Photo by AP Photo/ Beta.

Why Serbs like Trump

They like him bigly.

As Donald Trump slowly sets into the role of the president-elect (regardless of how incredible or impossible it might seem), we look towards our own backyard and try to guess what the implications might be. Will the US reduce the intensity of its policies in the Balkans? Will it reconsider traditional allies? Will it insist that the EU takes an even more proactive role in trying to figure out a sustainable solution for the Balkans? Ultimately, will anything change? These and other questions have been on the minds of many, but I would like us to focus on something that would seem rather unusual to anyone who does not know the Balkan context – the unwavering support of a part of the Serbian public, mainly from the right side of the spectrum, but others, too – have displayed for Trump during the US presidential campaign. Individuals who cannot keep up with the transformation and changes because of various reasons have no vested interest; rather, they display emotional responses.

For a good portion of people in Serbia, which has resented the United States for orchestrating the 78-day NATO bombing campaign of Yugoslavia in 1999, support for a U.S. president on such a high level is is unprecedented in modern Balkan history. The old-timer,  indicted-then-released from the Hague, and self-proclaimed “Duke” (Vojvoda in Serbian) Vojislav Seselj was the first one to include Trump into the mainstream political discourse as a rallying point. It seemed odd, if not bizarre, that a hater of almost all and everything Western would even speak of elections across the Atlantic. The author of books such as “The Roman Catholic Criminal Project the Croatian Witch People” and “Roman Clergy Always Thirsty for Serb Blood,” could not have possibly mobilized a broad Serbian public outcry of joy after Trump won the elections. Was he simply speaking to the lowest common denominator? Was he perhaps talking of value shared across party, class, and education lines? It would appear so.

The morning the results were announced (due to the time difference, it was about 8.30 am in Serbia when Trump was proclaimed  victor), Serbian media outlets, namely tabloids read across the nation and the region, reported in a joyous way on the occasion: “MY HEART IS AS BIG AS [MT.] ZLATIBOR! Seselj Overjoyed by Trump’s Victory: He Threw the Harpy Down the Cesspool!” or “Old Lady Milka From Grocka: I was taking care of Trump’s Kids! Because of me he loves Serbia!” This was merely the beginning, however. Very quickly, posters celebrating Trump’s victory appeared in the capital Belgrade and in Mitrovica North, while Paracin (calling the duel “Lion vs. Snake”) already had theirs up in late October. Furthermore, the Alternative Civic Parliament, a Paracin-based NGO, organized a celebratory cocktail following Trump’s victory. The Trump mania was about to get more interesting. Marko Djuric, Serbia’s principal official who deals with Kosovo,  tweeted a photo of himself drinking a celebratory beverage with a TV declaring Trump’s victory in the background. On Friday, Seselj played a song about Trump as a Serb composed, surprisingly or not, by the Serbian diaspora from Milwaukee.The singer says he hopes Trump will make good on his campaign promises to deport Muslims, that he is a secret chetnik duke, saying that Trump’s victory was announced by the bells of the Hilandar Monastery,  and that he will become a co-emperor of the world, along with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

As counter-intuitive as this all might seem, why is the support for Trump so organic in Serbia? It is not fair to say that all Serbs or Serbian nationals support Trump, but indeed it would appear that a significant portion do. Is it so surprising that so many Serbs support him? Well, not really, but a more accurate statement would be that many Serbs simply hate Hillary Clinton.

Ever since the 1999 NATO  “Allied Forces” bombing campaign and a strict sanctions regime that left Yugoslavia feeling like a pariah state, the West has, for obvious reasons, struggled to gain or retain sympathies among ordinary Serbs. After the fall of Milosevic, the public discourse in Serbia spoke of Euro-Atlantic integrations. Today, the “Atlantic” part is largely gone, even if the Armed Forces of Serbia take part in various NATO military exercises. The national security policy is, at best, neutrality and the meager EU membership prospects stir up deep disappointment among the people.

Even heroes of the anti-Milosevic struggle, such as Dragana Milojevic-Srdic, one of the lonely beacons of light in Milosevic’s Yugoslavia of the ‘90s, became disheartened that all the protests hadn’t brought change to the extent people hoped. Fundamentally, little changed. The economic output has still not reached the 1989 levels, while the overall development looked stagnant in the mid-term, at best.

Milojevic-Srdic said in an interview “I will tell my granddaughter to never protest when she grows up. I would never stand in front of the water cannon ever again.” She was disappointed by post-2000 Yugoslavia, which later became Serbia and Montenegro, and finally Serbia. Lustration that never went through, elites of the 90s changing jerseys and becoming “pro-Europeans,” and so many other things led her and countless others to equate European integrations with corruption, poverty, and despair. This is not meant to be a requiem over the Serb who lost it all as a result of Milosevic’s obsession with being the father of the nation, the one who will correct historical wrongdoings, the one who will make Serbia great again. Regardless of whether his supporters actually deserve to be demonized or humiliated in the international arena (starting from internationally-imposed sanctions to pop culture), the question here is why is Trump so popular in Serbia. Easy: it’s a small victory after two and a half decades of losses.

To someone who lost it all, who sees the Clinton family as the embodiment of these losses, someone who simply sees the quality of their life has diminished, there is no talk of reconciliation, transitional justice or acquis communautaire. To them it’s quite simple – America took away everything from me while Clinton was in power. Mind you, it’s not necessarily the apparatus from the time that draws criticism – Tony Blair was until recently is an advisor to Serbian PM Vucic – it’s the Clinton family name that is seen as the sole cause of all Serbian pains. Therefore, the support for Trump in Serbia, as episodal as it may be, is an indicator of a broader social trend: people compensate their own losses and try to project their anger onto the Clinton candidate through any means at their disposal. In this case it was Donald Trump.

Muslim registration, building a wall with Mexico, and disassembling the establishment are all issues that bear little significance to an average person in Serbia, which is why I consider it far too simplistic to believe his supporters from Serbia actually believe in his platform. To them, it simply boils down to those two and a half months in 1999 and nothing else. Trump is merely a vessel that strikes at the Clinton family and helps a person who is a loser of transition cope with his daily realities, as difficult as ever. To think that Trump’s Serbian supporters ever thought deeply about actual issues that divide the American public so viciously would be an overstatement of their interest in domestic American politics. Whoever ran against Hillary Clinton would have received their support. In the same manner, this same group of supporters would not have supported the Republican nominee if anyone else not associated with the 1999 bombing ran on the Democratic ticket.

“They decorated themselves with my face, and I kept getting more disappointed by the day. I was miserable because I was not a person; I was some sort of a statue with three fingers up who was of use to all but myself.” Dragana Milojevic-Srdic, one of the many people eaten by the very revolution they fought for, harassed by the police in the following days and years, unaided by her political allies, passed away in 2010 at the age of 60.

The same feeling in today’s Serbia is shared by hundreds of thousands. Many of those who protested for months and years against the despotic and killer regime found themselves on the losing side. Their jobs disappeared, their political allies and their grand promises of a better tomorrow disappeared like a puddle of water on a hot summer’s day. Memory of greatness of any achievement, personal or national, is spent. Support for Trump, therefore, is nothing more than an amalgamation of the disappointed revolutionary and the permanent anti-Westerner: they try to win at least once and convince themselves, for a brief moment, that this time it was not all in vain. The seas will quiet; Putin will not become Trump’s best friend, the Syrian knot will prove to be more tangled than anyone had thought, while most international issues will still continue to divide these two global players. Supporters of Trump will, sadly, yet again become disappointed that they believed something completely out of the rational spectrum. The hope remains this pattern does not hold in the future.

Igor Zlatojev earned his BA from the University of Mississippi in Political Science, with a Minor in History. He is currently a freelance translator and writer based out of Wroclaw, Poland. He may be reached for comments and suggestions via [email protected]

15 November 2016 - 12:34

Igor Zlatojev

15/11/2016 - 12:34

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