Serbia’s Ultranationalists: We will win the election! (Or: How Did Serbia Get Here? Answer: Kosovo)

Either as an exercise of grandstanding or astute premonition, Serbia’s ultra-nationalists expressed their confidence that Tomislav Nikolic of the Serbian Radical Party will win this month’s presidential elections against the more “moderate” Boris Tadic. part of the Serbian Radical Party’s platform, Nikolic promises to withdraw from EU integration if the EU recognizes Kosovo independence, a “tough” response when Kosovo declares independence, and unify with Russia.

I was going to remark that the Party should think about changing its name to something less ominous sounding — maybe the Darth Vader Party — but the fact is that the Serbian Radical Party is, well, radical. 

But unlike other countries, where “radical” parties are outside the mainstream of politics, Tomislav Nikolic — a former ally of Slobodan Milosovic — and his Party are in Serbia’s mainstream.  In fact, a poll suggests that Nikolic will receive a significant portion of the votes, which will ultimately force a run-off between him and Tadic.

How did this happen?  Did Serbia not learn from the failed policies of its most recent famed ultra-nationalist leader, Slobodan Milosovic?  How did an ultra-nationalist platform again come to shape and define Serbia’s political scene? 

One word:  Kosovo.   

Instead of moving forward, Serbia’s politicians made Kosovo their central platform — the end all, be all.  Serbia’s politicians, even the ones labeled as “moderates,” fell back to what was comfortable for them:  drumming up age old, tried and true nationalist stances.  The paradigm was thus set. 

And whether a politician was “moderate” or “ultra-nationalist,” Serbia’s politicians across the board shared the same view on the Kosovo issue:  no independence.  On its face, the difference rested in their response to Kosovo ultimately declaring independence.  However, it soon became crystal clear that the difference — if there was any — was only a matter of a few degrees.

Serbia’s ultranationalists on Thursday expressed confidence that their candidate will triumph in this month’s presidential election, and accused the government of plans to rig the vote.  The Serbian Radical Party, which advocates unification with Russia and a tough response to any declaration of independence by the southern Serbian province of Kosovo, said public support for their leader, Tomislav Nikolic, was “overwhelming.”

“We have warned the regime not to play with this (election); we will tolerate no fraud,” said Aleksandar Vucic, the party’s general secretary.  The vote pits Nikolic, who was an ally of late autocratic leader Slobodan Milosevic, against Serbia’s incumbent president, pro-Western Democratic Party leader Boris Tadic.

The election is considered crucial for Serbia as it stands to choose whether to press on with pro-Western integration or return to the nationalist past of the Milosevic era, when the country faced international sanctions for fomenting the Balkan wars of the 1990s.
A poll published in the Blic daily on Thursday predicted that Nikolic will win the most votes in the first round of balloting, but that Tadic will eventually garner more in the Feb. 3 runoff. The survey was conducted by the CESID election monitoring group last month. No margin of error or methodology was given.

Vucic alleged that Tadic was planning to declare victory «even before the ballots are counted.» He would not say what information his conclusion was based on. There was no immediate reaction from Tadic. The outcome of the vote is likely to determine how Serbia will respond to Kosovo’s possible independence. Both Tadic and Nikolic have vowed not to accept it, but Tadic, unlike his opponent, supports closer ties with the European Union regardless of Kosovo’s status.

Serbian analysts have warned that Western backing for Kosovo Albanians was playing into the hands of Nikolic and other nationalists before the elections. Hard-liners in Serbia already have said Serbia should drop its bid to become an EU member if the bloc agrees to Kosovo independence. Pro-EU Tadic said Thursday that such policies would present “a shot in our own legs.”  He said unspecified politicians in Serbia were seeking to impose “self-isolation” over Kosovo. 

“That would be terrible,” Tadic warned. “We must create conditions for a better life, and that is possible only if Serbia keeps opening up, not if it isolates itself.”

The quoted article was published by PR-Inside and can be found here.


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