Sunday, December 28, 2003

Serbian Disillusionment and Western Illusions

In couple of hours first results of Serbian parliamentary elections would begin to trickle to election HQs. It is still too early to tell how it would all end. One thing is certain - SRS – Serbian Radical Party, led by war crime suspect Vojislav Šešelj (Vojislav Seselj) – is going to be the strongest party in Serbian Parliament. Less is certain its ability to form new government – most observers expect three rival "pro-Western democratic" parties – DS, DSS and G-17 Plus – to forget their pre-election feuds and create coalition to rescue Serbia from ultra-nationalists.

On the other hand, I also notice that some foreign media hint that SRS, once it gains power, won't be so "ultranationalist". Surge of support for SRS is explained with deep dissatisfaction of ordinary Serbians with the way "pro-Western" government handled economy and indulged in the same excesses of corruption as Milošević's (Milosevic's) regime. Same thing happened with HDZ in Croatia shortly before and after the elections, when it became apparent that Ivica Račan (Ivica Racan) didn't have much stomach for keeping power.

There are differences between Croatia and Serbia, though. Unlike SRS, Sanader's party invested a lot in their make-over into "reformed" party which is supposed to be nothing more than Croatian version of conservative, centre-to-right parties which exist in "normal" democracies of Western Europe. Furthermore, Sanader, unlike Tudjman and unlike Milošević (Milosevic) in Serbia, depends on ethnic minorities for parliamentary majority; that alone has moderating influence on HDZ, forcing that party to significantly tone down its nationalist rhetoric. The most important difference is in Sanader having party to the right of his – HSP – and compared with them, HDZ indeed looks like moderate centre-to-right party. Serbian radicals, on the other hand, represent the extreme right of Serbian politics and Serbian electoral laws prevent minorities from having reserved seats in Parliament. For Serbian Radicals the closest thing to being "reformed" is new political platform that includes fighting for Greater Serbia through "peaceful and diplomatic means".

In short term, victory of Serbian Radicals would be good for Croatia – after inevitable comparisons with its neighbours, Croatia would definitely look like Good Guy and success story of Balkans. In the long term, consequences would be more negative – Balkan nationalisms have annoying habits of fuelling each other and Croatians, again feeling threatened by ghostly images of Greater Serbia, would embrace rhetoric of the extreme right.

It is in Croatia's long-term interest that today's elections in Serbia produce result that would guarantee democracy and stability.


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