BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — A former president of Serbia predicted Friday that a municipal election in Belgrade this weekend won’t be conducted fairly and he criticized the European Union for tolerating what he called the undemocratic policies of the Balkan state’s current leader.
Boris Tadic alleged in an interview with The Associated Press that the EU has been unwilling to confront President Aleksander Vucic because he promised to resolve the status of Kosovo, the former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008.
“For them, it is more important to solve the issue of Kosovo independence as soon as possible than to preserve democracy in Serbia,” said Tadic, who was Serbia’s president during 2004-2012 and now leads the Social Democratic Party he founded.
EU officials repeatedly have rejected such accusations in the past and said Serbia will need to institute major democratic reforms to become a member of the bloc.
Serbia’s liberal opposition sees Sunday’s municipal assembly election as a chance to weaken Vucic. It has accused the ruling center-right Serbian Progressive Party of intimidating opposition supporters, registering phony voters and slinging mud at political rivals in media outlets the party controls.
“The Serbian Progressive Party has formally adopted the pro-EU agenda, but its system of values, the way it functions, readiness for election manipulation and even violence during the election process — presence at ballot stations of muscular people with tattoos in black jeeps — is a methodology that this party still applies,” Tadic alleged.
“This most certainly isn’t a festival of democracy,” Tadic said. “For many years now, we have witnessed a manipulation of the election process.”
“And what’s the most tragic here is that there is not a word of protest from the EU to such manipulation and jeopardizing of democracy in Serbia,” he added.
Calls to Vucic’s party went unanswered after the end of business hours Friday.
Tadic’s presidency coincided with a turbulent era for Serbia after the fall of strongman Slobodan Milosevic in 2000 and the assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic in 2003. He has been credited with promoting reconciliation in the post-war Balkans and putting Serbia on the path to EU membership.
Tadic’s government also arrested former Bosnian Serb political and military leaders — Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic — when they were war crimes suspects sought by an international criminal tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands.
Serbia has been slated to join the EU by 2025 if it resolves its dispute with Kosovo and carries out a series of social, economic and political reforms.
AP Writer Jovana Gec contributed.