Saturday, June 21, 2008

Sigh of relief

Searching “sigh of relief” on Google will as first item bring you a BBC story from 4th of June 1999 about Milosevic capitulating during NATO bombing offensive.

This time sigh of relief was due to official announcement that Democrats and Socialists are negotiating about forming government in Serbia. This comes 40 days after elections of 11th of June.

I was bit more optimistic in post of 19th of May about prospect of having pro-European government in Serbia. I had information from Belgrade inner circles that deal between Democrats and ex-Milosevic Socialist was made even before elections but at one moment it did not look so certain, at least from perspective of outside observer. I got dizzy from holding my breath – I did not want to jinx it with another post.

This was a tough game of chess played between nationalists and pro-Europeans. Variations of this game have been played since 1804 and First Serbian Uprising with common elements such as involvement of big powers (Ottoman Empire, Austro-Hungarian Empire, France, Germany, UK, Russia, USA, NATO) and assassinations of political leaders (1817 Karađorđe , 1868 Mihajlo Obrenović , 1903 Alexander Obrenovic , 1934 Alexander Karađorđević , 2000 Ivan Stambolić, 2003 Zoran Đinđić) . It also involves idea of Greater Serbia. It now looks like idea of having all Serbs in a single state has been replaced with having all Serbs in EU.

This time it was played between pro-European Boris Tadić Serbian president and nationalist Vojislav Koštunica Serbian prime minister.

Opening move was Kosovo declaration of independence on 17th Feb 2008. This was followed by protests in Belgrade organized by nationalists on 21st February that included burning of the USA embassy. As I predicted earlier Koštunica’s appetite for destruction in wake of Kosovo independence was not approved by Tadić.

Koštunica’s next move will be his first mistake. At this point of time he could form government with right wing Serbian Radical Party (81 seats + 47 Koštunica’s = 128 > 125 required). Although shrewd he had grand visions of his role in Serbian history. He resigns on 8th March 2008 and calls for early elections on 11th May 2008. At this point of time he thinks that he will ride the wave of Serbian anxiety caused by Kosovo independence.

At the same time Tadić is already negotiating with Socialists. Polls show that Koštunica DSS with Radical party should get about 120 seats in parliament, just 6 seats short of required 126 to form government. Tadić task is not an easy one, he needs to bring everyone else together including party headed by Liberal Čedomir Jovanović who arrested Slobodan Milošević and Socialists whose founder was Milošević.

Then comes pivotal moment in election campaign, EU decides to allow Serbia to sign Stabilization and Association Agreement on 29th April. This plays into hand of pro European Tadić. Koštunica was in favour of confronting EU regarding Kosovo independence rather than signing any kind agreements with them (even though teams under him as prime minister worked hard on this one for 2.5 years). Tadić further capitalizes signing of the agreement by announcing heads of agreement with FIAT to start production of 200,000 cars per annum in Serbia. Reaction of nationalists is uncontrolled - they call Tadić traitor, Judas, posters calling for his assassination show up in Belgrade streets.

Reaction of voters was tectonic - all polls were wrong! Tadić's coalition for European Serbia (ZES is Serbian acronym) wins 102 seats against combined nationalists 108 seats (20 seats loss compared to previous elections). Situation is much better than Tadić expected - he could bring in Socialists without need to have their arch-enemies Liberals in the government.

Now 40 day tango starts. Socialists fear rebellion amongst their membership if they announce deal with Democrats too soon. On other side it is useful to start negotiating with nationalists as this might bring stakes up with democrats. All this time we knew that this was the game but at times we could not be quite sure.

Tadić meanwhile makes deals with smaller parties in Socialist's coalition that ensure 125-125 tie in case Socialists decide to support nationalists.

Masks finally fell down today and Socialists announced that they will start negotiations with Democrats. This comes with huge sigh of relief - it looks like Serbia and Balkans closely managed to avoid another train smash. After UN report that Balkans is now one of the safest areas in Europe (157 murders in Serbia per year or 2 per 100,000 compared to 21,500 in South Africa or 50 per 100,000) I am also hoping that this region will also become politically boring.

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