The gathering, organized in Belgrade by the Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies (CEAS) NGO, is dedicated to “the Russian influence of Serbia’s stabilization, democratization, and European integration.”
Ahead of the start of the conference, about 20 members of the New Communist Party of Yugoslavia (NKPJ) and the Alliance of Communist Youth of Yugoslavia (SKOJ) gathered in front of the venue, protesting against representatives of Ukraine taking part, and against a recently confirmed agreement with NATO.
CEAS Director Jelena Milic addressed the conference to say that Russia’s primary goal in the Western Balkans region was “to stop the process of stabilization and democratization, which would decrease the importance and attractiveness of European integrations”
“The climate in Serbia is such that it is being ravaged by ‘a perfect storm’ of Russian interests that wish to prevent Serbia in the process of democratization, stabilization, and European integration, while on the other side there are interests in the ruling structure that do not wish to see Serbia in the politically demanding EU,” said she.
According to Milic, “the whole concept of the system of values of western countries is being discredited, while Russia is preparing to make more difficult the implementation of the Brussels agreement (between Belgrade and Pristina).”
She believes that “nobody can now dispute the decline of Serbia’s European integration” – something brought about “not only by the members of the public seeing what is happening in the EU, especially when it comes to refugees, but also by the influence of media on the public opinion and the contradictory messages from top officials about the EU evaluating us and demanding new conditions.”
“A new factor in undermining the support for the EU is the increasingly visible pro-Putin opposition in Serbia, the kind that never existed before,” said Milic.
Presenting an Ipsos poll – entitled, “EU, Russia, U.S.: Notions and Preferences of citizens of Serbia aged 18 to 35” – Svetlana Logar stressed that the agency’s surveys over the past two years showed that a growing number of Serbian citizens has “a positive impression” about Russia.
Logar said that the poll in question, carried out in early February and including a representative sample of 615 respondents, showed that “young people prefer the West to Russia when it comes to culture, entertainment, education, employment, healthcare, country model, living standard and freedom of media and speech.”
“However, when asked what a potential alliance with Russia would mean, 42 percent said it means adopting Russian legislature, while 74 percent supported it,” Logar said, adding that this amounted to “31 percent of young people aged 18-35.”
She added that 53 percent of the same demographic thought this alliance would mean “adopting Russia’s political system” and that 77 percent of those support it – while 72 percent thought it would mean Russia’s military bases in Serbia – “which is supported by 80 percent of those.”
Meanwhile, protesters in front of Belgrade’s Metropol Hotel carried flags and banners with messages that included, “Death to fascism – freedom to people,” “Jelena Milic supports fascism,” “Solidarity with Ukraine’s KP (Communist Party),” and chants of “NATO fascists,” and, “NATO killers, get out of Serbia.”
SKOJ First Secretary Aleksandar Denic told reporters that the CEAS conference “promotes fascism in Serbia” and that Serbia should sever diplomatic relations with Ukraine as long as “a military-fascist junta” was in power in that country.