Brnabic’s cabinet no. 2: eighteen months to say ‘yes’ to Kosovo and NATO
In the next eighteen months, the new government of Serbia will have to make radical changes in the national geopolitical stances reaffirmed in the last two decades.
When Sergey Lavrov will land in Belgrade on Wednesday 28, he will find the same Prime Minister, Ana Brnabic, waiting for him, but a new government much more distant from Russian geopolitical interests.
The Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), which has always been close to Moscow, despite the good performance in the June elections, had to agree to have only one minister with a portfolio in the government, that is the minister of education, and one without a portfolio. But, above all, the SPS had to give up the Ministry of Energy and hand it over to Zorana Mihajlovic to helm it, who in 2014, had to leave that position following Moscow exerting pressure and accusations that she was too pro-American.
The SPS leader, Ivica Dacic, in his inauguration speech as the new Speaker of the Parliament, has already alluded to what could happen: “I see that heating in this room is good and we hope that entire Serbia will keep warm thanks to Srbijagas”. To remind, Dusan Bajatovic, the most prominent member of the SPS in terms of economic power, thanks to his personal friendship with Sergey Miller, CEO of Gazprom, is managing Srbijagas.
But after the Washington agreements of 4 September, it seems that Aleksandar Vucic’s choices are clearly oriented towards the USA. In time, and considering that the April 2022 elections are a done deal, the Brnabic government no. 2 will be able to count on a Parliament that has no opposition (less monolithic perhaps only than that of North Korea), to realize two strategic choices that will revoke many historical proclamations and principles of Serbian foreign policy: the de facto recognition of Kosovo and a sort of pre-accession to NATO.
While admiring the mosaics in Saint Sava Temple made by Russian artists with money from Gazprom, Sergey Lavrov will wonder who of the persons present at the celebration apropos the finalization of the works on the largest Orthodox church in the Balkans can still be considered a referent of the Russian Federation. He won’t find anyone anymore. The new foreign minister, Nikola Selakovic, has excellent relations with Moscow, but above all, he is perhaps Vucic’s most trusted man. The new defence minister, Nebojsa Stefanovic, will certainly move away from the bellicose and pan-Slavic rhetoric of his predecessor Aleksandar Vulin, who finds himself in the role of interior minister thanks to the classic promoveatur ut amoveatur move (i.e. promote him to keep him out of the way). The Serbian Orthodox Patriarch, Irinej, seems to have accepted the ineluctability of what was established on 4 September. Aleksandar Vucic made his choices, appointing Mihajlovic at the helm of the Ministry of Energy for the second time, despite the often not idyllic relations between the two. And Ivica Dacic could not have been the interpreter of this new and surprising phase of the Serbian foreign policy.
The fact is that, despite those people who thought that the Washington Accords were a kind of reality show with an electoral function, the Trump administration is showing that it wants to implement the geopolitical assumptions of that agreement in a hurry, pulling Turkey, China and Russia out from the positions they had gained in the Balkans in years or decades of patient diplomatic work.
President Vucic proved to be less attentive to the requests of the European Union. All ministers who have been involved in various scandals and / or allegations of corruption (Mali, Vulin, Stefanovic, Udovicic) remain firmly in government, with all due respect to Brussels and the media supported or financed by EU countries. The choice of a trained official, but with little political weight like Maja Popovic at the helm of the Ministry of Justice, indicates that the issues of the rule of law will be less in focus than the adaptation to the environmental standards of the Union and the management of the related funds, which will be dealt with Irena Vujovic, a politician that Vucic holds in high regard.
Much more important is the choice of Gordana Comic as Minister of Minorities and Social Dialogue. The former member of the Democratic Party is now entrusted with handling a difficult dialogue with the opposition in order not to boycott the April 2022 elections and as a result, for Serbia to have a more representative parliament. That Comic’s long courtship was successful is also a further indication of a shattered opposition that has neither credible leaders, nor a common platform, nor driving ideas to propose to people dissatisfied with SNS’ dominance.
Indeed, the new government is the most gender-equal in the country’s history, but gender balance does not automatically constitute the political orientation of a country. Of the top ministers (Economy, Finance, Foreign Affairs, Interior and Defence), only the Ministry of Economy will be led by a woman — Anđelka Atanasković, managing director of the arms company Prva Petoletka-Namenska. A considerable part of the country’s geopolitical importance lies in the qualities of the Serbian arms industry. Over the last decade, many countries, especially in the Middle East, have found in Serbia a reliable, discreet and affordable arms supplier.
However, Atanasković is not a politician, but a pure manager whose work experience took place entirely and only in the industrial complex in Trstenik. This is woman who brings to the government the prestigious results achieved by one company, where she has grown, both physically and culturally distant from many other sectors driving the country’s economy, from agriculture to Information Technology. Minister Atanackovic represents the government’s attempt to offer an edge to the business world. Thus the new minister of infrastructure and construction, Tomislav Momirovic, famous for the hyper-liberal recipes that he spreads via Twitter in a very poorly reasoned way (like “the minimum wage of 250 euro is too high and workers should be incredibly thankful to their employees for this wage”) will be more a message of attention to businesspeople than there will be a change in direction compared to what Mihajlovic has set up so far.
It must be said that Vucic, and even more so Brnabic, would have liked to involve some successful entrepreneurs in the government from the most dynamic and innovative sectors of the country, especially Information & Communication Technology, also as ambassadors of another idea of the country’s development.
But the hard political choices that the government will be called upon to make do not allow experiments with people who cannot be fully controlled.