(In)Stability over democracy : national populism, media manipulation and creeping authoritarianism in Serbia

Thumbnail Image
Hasanbegovic, Azra
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
The phenomena of populism, media manipulation and authoritarianism in the context of Serbia are interwoven on several different levels. The author perceives them both as political and sociological phenomena, including human rights implications and consequences they have for a society as a whole. While populism has only recently been recognized as one the most important challenges for present-day democracy worldwide, in Serbia it has almost always been an intrinsic element of political culture. In Serbia, populism is primarily manifested through antipluralism, anti-globalism and glorification of the people. While populism originates as an answer to weaknesses of representative democracy, in case of transitional countries, cracks of the unconsolidated democratic regime open the space for a more radical form of political style — demagoguery. Although incumbent Serbian leadership has left the nationalistic ideology in the past, narratives about the national identity, superiority of the nation and emphasis on its cultural heritage are still dominant in political discourse. Moreover, during the last 8 years under rule of Aleksandar Vucic, Serbia has taken a path disturbingly reminiscent of Milosevic's era, characterized by strong grip on the institutions, instrumentalization of the media and the exploitation of "people's voice". The Serbian parliamentary elections of 2020 resulted with a landslide victory of the ruling party, finally revealing the veil of the illusionary pluralistic democratic system and exposing the autocratic rule of the President Vucic. Besides, the government's turbulent and irresponsible management of the pandemic crisis, multilayered human rights implications, and the shift in foreign policy, make this research even more pertinent. The political and social analyses show strong dependency between the populist governance, media manipulation and creeping authoritarianism, and point out the indispensable character of the right to freedom of expression in addressing the aforementioned political combination. The author advocates for a more farsighted reaction from the international community, and emphasis on freeing the media from government's grip instead of prioritizing stability at the cost of strongman politics. Finally, the results of this research culminate in the need to understand the impact of populism on human rights and democracy, both through political and media lens, and underline that efforts aiming to guarantee an unbiased and pluralistic media are necessary in order to avoid societal polarization and consolidation of authoritarian rule. Keywords: populism; democracy; media manipulation; nationalism; stabilitocracy; authoritarianism; transition; freedom of expression; human rights; journalism
Second semester University: University of Coimbra
Serbia, populism, authoritarianism, media, freedom of expression, journalism, democracy, nationalism, human rights, pluralism