The World Policy Institute understands that policymakers and opinion leaders need creative ways to catalyze innovation and engage wider coalitions in solving some of the world’s biggest challenges. By working with artists focused on the same issues, this cross-cutting initiative seeks to build a new, collaborative model for social change.
In Every Nation for Itself: Winners and Losers in a G-Zero World, World Policy Institute Senior Fellow Ian Bremmer illustrates a historic shift in the international system and the world economy—and an unprecedented moment of global uncertainty.
By Elizabeth Pond
Serbia evolves by ambiguity. Former President Boris Tadic proved this with his mantra of "both Europe and Kosovo" in the dark years after the 2003 murder of Serbia's reformist Premier Zoran Djindjic.
Back in 2003, many Serbs were still angry over the West's 1999 military intervention to block strongman Slobodan Milosevic's stunning, forced deportation of more than half the Albanian population in Serbia's 90 percent ethnic-Albanian province of Kosovo. The popular Radicals, who had demanded even more of Croatian and Bosnian territory for Serbia than did Milosevic during the 1990s Balkans Wars, were setting a juggernaut ultranationalist political agenda of keeping Kosovo forever as a Serbian patrimony ruled by only 10 percent of the population. The villain of the piece was the West, wanting to snatch away from Serbia the Kosovo that Belgrade had owned since 1912. The Radicals' battlecry was We will never give up Kosovo.
In that stage, Tadic, Djindjic's successor as leader of the pro-European Democratic Party, kept the unpopular option of joining the European Union alive by articulating the tandem goals of Europe and Kosovo. The one did not preclude the other, he argued somewhat disingenuously, given the contradiction between EU stress on self-determination, human rights, and democracy, on the one hand, and Belgrade's violation of all three principles in Kosovo before the Western intervention on the other.
Disingenuous or not, the ambiguity of the dual slogan helped nudge Belgrade’s politics away from rabid nationalism toward moderation. First, Milosevic's old Socialist Party grudgingly endorsed "both Europe and Kosovo" and looked forward to the financial aid this would bring Serbia on its way to EU membership. More than half of theRadicals followed suit.
Yet today, as a new coalition between the Socialists and the Progressive offshoot of the Radicals takes office in Belgrade, the same rhetorical ambiguity instead favors chauvinism and heightened confrontation with Balkan neighbors.
The result will be a hard test for the European Union. The EU finally granted Belgrade membership candidacy five months ago, but it is wary of a government led by politicians who began their careers under the oppressive Slobodan Milosevic.
By declaring European integration and retention of control over Kosovo compatible—and by not opposing the consensus amendment branding any Kosovo secession unconstitutional—Tadic narrowly won two presidential elections over rival Tomislav Nikolic of the militantly nationalist Radical Party. With this tactical ploy, the pro-European Tadic managed to serve as head of state for eight years and saw his aim of EU membership go mainstream.
In the parliamentary vote four years ago, Tadic's pro-Europe list beat out the Radicals with a plurality of 38 percent. Remarkably, Tadic's Democratic Party—which had led the electoral overthrow of Milosevic in 2000—jacked this up to a legislative majority by coopting the remnants of Milosevic's Socialist Party. In a sensational flip on the verge of Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence, the Socialists merged their 8 percent of votes with the Democrats, stopped declaiming that the EU would never force them to abandon Kosovo and muted their championing of Moscow as an alternative patron to Brussels. Party leader Ivica Dacic, a one-time spokesman for Milosevic, was rewarded with the senior posts of deputy premier and interior minister. For the first time since the 1990s wars, the Socialists gained respectability.
Tadic's co-option of the Democrats' old foes paid off. As president, he managed to restore friendly relations with neighboring Croatia. He twice visited the Bosnian site of Srebrenica, where Serb military units in 1995 massacred more than 7000 unarmed Bosniak men and boys, to express his sorrow, and he still survived politically. He continued his gradual purge of the ultranationalist-criminal nexuses in the Serbian army and security services that were behind Djindjic's murder—and behind the long shielding of Serbia's two most-wanted war-crimes suspects from arrest. A Serbian police unit of untouchables finally captured the two fugitives: Radovan Karadzic, the political leader of the Bosnian Serb entity at the time of the massacre, and Ratko Mladic, the Serb commander at Srebrenica. They were extradited and are currently standing trial at the United Nations special tribunal at The Hague.
Moreover, the Radical Nikolic took a leaf out of the Socialists' book and distanced himself somewhat from his past as a leader of Serb militias that drove Croats out of eastern Croatian towns in the Balkan wars and as deputy prime minister under Milosevic. Nikolic broke with the Radicals' founder, Vojislav Seselj, who was himself at The Hague, standing trial for war crimes committed in the Serbs' 1990s conquest of a third of Croatia and two-thirds of Bosnia. Nikolic stopped claiming it would be better for Serbia to become part of Russia than to become a colony of the EU. He even cited his new support for EU membership as his reason for quitting the Radical Party. By founding the new Progressive Party and taking senior Radical officials with him, he broke the Radicals' extremist chokehold on the Serbian political agenda.
As elections approached last May, pro-European optimists expected the 2008 scenario to repeat itself. In the first round Tadic would win fewer votes than Nikolic—who was now the Progressive rather than the Radical presidential candidate—but he would pick up enough votes in the runoff to eke out a third term. Start-up production in the modern Fiat factory in Serbia would give voters hope that the 24 percent unemployment might soon be dented. The Socialists would continue in coalition with the Democrats, the Progressives would be happy not to have government responsibility for the inevitable final acceptance of Kosovo's secession, and Tadic would lead Serbia into the European Union.
It didn't work out that way, however.
Instead, the rhetorical consensus on both Europe and Kosovo removed centrist voters' fears of the reckless old chauvinists and shrank the turnout to 58 percent, down 4 percent from the previous election. After a campaign fought largely over jobs, the plummeting dinar, and impending debt crisis, Nikolic topped Tadic by 2.2 percent in the presidential run-off, and the new Progressive list won 24 percent to the Democrats' 22% percent in parliament. The now-respectable Socialists shot up from 8 percent to 14.5 percent and promptly deserted the Democrats to give a majority to their more compatible Progressive compatriots. Dacic accepted promotion to premier and interior minister. The Progressives' second-in-command Aleksandar Vucic became deputy premier, defense minister, and head of all the secret services.
Former Tadic allies then gravitated to the new power center. Sandzak Bosniak leader Sulejman Ugljanin and economic technocrat Mladan Dinkic segued from the old to the new government. Outgoing Democratic Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic, a Kosovo diehard whom Tadic had effectively sidelined from Kosovo policy, is staying on as head of the Serbian delegation to the United Nations after having been elected, with strong Russian backing, as president of the UN General Assembly for the next year. In that post, he said, he will let Kosovo join the UN only over his dead body. He will be completely impartial, he added, in enforcing UN rules that "are not particularly favorable for secessionist territories such as Kosovo and Metohija,” the full Serb name for Kosovo.
So far, the overwhelming priority of the new government is to reap the patronage spoils, sweep away Tadic appointees in government ministries, national institutions, state firms, and private business, and replace them with their own clientele. Only when this is accomplished will it begin addressing policies.
As for President Nikolic, he outlined his outlook just before and after his election in interviews with Russian, German, and Montenegrin media. He still identified a "Greater Serbia" as his "unrealized dream," even if he could never fulfill it. While conceding that "some Serbs" had committed "serious crimes" at Srebrenica, he denied, contrary to Hague Tribunal verdicts, that this constituted "genocide." He also started a public row with Croats by declaring the eastern Croatian city of Vukovar that Serb forces destroyed in their 1990s siege a "Serbian city" that Croats need not bother to return to.
Nikolic further castigated the Democrats for allegedly having taken Kosovo's side in the sluggish EU-sponsored technical talks between Belgrade and Pristina earlier this year. He charged the Democrats with deception in arrangements for auto license plates of Serbs living in northern Kosovo, and for having kept "secret that the name[cards] for Kosovo can be followed just by an asterisk" at regional Balkan meetings, and do not require a full footnote specifying that Serbia does not recognize Kosovo's independence. More substantively, he expressed "doubts" about the already agreed but unimplemented common border management designed to end rampant smuggling by both Kosovars and Serbs across the Kosovo-Serbia dividing line.
Nikolic now wants to bring the UN into the bilateral talks—a complication that would totally sink the already stalled conversation. He insists on molding a consensus of Serbs—including the especially hardline Serbs in northern Kosovo and Serbian Orthodox Church representatives—before proceeding further with Kosovo contacts. "The EU is our top choice, but not our only option," Nikolic warned. "There is a lot we can swallow and keep silent about for the sake of the EU, but not everything." As if to emphasize his point, he made his first presidential visit to Moscow rather than to Brussels.
All this—along with the oath of office committing the new government to "keeping Kosovo and Metohija a part of the Republic of Serbia"—puts a very different cast on the official political mantra of both the EU and Kosovo as goals. The new government's interpretation of Tadic's old catchphrase now seems to be that Belgrade can indeed have both: No painful cost-benefit analyses or trade-offs will be needed. The EU will simply have to accept the biggest and most important Yugoslav successor state into its ranks—and Brussels will have to bend its rule of not admitting nations with border disputes to accommodate Serbian retention of Kosovo, despite recognition of Kosovo's independence by 22 EU members.
The prevailing attitude is that since neighboring Croatia has been granted EU membership by 2013, it is only fair for Serbia to be next in line. There is little understanding in Belgrade that in order to qualify for this acceptance, Croatia first had to establish its seriousness in resolving its border dispute with Slovenia (by agreeing to arbitration) and in fighting corruption (by the dramatic prosecution of its long-time former prime minister). There is even less sympathy for the notion that the burden of proof is on Serbia as the applicant to demonstrate that it really meets the democratic conditions of membership, including rule of law. Or that shedding the shadowy security networks in northern Kosovo that Belgrade maintains at a cost approximating the pre-accession financial aid the EU already gives Serbia might be a good way to show seriousness of intent.
The ruling Socialists and Progressives clearly do want to join the rich Europeans' club at this point and have not been put off by the eurozone's financial crisis. They just want the European Union to accept (and subsidize) them on their own terms.
This the EU is not willing to do. Ambiguity has its limits.
Elizabeth Pond is a Berlin-based journalist and author of Endgame in the Balkans.
[Photo courtesy of Demokratska Stranka]