Serbia’s president, Aleksandar Vučić, has followed in Vladimir Putin’s footsteps this week by blaming popular protests on western meddling to discredit the opposition.
Protests over alleged vote rigging erupted in Belgrade after Serbia’s national and municipal elections on December 17. Vučić and his Serbian Progressive party (SNS) won an emphatic victory in the national poll, with 48 per cent of the vote to the opposition’s 24 per cent. But the results were closer in the Belgrade elections, where the SNS won only a few percentage points more than the opposition coalition, Serbia Against Violence (SPN).
The SPN has since refused to accept the election results in Belgrade, where it accuses the SNS of inflating the electoral register and bussing in voters from Republika Srpska in Bosnia to tip the election in its favour. The opposition staged two weeks of protests, culminating on Saturday when around 17,000 people took to the streets of Belgrade to demand the annulment of the elections.
The protest coincided with a partial re-run of the polls in 30 out of 8,000 polling stations – a token gesture by the government to defuse complaints about election fraud. When the SNS won an even larger majority, a jubilant Vučić claimed his party had been vindicated: ‘Today’s results are the resistance of ordinary people to the overthrow of the state! The people want to protect their country.’
The idea that the state is under threat fits with the narrative propagated by SNS officials that the protests are Serbia’s version of the Maidan uprising in Ukraine, which led to the ousting of the pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych. The SNS’s first reaction to the protests here was to declare that ‘Maidan won’t happen in Serbia’. After a protest at Belgrade city hall turned violent on December 24, President Vučić took to Pink TV, a pro-government channel, to suggest that foreign powers were trying to orchestrate a colour revolution in Serbia.