Serbia's Elections Revisited

In December, Serbia had parliamentary elections which were considered "the most important in the country's recent history.

In December, Serbia had parliamentary elections which were considered "the most important in the country's recent history." In the elections, the Serbian Radical Party (SRS), a hard nationalist party, won the biggest share of the vote (27.61 percent). It was a shock to the international community, democratically-oriented parties in the country and the public at large. For many insightful analysts, the results of the elections were not surprising. During the unsuccessful presidential elections in November 2003, Radicals were the most successful. Their leader, Tomislav Nikolic won 1,166,896 votes (46.23 percent), outpacing Professor Dragoljub Micunovic (35.42 percent), a veteran of the democratic movement in Serbia.

Results of the parliamentary elections on December 28, 2003 were generally determined by the unexpected success of the Radical candidate. Therefore, no one should be surprised, for there had been many indications and factors that contributed, directly or indirectly, to the outcome of the parliamentary elections. Three years ago, Serbs unanimously decided to abandon a nationalistic and conservative direction, in order to improve the condition of their lives and pave the way for European integration. This time, they voted for the political party they previously opposed. What were the reasons for that?

For almost three years, no one paid attention to the SRS. There was a strong belief that the DOS (Democratic Opposition of Serbia, a governing reformist group of the 18 parties) would be the only source for both the government and opposition. In the meantime, Serbia was collapsing both economically and socially. Financial support of the West to the Serbian reformist government hasn't been abundant and sufficient, as promised. The government itself lacked a clear and efficient economic policy. Unemployment increased to over thirty percent while prices soared and the standard of life declined. Furthermore, The Hague International Criminal Tribunal (ICTY) for the former Yugoslavia hung as a Damocles' sword over the whole nation. Serbs perceived it as a mere political tool of West, extremely partial towards them. The ICTY lost its impartiality in eyes of the Serbian public because it predominantly accused Serbs and their leaders of violating international humanitarian laws, without taking any considerable steps, beyond making symbolic accusations, to punish people in other Balkan nations who obviously perpetrated crimes against Serbs. For the last three years, promises of economic support came only in exchange for extradition of those indicted. The Serbian government did its best, even extraditing the former president of the state. Unfortunately, the promised support hasn't come. The international community failed to meet the expectations of the reformist Serbian government. In Particular, the behavior of the Chief Prosecutor of the ICTY, even for the western-oriented Serbs, was unbearably arrogant and politically prejudiced. At the same time, the West's inability to react to the regular Albanian atrocities perpetrated against the Serb minority in Kosovo and unresolved status of the province put Serbs in a very humiliating position.

In March 2003, Zoran Djindjic, Serbia's Prime Minister and the core person of the reformist movement, was assassinated. Since then, nothing has been the same in the governing DOS coalition. Disputes, mutual accusations and revelation of numerous "affairs of corruption" became a daily practice. It provoked, especially within younger voters, the feeling of desperation and conviction that none of the democratic parties was worth voting for. By fighting over power, these parties rejected voters, and the optimism and good humor that appeared after the fall of the Milosevic regime turned into political apathy and resignation. In addition, Serbia has not had a president for almost 18 months.

These events generated the perfect conditions for the rise of Radicalism. Nevertheless, the SRS made its own contribution to this turn by its unity, accord, precise organization, solid base, loyal followers and demagogical skills that could motivate voters emotionally. The SRS became strong again, primary due to weaknesses of the ruling parties. Tomislav Nikolic presented a new face of Serbian nationalism. He is more tranquil and calmer then the ICTY prisoner Vojislav Seselj, still technically president of the SRS. Seselj is very popular but, as a matter of fact, physically far away. So, disenchanted nationalist oriented voters found in Nikolic the "right" incarnation of their beliefs. During the campaign, Nikolic expressed a moderate intent to cooperate with the international community. He wants to work with the international community but not make any concessions. Nikolic said: "We need western technology and eastern markets. We don't want to be slaves." Nikolic promised that if the SRS gained power, no more Serbs would be extradited to the ICTY. The foreign policy credo of Nikolic is: "We will cooperate with any country in the world with which Serbia would have interest to cooperate, but none will blackmail or humiliate us."  These slogans were Radical "weapons" of mass attraction.