TCS Daily


Crunch Time for Serbia

By T.K. Vogel - March 31, 2006 12:00 AM

Ever since the fall of the Slobodan Milosevic regime in October 2000, Serbia's governments have been pleading with the West to show more patience and not to force the pace of its democratic transition, especially on the issue of war crimes, or else the radical nationalists would take power in this traumatized country. Could 2006 be the year when the threat comes true?

On the surface of it, much points in that direction. But dig a bit deeper, and the picture gets more complex, and more sinister. For far from being a struggle between democratic reformers and nationalist throwbacks, the struggle is between two main strands of Serbian nationalism: one, centered on Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and his fragile minority government, is conservative, pro-Western, and pragmatic; the other, with multiple centers of gravity but most clearly embodied in the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) of Vojislav Seselj, is reactionary and collectivist. They are virtually indistinguishable on national issues.

Kostunica has a majority in parliament only with the support of Milosevic's Socialists (SPS), a support that can be withdrawn or withheld at a moment's notice -- especially given that the SPS is extremely close to the SRS in key aspects of its political program. The main reason the SRS, Serbia's largest party, hasn't brought down the government yet is mostly external: the Radicals don't want to be in power when Serbia loses Montenegro through a referendum at the end of May and Kosovo later this year, when international mediation in Vienna will wrap up with some sort of independence for this formerly Serbian province.

Kostunica, in other words, has a lifeline until sometime in the fall. But even so, the challenges are piling up, and it is far from clear that he will be able to make it through the summer.

Most immediately, he will need to deal with an EU deadline to hand over Bosnian Serb wartime commander Ratko Mladic before the next round of association talks with the EU starts on April 5, or else the talks would not take place. As usual, nobody inside the EU seems to know, or have thought through, what that means. EU officials pointed out several times that the talks would be "disrupted" by Belgrade's failure to apprehend and transfer Mladic, who is wanted by the international war crimes court for former Yugoslavia in The Hague. That is an odd choice of words, and quite deliberately obfuscating. It appears to mean that the next round would not take place while leaving it open whether the talks as such could proceed at some later date.

Before that happens, the SRS intends to present a resolution to parliament to prevent the government from further cooperation with The Hague, even though what cooperation there has been has always come extremely grudgingly; it has for all practical purposes stopped after more than a dozen wanted men turned themselves in, presumably with persuasion of one sort or another, over the course of 2005. But now, just days after the SPS and the SRS turned Milosevic's funeral into a show of force and at a time when many moderate Serbs consider the Tribunal to have acted callously with regards to Milosevic's health, a more defiant stance by the Belgrade authorities is entirely possible. For Kostunica, this is an almost unbearable choice: stand up to the EU and lose the benefits of association, something that Serbs are thirsting for; or give in to the pressure from Brussels and The Hague and lose the support of the SRS, the SPS, and probably a fair chunk of the electorate as well.

Of course, there's a simple solution to Kostunica's trouble: enter a coalition with the opposition, reformist Democratic Party of President Boris Tadic. The fact that Kostunica is tying himself in knots rather than considering such a coalition, which would deliver the numbers needed for a stable government, highlights the essentially unreconstructed nature of Serbian politics -- something many Europeans seem slow to grasp. Kostunica is not primarily a reformer: he is above all a nationalist and only then a bit of a pragmatist.

Indeed, this may well be Milosevic's main legacy, beyond the horrors his policy of Greater Serbia brought to the entire region in the 1990s: Serbia today is not just a traumatized society, it is also a sick society in a way that the non-Serb part of neighboring Bosnia, the main victim of Milosevic's policies, simply isn't. Serbia is an acute case of total denial: even many otherwise liberal Serbs simply refuse to acknowledge that their country, under a leader they may have valiantly opposed, pursued genocidal policies for many years. The foreign minister of the moribund state union of Serbia and Montenegro, Vuk Draskovic, himself a rather interesting sort of nationalist, used exceedingly harsh -- and entirely appropriate -- language when describing the unreal events since Milosevic's passing. He told Belgrade's Radio B92, "The regret of his followers for the man who is responsible for numerous crimes and who personally ordered many murders, has turned into praise and glorification of the dead man and his policies, which produced only crimes, deaths, distress, and hatred."

He added, "by promoting a serial murderer into a national hero, his victims are being killed once again."

It would be a shame if the EU, for the umpteenth time, fell for the tired old threat -- rolled out with great gusto by Draskovic himself -- that the Radicals would take over if the government were pushed too hard on the war crimes issue. Pushing is needed, and if a fall follows, perhaps it will finally drive home the simple truth so many Europeans don't want to see: as long as Kostunica and his allies remain in power, the old dictator will not really have been buried.

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1 Comment

A sick society in denial about genocide
I think the term "democratic transition" to refer to the way Serbia is being bullied is inappropriate. it is a matter of fact that Milosevic was democratically elected, repeatedly, & that those who replaced him in the Nato organised & funded coup, have repeatedly, & largely unsuccessfully laboured to get a plurality of voters to the polls. Democracy is a process of rule by the people (the "demos") - it is not the same thing as rule according to the dictat of the US & its allies.

The line that Serbia " is also a sick society in a way that the non-Serb part of neighboring Bosnia, the main victim of Milosevic's policies, simply isn't", is also ridiculous. To hold up the fundamentalist Moslem part of Bosnia, where NATO troops regularly search for al Quaeda terrorists preparing attacks on western Europe & Saudi "charities" sell, or give away, thousands of videos of Moslems torturing & murdering Christian Serbs as "healthy" is a travesty.

Further to say that "Serbia is an acute case of total denial: even many otherwise liberal Serbs simply refuse to acknowledge that their country, under a leader they may have valiantly opposed, pursued genocidal policies". In 4 1/2 years of "trial" Nato was unable to produce any evidence of Yugoslav governemnt involvement in genocide whatsoever. Overwhelmingly the victims of genocide, by the Croatian ***** Bosnia's al Quaeda forces & the KLA drug lords, all funded armed & trained by genocidal ***** running the NATO countries, were Serbs, Gypsies & Jews. It can be argued that the NATO countries, who are in denial about their deliberate agressive wars (a war crime) to assist in genocide, ethnic cleansing & the sexual enslavement of children (all crimes against humanity) are the ones who are sick & that their failure to bring murdering Nazi filth like Clinton to trial proves it. Indeed could human being with the most remote trace of integrity or decency argue otherwise?

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