Serbia spent the reporting period – from May to October 2023 – in a somewhat extraordinary state. Two mass murders among minors and young people at the beginning of May traumatised Serbian society and prompted the Government to take a series of reactive measures that marginalised the planned reform activities. These tragic events exposed systemic failures in the country presented the most terrible consequences of fostering a culture of verbal and physical violence in public space, and initiated protests and demands for accountability, which the Government partly ignored and partly attacked. The end of October, on the other hand, also marked the anniversary of the work of the Government, which then entered its technical mandate by announcing snap parliamentary elections on 17 December 2023.
The mass protests “Serbia against violence” in Belgrade and other cities in Serbia showed that citizens are aware of systemic problems and their potential and actual consequences. The lack of substantial reforms in the area of freedom of expression and the media, as well as in police reform and the fight against corruption and organised crime, are regularly noted by the European Commission and the prEUgovor Coalition, among others, as a stumbling block for Serbia in reaching the rule of law standards required within the framework of European integration. The problematic functioning of democratic institutions, monitored within political criteria, hinders progress in these areas from chapters 23 and 24. There was no will to solve the key identified problems in these institutions, and responsibility was avoided.
The protests and the upcoming elections affect the rise of polarisation in society. Despite the formal procedures of public consultations and debates, the conditions for a free and constructive dialogue based on arguments and mutual respect are still not provided, both in the institutions and the media. Critics of the government still fear reprisals. The Coalition prEUgovor warns that such an atmosphere is not conducive to assessing the actual scope of reforms in the country and their improvement.
The Coalition welcomes the renewed interest in the enlargement policy within the European Union (EU). It appeals to the next government of Serbia to use this opportunity to intensify reform efforts based on the repeated recommendations. It is essential that the citizens of Serbia, whose support for their country’s membership in the EU is much lower compared to the population of other countries in the accession process, see the Union primarily as a partner in improving living standards and the rule of law. The incident in Banjska in the north of Kosovo in late September shows the fragility of peace in the Western Balkans. It emphasises even more the importance of European integration of the entire region.
On the other hand, a credible prospect of membership implies an internal adjustment of the Union, especially considering that the number of candidates and potential candidates has increased to ten countries. The Coalition emphasises the importance of including future members in discussions on the internal reform of the EU. It welcomes the bright example set by the European Economic and Social Committee in September when it announced that by the end of 2023, it will elect members from the candidate countries, including Serbia's civil society representatives.