The European Union and Nationalism: Boris Tadić Wins Serbian Presidential Election

After the results came in on May 11th, Tadić, of the Democratic Party, said, "Today I am ready to talk with everybody. Today we have a special responsibility to answer the vital questions of our country. If among the political parties that lost these elections is the idea of forming a government that will take Serbia back in the 1990’s, I want my opinion heard. That is deeply against what Serbia voted for today." 

Amelia Stanković, a student of the University of Belgrade, explained her reaction to the elections, which was echoed many times over when I spoke to people on the streets on Monday, May 12th. "It’s an unexpected victory for the Democratic Party! I think a big influence on the number of votes they received was from signing the Stabilization Association Agreement [SAA], and the contract with the Fiat Company the next day. The owner of Fiat told everyone that they would have this agreement, because Serbia signed the SAA."

On April 29th, Serbia signed the SAA, an agreement with provisions for future EU membership. This was a major step towards entering the EU, and a highly controversial issue within the country. While it allows for a more flexible travel visa regime for the citizens-all of whom have been blacklisted due to the wars of the 1990’s-Nationalist groups vehemently reject it over the implications of Serbia being forced into recognizing Kosovo’s status. Immediately after the signing, the car company FIAT announced a new line of production in Serbia bolstering support for the neo liberal, pro-western bloc. 

When I went around downtown Belgrade to gauge people’s reaction of the outcome of the election, Dina Popović, a dental assistant, told me: "I’m shocked! I thought that the Democrat bloc would have a majority win. It turns out that even when they combine all their votes there are still seats missing to form the governments!" The Democratic Party and their bloc members did not receive enough votes to make up a majority of the parliament, and therefore will need to develop a coalition. They will need to pick from the different Nationalist groups, who have focused their energy on ensuring Kosovo remains part of Serbia.

Leading up to the elections, the Radical Party, with front man Tomislav Nikolić, were ahead of the Democratic Party in every poll. While Western media enjoys portraying the Radical Party as ‘ultranationalist’, a more appropriate term would be ‘populist.’ They have mixed bag policies such as free tuition and healthcare, pushing for 5 cent loaves of bread in bakeries, while also including strong national rhetoric in all their discussions. Such language includes the historical discourse on Kosovo being ‘the heartland and cradle’ of Serbia, and warnings of how ‘occidental imperialism’ will destroy Serbian traditional values. The founder of the Radical Party, Vojislav Šešelj, continues his five-year stop and restart trial at The Hague on charges of inciting war crimes.  

Much to the dismay of the United Nations and the Kosovo government, the elections were held in various Serb communities within Kosovo. United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) officials public and repeated position has been that the Serb minority in Kosovo have a right to dual citizenship and therefore participate in the Parliamentary voting, but that Kosovo is now a sovereign state and thus the Serbian municipal elections are illegal. While no major incident occurred during the elections tension between Albanians and Serbs living in Kosovo remain very high. Unquestionably the so-called illegality of the municipal elections raises the issue of partitioning of Serb communities and enclaves within Kosovo. If parallel institutions exist and elections are allowed, and the people within those areas passionately reject the status of an independent Kosovo the denial by the international community of partitioning can only go on for so long. A flash date to watch is June 15th of this year when the Kosovo constitution will be implemented and the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo, EULEX, will officially take over from the UN. 

Within Serbia the pressure between keeping Kosovo or moving towards the EU was put in stark contrast during the elections. Ratibor Trivunac is an organizer from the Anarcho Syndicalist Initiative. This group distributed popular education leaflets critical of the whole election process, and advocates organizing outside mainstream political structures. Trivunać explained the impact of the dichotomy politicking:  "It is clear that they use these two topics, Kosovo and EU, as the main focus of the elections and the pressure was really quite tense on the population, there was this kind of referendum situation being created. Of course it is an absolutely false type of referendum question, but this is the sense that was created with the media and politicians. The population was frightened, there is no doubt about it, either that they will be stopped in their development or by using some magic powers, which will take them back to the 1990’s with wars, inflation and so on. Of course this was just used to avoid any [discussion of] social issues during the elections."

Serbia continues to have a high unemployment rate with most of its industries rapidly being privatized. Tycoons linked to criminals and the political elites will continue to heavily influence politics. Although the EU and a significant population within Serbia seemed to have breathed a sigh of ideological relief with Tadić and the Democratic Party’s win, their track record shows that the victory is at the detriment of the working poor and unemployed. Furthermore, as the country continues to be polarized over Kosovo, the results of the election have given no clear comfort to the general public over this sensitive issue that has dominated the political landscape for years. 


Also these related article on by Amy Miller:

Unrest Expected To Follow Serbian Election

Kosovo and Serbia: Behind the Mask of Nationalism