10. Political and Security Environment
Since October 2000, Serbia has had democratically elected governments that have committed publicly to supporting regional stability and security. Governments, however, frequently call early elections at the local and national level, which often leave politicians and elected officials focused on the next campaign. Serbia held parliamentary elections in June 2020. President Aleksandar Vucic’s Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) won an overwhelming majority, with more than 60 percent of the vote and obtained 188 of 250 parliamentary seats. Vucic and his party benefitted from prolific media access unavailable to other parties, the effectively blurred distinction between campaign and official activities, and the inability of other parties to campaign during the COVID-19 state of emergency. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) concluded that, aside from state-of-emergency restrictions, candidates were able to campaign, and fundamental freedoms of expression and assembly were respected. However, the advantage enjoyed by the governing party, the decision of some opposition parties to boycott the elections, and limited policy debate narrowed the choice and information available to voters, according to ODIHR.
The government has made EU membership a primary goal. Serbia has opened 22 of 35 chapters in the EU accession acquis and provisionally closed two. After a long delay in Serbia’s accession process the European Commission in 2021 recommended opening a new “cluster” of accession chapters, pointing to some progress in judicial and rule-of-law reform.
Protests are not uncommon, particularly in urban areas, and most protests are peaceful. In late 2021 and in early 2022, environmental activists staged regular nationwide protests that occasionally blocked highways or resulted in a few minor incidents of violence, although police response to these protests was restrained. Past protests, particularly in Belgrade, were at times violent, with protestors attempting to enter the parliament building during protests against COVID lockdown measures in 2020. Press noted that in addition to concerns regarding COVID, many of the demonstrators during these protests were also protesting political corruption.
Although previous years had seen some assaults against participants in LGBTQI events in Serbia, following its seventh successive incident-free Pride Parade, Serbia was selected to host EuroPride in 2022. Although this indicates some confidence that a recurrence of wide-scale violence against Serbia’s LGBTQI community is unlikely, discrimination and physical attacks continue.
Criminal activity linked to transnational organized crime groups is a regular phenomenon in Serbia. Sport hooliganism is often associated with organized crime, and violent hooliganism remains a concern at matches of rival soccer teams within Serbia. A significant police operation in January 2021 against a major organized crime group linked to Belgrade’s Partizan football club resulted in the arrest of the group’s leader, who was suspected of multiple crimes. Several ultra-nationalist organizations in Serbia have harassed Serbian political leaders, local NGOs, minority groups, migrants, and media outlets considered to be pro-Western, but these incidents are infrequent.