A lesson from Serbia | Misha Glenny

Full story: The Guardian 10
Supporters of Serbia's new president and leader of the Serbian Progressive party , Tomislav Nikolic, celebrate his victory in the Serbian presidential run-off in Belgrade on 20 May. Full Story
hmm

United States

#1 May 23, 2012
As the Balkan economies struggle, the temptation for nationalist solutions will grow. Europe must take note.

Two weeks after the political earthquake in Greece, Serbia has now registered a powerful aftershock with the defeat of its incumbent president, Boris Tadic, at the hands of an erstwhile extreme nationalist on Sunday.

The election may look like a localised Serbian matter but it has the potential to develop into a regional and European problem. Apart from the dramas surrounding the Hague war crimes tribunal, the Balkans region has been away from the limelight for many years now. But several of its most significant political and constitutional problems remain unresolved. And now the corrosive impact of the recession and the eurozone crisis threatens to retoxify some of those unresolved issues.

The tremors of the election aftershock have been felt well beyond Belgrade because the new president, Tomislav Nikolic, was once the loyal servant and designated successor to Vojislav Seselj self-proclaimed leader of the murderous Serbian Chetnik movement who has been on trial in The Hague since 2007.

Nikolic's supporters point out that since his public break with Seselj in 2008, he has trodden a resolutely pro-European path and discarded the uncompromising nationalism of his earlier career. Nonetheless, though Bosnia-Herzegovina is a political mess it would look even worse if the winds of nationalism started blowing from its neighbour. Equally, Kosovo's independence remains contested, backed by the key western powers but opposed by both Serbia and Russia.

In recent months, the EU high representative, Cathy Ashton, and her diplomatic team have been making steady progress in closing the gap between Belgrade and Prishtina. But if President Nikolic were to pursue a hardline on Kosovo then this good work could unravel. The stakes are high.

Ironically, Tadic's unexpected loss at the polls does not reflect any resurgent nationalism among the Serbian electorate. Rather he is being punished because the government, led by his Democratic party (DS), has presided over an increasingly calamitous economic downturn. Unemployment now stands at around 25% while in January US Steel pulled out of Smederevo, the metallurgical complex that accounts for 14% of Serbia's exports and on whom some 200,000 Serbs are directly or indirectly dependent.

Serbia's urban middle class, disillusioned by the economic failure and by a series of major corruption scandals, stayed away from the polling booths. Most striking of all was Nikolic's victory over Tadic in Belgrade, the stronghold of liberal Serbs. Now politicians outside Serbia are quietly holding their breath. Will Nikolic allow his erstwhile prejudices to spill out and unsettle regional stability?

In the immediate future, this is unlikely. The west, the US, Britain and Germany in particular put considerable diplomatic effort into persuading Nikolic to break with Seselj in the first place, arguing that unless he embraced the European Union he would always remain a marginal figure. In his first comments to the press, Nikolic stated that Germany was "Serbia's most important political ally", a particular surprise given that Angela Merkel has warned Serbia very publicly that it must soften its position on Kosovo or never achieve its overriding political goal EU membership.

Furthermore, Nikolic as president does not appoint the government he merely invites the leader of the biggest party in parliament to try to form a government. His own SNS is the largest party following parliamentary elections two weeks before the presidential runoff, but it will find it hard to find suitable coalition partners. So there is now a strong possibility that Boris Tadic will become prime minister at the head of a coalition government. The buzz word in Belgrade is "cohabitation", which will reduce the possibility of any dramatic shift to the right.
hmm

United States

#2 May 23, 2012
However, Nikolic's victory, combined with the disturbing rise of populism in Hungary, Serbia's neighbour to the north, should act as a wake-up call to the EU. The eurozone crisis has witnessed a rise in nationalist and even fascist parties on most parts of the continent. With some of the highest rates of unemployment and poverty, Balkan countries are susceptible to this creeping sickness. Indeed, one could argue that it is a credit to Balkan electorates that so far they have resisted the lure of nationalism.

But as their economies sag further (as they are predicted to do), the temptation for nationalist solutions will increase. Bosnia, Serbia, Kosovo and Macedonia are all still grappling with profound issues of political identity and stability which could yet turn nasty. It's another very good reason for European leaders to confront the crisis and stimulate economic growth.

Since: Apr 12

Location hidden

#3 May 23, 2012
I do not understand why international media represent Nikolic as an ultra-nationalist, when his political program is not too radical, he said that Serbia andCroatia should have frindly relations
Austriacus

Scranton, PA

#4 May 23, 2012
Because everyone who doesn't agree with america and EU's policy is immediately branded "a nationalist" and "terrorist". That's the way nazi americans and their west. europian puppets roll

Since: Apr 12

Location hidden

#5 May 23, 2012
Austriacus wrote:
Because everyone who doesn't agree with america and EU's policy is immediately branded "a nationalist" and "terrorist". That's the way nazi americans and their west. europian puppets roll
You are absolutely right, but these elections are very suspicious because EU congratulated Nikolic long before closing of the voting ?
Unjust politics

United States

#6 May 23, 2012
Milos1989 wrote:
<quoted text>
You are absolutely right, but these elections are very suspicious because EU congratulated Nikolic long before closing of the voting ?
2 or 3 hrs before closing voting headquarters, people already have an idea who is going to win, by the %age, unless is very close between candidates, than, they have to wait to count all the votes.
When Obama was elected, we knew McCain, didn't have chance. The gap was to big, for McCain to win. We all knew who the new president is going to be.
P.S. now those voted for Obama learned, that he, in high school heavily drank beer, did marijuana and cocaine and he is American president. "Very good example" for the kids today! Sad but true!

Since: Mar 07

Prishtina, Kosovo

#7 May 24, 2012
Austriacus wrote:
Because everyone who doesn't agree with america and EU's policy is immediately branded "a nationalist" and "terrorist". That's the way nazi americans and their west. europian puppets roll
Because of people like you who refuse to open his eyes and see the truth, because you call enemies people who feed you, because you are in Europe and refuse to be a part of it, Serbia will continue go backwards for another 100 years.
Serbonazi

Buffalo, NY

#8 May 24, 2012
Austriacus wrote:
Because everyone who doesn't agree with america and EU's policy is immediately branded "a nationalist" and "terrorist". That's the way nazi americans and their west. europian puppets roll
this one is a fake Austriacus since his real name is SERBOSLAVE
Hasdrubalus

Scranton, PA

#9 May 24, 2012
How do they feed us? By bombing us for 80 days and nights, by stealing our land Kosovo and giving it to you albo talibans, by destroying our economy? Tell me how exactly. Yes we refuse to be a part of genocidal western imperialism, their unhealthy way of life and new world order. USA, israel and EU are top three most hate nations in the world, this speaks for itself
pocahontas

Etobicoke, Canada

#11 May 24, 2012
Milos1989 wrote:
I do not understand why international media represent Nikolic as an ultra-nationalist, when his political program is not too radical, he said that Serbia andCroatia should have frindly relations
Nothing wrong with having friendly relations, however how many newly elected presidents feel compelled to make declarations that they don't hate a certain neighboring country? Could it be that his rep precedes him?

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