Dacic: Pristina’s decision unprecedented move and a slap in EU’s face (Novosti/B92)
Pristina’s decision to forbid Serbian officials to enter Kosovo is unprecedented, Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said. He added that this decision is yet another slap not to Belgrade but to the EU and international community, as they remain shamefully silent to the years of violation of all civilizational norms in the years behind, conveyed by Ramush Haradinaj and Hashim Thaci.
“As they left the Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija without medicines and food, defending their ridiculous taxes, with this ban, they practically want to isolate our people further from any impact coming from Belgrade,” Dacic told Novosti. He claims that the timing for this move is also intentional. “They did all of this only two days after signing an agreement between so-called Kosovo and Albania, by which the sides practically commit to leading a common foreign policy. This agreement represents a foundation for establishing a Greater Albania that is being built in the heart of Europe without any hindrance, while Serbian officials are at the same time banned from moving within the territory of their own state,” Dacic concluded.
Palestine’s stand on non-recognition of “Kosovo” remains unchanged (Tanjug)
The state secretary of the Serbian Interior Ministry Biljana Popovic Ivkovic talked on Wednesday with the Ambassador of the State of Palestine Mohamed Nabhan about Serbia’s arguments against the renewed examination of the request of so-called Kosovo for Interpol membership. Popovic Ivkovic underlined that Serbia would fight for preservation of international law and prevention of politicization of the professional police organization such as Interpol.
She pointed to the fact that only member states and state with an observer status in the United Nations can be members of Interpol, which so-called Kosovo certainly is not. Nabhan voiced gratitude to Serbia on the long-term cooperation with Palestine, stressing that the stand of the government of Palestine on non-recognition of so-called Kosovo remains unchanged. He said that Palestine will be on the side of international law and Serbia regarding the issue of Interpol.
Mojsilovic with KFOR Commander on “disrespect of procedures” (Politika)
Chief of General Staff of the Army of Serbia General Milan Mojsilovic met in Belgrade with KFOR Commander Lorenzo D’Addario, the Army of Serbia stated. Mojsilovic recollected that the Military-Technical, as well as other agreements signed with KFOR, did not recognize any other forces except Serbian security forces and KFOR. “He underlined that disrespect of procedure of action by the signatories of this agreement has a negative effect on the overall security situation in Kosovo and Metohija, which contributes to the people’s feeling of insecurity,” reads the statement. Mojsilovic pointed out on this occasion that KFOR was the only legitimate armed formation in Kosovo and Metohija, and that as such it is the most responsible for the safety of the population in the entire territory of Kosovo and Metohija, especially of the non-Albanian population in the north.
Fabrizi: EU not changing stand on Belgrade-Pristina dialogue (FoNet/RTS)
The Head of the EU Delegation to Serbia Sem Fabrizi said the EU would not change its approach toward the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue under the new EU administration, FoNet reported. Addressing reporters at the EU Info Centre after the panel discussion “From Romanian to Finish Presidency over Council of Europe,” Fabrizi said the dialogue should resume and reach a legally binding agreement. “The EU stand does not change,” he reiterated.
Western Balkans Summit kicks off in Poznan (Hayat)
The sixth Summit of the Western Balkans countries will be held in Poznan, Poland in period July 4-5. Meeting of heads of the Western Balkans countries will be held within this summit. Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) will be represented at this event by Chair of B&H Council of Ministers (CoM) Denis Zvizdic and B&H Minister of Foreign Affairs Igor Crnadak. Main topics of the Summit will be what was achieved so far within the Berlin Process and what are the future goals for the Western Balkans. The Western Balkans Summit was opened by a forum of think-tanks attended by some 200 representatives of European NGOs. Participants of the forum, in the presence of certain political leaders of Poland, discussed the European perspective of the Western Balkan countries. Summit in Poznan will also be an opportunity to discuss how much the new EU policy and people elected to top EU positions will mean for the enlargement process when it comes to the Western Balkans. Key event of the Western Balkans Summit will be meeting of prime ministers which will be held on Friday.
Cvijanovic: RS fully committed to EU path (BN TV)
Republika Srpska (RS) President Zeljka Cvijanovic met on Wednesday in Banja Luka with Head of EU Delegation to Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) Lars- Gunnar Wigemark and EU Council’s Working Party on the Western Balkans (COWEB) delegation. During this meeting, Cvijanovic said the RS is completely committed to the EU path, adding that this process has to be implemented in line with rules of the Coordination Mechanism and with full respect towards constitutional position and competences of the RS. Cvijanovic emphasized that it is necessary to form new convocation of B&H Council of Ministers (CoM) and authorities at all levels as soon as possible in order to create conditions for fulfillment of tasks B&H will face in process of the EU integration. RS Prime Minister Radovan Viskovic also met with Wigemark and COWEB members on Wednesday and noted that the RS Government is fully committed to the EU path and pointed out the need for a consistent respect for the Coordination Mechanism in the process of EU integration. COWEB delegation also met with representatives of opposition parties in the RS. Opposition MPs underlined that this meeting is very important. Leader of PDP Branislav Borenovic stated that B&H will have to conduct serious work in order to make progress on the EU path. “We are not certain that political elites, especially those from ruling parties want to become part of the EU, because system is organized there and institutions have been doing their work,” explained Borenovic. He went on to say that during Wednesday meeting, representatives from the opposition parties emphasized that there are three areas it is necessary to insist on: amending of electoral legislation, reform of judicial system and improvement of work of public broadcasters. SDS’ Miladin Stanic stated that it is necessary to establish if it is interest of some political subjects to block the EU integration of B&H.
Former HR Schwarz-Schilling wonders when Dodik will be removed for his actions and behavior (Nezavisne novine/DW)
Former High Representative (HR) Christian Schwarz-Schilling wrote an article for Deutsche Welle is which he fiercely criticized actions of SNSD leader and Chairman of the Presidency of B&H Milorad Dodik, also wondering when one such President like Dodik will be removed. Among other issues, Schwarz-Schilling wrote that Dodik is an extreme Serb nationalist, who is exclusively guided by alleged Serb interests, ignoring interests of the joint state and the damage he is causing against it. “Dodik himself openly says he does not feel as the President of B&H, which in his opinion does not exist in reality but he only represents interests of Serb people,” Schwarz-Schilling wrote. Schwarz-Schilling further writes that Dodik is preventing formation of the government Council of Ministers of B&H by declaring decision of one of his predecessors Nebojsa Radmanovic not valid, namely the Annual National Program (ANP) that is condition for NATO path. “Dodik ordered its nationalistic party SNSD to adopt a suitable decision which is opposite to previous decisions of Serb representatives and which the RS points out as a formation for formation of the authorities,” Schwarz-Schilling noted. Schwarz-Schilling also noted that political parties in the Federation of B&H do not want to allow anti-parliamentary behavior of Dodik, so the authorities cannot be formed which results in an absolute political stagnation. “As of the beginning of July, it became impossible to adopt a decision on adoption of the budget, so nobody knows how salaries to state servants and officials will be paid as of 1 July. The deadline for the parliament of B&H to appoint delegates in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe expired on 24 June 2019. This did not happen either. Representatives of SNSD deliberately failed to attend the session,” Schwarz-Schilling concluded.
Dodik: Schwarz- Schilling is professional Serbophobe and Bosniak lobbyist (RTRS)
Serb member and Chairman of the B&H Presidency, Milorad Dodik said that former High Representative Christian Schwarz-Schilling is a professional Serbophobe and international political parasite, who built his career in Sarajevo, while receiving huge allowance, on the attempt to centralize B&H and he was even then, recognized as Bosniak lobbyist, who was doing everything at the expense of Serbs and of the RS. Asked to comment the accusations that Schwarz- Schilling presented against him, wondering “when will Dodik be removed,” Dodik said that “High Representatives, including Schwarz- Schilling, are international speculators, who turned B&H into swamp with their impositions, violating the Dayton Agreement and therefore they have no right to give moral lessons and hold lessons to anyone”. “Schwarz- Schilling especially has no right to this, being that during his mandate he openly lobbied for Bosniak side, putting the RS on display, holding empty lessons and fiercely attacking overall Serb interests.” He noted that “insinuations and accusations against the RS, by side of this burnt-out international speculator, who is working by the order, present a stereotype of certain international circles”. Dodik concluded: “This is far from reality and presents anti-Serb propaganda of paranoid, political parasite Schwarz- Schilling, who is a special in fabricating of intrigues, slanders and insults against the Serb people and the RS, and whose years are the only obstacle to tell about him everything he deserves”.
US supports B&H’s goals, membership in NATO and EU (Nezavisne novine)
The Independence Day of the US was marked on Tuesday evening in the premises of the US Embassy to B&H. According to daily, a number of politicians who attended the event upon invitation of the US Ambassador to B&H Eric Nelson had an opportunity to hear messages of support to B&H on country’s path towards membership in the EU and NATO. Nelson reminded that the 50th anniversary of landing on the moon is being marked in 2019, and noted that B&H now has its own goals which do not require space travel. “Those are membership in NATO and the EU. The United States supports this goal, because it will – in the words of President (John F.) Kennedy – help you consolidate and measure your biggest strengths and your best skills,” said Nelson. He underlined that the success of B&H does not depend of what the international community can do, but on what the citizens of B&H can do for their own country. The daily reminded that the event was attended by members of the Presidency of B&H Zeljko Komsic and Sefik Dzaferovic, Chairman of the Council of Ministers of B&H Denis Zvizdic, President of the RS Zeljka Cvijanovic and Prime Minister of the Federation of B&H Fadil Novalic.
Bosniak bloc headed by SDA continues several months long post-election agony (RTRS)
RTRS carries that despite the constant warnings of European officials on the necessity to form the authorities at all levels as soon as possible, the Bosniak bloc headed by SDA is continuing the several months long post-election agony. According to RTRS, SDA and its leader Bakir Izetbegovic for months complained about Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) being jeopardized by the strengthened Serb-Croat bloc. RTRS stressed that SDA remained consistent after it managed to convince budget veteran and a politician, addicted to power Zeljko Komsic and his DF to join them. After that, SBB B&H led by Fahrudin Radoncic, who swore for months that SBB B&H will never again form a coalition with SDA, also joined SDA. According to RTRS’ findings, Komsic’s election to the post of Croat member of the B&H Presidency cost SDA tycoons more than one million BAM and Komsic paid the first installment by making adoption of the Annual National Program (ANP) for NATO a condition for appointment of SNSD’s Zoran Tegeltija as the Chairman-designate of the B&H Council of Ministers (CoM). RTRS further claims that Komsic is repaying the rest of the installments by supporting Bosniak member of the B&H Presidency Sefik Dzaferovic (SDA) in blockades and conditioning. Meanwhile, RS President Zeljka Cvijanovic claims that those who are laying claim to B&H the most are at the same time the ones who are discrediting and devaluating it the most. Cvijanovic claims that SDA and its partners are trying in all possible ways to gather some majority that would exclude SNSD. Newly elected SDS leader Mirko Sarovic is not excluding the possibility of such an endeavor. Sarovic stressed that there are probably those who believe that SDS should do nothing and not take part in political processes at the B&H level. “I tell them that we will take part in them in our way,” Sarovic underlined. However, according to RTRS, ambitions to exclude SNSD from the authorities at the B&H level would be attainable if it was not for the insurmountable obstacle in the B&H House of Peoples (HoP) which has to confirm every law and decision, except the one on the appointment of the B&H CoM. Namely, SNSD has four out of five Serb delegates in the B&H HoP. Dragan Covic, leader of HDZ B&H, whose hands in the B&H House of Representatives (HoR) are necessary for a simple majority, is not ready for such combinations. “Someone believes that he can run the system through such crises. I believe that this is wrong and that we need to form the B&H CoM as soon as possible,” Covic underlined. RTRS stressed that SDA cannot expect its desirable partner – SDS – to agree to NATO path and adoption of the ANP because, according to RTRS, in circumstances in which the Serb people is explicitly against NATO integration, this would mean party and political suicide of SDS. RTRS stressed that it remains to be seen what will prevail; the European path which Sarajevo lovers of B&H and quasi reformists are swearing in or party interests. RTRS concluded that whatever prevails, SDA’s emissaries should stop swearing in laws and Constitution given that they long violated them by ignoring the election will of the citizens.
Tannock to Djukanovic: I’ll come to Podgorica to see the European flag (CDM)
President of Montenegro Milo Djukanovic welcomed the member of the European Parliament and special rapporteur Charles Tannock and handed him the Order of Montenegrin flag as a sign of respect and appreciation for everything he had done for Montenegro during his term of office. Djukanovic said that all those years in which Tannock had been performing the function of the special rapporteur had been very important. “You were one of the most important partners and witness of our successes, visa liberalization, negotiation process, all the way until we became leaders in the negotiation process,” said Djukanovic. He pointed out Tannock’s strong support during NATO accession process. He thanked Tannock for promoting European perspective of Montenegro. President said that even after the term of office expired, Tannock would still be friend of Montenegro. Tannock said that he was honored to receive the decoration. He said he had become so attached to Montenegro. “You have made considerable progress, from a small independent state you have become NATO member and future EU Member State and stability factor in the Balkans,” said Tannock. He stressed that Montenegro had friends in the EP and they should all be aware of the challenges we face and successfully overcome. Your democracy torch should serve as an example,” said Tannock. He said he would monitor processes in Montenegro. “I’ll come to Podgorica to see European flag raised,” said Tannock. Djukanovic said he was sure the enlargement policy had its item in the EC agenda.
Schweitzer-Bluhm: We look forward to welcoming you in NATO and start the EU negotiations (Nezavisen vesnik)
For over 25 years, the citizens of North Macedonia want to see the country taking its place in Western institutions. That desire will become a reality this year. The United States looks forward to welcoming North Macedonia as a 30th NATO member in the coming months, and we also strongly support the start of accession negotiations with the EU as soon as possible, said Chargé d ’Affaires at the US Embassy in Skopje Micaela Schweitzer-Bluhm at the reception in the US Embassy organized Wednesday evening on the occasion of US Independence Day 4th of July.
Addressing the present guests, including President Stevo Pendarovski, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, government officials, opposition VMRO-DPMNE leader Hristijan Mickoski, representatives of the diplomatic corps, Schweitzer-Bluhm said that the country as a NATO member will permanently strengthen its relations with the United States and its NATO allies.
“We will not be just friends and partners, we will be allies, connected through a shared commitment to peace, security and prosperity. There is no stronger connection than this. We saw this link in action last month during “Decisive Strike” military exercise in Krivolak, where soldiers from our two countries have created common procedures for communication and operations, preparing to join together to respond to future threats,” Schweitzer-Bluhm noted.
She added that ties between the US and North Macedonia are also being realized in business, culture, education and the social plan. “The citizens of our two countries love the same things. As our founders have said in the United States Declaration of Independence – all people have the right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. In order to achieve this, there is a need for an authority that will be in line with the needs and concerns of the citizens,” she added. “These three years were a period of dynamic changes in North Macedonia, positive changes that firmly set you on the path of stability and prosperity. However, democracy is never finished and there is always more to do for the citizens,” she said. Schweitzer-Bluhm said she was proud that the US Embassy supported the country’s efforts to strengthen democracy – not only writing good laws, but also implementing them, building a modern economy and making the country and the region safer. “We will continue to work with you, supporting your efforts on the road to achieving a “more perfect Union” – I quote a phrase from the US Constitution. You live in a period of great opportunities and great potential, and we look forward to continuing our cooperation and helping you achieve the ambitions of your citizens,” Schweitzer-Bluhm said.
Zaev: NATO integration will have great positive effects on the security and prosperity of our country and region (Nezavisen vesnik)
Prime Minister Zoran Zaev in his address at the event organized by the Crisis Management Center and NATO said that he expected North Macedonia to be an upstanding member of the Alliance. “I hope we will formally join NATO by the end of the year, although we have taken part in the realization of NATO goals and peacekeeping missions for years,” said PM Zaev.
He said about twenty NATO member-states have already ratified the Accession Protocol, with few others in the midst of the ratification process. Zaev hopes the ratification process will be completed by December 2019, when the NATO Summit observes the organization’s 70th anniversary with 30 member-states. “NATO integration will have enormous positive effects on the security and prosperity of our country and the region in general. The start of this process is already yielding economic results, with over USD 700 million of foreign investments. I am convinced that the true perspectives for North Macedonia and the region are yet to come,” said Zaev. According to him, the government is making the necessary reforms for full NATO integration, including digitization of the crisis management system and implementation of the next-generation incident command system (NICS) in the country, which would strengthen CMC’s capacities. The project, funded by NATO’s Science for Peace and Security Program, should be implemented by 1 December 2020, meaning that the country would have a contemporary crisis management system after it joined NATO. NATO Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges, Antonio Missiroli, said the Alliance eagerly awaits North Macedonia’s accession as its 30th member, hopefully at the December summit. According to Missiroli, the country is committed to the continuation of reforms in the fields of security and defense.
Zaev tells Macron that the EU has no future without enlargement (Republika)
Prime Minister Zoran Zaev replied to the announcement by French President Emmanuel Macron that France opposes EU enlargement until the Union has been reformed and deepened.
“Europe has no future without enlargement. I’m convinced that we will be given a date to open EU accession talks in October. In the meantime, the EU can reform itself, can debate, we will negotiate on our accession chapters. Ultimately, whether the EU expands or not, we have a lot of time, until 2025 at least, to wait for the EU reforms,” Zaev said. France has vocally opposed enlargement and opening of accession talks with Macedonia and Albania, and following the difficult meetings to determine the next key EU officials, President Macron bluntly said that there will be no enlargement until the EU figures out a way to reach decisions with its current 28 members.
EC turns down the Netherlands’ request to lift visa regime for Albania (Radio Tirana)
It was on the 31st of May when the Netherlands formally submitted to the European Commission its request to suspend the free movement of Albanian citizens in the Schengen area. A long debate was held in the Dutch parliament on this issue, and then the request initiated by Madeleine van Toorenburg, Dutch member of the House of Representatives, was subsequently approved. In a letter to the Euro Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitri Avramopoulos, Robert de Groot, the Netherlands’s permanent representative to the European Union, presented his arguments for this request, summarized in three points.
A European Commission spokesman said that in the current situation, the circumstances to trigger the visa suspension mechanism are not met. This decision of the Netherlands led to harsh political disputes in Tirana. While the majority stated that the initiative was taken by MPs who have always been against integration, the opposition has seen it as a result of the low level of fight against crime, corruption and drug trafficking. Only two weeks after the official submission of the Dutch request to the European Commission, the Dutch parliament on 12 June adopted a motion calling on the government not to accept the opening of negotiations with Albania and the Dutch parliament approved the official decision. Had the Dutch request been adopted then the suspension of the free movement would take a period of nine months and during this period the Commission would establish an extended dialogue with the third country in question in order to correct the circumstances in question.
INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SOURCES
The Dangerous Politics of Playing the Victim (Foreign Policy, by Dahlia Scheindlin, 4 July 2019)
The leaders of Israel and Serbia share one thing: They’ve perfected the politics of persecution. Here’s why that strategy won’t keep working.
Critics of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have long compared him to illiberal nationalists, such as Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro, and strongmen who have consolidated control to stay in power, such as Viktor Orban and Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But to understand Netanyahu’s ability to survive against daunting political odds—he faces potential indictment for alleged corruption and recently failed to form a government—there is a better comparison: Aleksandar Vucic, the president of Serbia. Netanyahu and Vucic each preside over unresolved violent conflicts in which their more powerful countries are widely viewed as the aggressors. Both began as propagandists who learned to portray their countries as victims to the world. And both later leveraged their narrative skills to drive their individual political ascents—by portraying themselves, simultaneously, as victims and saviors. Like Israel, Serbia is a small country with outsized problems and one that lives in the shadow of vicious recent wars. The last one—fought in 1999 over Kosovo, with NATO intervention—has never been resolved. Vucic rose to public prominence during Yugoslavia’s crackup. He had just turned 28 when he became information minister under then-President Slobodan Milosevic in 1998, three years after the Srebrenica massacres in Bosnia. Three weeks before he started the job, Serbian forces launched a deadly two-day attack in Kosovo, killing dozens of civilians and sparking international media attention. Serbia needed a lot of explaining, and Vucic cut his teeth defending Belgrade in the face of foreign criticism. Netanyahu also began his diplomatic career during a crisis in which his country was seen as the aggressor: the Lebanon war of 1982. He was 32 when he became the deputy chief of mission at the Israeli Embassy in Washington. Shortly afterward, Israeli forces allowed an allied Lebanese militia to massacre civilians in two Palestinian refugee camps, Sabra and Shatila, shocking the world. Netanyahu then became explainer-in-chief as ambassador to the United Nations from 1984 to 1988 while Israel dug into its occupation of both southern Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. Both men insisted to the world that their countries’ aggression was justified because their people were the victims. Vucic argued that military force was necessary to defend against the Kosovo Liberation Army, which Serbia viewed as a terrorist organization. Netanyahu staked his career on Israel’s war of survival against terrorism. Both criticized the Western press for maligning their countries and denounced news organizations for falling for propaganda. Netanyahu lost an election in 1999, and Vucic lost his job in 2000 after Milosevic’s fall. But they honed their skills while waiting in the political opposition. By the time they returned—Netanyahu in 2009 as prime minister, Vucic in 2012 as deputy prime minister—each began to depict himself as the underdog who would overcome influential international pressures and entrenched local interests to save his nation. After Netanyahu took office again, the international media once again became the enemy. In 2010, Israeli commandos raided a flotilla seeking to break Israel’s siege on Gaza, killing 10 Turkish citizens. Erdogan as Turkish prime minister lauded the victims as martyrs, and global media denounced the attack. Netanyahu rushed back from abroad and called an urgent press conference. Speaking in Hebrew, he said, “Israel is facing an attack of international hypocrisy—and not for the first time.” At home, those words transformed the incident from an Israeli blunder into an assault on the country. Over the next few years, Netanyahu relentlessly called out the foreign media, the U.N., or any vocal public critic of his government for “delegitimizing” Israel. Israelis clung to the idea that they were David rather than Goliath. Silver-tongued Netanyahu, with his polished English, was their savior, defending Israel from its purported enemies, from Erdogan to the New York Times. In Serbia, the unresolved status of Kosovo, and the Serb minority living there, similarly reinforces the country’s self-image as a victim. The brutal wars of the 1990s are remembered in Serbia today as necessary to protect Serb minorities in other republics seceding from Yugoslavia or are fused with the older history of Serb suffering at the hands of the Nazi-aligned Croatian Ustashe during World War II. Despite the well-established atrocities perpetrated by Bosnian Serb forces in Bosnia, a survey conducted by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in 2011 showed that 69 percent of Serbs surveyed felt that Serbs had suffered the most in the wars. Throughout the 2000s, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia kept the wound—and the underdog narrative—in the headlines by prosecuting war criminals, many of them Serbs. While foreign observers commended the heavy life sentences handed to Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic for their crimes in Bosnia, the two men were celebrated as heroes at home. Many Serbs felt like victims of victors’ justice. When Karadzic was originally convicted in 2016, Vucic responded, “We will not let anyone trample on Serbs because they are Serbs.” But the true political brilliance of both Vucic and Netanyahu lies in their ability to manifest the victim-victor narrative in their own individual story. When Vucic returned to political prominence, he rapidly asserted that people were out to kill him. That was not entirely far-fetched; the Balkans have an illustrious tradition of political assassinations that continues to this day. Alongside his advances toward dialogue with Kosovo, Vucic also went after one of the country’s top oligarchs, Miroslav Miskovic, as part of a broader program of attacking corruption. This made him a hero to the public for a time, as well as a potential target of the underworld.
But after becoming prime minister in 2014, Vucic began to exert greater direct influence over the media. An increasingly compliant press reported ever more elaborate plots against him. The headlines of tabloids under his direct influence screamed that political forces were trying to topple him, killers were waiting to ambush him, and assassins were plotting to blow him up with a bazooka. Netanyahu’s imagery isn’t far off. On Feb. 28, Israel’s attorney general announced a decision to indict him on a series of corruption-related charges, pending a hearing. Netanyahu responded by declaring: “The witch hunt against me stops at nothing. They’ve spilled my blood, and they are still spilling the blood of my wife.” The greatest narrative achievement of leaders like Netanyahu and Vucic is the ability to portray themselves as being persecuted because of their devotion to their people and their defense of the nation. Allegations of corruption, nepotism, or authoritarian tactics, in this view, are just a tool wielded by their enemies.
Vucic had an easy sell after targeting the oligarchs. Now, according to a close advisor, every political threat is blamed on the tycoons, privatizers, and foreigners—minus the Gulf investors he has ushered in to bankroll huge projects, which he defends as a crucial source of growth.
Netanyahu also insists that he is being attacked merely because of his devotion to his country. In 2008, a media investigation probed possible improper funding for a trip Netanyahu took during the second Lebanon war in 2006, during which he did rounds of interviews. Netanyahu responded that “what we have here is political persecution against me. … I labored morning and night on behalf of Israel.” And following the announcement by Israeli police recommending his indictment in early 2018, Netanyahu told citizens, “You all know that I do everything with only one thing in mind: the good of the state.” Netanyahu uses the same tactic to deflect pressures from abroad. When the U.S. government expressed disappointment for his opposition to concessions in negotiations with Palestinians in 2014, he said, “Anonymous figures attack me only because I defend Israel’s security.” His personal struggle is a matter of national survival.
Vucic won the country’s presidency handily in 2017 after serving as prime minister, while Netanyahu initially seemed ready to coast into his fourth consecutive term (fifth in total) this year before coalition negotiations collapsed, forcing him to run again in September. Both men can boast achievements in the areas where strongman populists excel: positive macroeconomic indicators, improved integration into the global economy, diplomatic success, and splashy infrastructure projects. But they have also used their positions to erode democratic and liberal institutions. They attack, pressure, or control the media and delegitimize critics in order to consolidate power. Vucic and Netanyahu nevertheless enjoy a base of supporters who bask in their achievements, even if these average citizens don’t benefit personally. For unemployed Serbs or young Israelis who can barely pay the rent, their leaders’ success symbolizes national triumph. These voters are willing to sacrifice a few liberal ideals in exchange for such a victory.
But Serbs and Israelis have something else in common: Citizens aren’t so forgiving when illiberal governance seems tailored to protect a leader personally. Since December 2018, Serbia has been racked by demonstrations. Only the ideological cacophony within these protests has kept them from being more effective; demonstrators include ultra-nationalists and liberal humanists alike. But they share one thing: anger against Vucic and rejection of his anti-democratic tactics. There have been similar mass protests in Israel. In December 2017, the Israeli parliament sought to ram through a law designed to shield Netanyahu personally, as the police wrapped up their investigations of his corruption cases. The bill sparked a spontaneous, angry mass demonstration, prompting Netanyahu to modify the law. This year, in late May, roughly 100,000 people rallied in Tel Aviv against Netanyahu’s demands that future coalition partners support personal legal protections in his next term. Both Vucic and Netanyahu may now be facing a breaking point. When the assault on institutions no longer looks self-sacrificing but self-aggrandizing, and when the leader is exposed as acting for himself rather than for the state, the victim-savior facade can collapse. This narrative has driven Vucic’s ascent and Netanyahu’s remarkable staying power so far—but being a victim won’t save them forever.
Dahlia Scheindlin is an international political consultant who has worked in 15 countries, including five campaigns in Israel. She has also been subcontracted to conduct research in Serbia for both the Democratic Party and the Serbian Progressive Party at different times, ending in 2014.