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COMMENTARY AJRC-Analyses 2019A01

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AJRC-Analyses Series of the Antall József Knowledge Centre

Publisher-in-Chief: Péter Antall Managing editor: Tamás Péter Baranyi Editorial office: Antall József Knowledge Centre H-1093 Budapest, Czuczor Street 2

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© András Braun, 2019 © Antall József Knowledge Centre, 2019 ISSN 2416-1705

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A N TA L L J Ó Z S E F K N OW L E D G E C E N T R E TOWARDS AN À LA CARTE DEMOCRACY? Challenges of democratic consolidation in Serbia1


After the dissolution of Yugoslavia and the end of the bloody civil war, democratic transition could have started in the Western Balkans3 accompanied by the strong assist and support of the European Union. Although this process has been delayed in some countries due to different types of challenges, since the beginning of the 2000s the institutional background for democratic political systems has been provided in the region. However, the stabilisation of the democratic system has been accompanied by the concentration of the political power, and as a consequence of this phenomenon, the consolidation of the democracy could not happen. Some are seeing this4 as a result of an ongoing illiberal tendency, while others argue5 that the democratic backslide is coming from a paradoxical phenomenon and this should be considered as a major challenge and threat to liberal democracy. Albeit I am not denying these concerns I would suggest to analyse this phenomenon as the culmination of a complex political heritage, still dominating in the shadow of democratisation. The aim of this article is to analyse and present the state of democracy in Serbia between 2000 (the fall of Slobodan Milošević) and 2017 (the last Presidential elections).


1 The author would like to extend his sincere thanks to Dr Uroš Ćemalović, professor of EU law and intellectual property law and to Dr Dušan Spasojević professor of the University of Belgrade, Faculty of Political Sciences for their helpful advices. 2 Written by: András BRAUN, International Relations Manager at the Brussels Office of the Antall József Knowledge Centre, PhD Student at Eötvös Lorán University, Doctoral School of Political Sciences. 3

Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia and Albania.

Florian Bieber: The Rise (and Fall) of Balkan Stabilitocracies. Centre for International Relations and Sustainable Development. 2018. < > Accessed: 4 February 2019. 4

See for example: Marko Kmezić – Florian Bieber: The Crisis of Democracy in the Western Balkans. An Anatomy of Stabilitocracy and the Limits of EU Democracy Promotion. Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group. March 2017 < > Accessed: 4 February 2019; Freedom House: Nations in Transit 2018 Confronting Illiberalism, 2018. < > Accessed: 4 February 2019. 5

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A N TA L L J Ó Z S E F K N OW L E D G E C E N T R E Democratic consolidation: theoretical and methodological approaches Levitsky and Way summarised6 that the key attributes of liberal democracies are the free, fair and competitive elections, or for example full adult suffrage. The protection of liberties, guarantee the freedom of speech, media and association. Other scholars7 complemented this concept by additional explicit criteria: civil liberties, the legitimate power to govern, and the necessity of fair and competitive elections. Another crucial attribute is the existence of a “playing field” between the elected holders of the power and their opposition.8 Democratisation or democratic transition has been defined as a “process of regime change from authoritarianism towards democratic governance.”9 Democracy building requires the establishment of free and fair elections, the rule of law, democratic accountability, civil society participation in decision-making processes and the protection of fundamental rights.10 Starčević-Srkalović, O’Donnell and Schmitter, Przeworski, Lind and Stepan are referring to democratisation as a “complex historical process that can be defined as the interval between one regime to another.” 11 According to Starčević and Srkalović, this process can be divided into four phases: transition, liberalisation, democratisation, and finally, consolidation. The process starts with the end of the authoritarian regime (or intervention against the authoritarian regime) and ends with the creation of democratic institutions. Following the establishment of the institutions, the next phase has to continue with the consolidation process. This might ensure the effective functioning of democracy.12 This article will use the “narrow definition” presented by Linz and Stepan to define consolidated democracy.


6 See also: Samuel P. Huntington: The Third Wave. Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century. University of Oklahoma Press. 1991; Joseph Schumpeter: Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. Harper & Brothers Publishers, New York, 1947. 7 See for example: David Collier – Steven Levitsky: Democracy with Adjectives. Conceptual Innovation in Comparative Research. World Politics 49, 1997/April. 430-451. 8 Lucan Way–Steven Levitsky: Competitive Authoritarianism. Hybrid Regimes After the Cold War. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2010. 3–7. 9 Soeren Keil – Valery Perry. Introduction: State–Building and Democratization in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In: Soeren Keil – Valery Perry: State–Building and Democratization in Bosnia and Herzegovina. 1–15. Farnham and Burlington, Ashgate, 2015. 7. 10


Lejla Starčević–Srkalović: The Democratization Process in Post–Dayton Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Role of the European Union. Nomos, Baden-Baden, 2009. 25–27. 11



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A N TA L L J Ó Z S E F K N OW L E D G E C E N T R E Linz and Stepan defined the following essential elements of democratic consolidation:13 1. When there is no fear of secession or change of the regime; 2. When the majority of the citizens are supporting democracy; 3. When both governmental and non-governmental (NGO) actors are subjects of the state which is ruled by the democratic institutions.14 My argument is that this list has to be complemented with an additional element, namely with the consolidation of the democratic political culture. Authors like Linz and Stepan, Almond and Verba15, Dahrendorf 16 or Starčević–Srkalović17 are combining behavioural, attitudinal and constitutional elements in order to define the dimensions of democratic consolidation. Behavioural consolidation requires the democratic function and the acceptance of the “rules of the game” by the national, social, economic, political and institutional actors. Attitudinal consolidation means that the majority of the citizens supports the democratic political system, and at the same time, political actors are not aiming for the dedemocratisation of the political system. Constitutional consolidation should encompass the cooperation of the political actors in the polity to adapt to the established norms. Elites and the public have to “believe that the democratic procedure and institutions are the most appropriate way to govern collective life.” 18 There is no need to explain the importance of the institutional conditions of a democratic political system. The separation of the executive, the legislative and the judicial power branches is as much essential as the system of checks and balances to prevent the concentration of the political power. These institutions are required to ensure the functioning of the democracy. But there is also need for democratic leaders, who are committed to transparent and accountable governance as democracies are persistent only if they are supported by their citizens.19


13 Juan Linz – Alfred Stepan: Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation. Southern Europe, South America and Post–Communist Europe. John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London, 1996. 14 Ana Stojanova: Defective Democracies. Challenges to Democratic Consolidation in the Western Balkans. In: Claire Gordon, Marko Kmezić and Jasmina Opardija: Stagnation and Drift in the Western Balkans, 49–75. Peter Lang, Bern, 2013. 50–51. 15

Gabriel Almond – Sidney Verba: The Civic Culture. SAGE Publications, 1963. 9–15.


Ralf Dahrendorf: Reflections on the Revolutions in Europe. Random House, New York, 1990.99.


Starčević–Srkalović, 2009. 29.



Hans-Dieter Klingemann et al.: Support for democracy and autocracy in Central and Eastern Europe. In Hans-Dieter Klingemann, Dieter Fuchs and Jan Zielonka: Democracy and Political Culture in Eastern Europe, 1–23. London and New York, Routledge, 2006. 19

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A N TA L L J Ó Z S E F K N OW L E D G E C E N T R E The patrimonial practices, characterizing the political culture of the Balkans, represent a strong legacy of the Ottoman domination in the area. This dominant pattern in the relations between the state and society is characterised by highly personalised power exercise methods. Eventually, corrupted forms of governance and administration were present, while the civil society remained weak. For that reason, important elements of liberal democracy, such as the rule of law or civic participation have to root in a less hospitable environment.20 In the same time, the short experience of the democratic rule could not counterbalance the patrimonial rule, authoritarianism and the unfavourable functioning of the institutions.21 During the Ottoman rule, religious identity mainly defined the identity of different nations and ethnic groups. Later, in the 19th and 20th centuries, this was replaced by a strong and exclusive form of nationalism. The goal of the emerging national resistances was to overturn the Turkish and later the Austro–Hungarian empires. In the same time, ethnicity became the basis of national identity. In addition, complementary elements22, such as nationalism and stateness are also affecting the process of consolidation of the democratic political culture.23 Besides the academic framework of democratic consolidation, a variety of empirical tools are available to present the state of democracy in Serbia. Nations in Transit measures the progress or setbacks of democratisation in transition countries. Democracy scores are based on a scale of 1 to 7, 1 represents the highest and 7 the lowest level of progress.


Freedom House distinguishes five categories: • Consolidated Democracy • Semi—Consolidated Democracy • Transitional Government or Hybrid Regime • Semi–consolidated Authoritarian Regime • Consolidated Authoritarian Regime24 According to this categorization, Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro are Semi– Consolidated Democracies, while Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo are Hybrid Regimes or Transitional Governments. 20 Lenard J. Cohen: The Europeanization of ‚Defective Democracies’ in the Democratic Consolidation. In: The Boundaries of EU Enlargement. Springer, New York, 2008; Joan DeBardeleben: Boundaries of EU Enlargement, 205–222: Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2008. 208—209. 21

Cohen, 2008. 209.


Ivi. 210.


Stojanova, 2013. 49–51.

Freedom House: Nations in Transit Methodology. < > Accessed: 4 February 2019. 24

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A N TA L L J Ó Z S E F K N OW L E D G E C E N T R E 1 The changes of democracy scores in the Western Balkan countries between 2003 and 201825

Country Serbia Montenegro Kosovo Bosnia and Herzegovina Macedonia Croatia Albania

2003 Democracy Score 3.8826

4.54 4.29 3.79 4.17

2018 Democracy Score 3.96 3.93 4.93 4.64 4.36 3.75 4.11

The state of democracy in Serbia Although the first multiparty elections in Serbia were held in December 1990, Slobodan Milošević was anyway able to build an authoritarian rule, excluding the democratic parties from the decision–making forums. Democratic transition was blocked after the first wave of the reforms, which contained for instance multiparty elections, and the abolishment of partially socialist economic structure. As the reform process was frozen, the former communist elite was able to maintain the control on key economic and political resources during the Milošević–era.27 The Yugoslav and the Kosovo wars as well as the international intervention in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia undermined the Milošević regime. In Serbia, real democratic transition could start only in 2000 when Democratic Opposition of Serbia (Demokratska opozicija Srbije or DOS)28, an opposition umbrella coalition came to power. DOS candidates triumphed both at the federal Presidential and at the Serbian parliamentary elections, ending the rule of the Serbian Socialist Party (Socijalistička partija Srbije—SPS) and its coalition partners. The victory of DOS at the 2000 federal Presidential elections unblocked the democratic transition of Serbia. Despite it seemed to be that national


25 Freedom House: Nations in Transit 2018 <—transit/ nations—transit–2018 > Accessed: 30 November 2018. 26

In 2003 Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo were part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

Mladen Lazić: The Making of a New Economic Elite in Serbia. Südosteuropa 63, no. 4, 2015: 531–548. 535. 27

The member parties were: Democratic Party, Democratic Party of Serbia, Social Democracy, Civic Alliance of Serbia, New Serbia, Movement for a Democratic Serbia, League of Social Democrats of Vojvodina, Reformists of Vojvodina, Vojvodina Coalition, Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarian, Democratic Alternative, Democratic Center, New Democracy, Social Democratic Union, Sandžak Democratic Party, League for Šumadija, Serbian Resistance Movement, Association of Free and Independent Trade Unions. 28

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A N TA L L J Ó Z S E F K N OW L E D G E C E N T R E consensus is behind the democratic government, the DOS coalition failed to constitutionalise the reforms achieved in the early phase of democratisation. As a matter of fact, constant political debates among the coalition partners destabilised the government and polarised the party system of the country. For that reason, democratic consolidation in Serbia has been challenged by a number of obstacles that are results of different sets of frozen conflicts and political taboos.

The development of the democratic institutions The constitution of Serbia was adopted in 2006 and it regulates the main democratic institutions, and the territorial organisation and division of Serbia.

The National Assembly of Serbia The National Assembly (Narodna skupština) “is the supreme representative body and holder of constitutional and legislative power.” 29 The skupština elects the government, supervise its work, and decides on the expiration of the term of the government and the ministers, and also appoints (and dismiss) “the judges of the Constitutional Court, the President of the Supreme Court of Cassation, Presidents of courts, Republic Public Prosecutor, public prosecutors, judges and deputy public prosecutors, in accordance with the Constitution, the Governor of the National Bank of Serbia and supervise his/her work, the Civic Defender and supervise his/her work, other officials stipulated by the Law.” (Article 99, Constitution of the Republic of Serbia) The skupština consists of 250 deputies, elected by direct elections. Parliamentary elections are called by the President, 90 days before the end of the term of the skupština.30


The President of the Republic The Serbian President (President of the Republic) is directly elected by the citizens for a term of five years, and can be re–elected once.31 The candidates should achieve at least 50% of the votes. If they cannot achieve 50% plus 1 vote in the first round, the candidate who collects the majority of the votes in the second round wins the election According to Article 122, the President has (among others) the following key competences: 1. Representing the country abroad—by this the President has strong competences in foreign affairs 29

Constitution of the Republic of Serbia, Article 98.


Constitution of the Republic of Serbia, Articles 100 and 101.


Constitution of the Republic of Serbia, Articles 114 and 116.

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A N TA L L J Ó Z S E F K N OW L E D G E C E N T R E 2. Approves the general legislation 3. Proposes the Prime Minister for the skupština 4. Proposes holders of positions to the skupština The President commands the army and appoints (or relieves) the officers.32 The President can return the law voted by the National Assembly for reconsideration.33

The Government and the Prime Minister The President has to propose a candidate for the Prime Minister to the National Assembly. The candidate presents the government’s program to the Assembly, which votes for program and the election of the Prime Minister. The government is elected if the majority of the total number of deputies votes for its election.34 According to the constitution, the government is the main executive power in Serbia. The government establishes and pursues policies, executes laws and other acts, adopts regulations and proposes laws to the National Assembly. The government is responsible for the National Assembly, however this regulation is not always guaranteed in practice. The government is formed by the Prime Minister, the vice Prime Ministers, and the ministers. The Prime Minister manages and directs the work of the cabinet. The ministers “shall account for their work and situation within the competence of their ministries to the Prime Minister, and the government as well as to the National Assembly.” 35 Vote of no—confidence in the government or a particular member (minister, Prime Minister) can be requested by 60 deputies at least.36 The constitution empowers the Prime Minister as an outstanding political position. The Prime Minister of Serbia manages and directs the work of the government, and coordinates the work of the members of the government.37


The general context: Serbia between 1987 and 2017 The introduction of the multiparty system in Serbia was not a result of an open democratic debate, just like in many other countries of the region, as it has rather been a top—down process. In Western Europe, 32

Constitution of the Republic of Serbia, Article 112.


Constitution of the Republic of Serbia, Article 113.


Constitution of the Republic of Serbia, Article 127.


Constitution of the Republic of Serbia, Articles 122, 123, and 125.


Constitution of the Republic of Serbia, Article 130.

Slaviša Orlović: Constitutional—Institutional Design of the Republic of Serbia. In: Zoran Stojiljković – Dušan Spasojević – Jelena Lončar: How to Make Intra–Party Democracy Possible?, 9–27. Balkan Comparative Electoral Study, Belgrade, 2015. 20. 37

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A N TA L L J Ó Z S E F K N OW L E D G E C E N T R E where liberal democratic values are deeply rooted into the society, rule of law is an important element of the system. The situation was different in Serbia. The lack of the quality elements which distinguish a democracy had a strong impact on the political institutions and also on the political actors. Besides that, there is a clear lack of critical public debate and discourse among the political leaders.38 Slobodan Milošević was the main leader of Serbia between 1987 and 2000. Milošević transformed the League of Communists of Serbia (Savez komunista Srbije —SKS) to the SPS. In that period39, Serbia was a closed entity, also as a consequence of the UN sanctions40 following the Yugoslav Wars.41 In the aftermath of the armed conflicts, both internal and external pressure was high on Milošević. He decided to call for early Presidential elections on 24 September 2000. As the main democratic opposition parties gathered behind Vojislav Koštunica, the candidate of the DOS was able to win the Presidential elections. According to the final results, proclaimed by the Federal Electoral Committee, Koštunica won the elections by 51.71% to 38.24% obtained by Milošević, and became President of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia on 7 October 2000.42 As the DOS also won the parliamentary elections held on 23 December 2000, internal and external expectations towards the new government were high. The new coalition had a two—third majority in the parliament.43 However, the reforms were carried out “without the discontinuity of the former regime,” in addition disputes among the different DOS members prevented the constitutionalisation of the political reforms achieved after 2000.44 The tragic assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Đinđić in March 2003 gave the final blow to the coalition and in October the DOS eventually split up into three (major) groups: the Democratic


38 Zoran Stojiljković – Srđan Darmanović. Electoral System and Intra–Party Relations in Montenegro and Serbia. In Zoran Stojiljković – Dušan Spasojević :Voters, Parties, Elections –How to Democratize Political Parties in Montenegro and Serbia, 125–143. Belgrade, Podgorica: Balkan Comparative Electoral Study, 2016. 125–126. 39 Mark Matthews: U.N. approves sanctions on Yugoslavia Security Council attempts to halt bloodshed in Bosnia. 31 May 1992. <–05–31/news/1992152005_1_ serbia–and–montenegro–yugoslavia–bosnia > Accessed: 4 February 2 2019.

Agence France Press: List of International Sanctions Against Serbia. 9 October 2000. <–taxes/42528.html > Accessed: 4 February 2019. 40

41 Slaviša Orlović: Constitutional, Political and Institutional Framework of the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia. In: Slaviša Orlović: Comparative Analysis of Democratic Performances of the Parliaments of Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro, 17–47. Belgrade, Sarajevo, Podgorica: University of Belgrade–Faculty of Political Sciences (Centre for Democracy), Sarajevo Open Centre, Faculty of Political Science – University of Montenegro, 2012. 17. 42 Election Guide: Serbia and Montenegro Election for President. 2000. < > Accessed on 4 2 2019. 43 OSCE: Republic of Serbia Federal Republic of Yugoslavia Parliamentary Election. 23 12 2000. < > 16. Accessed: 4 February 2019. 44

Orlović, 2015. 13.

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A N TA L L J Ó Z S E F K N OW L E D G E C E N T R E Party (DS led by Boris Tadić), the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS, led by Vojislav Koštunica), and G17 Plus. In the meanwhile, parties of the old elite have strengthened again: the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) was the anti—system party and the SPS tried to find a balance between the democratic and the old parties.45 After the parliamentary elections held on 28 December 2003, the DSS formed a coalition with DS and G17 (the SPS supported the coalition from outside), and Vojislav Koštunica became the Prime Minister.46 Koštunica remained in position until the 2008 elections. During his time as Prime Minister, he envisaged three priorities for Serbia: 1) to resolve the relations between Belgrade and Podgorica, 2) to re— establish Serbian control in Kosovo and 3) to clarify Serbia’s position towards the European Union. However, Koštunica failed to continue his work following the unilateral declaration of independence of Kosovo. In addition, the declaration of independence by Prishtina in February 2008 led also to the split of the governing coalition in March 2008. Early elections were held in May 2008, and the SPS formed a coalition with the DS. In the same year, a split happened in the SRS between Vojislav Šešelj and Tomislav Nikolić, and this resulted in the creation of the Serbian Progressive Party (Srpska napredna stranka—SNS). 47 The Presidential elections in 2012 and the victory of Tomislav Nikolić set the starting of a new period in the political story of Serbia: the SNS became the strongest party, by winning independently the early parliamentary elections in 2014 and in 2016.48 Previous leaders such as Boris Tadić and Vojislav Koštunica were forced out of political power and replaced by Tomislav Nikolić and Aleksandar Vučić. Short after Nikolić resigned and Vučić became the President of the SNS, strengthening in this way his position within the party In 2014 Aleksandar Vučić, became Prime Minister and in 2016 he decided to hold early elections where he obtained a satisfactory result which allowed the SNS coalition to remain in power. The following year Vučić was the Presidential candidate of his party and he was elected as President of Republic. From April 2017, Ana Brnabić, an independent politician replaced him as Prime Minister.


Zoran Stojiljković – Dušan Spasojević: Serbian Party System. In: Zoran Stojiljković – Dušan Spasojević – Jelena Lončar: How to make Intra–Party Democracy Possible?, 49–69. Balkan Comparative Electoral Study, Belgrade 2015. 54. 45


Ivi. 54–55.


Ivi. 56.

48 Ivi. 56–57.

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A N TA L L J Ó Z S E F K N OW L E D G E C E N T R E The stabilisation of the political system As the DOS coalition broke up to different parties, politics between 2003 and 2012 were mainly dominated by the DS and the DSS. In this period, the political power was much more divided among the parties. However, election results showed that the Radical Party was considered an attractive alternative to the democratic parties, until the party split in 2012. Although the SRS won the 200349 and 200750 elections (and finished second in 200851), the democratic parties were always able to form a majority in the parliament. Besides the very exclusive form of nationalism represented by the SRS, considerations towards the European integration seemed to be one of the most important cleavage lines among the democratic and radical nationalist sides. In order to be effective, transition required the stabilisation of Serbia on the international scene, the establishment of the democratic political institutions, a switch to market economy, and the resolution of the bilateral issues in the former Yugoslav region. A common vision on the future of the country was necessary. But Koštunica and Đinđić have had different views on these issues. Of the foremost importance were the dividing lines regarding the European integration project and the relationship with the United States. In fact, Đinđić was trying to bring Serbia closer to the EU, while Koštunica (also as head of state and later as Prime Minister) was more careful towards Brussels and Washington.52 The division over the EU membership and the relationship with the Americans finally defined the main cleavages among the parliamentary parties The competition of the two parties continued after the 2003 and 2007 elections. However, it is important to stress that the assassination of Đinđić caused a change in the DS leadership and this is when Boris Tadić became the new President of the party. Tadić’s political manoeuvre was successful by enforcing his political


role and position in Serbia. As the two main parties controlled the most important institutions, the political power has been shared and centralisation was not possible. However, the share of the power was more a result of internal divisions, than a consociational democratic cohabitation between the two parties. The pro–EU DS coalition tried to 49 Election Guide: Republic of Serbia. 2003. < > Accessed: 4 February 2019. 50 Election Guide: Republic of Serbia. 2007. < > Accessed: 4 February 2019. 51 Election Guide: Republic of Serbia. 2008. < > Accessed: 4 February 2019. 52 Ördögh Tibor: Serbia: A Consolidated Democracy?. International Relations and Diplomacy, 2017: 426–440. 435–436.

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A N TA L L J Ó Z S E F K N OW L E D G E C E N T R E guide the country closer to the European Union. However, the cleavage between the anti and pro–EU parties became stronger and visible. After the disintegration of the DOS, also the assessment of responsibility of the Milošević regime caused fragmentation within the coalition, especially between DS and the DSS leaders. The issue was more precisely on the extradition of Slobodan Milošević to The Hague Tribunal. Finally, Koštunica decided to withdraw from the coalition. As Koštunica was the incumbent President (of FRY) and Đinđić the Prime Minister of Serbia, this situation intensified even more the debate between the two charismatic leaders.53 As already mentioned, the DOS coalition was very successful in terms of democratic transition, but the new government failed to constitutionalise the reforms and by this to guide the events in a single direction. The lack of compromise and problematic cooperation within the governing coalitions was not a unique case in that period. The political structure has been balanced by the two main parties and the strength of the SRS had a cohesive impact on the DS and DSS coalitions. This balanced structure came to an end after the 2008 parliamentary elections. In February 2008, Boris Tadić was re—elected as President. He triumphed against Tomislav Nikolić, who was the candidate of the Radicals. Therefore, the 2008 Presidential elections resulted a key momentum for the country, given that citizens of Serbia voted for the European future, instead of the isolation propagated by the SRS. Following the positive outcome of the elections, Western countries expected more democratic stabilisation by the start of the Europeanisation process in the country.


Only a year after the 2007 general elections, extraordinary elections were held in Serbia in 2008 as the declaration of independence of Prishtina caused a political crisis within the governing coalition. After the 2008 elections, Mirko Cvetković became the new Prime Minister. By this, an independent politician came after DSS leader Koštunica. Cvetković has been supported by the DS and this change ended the “cohabitation” of the DS and the DSS. In 2008, the DS won two important elections, which further consolidated the party’s position. During the campaign, the DSS pursued a more distanced politics towards the European Union, while the Tadić–led DS aimed to get Serbia closer to the EU integration. In the same time, the Radicals supported the idea of isolation54 and neutrality.55 53

Ivi. 435.

Ördögh Tibor: Szerbia, Horvátország és Szlovénia politikai rendszereinek összehasonlítása 1990 és 2016 között. Dialóg Campus Kiadó, Budapest, 2018. 55–56. 54


Ördögh, 2017, 435.

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A N TA L L J Ó Z S E F K N OW L E D G E C E N T R E In an interview released in 2010, then President Tadić pronounced that he “does not want to choose between the European Union and Kosovo.” 56 In the same time, Koštunica showed a lack of will to reach compromise in the case of Kosovo. 57 In 2008, when he was still Prime Minister, Koštunica declared that Serbia “will enter the EU only with Kosovo as its province.”58 A major confrontation within the coalition could be detected between Koštunica and his deputy, Bodižar Đelić, from the Democratic Party, when on 29 April 2008, Đelić and Tadić signed the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with the European Union. Koštunica clearly opposed the signature as the agreement required “good neighbourly relations with Kosovo” and he declared that he will annul the Tadić–Đelić signature of the “Solana’s” agreement.59 As Prime Minister, Koštunica rejected the fact that the recognition of an independent Kosovo should be a precondition for Serbia’s EU membership As the President and the Prime Minister came from the same political organisation, the government form of the country moved closer to a semi– Presidential system. 60 In fact, Tadić was not only President of the republic, but he was also the President of the Democratic Party. On the other side, Cvetković was more a technocratic leader than a party politician. However, the DS did not have an absolute majority in the parliament; the government was under the control of the coalitional partners. The DS only possessed 40.80% of the parliamentary seats, this meant that harsh debates characterised the decision–making process in the government and in the National Assembly. Meanwhile, the internal wrangling within the Radical Party led to a split in 2008, when Tomislav Nikolić and Aleksandar Vučić, with other prominent faces from the SRS formed the Serbian Progressive Party (Srpska napredna stranka—SNS).61 Among different other aspects, the SNS successfully switched into the centre—right vacuum that has been left over. Moreover, Nikolić and Vučić also recognised that because of the geopolitical and geographical position of Serbia, the rapprochement towards the European Union and


56 RT: Boris Tadić: Interview by Sophie Shevardnadze. Boris Tadic: I’m not choosing between Kosovo & EU. 22 November 2010. < > Accessed: 4 February 2019. 57 Robert Marquand: Serbian PM blocks EU pact over Kosovo, despite vote. 8 February 2008. <—woeu.html > Accessed: 4 February 2019 58 Tanjug: Koštunica: EU membership only with Kosovo. 1 March 2008. < > Accessed: 7 October 2018. 59 B92: Koštunica says signed EU deal is forgery. 4 May 2008. < > Accessed: 10 December 2018. 60

Orlović, 2015. 17.


Stojiljković – Spasojević, 2015. 53–56.

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A N TA L L J Ó Z S E F K N OW L E D G E C E N T R E its financial funds would be beneficial for the country. The pro—EU mood has been present since 2008 and the neutrality policy propagated by the SRS never could be transformed into political capital. Following the resignation of Nikolić, during the 2012 Presidential election campaigns, Aleksandar Vučić became the new party leader.62 He was able to give a “progressive façade” to the former nationalists. Following the 2012 parliamentary elections, the SNS–SPS coalition came to power and Nikolić surprisingly defeated Boris Tadić at the Presidential elections. The SNS was the most popular party in the country, the leadership decided to hold the early elections in 2014 and the same happened in 2016. The SNS was able to attract voters from other centrist parties.63 As the SNS controlled the main political institutions, the party successfully centralised and concentrated the political power. When Aleksandar Vučić decided to run as candidate at the 2017 Presidential elections, he successfully excluded the supporters of Nikolić from the inner circles in the SNS. This allowed Vučić to further consolidate his position within the party. As he was elected as President of the Republic, a nonpartisan Prime Minister, Ana Brnabić was appointed in 2017, while the government form of Serbia, once again, got closer to a semi–Presidential system. However, this time the SNS gained an absolute majority in the National Assembly, which allows a more flexible political space for the government. For that reason, the opposition parties are unable to put the governing coalition under serious pressure.


Democratic consolidation in Serbia: the evaluation The last 18 years showed that Serbia was able to consolidate the political system established by the DOS coalition in 2000. There is no fear of secession or change of the regime, even though anti–systemic parties passed the 5% threshold at the 2016 elections. The main institutions and the constitution were able to guarantee the enduring function of the polity. The majority of the citizens support democracy in Serbia as the election turnout was always above 50%. This can be however considered relative low comparing to the EU trends. Election turnout was especially low in 2014 and 2016, when the government decided to hold early parliamentary elections.

62 B92: SNS—DS government would not be ideal. 24 May 2012. < > Accessed: 30 October 2018. 63

Stojiljković – Spasojević, 2015. 56.

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A N TA L L J Ó Z S E F K N OW L E D G E C E N T R E 2 Election turnout in Serbia between 2003 and 2016 at the general elections.64

Election Year 2003 2007 2008 2012 2014 2016

Turnout 58% 60% 60% 55% 51% 54%

According to Linz and Stepan’s definition of democratic consolidation, the Serbian democracy is still underachieving in dimensions related to behavioural, attitudinal and constitutional areas. A major concern is that the non–governmental organisations are not part of the governance. Besides that, the National Assembly’s competences were also restricted in recent years. The majority of the laws were passed in urgent procedure and this practice seriously undermines the role of the parliament in the law making process. Obstruction in the Narodna skupština, for example, prevented the presentation of the country report on Serbia written by the European Commission. It is also important to highlight that no draft proposals by the opposition were discussed in 2017. Besides that, a lack of discussion on the major implementation of laws and policies could also be observed in the work of the skupština .65 The role perception of the political leaders has a clear impact on the function of the parliament. As Orlović argues, the skupština is rather a weak institution and the supremacy of the government is dominant.66 According to the constitution, the parliament should control the government, but instead the main decision—makers “captured” the legislation through guiding parliamentary groups and the deputies (party discipline is a very important political instrument). On the other hand, the parliament never voted down the government and usually ignores the request of the opposition parties. This practice turned members of the parliament to represent party and not voters interests.67 It should be noted that there is a genuine lack of cooperation among the political parties. The


64 Election Guide: Republic of Serbia. < > Accessed: 4 February 2019. 65 European Commission. Serbia 2018 Report. 2018. 1–99. < > Accessed: 10 October 2018. 66

Orlović, 2015. 19.



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A N TA L L J Ó Z S E F K N OW L E D G E C E N T R E political debate is extremely weak and undermines the effectiveness of the parliament. In Serbia it is a common procedure that the legislative drafts are not discussed between the governing and opposition parties.68 Besides that, the judiciary system is also under serious political influence. Although the European Commission highlights these missing points in its country reports year by year, some criticised the silence of the EU in numerous cases when it was proven that the local or state authorities have violated the rule of law.69 Many civil society organisations criticised the content70 of the government’s draft proposal71 that aimed to reform the judicial independency.72 Therefore, questions arises whether the political elite has a lack of commitment in the democratisation process that attributes to the slowness of the transition. As the SNS controls the executive branch, the government is able to influence the remaining power branches. Thereby, the system of checks and balances are being neglected. The executive branch has a dual characteristic as both the President and the Prime Minister are taking part in the decision—making process. In the case of Serbia, the head of the government de jure should be the Prime Minister. However, it also happened that the President interpreted broadly its competences and shared a greater political weight and de facto was the head of the government. It is worth recalling that the power of the decision makers can be further enforced if they are leaders or Presidents of the party. Since Aleksandar Vučić is the main political leader of Serbia, different types of criticism appeared against his ruling methods and way of doing politics. For that reason, the EU has been accused that Brussels prefers stability over democracy in the region.73


Since 2003, a flow of voters could be observed among the parties. Besides the high level of political fragmentation, new cleavages arisen in the political spectrum. Recently, social cleavages are the main divisions instead of ideological ones. Since 2008, there is a consensus 68

European Commission. Serbia 2018 Report. 2018. 8–10.

See for example the Savamala case. < pdf > Accessed: 5 February 2019. 69


European Commission. Serbia 2018 Report. 2018. 14—15

Bertelsmann Stiftung: BTI 2018 Country Report–Serbia. 2018. < > Accessed: 3 January 2019. 71

72 Uroš Ćemalović: Serbia: The State of Liberal Democracy. In: Richard Albert et al.: 2017 Global Review of Constitutional Law, 240–243. ICONnect–Clough Center, 2017. 73 Aleks Eror: How Aleksandar Vucic Became Europe’s Favorite Autocrat. 3 September 2018. <–aleksandar–vucic–became–europes–favorite– autocrat/ > Accessed: 10 October 2018.

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A N TA L L J Ó Z S E F K N OW L E D G E C E N T R E on the European integration of Serbia; however the slow democratic and economic progress might undermine this fragile consensus. Parties, such as the DSS, DS or the G17 that were part of the former umbrella coalition, continuously lost their influence just like the anti—systemic Radical Party. The Progressive Party won independently the majority of the seats in the National Assembly and by this Serbia has a predominant party system.74 Despite the current political stability characterised by the SNS–SPS coalition’s status quo, a possible crisis would potentially cause a political break–up of the current elite. (Stojiljković and Spasojević 2015, 5657) The legacy of the past affects not only the consolidation process, but in wider terms this has a considerable impact on regional stability. Serbia has some serious unresolved problems that are part of the daily political discourse. Frozen conflicts, for example the unresolved status of Kosovo, are not only part of the domestic political discourses, but are also affecting the EU accession process. Despite the slow advancing the democratic political culture in Serbia has not yet consolidated. Concerning the elements of the political culture, the following factors are still determining relations between citizens and state actors: 1. 2. 3. 4.

People’s scepticism against the political elites Distance between the state actors and the citizens Lack of trust concerning the public institutions Although the institutional conditions of the liberal democracy are provided, informal political bargains are still favoured to formal, transparent and accountable processes 5. Political culture is not a result of an integral part of the development


Concerns and conclusions This study reviewed and analysed the democratic consolidation of Serbia between the fall of Slobodan Milošević and the election of Aleksandar Vučić as President of the republic. Following the theoretical and empirical overview, it is evident that democratic development could be observed in the period between 2000 and 2017, but democracy has not yet reached a consolidated status. Despite Serbia started its transition process in 2000, political divisions remained high. Legacy of the past, related to different types of nationalistic myths, beliefs, self–victimisation and frozen conflicts, still have a strong impact on the political and social development. Although the political institutions and multi–party system 74

Giovanni Sartori: Parties and Party Systems. A framework for analysis. ECPR, Cambridge, 2005. 171.

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A N TA L L J Ó Z S E F K N OW L E D G E C E N T R E were created, the logic of the political system generated a distorted form of democracy, where the real power holders are the political parties and not the democratic institutions.75 The concentration of the political power is a phenomenon that can be especially observed since the Serbian Progressive Party is in power. As the opposition is divided and politically weak, the current political “playing field” created favourable conditions for the governing coalition in power. Opposition parties are not in the position to make a significant impact on the SNS ruled political spectrum. As the SNS–SPS coalition controls the whole institutional system, it is important that the European Union pays more attention on the deepness of the reform implementation, including the transparency and the functioning of the state institutions. The marginalisation and the de facto exclusion of the civil sector from the reform process caused frustration among the civil society.76 Democratic consolidation is however unimaginable without strong civil sector. On the other hand, the Serbian decision–makers are not the only ones to blame for the slowness of the democratic consolidation. When the EU gave perspective for membership for the Western Balkan region in 2003, an optimistic mood was present. The protracted enlargement process turned this optimistic to a more pessimistic mood. The European Union also has to realise that more attention has to payed by Brussels to the democratic development of the enlargement countries in order to fulfil the Copenhagen political criteria.



Stojiljković – Darmanović, 2016. 125–126.

Pierre Mirel: Western Balkans—European Union: Between internal cohesion and external stability. European Issues n°480 Fondation Robert Schuman, 2018. 2. 76

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Profile for Antall József Tudásközpont

AJRC-Analyses 2019A01  

AJRC-Analyses 2019A01