Balkan Politics from Azerbaijani journalist in Belgrade

Hello, my name is Kemran Mamedov. I’m an ethnic Azerbaijani journalist born in Georgia. Being in Belgrade and working to provide unbiased information about South Caucasus, Balkans and conflicts around the world.

1 Like

All that glitters is not gold: how family drama of presidential couple Aleksandar and Tamara Vucic affects Serbian politics

On December 17 Serbia held early parliamentary elections. Local elections in 65 municipalities of the country, including Belgrade, were held on the same day.

The election campaign had started amid unprecedented polarization of the Serbian society, largely caused by the surge of violence. And it sometimes even results in casualties. Most of them are often children and teenagers. Thus, in early May, Serbia was shaken by two horrible tragedies, when one day apart a 13-year-old teenager and a 21-year-old young man started shooting with firearms in public places, including schools. The victims of the massacre were 18 people, most of them schoolchildren.

After that, Serbia was literally swept by waves of protests for several months, with participants demanding that the government be held accountable. To reduce the degree of tension in society, President Aleksandar Vucic dissolved the parliament, the National Assembly, and called early elections.

It appears that this move by the Serbian president is far from being the result of forced concessions to an angry public, but a clever combination that Vucic has used three times in the past three and a half years to retain power. Now the Serbian leader is trying make use of the political fragmentation of a society that lacks a unified point of view on a wide range of issues. There is no common approach among Serbs neither to the issue of combating arms trafficking (in a country where there are 766,000 firearms for 6.8 million people), nor to building relations with the West and its main adversary Putin’s Russia.

Vucic’s policy is a chain of terrible headaches and hard thinking; all he is doing is desperately balancing between the West and Russia, between supporters of Euro-Atlantic integration and those committed to the alliance with the Kremlin. Vucic cannot cut ties with the EU and NATO because the Serbian market is embedded in the Western economy, However, it is equally dangerous to turn his back on Russia, one of the few countries that has historically supported Serbia in its confrontation with Kosovo. For Vucic, the Kremlin’s support is especially valuable now that Belgrade and Pristina are once again approaching the dangerous brink of an armed clash, triggered by violence against ethnic Serbs in Kosovo and unresolved disputes over a number of border municipalities.

In addition to political problems, Vucic is constantly distracted to the highly eccentric and facile behavior of his wife, Tamara. Serbia’s first lady is eager public activism and near-political initiatives, sometimes putting the president and his team in a difficult position.

In November, the Serbian leader’s wife Tamara Vucic paid a visit to Serbian Fashion Day 2023 in Paris, where she together with the head of the oldest perfume factory in the world Maison Dorin Bashar Nasri participated in the creation of the first Serbian national perfume. By the way, this very factory produced perfume for Queen Marie Antoinette, who was guillotined by the French Revolution. They say that she had once said the legendary phrase: “No bread eat cake”. These words were allegedly heard from the queen by French peasants who complained to her about the lack of bread.

The perfume was named “Lilac Country” in honor of Uroš I Nemanjic, who ruled Serbia seven centuries ago. The monarch planted the Ibra valley with lilac bushes, awaiting the arrival of his bride the French princess Helena of Anjou.

Meanwhile, participation in such social events for the wife of the Serbian president is more a pleasant bonus of the “first lady" status, than a favorite permanent occupation. Nevertheless, Mrs. Vucic, who always takes a responsible approach to her dressing for public appearances, clearly enjoys them. For her, attending high society receptions is not just a tribute to state protocol, but also an opportunity to play a prominent role among European bohemians.

Beautiful Tamara has not only a charming appearance, but also a fine sense of style, and thanks to this combination becomes an invariable decoration of any event in which she takes part. At the same time, given the complex political landscape of Serbia, some of Tamara Vucic’s outings leave a mixed impression on the population of the country and do not always correspond to the position of official Belgrade.

The most striking example of ill-conceived actions of the First Lady of Serbia is the visit of Mrs. Vucic to the Uspensky Cathedral of the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra in September 2023. This church and monastery complex was requisitioned by the Ukrainian government a few months earlier from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which was accused of promoting Kremlin narratives. They were handed over to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which was granted autocephaly (independence) by the Patriarchate of Constantinople at the initiative of the Ukrainian authorities in 2018. At the same time, the Serbian Orthodox Church does not recognize the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, calling it schismatic, and Mrs. Vucic should have taken this sensitive nuance into account.

Moreover, the First Lady was accompanied on the territory of the Serbian Lavra by Archimandrite Abraham, who is considered by the Serbian Orthodox Church to be a “schismatic” subject to anathema.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian media rushed to circulate a photo showing the Serbian president’s wife together with Abraham setting candles at one of the icons in the Uspensky Cathedral. Nobody knows whether the publication of this photo was a publicity stunt by Kiev, which thereby put Tamara Vucic under fire of criticism from Serbian Orthodox believers, or whether the Serbian First Lady deliberately showed her support for the anti-Russian Orthodox Church of Ukraine.

Indeed, the wife of the Serbian president has been an active supporter of Ukraine, although her husband, as already mentioned, refrains from expressing open solidarity with Kiev. This is largely because a lot of Serbs do not condemn Russian aggression against Ukraine. Many of them have a traditionally warm attitude toward Russia. First of all, they remember that Moscow has repeatedly come to Serbia’s aid in the most critical moments of history. It was Orthodox Russia that resolutely defended Serbs from the despotism of the Muslim Ottoman Empire in the 18th and 19th centuries, intervened in World War I because of the aggression of German ally Austria-Hungary against Serbia, and firmly supported Belgrade in the bloody armed clashes that accompanied the breakup of Yugoslavia in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Poorly aware of the historical context of Serbian-Russian relations, Serbian First Lady Tamara Vucic, contrary to the position of official Belgrade, initiated assistance to Ukraine although it is symbolic for now. During her video conversation with the wife of the Ukrainian president Olena Zelenska on September 5, 2022, Tamara promised to give Kiev two ambulances, which was done a few days later.

In general, the video conversation between the two first ladies is by no means a protocol event. Tamara Vucic is one of the few permanent participants of the Kyiv Summit of First Ladies and Gentlemen, organized on the initiative of the wife of the President of Ukraine Olena Zelenska. This international format was launched back in 2021, and Tamara took a direct part in it, even though most of the invited guests preferred the online format.

Some observers believe that Mrs. Vucic’s support for the pro-Ukrainian agenda in the European arena is due to her personal sympathy for Olena Zelenska. They are even called “girlfriends”, and this version, most likely, is not far from the truth, because the two women do have a lot in common.

Olena and Tamara are almost the same age (Ukrainian - 45, Serbian - 42). Both women speak English fluently, love fashion shows, and often appear on the glossy covers of various magazines. Tamara is one those president`s wives with whom Olena calls most often. Moreover, in November 2023, both ladies were in Paris at the same time, and their private meeting could be held secretly from the press behind closed doors.

But whether the pro-Ukrainian position of the First Lady of Serbia corresponds to the interests of her husband is a big question. Especially considering the fact that Aleksandar Vucic has repeatedly and publicly called the main achievement of his policy the building of balanced relations with all states. In he does it this way despite the calls of the United States and the European Union to join the anti-Russian sanctions, which many in Belgrade perceive as external pressure.

Tamara is apparently not only a media personality and a spokesperson for many national and international humanitarian initiatives, but also has her own political ambitions, which she obviously intends to pursue. She can be seen as a person of progressive political views, which, however, may be perceived ambiguously in a country like Serbia, as conservative and even orthodox beliefs are very strong among its population. For example, Serbian society was very skeptical of Tamara Vucic’s visit to the LGBT photo exhibition “Europride” in Belgrade last September. At that time, thousands of people rallied against LGBT organizations holding public events in the Serbian capital.

Rumors in the Serbian journalistic community have persisted that many of Tamara’s character traits, outlook and behavioral attitudes have changed drastically after she lost her first child with Aleksandar Vucic. This tragedy was as a result of a failed pregnancy in 2014. The couple was due to have a daughter, whom the first lady of Serbia wanted to name Neva. She took the infant’s death hard, and had avoided the media for several years. Her behavior became capricious, rigid, categorical and overbearing.

The situation changed in 2017. The couple announced the birth of a boy Vukan, who became Tamara’s firstborn and the third child with Aleksandar (after a son and a daughter from his first marriage). The Serbian president loved the baby boy fervently. Recently, however, according to our sources, Aleksandar and Tamara have been living separately, and the first lady is increasingly using father’s affection for six-year-old Vukan to manipulate her husband.

Ms. Vucic has generally managed to avoid excessive publicity, which allows her to maintain a positive image in the eyes of the conservative Serbian population and to keep a low profile for the time being. But a detailed examination of her role in Serbian politics suggests that not all of her actions are carried out in favor of her husband-president and his political supporters.

1 Like