French citizenship comes up in Serbia in a political argument over patriotism

The French citizenship of a Serbian politician has been exposed by the prime minister of Serbia, Ana Brnabić, to counter criticism of nationalist Serbian politicians in light of a normalization agreement with Kosovo. An ultranationalist claimed Ms. Brnabić was Croatian to undermine her legitimacy and patriotism.

Miloš Jovanović
Miloš Jovanović, a nationalist and eurosceptic Serb politician, has French citizenship | © New SSD

French citizenship erupted in Serbian politics as part of political and media clashes for the most patriotic politicians.

Prime minister Ana Brnabić on March 4 pointed out that Miloš Jovanović was French and that Zdravko Ponoš was a Croatian citizen in a TV interview as a way to defend President Aleksandar Vučić from accusations of opposition politicians the president was not a patriotic Serb but a “traitor” to the country.

Miloš Jovanović, 46, is the president of the New Democratic Party of Serbia (New SSD), a former candidate for the presidential election in 2022 who also has French citizenship. During the presidential election won by incumbent President Aleksandar Vučić with 60 percent of the votes, Mr. Jovanović won 6 percent of the ballots finishing third behind Mr. Ponoš, who gathered 19 percent of the votes.

Once a center-right party in favor of western integration, the New DSS, which has only 7 out of 250 seats in the Serbian National Assembly, shifted to conservative nationalistm in the early 2010s. It is now opposed to any accession of Serbia to the European Union. It strongly advocates for Kosovo to remain part of Serbia. Mr. Jovanović joined the party before 2010.

On the other hand, President Aleksandar Vučić and the ruling Socialist Party of Serbia used to be eurosceptic but are now more pro-European, although the country is historically close to Russia. Serbia thus became a candidate for accession to the European Union in 2012. The process remains at a standstill mainly because of its relations with Kosovo.

Kosovo officially filed an application to join the European Union in December 2022.

Serbian opposition parties against the signature of a normalization agreement with Kosovo

But opposition politicians accused Mr. Vučić of being a “traitor” to the country before the president visited Brussels, claiming he would sign off on recognizing Kosovo’s independence, which the autonomous province unilaterally declared in 2008.

Belgrade still claims the entire Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija as part of Serbia’s territory. And in 2022, Mr. Vučić considered the first agreement on the normalization of relations between the two governments, signed in 2013 and known as the Brussels Agreement, no longer existed, postponing prospects for formal appeasement.

But Mr. Vučić and Albin Kurti, the prime minister of Kosovo, met last week in Brussels to discuss the “European Union proposal – Agreement on the path to normalization between Kosovo and Serbia,” supported by France, Germany, Italy and the United States. Article 2 states that both parties have “respect for their independence, autonomy and territorial integrity.”

According to France’s statement, Serbia and Kosovo “agreed in principle” to the proposal on February 27, which welcomed this “courageous decision.” Both parties agreed that “no further discussions” was needed on the proposal’s text, according to the EU Foreign Affairs representative Josep Borrell. Mr. Kurti said he offered to sign the agreement formally but that Mr. Vučić was not ready.

But the next day, Mr. Vučić vowed to oppose Kosovo’s membership in the United Nations, Mr. Kurti tweeted. Yet, the normalization proposal states that “Serbia will not object to Kosovo’s membership in any international organization.”

France, Germany and a majority of European Union member states recognize Kosovo as a sovereign state, but the European Union and the United Nations don’t.

Serbian opposition parties strongly reject any agreement signature, arguing the president would recognize Kosovo as an independent country. The president of Serbia pushes for the EU proposal to be viewed merely as a normalization of relations with Kosovo’s government and not a recognition of its independence.

But the political and media clash using French citizenship was not entirely over.

Mr. Jovanović, in a  three days ago, answered a Serbian tabloid, the Informer, that argued he should return his French passport. Wearing a sweatshirt with the Serbian map including Kosovo territory, he said he would return his French passport if Aleksandar Vučić rejected the “French-German agreement proposal.” On Tuesday, he also wrote he would file a criminal complaint for violation of honor and reputation against another tabloid and said he refused to be accused of being a “French mercenary.”

Miloš Jovanović, a former student at the Sorbonne University in Paris

The Socialist Party of Serbia argues criticism using patriotism is false and only meant for self-promotion because those critics didn’t defend Serbia’s interests in the past.

Ms. Brnabić, in an interview with Happy TV on Tuesday, explained she had nothing against dual citizenship but wanted to outline the “hypocrisy” of the nationalists about their criticisms of a lack of patriotism and legitimacy in defending Serbs’ interests.

The prime minister pointed out she mentioned Mr. Jovanović’s dual citizenship because Milica Stamenkovski, a far-right member of Parliament and spokesperson of Serbian Party Oathkeepers, an ultranationalist and pro-Russian party ally to the New SSD, claimed Ms. Brnabić was Croatian. The false claim was used to undermine Ms. Brnabić’s legitimacy and show she was not a real patriot.

Even though owning dual citizenship is not forbidden to run for president in Serbia, Ms. Brnabić said people would not have voted for Mr. Ponoš or Mr. Jovanović last year if they knew they had dual citizenship. She said the Socialist Party of Serbia refrained from using this argument during the presidential campaign. “We could have used these facts in our political battle, but we didn’t,” argued Ms. Brnabić.

She also recalled she was not Croatian – her grandfather was – and has no dual citizenship. President Vučić is only Serbian as well.

In addition to Mr. Jovanović’s French citizenship, it was also the period during which he lived in France that was a source of criticism.

He lived in France when NATO, of which France is a member, intervened in 1999 in the Kosovo war that opposed Yugoslav troops to Kosovo Albanian rebels. Justified by NATO for “humanitarian” reasons, the intervention, which included airstrikes outside Kosovo that killed hundreds of civilians, remains a vivid resentment in Belgrade against the North Atlantic Alliance.

And Mr. Jovanović studied in Paris and graduated in Law in 1999 and then in Political science in 2000 from the Sorbonne University in Paris, according to the New SSD’s website. He was then a teacher from 2001 to 2005 at the university while working on his Ph.D. in Political Sciences.

His Ph.D. thesis, presented in 2010 at Sorbonne University, studied post-Cold war international relations. He argued international politics was still conducted under the vision of imposing power and force rather than bringing a winning ideology and moral values.

He used the NATO intervention in the Kosovo war as a case study. He developed it as an illegitimate use of force covered behind an ideological facade.

Discover more news about Serbia

Related Articles

Back to top button