Balkan expert Florian Bieber said late on Tuesday that the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) contributed to the good result of right-wing parties in Serbia's Sunday elections, and it pleased its leader Aleksandar Vucic because he could present himself to Western partners as a more moderate option.
Bieber, a professor at the Graz University, told the Voice of America (VOA) that right-wing parties used the war in Ukraine basing the campaign on a pro-Russian platform, but that the SNS also played a „significant role“ in their success.
„There are two dimensions. One is certainly the war in Ukraine and the whole issue of the confrontation between the West and Russia, making right-wing and anti-Western parties active in Serbia. The SNS also has an important role. It did not send a pro-Russian message in the campaign, did not openly support Russian policy, but said it would preserve peace and stability and continue good relations with Russia and the EU,“ Bieber said.
He added that „that was used by the parties of the extreme right „because the pro-Russian political mood in Serbia existed even before the war in Ukraine.“
Bieber also said that "it is something the ruling party has nurtured through its media for years" and that the success of the rightists was "an essential result of an atmosphere created by the ruling party."
He believes that the new distribution of forces on the right side of the political scene corresponds to the current president of Serbia, although he has complained on election night that Serbia "moved dramatically to the right".
"What we heard from Vucic on election night, that the rightists have strengthened, is his justification to Western partners why he will not impose sanctions on Russia. It makes some things easier for him because that presents him as a more moderate option. And (as a warning) if the West does not support him, radical forces will come to power," Bieber said.
He added the question was how much understanding the West would still have for Vucic's non-imposition of sanctions on Russia since the elections were over.
"So far, we have not received a clear message from the EU whether it will insist that Serbia impose sanctions on Russia. After the elections, that pressure will be a bit stronger, but the question is to what extent the EU is united in that position. For example, the Austrian chancellor was in Serbia two weeks ago and expressed understanding of Serbia's position and did not openly criticise it," Bieber said.
He underlined that the main question was how long the war in Ukraine would last and whether the EU would insist on tougher sanctions and demand the partners from the Western Balkans harmonise their policy with those punitive measures.
"If that doesn't happen, Vucic can continue with that policy. But I think the pressure will increase, and the EU can now say - we have been patient, we have shown understanding because it is difficult to insist on sanctions amid the elections, but now is the time to act. I expect it, but we will see if it will happen," he added.
Bieber also said that European integration in Serbia has been "a phrase for a long time" and added he "did not see any progress" on Serbia's European path.
"The EU sometimes opens accession clusters, but we all know what the state of the rule of law and democracy in Serbia is. Of course, there will be MPs who will be more active and show more of their orientation towards the EU and democracy, but they will be in the minority. Besides formally working on European integration, the Government and the Parliament will not continue with that process, and we know it's just a phrase," Bieber said.
He added that "unfortunately, he (Vucic) will be able to continue with that until the message from the EU says there is no content."
Asked whether Serbia is closer to Russia or the EU with the future government, Bieber says it is "closer to itself."
"The Government will continue to strengthen the dominance of the SNS and Aleksandar Vucic. Whether it is a pro-Russian, pro-Chinese or pro-European path, they don't care," the Balkan expert said.
Bieber added that China could play a similar role as Russia if Serbia had to reduce good relations with Moscow.
"If they (Serbia's authorities) would have to reduce good relations with Russia, there is another authoritarian, anti-Western partner who has a seat in the Security Council and can prevent the recognition of Kosovo. There are alternatives outside Russia, which does not mean that Serbia will turn to European politics. It keeps all the options open, unfortunately," Bieber said.