Will the Real Serbia Please Stand Up?

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The upcoming parliamentary and local elections in Serbia on 11 May 2008 will be crucial in deciding the country’s future path – whether that is closer integration with the EU or recent political flirtations with Russia open up an alternative route, says a 23 April briefing paper from the International Crisis Group (ICG).

The paper claims the elections in May will not bring about a new policy on Kosovo as all political parties basically share the same opinion towards the newly-formed state. Instead they will merely give the nationalist parties more political muscle – but the election will almost certainly be billed as a referendum on both Kosovo and the EU, it adds. 

The ICG paper believes two possible outcomes are likely, but not until September as coalition negotiations will likely be protracted: either the Radicals will side with current PM Kostunica’s DSS and ex-President Milosevic’s SPS parties; or the pro-Western parties (President Tadic’s DS as well as G17+ and LDP) could form a weak government with the support of one of the nationalist parties. However, this weaker option would be subject to nationalist “blackmail”, claims the paper – arguing that the nationalists’ problem is transforming a victory into an EU integration policy supported by the majority of the population. 

The briefing paper challenges Brussels and Washington not to interfere in the elections with promises of signing a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) if pro-Western forces win, adding that Brussels cannot offer any concession that would replace the loss of Kosovo. The EU may offer the SAA at the upcoming GAERC on 28 April, with Deputy PM Djelic set to sign it, believes the ICG. 

Tadic’s presidential election victory earlier this year was “not a mandate for EU policies,” observes the paper, rather a deterrent vote against the Radical candidate Nikolic. Tadic is treading a thin line as he has allowed Kostunica’s party to dictate policy terms on Kosovo, thereby diminishing his own manoeuvrability, it argues. Tadic has endorsed Kostunica’s comments on Kosovo but without the fiery anti-Western rhetoric, adds the ICG. 

Nationalist rhetoric following Kosovo’s declaration of independence played into the nationalist parties’ hands, with Kostunica delegating fiery proclamations he could not say publicly to his ministers, the ICG claims. The paper slams media coverage of the national rally protesting against the independence of Kosovo in Belgrade on 21 February, claiming only the looting and vandalism was screened and not the hundreds of thousands gathered for peaceful prayer. However, the paper concedes that the damage to Serbia’s image abroad was “above all diplomatic and economic”. 

The Serbian parliament passed a resolution in February declaring Kosovo’s independence and the EU’s mission (EULEX) null and void because Serbia is promoting UNMIK as the only lawful presence in the region, says the paper. 

Internationally, Serbia has received the backing of Russia, which confirmed it would block Kosovo’s UN membership. The paper continues by saying Serbia has toned down moves to revoke Kosovo’s independence via the Security Council (as the UK, US and France would veto this) and instead is seeking a path through the General Assembly and the ICJ on the legality of the independence declaration. 

The Serbs are determined to hold on to Kosovo and are planning to hold the May elections there as well, with UNMIK or KFOR unlikely to stop this, claims the paper. 

The paper concludes that the EU should not offer an SAA without prior Serbian co-operation with the ICTY as “appeasement has failed in the Balkans for over a decade and a half”. 

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