To the dismay of the European Union, Sunday’s high-turnout election in Serbia brought the country’s ultra-nationalist party into a position of power. The Serbian Radical Party (SRS) led by Vojislav Seselj, who is currently behind bars in the Hague and awaiting trial for alleged crimes against humanity, won more seats in the parliament than any other party, receiving at least 27 percent of the vote.
Serbia’s communist party, formally led by Slobodan Milosevic who is presently being tried for genocide, won more than seven percent, thus poising the two right-wing parties to claim 103 seats out of the 250 in the parliament. Although, the ultra-nationalists did not gain enough seats to form a government, analysts note that the ever-fighting and corrupt pro-reformist parties probably won’t manage to form a coalition. The reformists have lost support as the economy has declined and suffered a major blow when Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic was assassinated last March. As the BBC‘s Belgrade correspondent Matthew Price explains, “If [the reformists] do tear themselves apart again the Radicals will come back even stronger.” Many observers predict that failure to form a coalition could lead to new elections within the year.
While the election does not bode well for democracy in Serbia, will this resurgence of ultra-nationalist parties renew hard-line politics in the Balkans? The SRS is certainly bad news — their election victory was dedicated to Serb inmates in the Hague, who were symbolically promised seats in the parliament — but some analysts note that it could be a lot worse. The nationalist victory was expected, and although the nationalists are not satisfied with their new borders, that doesn’t mean they have the ability to drag the region into violence.
“[E]ven if the hard core of nationalist voters do want to reverse the Serbian losses of the Yugoslav wars, they have no means to do so. Serbia’s army is a shadow of what it was and NATO-led troops are in Bosnia and Kosovo, Serbia’s southern, majority-Albanian province, which is currently under UN administration. Most Serbs are desperate for their country to get into the European Union, not to go back to war.”
It appears as if everyone is learning that nation building is in the details. Even the hard-liners are learning to play politics instead of war. Tomislav Nikolic, the acting head of SRS while his boss is stuck in the Hague, remarked that while his party is interested in controlling greater Serbia — which just happens to be much of Croatia — they will now pursue such ideals diplomatically. The reality, writes the Economist, is that Serbia will remain in crisis mode, with frequent elections leading to disillusionment among Serbs and increasingly low voter turnout — a situation which may help the “war-crime” parties.
As Predrag Simic, an aide to the former Yugoslavian President Vojislav, told the Christian Science Monitor most Serbs don’t believe EU membership is a practical goal.
“The election results are the typical reaction of the European losers’ club… Balkan countries see themselves nowhere near admission to the European Union, so pro-EU parties lack credibility.”
But it’s pressure from the outside that will help keep things in check. With the much needed aid flowing in from the EU and America conditional on good behavior and cooperation with the Hague, we’ll see how far the nationalists are willing to push their rhetoric.