Playing the Field in Serbia

Aleksandar Vucic’s Dance between Russia and the West

Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic gestures next to German Chancellor Angela Merkel as they give a joint statement at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, September 7, 2015. Fabrizio Bensch / Reuters

At the end of the Cold War, it seemed like the line between the so-called international Left and international Right would disappear. It hasn’t. In fact, as Russia reasserts its spheres of influence and the United States and European powers scramble to build their own coalition, global politics is now more polarized than at any time since 1989.

Several countries on the European periphery, such as Greece, Hungary, Macedonia, and Slovenia, have leaned toward Russia. Several others are enticed by the economic boost that Russia promises to deliver through its revitalized Balkan Stream oil pipeline project. So it must come as a welcome surprise to Western leaders that Serbia, a traditional Russia ally, looks ready to go West. Whether early signals will become reality, though, remains to be seen.

During a June visit to Washington, Serbian Prime Minister Alexandar Vucic, publicly spoke of his plan to partner with the United States and Europe. During the speech, given at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, Vucic explained that he had made Serbia’s economic recovery a priority. Since transitioning from a communist system to a market-based one, Serbia’s economy encountered a severe decline during the 1990s and the Balkan wars, and it most recently took a hard hit with the post-2008 crisis that engulfed the whole region. In addition to economic reform Vucic stated that creating “an open and dynamic society” would be a central component of his reforms. Even more telling, he then reiterated what he has repeatedly told his European colleagues over the last year: that he plans for Serbia to join the European Union.

Serbia's Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic sits alone before the speeches during a ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre in Potocari, near Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina July 11, 2015. Dado Ruvic / Reuters

Speaking about Serbia’s EU accession, Vucic discussed the economic reforms that he initiated while in office, including austerity measures and pension cuts. In light of the Greek crisis,

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