is that in the 1990s, the world looked at these young people in awe. In 2017, they stand alone, while their autocrat is hailed by Western leaders for the democracy, progress, and stability he brings to the Balkans. What changed, and how did Aleksandar Vučić succeed where his former boss, Slobodan Milošević, had not?