Rising up and falling down

A lot of attention is going to acting SRS leader Tomislav Nikolić today for his comments last night in an interview on RTS. In his remarks he restated his position (one shared by most parties in Serbia) that independence for Kosovo would not be acceptable, but also went a step further: he declared his advocacy of "armed defense" (of what?) to prevent independence, and promised to bring SRS followers out in opposition to the president and prime minister following any agreement to independence.

In fact, there is nothing new in the statement by Mr Nikolić. Both the invitations to new wars and the threats against elected governments are longtime SRS rhetorical standbys. Sometimes, usually around election time, they are brought out among smaller circles and a little more quietly. At rally-the-supporters times, or when SRS has the security of a partner in power, they are louder and frequenter. During a couple of periods over the last couple of years, there were quiet moments, and these led to all sorts of speculation: is SRS adapting to democratic politics? are there fundamental differences between Mr Nikolić and his more bombastic predecessor? is SRS reorienting itself to become, eventually, an attractive coalition partner to some ideologically similar party which is less discredited than its previous coalition partners? Then SRS returns to its established bag of tricks and confirms what was known all along, that the answer to all those questions is no.

It might be the case that by turning up the heat, SRS is putting down the blinds. Last month, a survey by the Medium agency for Gallup raised fears when it showed SRS as the most popular political party in Serbia at 36%, potentially able to form a government, perhaps in coalition and perhaps on its own. This month's survey by the same agency shows SRS falling to 30%, and SPS from 6.3% to 4.6%, with gains by DS, DSS, NS, and G17+ (and also, interestingly, by the populist party out of Jagodina, Jedinstvena Srbija). This would leave SRS as the most popular single party, but probably out of reach of power -- but at the same time, it would show once again that there is no possibility of a government by the "democratic bloc" without one more very broad and probably fragile coalition. The question keeps coming up as to whether DSS wants to be a part of the "democratic bloc" or not.

Medium agency director Srbobran Branković (as quoted in Blic) might or might not be right in attributing the weakened position of SRS to their "return to the old image and the noticable rebellion which has occurred in democratic public opinion because of this." Or it may be that both the June and July results are blips, considering the continuing instability of the political scene, the high rate of abstention, and the fact that it is not an election season. In either case, the results would seem to confirm again that while support for SRS is certainly not rising and may be falling, the power and influence of this party continues to depend most of all on high rates of abstention and the lack of faith in "democratic" leadership. In the meantime, the statements of the acting president of the party, while they may not help SRS, are probably doing some damage to the country over which it once exercised power.

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