Update No: 115 - (22/12/06)
Serbia is facing a profound test in the New Year, whether it
is becoming truly democratic or not. There are hopeful signs that it is - but
with an abundance of problems as always.
Electoral impasse likely
Weeks before parliamentary elections in Serbia, set for January 21st, only three
parties are sure to pass the five per cent threshold and the polls are likely to
produce political deadlock which would make it difficult for any party to form a
government. According to the latest survey, commissioned by the US-based
International Republican Institute, the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party
(SRS), currently the biggest single group in parliament, was expected to come
out on top again, with 32 per cent of votes, with a possible stretch to 37 per
President Boris Tadic's Democratic Party (DS) is second with 23.7 per cent,
followed by Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS)
with 16.5 per cent.
According to the survey, the Democratic Party could at best get 28 per cent and
Kostunica and his coalition with two minor parties 22 per cent, which would give
them a narrow margin to form a government. But the problem is that Kostunica is
already running as a candidate for prime minister and is conditioning
participation in any coalition with retaining the post. The democrats, on the
other hand, insist that prime minister should be nominated by the party which
gets more votes.
Dragoljub Zarkovic, commentator for the influential daily Politika, said it
might take months of political wrangling before the new governing coalition was
Tadic's democrats and DSS are arch-rivals in the so-called "democratic
bloc" and there are strong animosities towards each other in both parties'
ranks. The Radicals, whose leader Vojislav Seselj is standing trial before the
Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has
been for years the strongest single party, but are unlikely to come to power
because no parties of the "democratic bloc" want to enter a coalition
Apart from the three leading parties, everything else is up in the air and a
real battle is being fought at the bottom of electoral list for the five per
cent census. The best chance is given to former president Slobodan Milosevic's
Socialist Party of Serbia which currently stands at 4.97 per cent in the survey.
Milosevic was also indicted for war crimes by the ICTY and died in his jail cell
last March. The party elected new leader Ivica Dacic last month and is likely to
pass the threshold, if it avoids a split in the internal power struggle
following Dacic's election, analysts said.
The other two parties close to passing the census are the G-17 Plus, led by
Mladjan Dinkic, who was a finance minister in Kostunica's government until he
resigned in October, and former vice-premier Cedomir Jovanovic Liberal
Democratic Party (LDP), with 4.7 and 4.5 per cent in the survey respectively.
But analysts say neither party is sure to pass the threshold, because they have
already taken all they could from the "democratic bloc".
The thinning out of the smaller parties
The expected election results would obliterate from the political scene a host
of small parties that formed the first democratic government after toppling
Milosevic from power in October 2000. Most notably, the Serbian Renewal Movement
of foreign minister Vuk Draskovic, standing in the survey at three per cent, has
already been written off by political analysts.
The main battle will be fought in the coming weeks between G-17 Plus and LDP,
who more or less appeal to the same electorate, predominantly young and business
oriented people. Jovanovic and his coalition of small parties are openly
advocating independence for southern Kosovo province, demanded by majority
ethnic Albanians. The idea is a blasphemy for all other parties and Serbian
public in general and it remains to be seen how it would ultimately affect LDP
"Those who fail to pass the five per cent census this time, will forever
disappear from the political scene and will be absorbed by other parties,"
Balkan nations sign expanded free trade
There is a very positive project that Serbia can offer the Balkans unfolding
right now, a prop to the nationalist Kostunica's electoral appeal, that subtly
transcends nationalism. Balkan leaders signed an expanded free trade agreement
on December 19th that aims to help nations hoping to join the European Union
reform their economies.
The pact, which currently groups Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia and Macedonia and is
known as the Central European Free Trade Agreement, or CEFTA, will be expanded
to include Albania, Bosnia, Moldova, Serbia, Montenegro and Serbia's U.N.
administered province of Kosovo.
The EU has urged southeast European countries to sign the deal as a way of
boosting business, increasing exports and attracting foreign investment.
After signing the agreement at a meeting in Bucharest, EU Expansion Commissioner
Ollie Rehn described the pact as a "very nice Christmas present" and
said it demonstrated Balkan countries' cooperation with the EU.
Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said it showed Serbia was a step
closer to EU membership. The deal would also "help harmonize trade, make it
more transparent," he said. He hoped the agreement would spur Serbia's
economic growth, estimated at over six percent this year.
CEFTA was set up in the early 1990s by Poland, Hungary, Slovenia, Slovakia and
the Czech Republic as they prepared for EU membership, as a tool to liberalize
trade and promote economic reform ahead of EU membership. The five left the pact
in 2004 after they became EU members, and Romania and Bulgaria will also leave
CEFTA when they join the EU in January.
The new agreement is expected to become effective by May 2007 after ratification
by member states.
Serbia, Russia condemn Iran for Holocaust denial conference
Serbia and Russia on November 13th joined international calls condemning a
gathering of Holocaust deniers hosted and sponsored by the Iranian government in
Serbia called the conference a "damaging and pseudo-scientific" event.
The Balkan country's Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the two-day
conference that began Tuesday in Tehran is an "attempt to deny undeniable
facts about the tragedy of the Jewish people during World War II."
Participants at the gathering, supported by Iran's President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad, have questioned the Holocaust's death toll of 6 million or if it
took place at all.
Serbia's government considers the gathering a "damaging and
pseudo-scientific manifestation that cannot contribute to dialogue between
cultures and religions," it said.
During the Nazi occupation of Serbia and other parts of the then Yugoslav
Kingdom, tens of thousands of Jews died. Less than half of Serbia's
30,000-strong Jewish community before World War II survived the Holocaust. Many
later moved to Israel or to the West.
Meanwhile, Russia's Foreign Ministry on Wednesday criticized Iran for hosting a
conference of Holocaust deniers, saying Moscow opposed "the concealment of
the truth about the monstrous crimes of the Nazis."
In a statement posted on the ministry's Web site, spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said
Russia had condemned Tehran and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the past for
threatening Israel and denying the systematic killing of 6 million Jews by the
Nazis during World War II.
Russia opposes "the distortion of historic events, the concealment of the
truth about the monstrous crimes of the Nazis, and revision of results of
humanity's most difficult struggle against Nazism," he said. "Russia
shares the determination of the UN general assembly not to allow the denial of
the Holocaust. "Russia has itself had a troubled history with
anti-Semitism. Some scholars estimate that as many as 2 million Jews from the
Soviet Union died in the Holocaust following the Nazi invasion of the country in
World War II. Russian Jewish leaders also condemned the conference. Authorities
"should unambiguously state their rejection of such issues," Borukh
Gorin of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Russia, was quoted by Interfax
as saying. He also asked whether "an Iran headed by a maniac with an atomic
bomb is advantageous or safe?" The two-day conference in Iran sparked
widespread and angry condemnation in Israel and across Europe, where many
countries have made it a crime to publicly deny that the Holocaust happened.