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Convincing victory of the pro-European political option

Sonja Biserko


The key result of snap parliamentary, local and provincial elections held on the 11th of May 2008 in Serbia is an unexpected and convincing victory of the Coalition for European Serbia spearheaded by President Boris Tadic. Democratic Party won 103 seats, the Serb Radical Party got 77 seats, Coalition of Democratic Party of Serbia and New Serbia won 30 seats, the Socialist Party of Serbia-Association of Retirees of Serbia got 20 seats, the Liberal Democratic Party of Serbia got 13 seats, the Hungarian Coalition won 4 seats, Bosniaks got 2 seats and Albanians of Presevo Valley got 1 seat. Three, key factors contributed to such an electoral outcome: signing of the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU, the Italian company FIAT's decision to sign a preliminary agreement on co-operation with Kragujevac-based car plant ZASTAVA and perhaps, most decisively, the general mood of electorate which suddenly became very -rational.

The above mentioned result is in fact a great triumph for the Democratic Party which for the first time since its inception became the strongest parliamentary party, thanks primarily to its recent tilt to the pro-European stance. In fact, during its cohabitation with the Democratic Party of Serbia, Democratic Party nearly lost its identity, forged by Dr. Zoran Djindjic. Presidential elections held in early 2008 demonstrated that Boris Tadic emerged victorious only thanks to his tilt to the pro-European option, and his distancing from the populist camp. Such a shift gained utmost importance after the signing of the SAA. It bears underscoring that only a month ago Boris Tadic rejected the possibility of the SAA signing for he deemed such an act tantamount to the EU interference into the Serb internal affairs. However, his last-minute change of heart in that regard was a great step forward cum turnaround, in view of the totality of the Serb political context and mood.

The SAA additionally galvanized support for the pro-European option. Citizens' fear of victory of the Radical Party and closing of economic prospects of Serbia also played an important role in yesterday's parliamentary elections outcome. Namely many economic experts were predicting Serbia's return to the Nineties, that is hyperinflation, squandering of the state foreign currency reserves and citizens'savings for meeting the social needs, as announced by the Radical Party campaign.

The first, post-election statements of Boris Tadic indicate his resolve to continue along the pro-European pathway. But, in parallel Tadic has not renounced his five principles, on which rested the policy of the former government. One of those principles is that Kosovo is an integral part of Serbia. And that principle shall be most problematic in relations between the Democratic Party and the EU. Tadic shall use that principle, which is backed by the Serb Academy of Arts and Sciences to insist on partition of Kosovo in the 12:88 ration. In parallel, one may expect tensions because of the DP's problematic stance on Republika Srpska. Namely, in the last week of his campaign Boris Tadic visited Republika Srpska in a bid to get across to citizens the message that for Serbia Republika Srpska was still important. Milorad Dodik openly backed Tadic and Democratic Party in the last elections.

Under the leadership of Tomislav Nikolic the Serb Radical Party reached its peak, but this time around also failed to win the elections, which obviously increased the frustration of that party and its leader. Hence his threatening statement in the immediate aftermath of disclosure of election results that the Serb Radical Party would form the government with the Democratic Party of Serbia and Socialist Party of Serbia did not come as a surprise. Nikolic thus sharply responded to the post-election statement of Boris Tadic to the effect that "I shall not allow the formation of a coalition without DP, for it would be a return to the Nineties." Though in its campaign the Serb Radical Party urged a social state and reliance on the Russia's backing, it failed to convince the Serb citizens of its promise-keeping potential.

Democratic Party of Serbia fared ill. Democratic Party of Serbia-New Serbia Coalition won 11.3% of votes (or 30 seats) which indicates a continuing decline in its popularity rating. Vojislav KoŇ°tunica's campaign amply manifested his fanaticism and his virulently anti-European stance. His campaign was exclusively based on the slogan "Kosovo is Serbia.". By dint of Kosovo issue he tried to mobilize national feelings to bolster up his uncertain political future. However it turned out that Kosovo was not in fact such "a glue", notably when citizens were offered other options, especially the EU one.

Though the key media were controlled by the Democratic Party of Serbia (Radio Television Serbia, daily Politika, tabloids, etc.) it turned out that thus orchestrated media anti-European campaign was not sufficient to ensure Kostunica's success. That failure happened despite the fact that behind Kostunica was the whole conservative camp, namely part of the Serb Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Serb Orthodox Church and numerous tycoons (to ensure their positions they financially backed all the political options!), that is, all those still adhering to the idea of the Greater Serbia project. Large part of the academic elite backed Kostunica-engineered concept of "neutral Serbia with reliance on Russia.". Energy deal with Russia was devised as a counterpoint to the point of the EU's SAA, but as it turned out, it was obviously not- a winning card.

Cedomir Jovanovic's Liberal Democratic Party won 5.4% of votes, which was less than expected, but nonetheless helped that young party cross the census anew and thus prove that it had a stable pool of voters. Essentially Cedomir Jovanovic is a moral victor of the last elections, for thanks to his urging and engagement the tilt to the pro-EU option was effected and issues once raised by Zoran Djindjic were tackled again. Jovanovic has acted as a principal "corrective" for Democratic Party since assassination of Prime Minister Djindjic and he is to be fully credited for Democratic Party's recent re-embracing of the pro-European option.

Results of the May elections have a strategic impact on and importance for both Serbia and the region. Serbia has in fact thus crossed the treshold which enabled it to enter an utterly different context. Stabilization and Association Agreement finally ensures the framework which could jump-start a genuine transition in Serbia and also paves the way for the entire Serb society to assume responsibility for its future. Prospects opened by the EU are the only genuine mobilizing force which had amply manifested its reach and effects in other post-Communist societies. The opportunity provided by these elections very much depends on the political skills of President Tadic to broker coalition that will be able to translate these results in reallity.

Civil society (or part thereof ) played a key role in lobbying for an early signing of the Stabilization and Association Agreement, that is the SAA's signing before the hand-over of Ratko Mladic. The principal argument in the pro-SAA signing campaign was that the pressure piled by the Hague Tribunal was grist to the mill of Kostunica anti-EU stance. Vojislav KoŇ°tunica is a representative of the Serb radical nationalism which the West failed to recognize as such on time. Only after the SAA signing he was totally unmasked.

The active EU's role continues to be of primary importance for further developments in Serbia, for it has become evident there is no alternative for the EU mobilizing force. EU foreign policy must be more coordinated and more concrete in providing direct help not only to the government, but also to the civic society and other segments of the society pro-European oriented (such as small and medium enterprizes). The electorate proved to be more mature then the political class and should therefore be directly supporrted in order to enhance the pressure on the government to take more decisive steps towards SAA goals. Serbia cannot be democratized without the EU backing, and moreover the overhaul of the Serb Army was/is not possible without its partnership with NATO. The US should also continue to play the role in Serbia, primarily by finalizing the Kosovo independence and full integration of Bosnia.



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