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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.
[Editor's Note: As millions of Americans gather around their television sets tonight, eager to hear President Barack Obama and Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney spar in their first head-to-head debate, it may serve us well to take a step back from the screens. How do debates inform politics? What, apart from bite-size zingers and gaffs, do debates add to a national political discussion? Is the American debate format worth transferring to other nations? In the current issue of World Policy Journal, Linda Kinstler argues that the U.S. Commission on Presidential Debates, which exports U.S.-style debates around the world, is doing more harm than good by legitimizing corrupt politicians and sabotaging emerging democracies around the world.]
By Linda Kinstler
Dubbed “Реч на реч,” or “the word on the word,” the May 16 debate between Serbian President Boris Tadic and challenger Tomislav Nikolic is Serbia’s fourth national political debate in a month, following three rounds of televised parliamentary debates in April. This marks the final stop of the Serbian presidential campaign (votes to be cast four days later). This is only the third general election since the dissolution of Yugoslavia in 2003 and the creation of the Republic of Serbia. Cast as a “TV duel” in local media outlets, the feverishly plotted, yet surprisingly plodding, display pits the incumbent and head of the Serbian Democratic Party against the leader of the nationalist Serbian Progressive Party.
As the game show tune reaches a crescendo, the broadcast cuts to clips from the 2004 and 2008 Serbian presidential debates, showcasing younger, less harried versions of Tadic and Nikolic. Tadic is the handsome pro-Western incumbent, while Nikolic is the former deputy prime minister in the government of Slobodan Milosevic, the Yugoslav president who died in prison at The Hague during his genocide trial. In their previous on-camera contests, both candidates strode confidently onto the studio floor in the same broad-lapelled suits and red ties that they’ve chosen for this year’s rematch. In 2004, they sat at a large conference table on either side of the moderator, flanked by large Serbian flags—the whole studio swathed in red, white, and blue. The background walls read “избори (Choices) 2004” four times in giant stylized lettering. The 2008 debates had them standing behind podiums on an elevated stage, facing moderator Zoran Stanojevic, an editor at Radio Television Serbia (RTS)—the national news channel that broadcasts the debates. The set up immediately brought to mind an episode of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”—technicolor special effects and harsh spotlights included.
This spring the candidates once again face Stanojevic, who is just as meticulously tanned and coiffed as he was four years earlier. Gone, however, are the distracting banners and lights of their previous encounters. Instead, a digital Roman agora frames each candidate. The profusion of doric columns in the studio of a Serbian television station sends a clear message—Serbia has taken its place among the world’s most venerable and established democracies.
So perhaps it is appropriate that the United States had a hand in orchestrating the debate via the U.S. Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI), which worked with RTS and local organizations to train the debate moderator and production team. The CPD’s executive producer Martin Slutsky traveled to Serbia for 10 days to work on the project, one of the organization’s many international endeavors. In its three-year off-season from planning the U.S. presidential debates it was founded to organize, the CPD, in close partnership with the NDI, helps orchestrate formal political debates in emerging democracies.
[To read the rest of this article, click here.]
Linda Kinstler is the Editor of the Bowdoin Orient and reports for the New York Daily News.
[ Photo Stephan Van Es]