Serbia: Background and U.S. Relations Page: 5 of 18
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Serbia: Background and U.S. Relations
for better relations with the EU, the United States, and others, including NATO, although Serbia
has indicated it has no interest in joining the alliance.
At the beginning of 2017, the government in Belgrade was led by Prime Minister Aleksandar
Vucid of the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS). The Progressive Party was formed by Tomislav
Nikolic and others, including Vuci6, when they broke away from the Radical Party in 2008 in
order to offer a more moderate/nationalist, pro-EU alternative. Nikolic once led the SRS when
Seselj was held in prison, charged with war crimes in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the
Serbian region of Vojvodina during the period from August 1991 to September 1993 by the
International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), based in The Hague,
Netherlands. Seselj was found not guilty of the charges and acquitted in 2016.
In 2012, Nikolic won Serbia's presidential election. In the parliamentary elections in March 2014
the SNS completed its electoral dominance when it won a sizable victory in the 250-seat Serbian
parliament, receiving 48.4% of the vote and 158 seats. The SNS victory was aided by the former
government's increasing unpopularity as a result of corruption scandals and poor economic
performance. Under Serbian law, the president appoints the prime minister, and Vuci6 was
appointed to lead the government by Nikolic. The election result was seen by many in Serbia as a
vindication for Nikolic's and Vucic's decision to leave the Radical Party. The Socialist Party won
44 seats in the parliament and entered government as the SNS coalition partner.
Between the 2014 election and spring 2016, however, the Vuci6 government's popularity was
eroded somewhat by a sluggish economic situation, an internal governance feud with the Socialist
coalition partner, and rising criticism of Vucic's domestic policies-the poor state of the rule of
law, tight control of the media, and disregard for opposition concerns about democratic progress.
This situation led to a growing vocal challenge from the Radical party. Seselj, who is a member
of the Serb parliament, pledged never to give up fighting for Serbia to regain Kosovo and opposes
Serbian membership in the EU. Seselj also argued that Serbia should integrate more with Russia
and stop cooperating with NATO.
In April 2016, faced with the prospect that his mounting problems could continue to erode
support for the SNS, Vuci6 called for a snap parliamentary election, well ahead of the regularly
scheduled 2018 elections. Despite some voting irregularities that required a revote in several
areas, the SNS won another majority, and Vuci6 again led the new government. Although the
coalition led by the SNS again won around 48% of the vote, the number of seats won by the SNS
in the parliament declined to 131 as new, smaller parties entered parliament for the first time.
When the 2017 presidential election period began, the popularity of President Nikolic and the
SNS had stagnated. Despite his domestic problems, Vuci6 was seen by many as the only
politician in Serbia who could move the country forward.3 This assessment led Vuci6 to decide to
run for president, effectively preventing Nikolic from running for reelection. On April 2, 2017,
Vucid won an overwhelming victory, capturing around 55% of the vote. In the days immediately
after the election, however, thousands of students and others organized spontaneously on social
networks took to the streets of Belgrade, Novi Sad, and other towns. They claimed Vucic's
supporters rigged the presidential vote, and protested what many believed was an autocracy-in-
the-making by Vuci6 and his party.4 On September 8, 2017, Serbia's Anti-Corruption Agency
ruled that Vuci6 did not abuse state resources in the campaign for the April 2 presidential election.
3 "Vucic Reaps Benefits from Guantanamo 'Favor,"' BalkanInsight, July 19, 2016.
4 Vanja Djuric, "Anti-Government Protests Continue in Belgrade, Novi Sad," BalkanInsight, April 5, 2017.
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Morelli, Vincent L. Serbia: Background and U.S. Relations, report, September 19, 2017; Washington D.C.. (https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc1042360/m1/5/?q=terrorism: accessed May 25, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, https://digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.