Strategic Leap Forward or Ordinary Pretense?

By IndepthAfrica
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Jun 4th, 2012
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Anna FILIMONOVA

Political tensions in Serbia show no signs of subsiding now that the electoral race is over and T. Nikolic’s presidency is an accomplished fact. The country has reached a bifurcation point and is currently presented with a unique opportunity to switch to a new model of development, but the recently elected Serbian leader must pick up an unprecedented challenge to enable the change.

Oddly enough, so far Serbia’s dilemma of choosing between the West and the East continues to exist in a latent form. Back under the generally pro-Western B. Tadic, Belgrade still signed a serious economic package with Russia, and Moscow is waiting for Serbia to take convincing steps towards the implementation of the already formulated energy and infrastructure projects such as the construction of the South Stream pipeline, the upgrade of the Banatski Dvor underground gas depot, the modernization of the Serbian petroleum facilities and railroad network, etc. If the whole array of ambitious plans materializes, Serbia will likely emerge as Russia’s key partner in Europe. It must be noted that the cooperation which currently revolves mostly around energy has an appreciable potential to drive projects in other sectors. It grabbed the headlines that V. Putin reaffirmed Russia’s commitment to working with Serbia during his recent talks with T. Nikolic. The new Serbian president is fully aware that, on top of economic regards, Russia’s motivation stems from the traditional deep affinity for Serbs and a sense of solidarity with Belgrade over its struggle for the territorial integrity of Serbia.

Respect for the agreements sealed with Russia being a permanent component of T. Nikolic’s stated program, the influence of the EU on whose doors Serbia is persistently knocking cannot be discounted. Brussels is pressing its own, in some aspects energy-related, agenda vis-a-vis Belgrade which, as a result, risks to eventually have to weigh the benefits of energy security based on strong ties with Russia against its chronically shelved Eurointegration bid. The reality is that EU countries are allowed minimal independence in energy affairs and must conform to countless policies prescribed by Brussels. Under a negative scenario, the EU opposition to Serbia’s involvement with Russia may, in the long run, bring about a chill in the relations between Belgrade and Moscow. No doubt, Serbia’s price to pay in the case would be a blown chance to set its economy straight by taking a role in the supply of energy to Europe. At this pivotal point, it will mainly depend on T. Nikolic’s political will whether or not the above is what the future holds.

At the moment, former Serbian president B. Tadic seems to be outplaying Nikolic over today’s main political issue in Serbia, which is the formation of the new government. A new parliament which took charge in Serbia on May 31, with the mandates of the 250 legislators confirmed, had Nikolic sworn in, but, in the meantime, Tadic who apears to be a premier hopeful secured full support from I. Dacic and his coalition and now has as many as three options to put together a majority faction without sending out invitations to Nikolic’s Serbian Progressive Party currently chaired by A. Vucic. The combinations are (1) Tadic’s Democratic Party (67 seats) + Dacic’s Socialist Party coalition (Party of United Pensioners of Serbia – United Serbia, a total of 44 seats) + The United Regions of Serbia (16 seats) + minority parties (9 seats) = 136 seats against 126 required; (2) Tadic’s Democratic Party (67 seats) + Socialist Party coalition (44 seats) + C. Jovanovic’s Liberal Democratic Party (19 seats) = 130 seats; (3) a combination of (1) and (2) leading to an exceptionally broad coalition: the Democratic Party, the Socialist Party coalition, the Liberal Democratic Party, and The United Regions of Serbia plus, hypothetically, the minority parties would altogether have 145-153 seats (1).

Tadic is known not to tolerate dissent in the ranks of his partners least it puts his supporters’ unity in jeopardy. He launched a brisk counterattack in the wake of the defeat in the presidential elections, rejects any kind of transactions with the Progressive Party, and threatens that he would refuse to chair the Democratic Party if anybody from within it says a word about forming a majority coalition based on a deal with the progressives (2).

Tadic enjoyed monopoly on charting Serbia’s course since 2008 and obviously hopes to recoup much of what he has lost. Under any of the above scenarios, the situation in the Serbian parliament will remain essentially the same as it used to be before the presidential poll: the Progressive Party will, in practice, be fighting back as if still being in opposition while Tadic’s democrats will dictate resolutions on the legislative level. Moreover, totally absent from the post-election parliament is the unquestionably patriotic Serbian Radical Party.

Speaking of the regional dimension of Serbian politics, serious concerns arise in connection with the geopolitical transformation sweeping across the southern part of the Balkan region under pressure from NATO, the US, and myriads of pro-Western NGOs. Nikolic barely made it to skim through the congratulatory messages when he was confronted with the West’s fresh ultimatum on Kosovo. The resolutions of the NATO summit which convened in Chicago urged Belgrade to carry on with talks over the issue, and Sweden’s political heavyweight Carl Bildt timely expressed the view that Serbia is yet to demonstrate its allegiance to European norms. The implementation of the first phase of the Ahtisaari plan is almost complete as Pristina is passing the final round of legislative acts meant to perpetuate the Kosovo standalone state. Starting June 1, 2012, Serbs in Kosovo will face the requirement to carry IDs issued by the Albanian administration sitting in Pristina. The International Steering Group will meet in Vienna on July 2 to stamp the verdict on the completion of the period of the supervised independence of Kosovo, which will be followed by the province’s irreversible independence from Belgrade.

Reports indicate that the Pristina administration is building muscles, the current focus being on the strengthening of the police and the customs service. As a gesture intended to draw attention internationally, not long ago Kosovo popped up a visa regime for Russian and Chinese nationals. EULEX – the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo – recently took plenty of hammering over perceived poor performance from the European Parliament which has no problem with the Albanian organized crime groups running world-level drug operations but is allergic to the remnants of the Serbian self-government which, in the north of Kosovo, continue to preserve a shadow of Serbian statehood and provide the only available protection to Serbs. In the nearest future, EULEX will limit its functions to judicial procedures and will leave everything else to Pristina “institutions”. Last May, the European Commission, EULEX, and Pristina opened negotiations over Europe’s assistance to Kosovo in puling off “a reform” with the goal of subduing the Serbs of northern Kosovo, but since it is clear that they are not going to give up resistance, so far Brussels calls for addressing the situation politically (3). In contrast, Washington believes in force – news started coming on June 1 that NATO’s KFOR dispatched heavy vehicles to tear down barricades in Rudare, near Zvecan in northern Kosovo, and blocked the roads in the area, with a number of people injured in the clashes.

Nikolic, therefore, has no time to waste as the West’s pressure and blackmail over Kosovo mount. He will need to rely on solid foundations to defend Serbia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, and in this regard the pro-Russian orientation of the majority in the Progressive Party largely staffed by former Seselj’s radicals is a valuable resource. Mobilizing the society, wrestling influence from the pro-Western media which are trying to bring up a generation of “Euroserbs” with no trace of national self-awareness are the objectives to be accomplished to lift Serbia out of its current de facto protectorate condition. Inability to say No, to brush off unfair demands, and to safeguard Serbian national interests would doom Belgrade to an endless replay of past mistakes. Serbia’s concessions tend to be suicidal as they further fuel the appetites of its foes. Nikolic cannot suffice with half-measures under the pressing circumstances that mark the opening of his presidency – nothing will change unless Serbia urgently adopts a completely new course. If Serbia’s policies are dominated by pro-Western inertia and by the clumsy pursuit of membership in the crisis-ridden EU, Serbia will slide towards economic depression and support for the new rule among its population will rapidly evaporate. Certainly, such developments would indirectly hurt Russia’s interests. Widening economic and political cooperation with Russia – in the form of new projects and interactions between the countries’ parliaments – are clearly a part of the reasonable solution. The new Serbian president should be mindful that a failure to entrain Russia would alienate his own nation which is outraged by the looming loss of Kosovo. The province’s final escape would inflict on the Serbian society a wound from which it is going to be virtually impossible to recover, and forever ruin the reputations of the politicians responsible for the debacle.

Nikolic’s epic choice is to either boldly put Serbia’s policies on new tracks or to leave the country drifting down Tadic’s course, which the majority of Serbs condemned at the polling booths in May, 2012. It must be realized that the cost of the issue is the existence of Serbia.

(1) http://www.vreme.com/cms/view.php?id=1055239
(2) http://www.vreme.com/cms/view.php?id=1055239
(3) http://www.rts.rs

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