For the first time since Serbia launched its European Union integration process in 2009—following a decade of wars waged against countries in the region—more Serbs refuse to join the EU than those who wish for the country to achieve its 13-year-long objective.
An IPSOS survey found that 44 percent of Serbs are against European integration, 35 percent are in favor, and 21 percent declined to answer or said they don’t know, according to Serbian news agency Tanjug. This shows a considerable decline in the support for EU integration compared to the last two years: a 2021 survey (52 percent in favor, 33 against, and 15 undecided), and a 2020 survey (52 percent in favor, 33 against, and 14 undecided).
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic connected these result to the European Union’s pressure on Serbia to impose sanctions on Russia.
“A significant portion of people is against that – 76 percent are against sanctions and 13 percent are in favor, and when you take all that into account, it is relatively easy to explain the decline of EU’s popularity,” he said.
At home, neither Vucic, nor any of the country’s ruling leadership has ever condemned the Russian aggression against Ukraine in public, although Serbia has signed a UNGA resolution and voted in favor of suspending Russia’s voting rights at the UN Human Rights Council.
Instead, Vucic has reiterated at home that Serbia would never impose sanctions on Russia, while government-controlled media regularly praise the Russian invasion of Ukraine and blame NATO, EU, US, and the West in general for pushing Russia into war.
In fact, he has easily resisted lenient requests from the EU since the 2014 Russian invasion of Ukraine to impose sanctions on Russia. Most recently, Vucic also brushed off a similar request by a delegation of US senators.
In addition, Belgrade is the only capital in the world to have held at least three rallies in support of the invasion.
President Vucic has strengthened Serbia’s relations with Russia in all fields since he came to power in 2014, making the country the strongest Russian ally in Europe. Under his leadership, Serbia has advanced relatively quickly in the EU integration path, but at the same time Vucic has made sure to regularly attack the EU while praising the relationship with Russia and China.
His latest comment coincides with the US senators’ visit in the region this week, who explicitly asked him to join sanctions, and whose request he disregarded.
With nearly all media under his control and a huge propaganda machine at his disposal, the former Minister of Information under the genocidal Serbian government of Slobodan Milosevic, Vucic’s claim that it was the EU pressure that has led to the Serbs’ decline in support for EU integration appears to be a propaganda attempt to push back current pressure for Serbia to impose sanctions on Russia.
If anything at all, EU pressure on Vucic in relation to Russia has been extremely weak since 2014, confined only in requests and reminders about European values, with no consequences whatsoever for Serbia.
Moreover, the declining EU integration support among Serbs could be explained easier with Vucic’s policies of ever-strengthened relations with Russia and China, his propaganda against the EU through regular accusations of lack of support for Serbia and self-victimization over alleged constant pressures.