Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

Elections in Serbia – Eight Years Later

Dessislava Dimitrova, May 5, 2012

Under the circumstances, I have been following what has been happening on the political scene in Serbia for the last eight years. I remember that moment quite clearly, as the first elections, which back then I observed sidelong, were the presidential ones in 2004, when Boris Tadic won his first term. I remember that back then the TV stations here offered Tadic, the former radical and now leader of the Progressive party, Tomislav Nikolic, maybe some soap operas and turbofolk, as the music for the masses is called here. Eight years later, both politicians are here again, billboards can be seen everywhere, while the so called “trubaci” (brass bands) are also everywhere in Belgrade. They will for sure have a handful of work on Sunday, not only because of St George Day, which is a big local holiday, but because they will most probably play for some of the winners in the elections, as the tradition has it here.

Eight years later the situation does not seems to have changed a lot, at least not at first sight. Tadic is fighting for a third term in office, but looks a bit exhausted and, personally to me, not quite convincing. “After May 6th Serbia will not be the same country, because we always put efforts to change the nation. If the others succeed, because some of us will not go out to cast their ballot, it will be our fault,” Tadic said during the last rally of the coalition led by him on May 2nd.

However, I find it quite strange when someone tries to convince the voters that they need a better life, given that he had eight years to do so, which may bring luck to someone for whom these elections are the first such battle, but for Tadic this battle is his way to survive. Tomislav Nikolic also seems tired. And if same time last year his fatigue could be attributed to the hunger strike he then started and then said he was just fasting before Easter, now this excuse will simply not work. Maybe he is just tired of repeating the mantra that “in the EU, whoever wants better and stable conditions of life in Serbia, can join with Kosovo only, as an integral part of it.”

From another point of view, eight years later the situation is different. The 2004 elections happened just four years after Milosevic’s regime fell and a year after Zoran Djindjic was killed. At that time Serbia and Montenegro was still a single, though loose state, Kosovo had still not declared independence, while the EU perspective seemed quite far away. In the middle of that period, at the presidential elections in 2008, Tadic met Nikolic again, but in the meanwhile the political scene has changed quite a lot.

In the meantime, Nikolic left the Radical party and set up a party of his own, more pro-EU oriented, while former Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica (who is now a presidential candidate) started with criticism against Tadic’s pro-European policy and now calls for a “neutral policy in all aspects”.

Serbia and Montenegro are no longer together and are separate states and both have received a EU candidate status, while Pristina and Belgrade managed to sit on the negotiations table to see how to develop their future relations.

Which way should Serbia take was the main topic of the last of the series of debates too, broadcast a day before the two days of pre-elections silence. One could not see the major political leaders or election candidates taking part in those debates -instead each party had sent an expert on the topic, which this time was “Kosovo, the EU integration and the living standard”. If we try to sum up what was stated during the debate, the Radicals expectedly said that the EU and USA are taking Kosovo from Serbia. According to Borislav Stefanovic, a member of the Tadic-led Democrats and a chief negotiator in the Pristina-Belgrade talks, as well as according to the Socialists, Kosovo’s independence will not be recognised, but a solution of the issue should be found, while the Progressives cast the blame on the outgoing government.

And if the Kosovo issue to some extent is uniting the candidates, their opinion on the place of Serbia in the EU differed significantly. The Radicals in general define the relations with EU as humiliating and insist on stronger ties with Russia. The Socialists keep on repeating their “both Kosovo and EU”, while the coalition of the Democrats is trying to show that it has succeeded with the candidate status.

Since Friday night, the voters have two days to make their choice during which election propaganda is forbidden. It will not be an easy choice for sure, as the local weekly “Vreme” (Time) says: in the past 15 years, the percentage of those who do not trust political parties has been between 58 and 77, while all the rest of the citizens are candidates for some of the three types of elections.