Sunday, December 11, 2011

Betting on Serbia: Three Months of Electoral Flea Market


Serbian blogosphere, online magazines and internet forums are flaring up with speculations about what the next three months and beyond hold for Serbia. Serious and less serious discussions are engaging commentators, pundits, opinion-makers and mere blurters. The opinions are revolving around the significance of EU’s postponement, its impact on Serbia’s electoral politics, theories of interest involving Boris Tadic, Angela Merkel, Tomislav Nikolic and others… It’s hard to speculate on any of these. Some gloat over the rejection, however implicit. They did not think Serbia should want to join the EU in the first place and they are hoping the EU will reject us again in three months. These Eurosceptics are divided, if you will, in two subgroups: one does not believe the EU, in its current shape, would benefit Serbia at all; the other subgroup believes Serbia should not join the fold of her proven enemies that have been directing malevolence at her for at least 20 years. Others believe the EU does not plan on accepting Serbia at all, and never have, thus the renewed and reinvented conditions, one after the other. To them, continuing the dialogue only means exposure to further concessions. Other still do believe that the EU ascension is possible and desired, but the latest condition, “normalization” of relations with Kosovo – which Serbs rightfully deem to mean a de facto recognition – is too high a price.  A minority, albeit a vocal and visible one, is ready to sell its soul for the EU membership and they see Kosovo Serbs as a roadblock that must be removed. Quite a range of attitudes, one must admit…
A more interesting debate is raging over the impending fate of the ruling establishment, namely Boris Tadic, his clique and their allies, as well as their possible replacements. Parliamentary democracy, and an ideologically void one at that, allows for an array – or rather a disarray – of electoral combinations, mainly mathematical. Tadic’s cronies tried spinning the defeat of his Euro-oriented agenda and their survival in power will largely depend on how well they spin it from now until February. It will also depend on how readily they fulfill the Kosovo condition. An outright surrender of Kosovo will not happen – nobody in DS is that dumb. A gradual, phased abandonment is hardly possible considering the short period of time and the national focus. If Tadic’s rule brought other benefits to the citizenry, I believe the loss of Kosovo could be wrapped up in a package easier to swallow, but Tadic devastated the already weak Serbian economy, made no real improvement in any arena, sold most of Serbia’s economic capacity to foreigners, did not create jobs, did not improve living conditions of the most disenfranchised social groups, did not even try to root out corruption – his henchmen lined their pockets rigging public bids more than any previous regime – and so on. He put all his chips on the blue-and-yellow EU field, banking all of his political capital on what he perceived a silver bullet, the EU candidate status. Many pundits think Tadic’s days are numbered, but it is still difficult to gauge prevailing popular opinion as there are hardly any mainstream media or polling service independent of Tadic’s regime. The race to jump ship has started in earnest as the cabinet VP in charge of Euro-integrations has already resigned. He failed in his mission and it was the right thing to do. In fact, the way the entire administration flaunted the prospective EU candidacy in front of people’s eyes, the right thing for all of them to do is to resign. In a democracy, resignation after a capital failure of this magnitude is the only honorable thing to do. Honor, what a forgotten word in Serbia…
Do not underestimate the power of Tadic’s spin mastery, however. Especially when Toma Nikolic’s SNS, which many consider the strongest opposition party even though it hasn’t run in a general election yet, supports the idea that Europe has no alternative. Nikolic, a former leader of the nationalist Serbian Radical Party and a disciple of Vojislav Seselj, did a 180 degrees turn and inexplicably sided with Tadic on  Euro-integrations, only distinguishing his position from Tadic’s by claiming he would succeed in joining the EU in a more efficient and a less damaging way for Serbia. People do not read nuances well, and most Serbs hardly read at all, so they took this at the face value and some right-leaning populists concluded, in their conspiratorial minds, that the SNS was an impostor for a nationalist party, incentivized and put in place by the very DS they ostensibly despised. What a Shakespearean twist!
Going back to the mathematical calculations, even if we conclude that DS and SNS are two strongest parties, regardless of DS’ Euro-failure and SNS’ questionable agenda and unproven electoral strength, none of the two still gets nearly enough votes to form the government. Here we arrive to the math of Serbia’s electoral politics. Coalitions can be made before the elections and after the elections, so Serbs, naturally, invoke their polished betting skills and habits and go at it predicting how it is going to play out. A score of lesser parties of higher and lower standing enter the permutations to produce a range of electoral combinations that meet the 50 percent mark necessary to form a cabinet. Ideology, as the last election showed, plays little role. Only a couple of combinations are ideologically impossible. Tadic’s survival will depend not only on the two factors names above – those two will decide how seriously his reputation will be affected – but also on the strength of the opposition. He can’t lose if there is no one to beat him and the way Serbian opposition field looks, Tadic can recognize Kosovo, be rejected by the EU and still lead the new cabinet. All DS needs is a little over 20 percent of votes and they’ll be in a position to build a coalition around them that could exceed 50 percent, considering their coalition-building potential stemming from the lack of ideological direction. If SPS, the former party of Slobodan Milosevic joined DS, the former party of Zoran Djindjic, in a coalition the last time around, there is little else I would dismiss.
Tadic has no message to run on, but neither does Nikolic. Ivica Dacic of SPS can tip the scales and he’s as unpredictable and untrustworthy as they come, an opportunist with no allegiance. Radicals lost their juice with the Nikolic-incited breakup and are sticking to their unrealistic platform. DSS and Vojislav Kostunica have the clearest realistic stand on both Kosovo and the EU, but Kostunica’s inability to capitalize on his enormous popularity after the ouster of Milosevic, his operational rigidity and apparent inertia and unassertiveness left a taste of disappointment in many a mouth of his ardent supporters. Nationalists had high hopes for Kostunica but he allowed the trust of people in his very credible message to wither away. His message is still most becoming a statesman and reflects the attitudes of most of sensible nationalists, but there is a question of Kostunica’s personal magnetism or lack thereof as well as the legalistic inertia of his persona and perceived ineffectiveness. Kostunica and Dacic command less than 10 percent of votes each, I’d say, but a lot can change in the turbulence of the next three months.
LDP of Ceda Jovanovic and URS of Mladjan Dinkic are both pro-Western parties. LDP openly advocates an abandonment of Kosovo for the sake of bolstering the Euro-integration chances and this could mean a big electoral boost if Tadic’s ship starts to sink and a lot mice and rats jump off. LDP’s stand is clear and unequivocal: sell everything to get to the EU. A lot of people in Serbia, especially non-Serbs, support this. It is mainly Serbian national interests and property that would be sold. URS is another untested party with a decent coalition-building potential, currently actively hunting for any and all partners. Their positions mainly emphasize economy, quite unrealistically promising the heavens, and they back it up by the perceived high economic pedigree of their leaders.
There is another new, big unknown on Serbia’s electoral scene: Dveri (the Doors), a patriotic organization-turned-political party. Its strength is hard to estimate and its message is quite unconventional, which could garner it a significant number of votes. They are a nationalist movement with isolationist tendencies and pastoral emotion lining up their message and substance. They see Serbia outside of the world and believe it’s possible to blockade oneself from the world for a while, in order to put one’s affairs in a desired order. It’s a platform I wholeheartedly would support if I could bring myself to believe that there is any country in the world that could run its affairs independent of foreign factors influencing it, including countries such as the United States, Russia or China. Nevertheless, many disenchanted, aggrieved Serbs – and those are in majority – could feel their hearts warming to such a message and launch Dveri to the centerstage of Serbia coalition-bartering flea market. Hey, if the pensioners could do it, these youngsters can do it for sure.
None of this electoral gibberish may come to matter and the scales may tip left and right many times before Serbia hears the next Decision. None of this may matter at all if the election is not called in the very near future. If Tadic decides to cling to power undisturbed until March, he may as well, but it won’t be pleasant and the jockeying around for position would be fun to watch if the highest national interests weren’t at stake and if the Serbs of North Kosovo weren’t standing tall on the barricades, shaming the rest of us into understanding the finality of the moment.


P. said...

I'm glad you mentioned Dveri. Most of the Tadic controlled media has not. But they have arguably more support than Canak as well as Dinkic. I don't know if they are so isolationist, and really there isn't a need to be as the majority of the world respects Serbia's territorial integrity. But I do agree that before all, the country has to get its internal mess in order, clean up corruption and start with a fresh new message to the entire world.

I will be voting for Dveri in the next elections.

Srbo said...

I personally want to see all the nationalist forces unite and Dveri should be part of that bloc. There is a needed minimum of consensus on the national direction to defeat the destructive forces currently in power, differences within the nationalist bloc should be put aside. I like the message of Dveri - I just don't think it is viable as a program. However, such message is much needed in the political spectrum especially if it can win a couple of seats.