- Bosnia and Herzegovina
- All Balkan Countries
The victory of Tomislav Nikolic in the presidential elections in Serbia brings back many memories of October 2000 when the Bulldozer Revolution in Belgrade led to the overthrow of the then Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic.
It is not the revolution itself which resembles the recent elections in Serbia, but more the desperate need of Serb voters for change. Change, however, sometimes comes at a price.
In the wake of the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic in 2000, it was Vojislav Kostunica from the Democratic Party of Serbia who gained power. At that point the Serbian public opinion was eager to see a new face taking the lead, because it had become evident that Slobodan Milosevic was going to drag the country further into the darkness.
The election of Mr Kostunica in 2000 demonstrated that the disappointment with Milosevic had reached its peak and anything else but the dictator was favoured.
Twelve years on, Serbia finds itself in a very similar situation. Fed up with the governance of Boris Tadic, the Serbian voters punished the Democratic Party, looking for a change of leadership, no matter who took the lead.
Boris Tadic might have been the favoured politician of Brussels due to his cooperative policies; but during his leadership Serbia witnessed tighter control of media, the country sunk deeper in the realms of corruption and it was faced with an ever growing economic crisis. Many of these internal problems were actively ignored by Brussels for the sake of not losing a pro-EU partner.
This is also logical considering that EU’s prime focus in the Balkans is regional stability even if means turning a blind eye to other problems. Mr Tadic was given pretty open support from the EU during the election campaign and it is fair to say that the country’s “candidate status” decision was, at least in part, an attempt to boost the President’s ailing popularity.
For the EU it was a case of better the devil you know.
To EU’s surprise, however, it was the guy who still dreamed of Greater Serbia, the deputy of war-crime indictee Vojislav Seselj, the man who said that he would take out the eyes of all non-Serbs with rusted forks and spoons, and the former undertaker who ended up assuming power and becoming Serbia’s new president - albeit this time in his slightly more moderate new brand.
Mr Nikolic’s first days have been replete with scandals, including controversial comments on Croatia’s Vukovar and his denial of the Srebrenica genocide. The EU was quick to react to his statements, but the ultimate question arising now is which path will Serbia take.
Under the leadership of Mr Tadic, Serbia had started to show conciliatory signs to its neighbours, albeit at a very slow pace. These signs were, however, largely an EU box-ticking exercise to ensure Serbia’s progress towards Brussels then a genuine change of heart.
Now, the worry is that with a progressive but former radical president like Mr Nikolic, Serbia is once again about to wallow in nationalism and cool the relationship with the EU.
Nationalism in Serbia remains, of course, the elephant in the room, who becomes more restless and more difficult to ignore in times of economic crisis.
“Change” is often a potent political message – just ask Obama – but what type of change Serbia has voted for remains far from clear.
This is a new adventure, a fresh start for the Serbs, but also a gamble for the entire Balkans.
The Serbian paramilitary who became a key prosecution witness at his former comrades’ trial for war crimes in Kosovo says he had to speak out about the brutal massacres his unit committed.