2008-03-10

Odlazak u noć

Although Politika ran a headline on Friday announcing "the government is stable until Monday," in fact it gave up the ghost on Saturday. Today the government will request the president to schedule parliamentary elections for 11 May. And not a moment too soon: as an old graffito said about Communism, it was "not dead, it just smelled that way." To review the initiatives of prime minister Koštunica since the beginning of the year, he:
  • failed in an attempt to undermine his coalition's candidate in the first round of presidential elections
  • failed in an attempt to sabotage the second round of presidential elections through a silent boycott
  • used the Kosovo conflict as cover to sell off large parts of the domestic energy industry to foreign companies for a fraction of their value in a non-competitive process
  • engaged a media and parliamentary campaign to shift the country from near-candidate status for the EU to enemy of the EU
  • revived the mobilisation techniques of the late 1980s to provoke large-scale violence which included looting, arson and at least one unnecessary death
  • failed in an effort to preserve his rule indefinitely by forcing a state of emergency
  • failed in an effort to coordinate a silent coup with his allies in the Serbian Radical Party
It was probably the failure of this last effort that provoked Mr Koštunica's abrupt resignation. In contrast with every other party in Serbian politics, SRS believes that it can win an election and does not need to make deals with Koštunica. Koštunica knows that his party has poor chances in any election, but knows that he is incapable of governing as well.

Is the resignation of the government a crisis? No, it has needed to go for a while already, and if Mr Koštunica had any sense he would have resigned immediately after the presidential election. The new elections, however, do mean some uncertainty. There are a couple of possible positive outcomes, which would include:
  • the orientation of the majority of citizens as expressed in the presidential elections could be confirmed
  • Koštunica could be marginalised from political life and a government formed without his party, which at this point will be lucky to make it into the parliament at all
These are, of course, not the only possible outcomes. It is also possible that:
  • a populist wave brings SRS to power
  • Koštunica could finally go the direction he has been hinting for years, from his grey-black coalition with SRS, and complete the restoration of the Milošević regime
This is probably the outcome on which Koštunica is gambling. In doing so, he is assuming that SRS needs his support, and this is probably a bad assumption.

In the long term, Koštunica and his allies have no political future. Serbia is not a political scene in which several options are competing but a polarised society, as it has been for two decades. There are only two political options. The effort of politicians like Koštunica to stake out a "middle ground" between the two is hopeless from the start. One of these options is going to have to win. I am not willing to predict just yet which one it is likely to be.

8 comments:

Aleksandar said...

At least it will be more legitimate than this government. Even though Tadic is saying "Kosovo and EU" it's pretty clear that "not giving up on KOsovo" can be very very loosley interpreted by DS, and that there's a strong enough uncompromisingly pro-EU core in DS. Sutanovac comes to mind here. Djelic...

I think the most important thing is that this government did not continue running the country. When there is such a fundamental polarization, elections really are the only way out. I think election cycles are good for a new democarcy. Serbs are learning democracy, and I think the high turnout during the presidental elections showed that. I'm cautiosly optimistic.Ppeolpe have realized what effect who governs them can have on them and also that they in fact have power to influence that.

Eric Gordy said...

One possibility may be that since DSS seems likely to push a coalition with SRS, this could mean the disappearance of the party. This is an area where the leadership of DSS parts ways with the party's supporters -- at least half of the DSS voters would not tolerate an aliiance with SRS. If they vote accordingly, this could mean that DSS does not make it into the parliament at all. Then the question is open as to whether SRS can get enough support to form a government on its own or with its "historical" allies.

dejan said...

I don't really see what can change after the new elections. Sure, DSS will be out of the picture (because DS won't have them and SRS won't let them have any important ministries), but DS, led by Tadić has drifted so far right that the only difference between them and DSS is in their rhetoric.

I'd like to review what DS did in the last year months:
1) They tried their hardest to prevent SRS+DSS from taking power and made every compromised they were asked to in order to be in the government. The government failed at the first obstacle and we are back to square 1.
2) Their Minister of Foreign Affairs seriously infringed Serbia's relationship with world's major countries. Let's not forget that BOTH DS and G17+ controlled country's foreign policy as much as DSS.
3) They reversed our economy a year back, and god knows how much this stability of dinar is costing us!
4) They allowed for an atmosphere in which it is OK to burn ambassies (Tadić still didn't say that police did a bad job or had faulty instructions), in which it is OK to boycott Albanian shops (Tadić was not the one to go there, and first DS reaction came 2 weeks after the event started), in which it is OK to call people traitors and such (NOBODY in DS or G17+ stood in defense of Nataša Kandić or such).

That's the politics that people voted for in the presidential elections.

Well, except for those people which Tadić is absolutely disregarding - people like me who voted for Tadić as a lesser evil. Never again! (Yeah, that's what I always say)

Eric Gordy said...

Oh, darn it, Dejan, I wish you weren't right. But you are.

Aleksandar said...

Can we hope that, freed from DSS, some of the more uncompromisingly pro-European forces within DS will take charge, assuming a DS+minorities+LDP government?

Can we hope the the kingmaking position of DSS will go to LDP in the so-called democratic block?

If it comes to a DSS+SRS government it will be a true test of Serbian democracy. Sooner or later that government, due to the economic (and other) crisis which will no doubt be provoked by an ideology not rooted in reality, will have to fall. What it resorts to in order remain in power as its mandate is about to expire will be that test. If it results in elections then great. If it results in another October 5th... Well what can you do, we are clearly slow learners. But hey, it took the French, what, 5 republics to get it right...?

Eric Gordy said...

That second possibility, I don't know. I have heard a lot of people saying that Serbia "needs" the Radicals to come to power so as to get it out of its system. Is it enough to say that aversion therapy doesnt seem to work for most things (except for producing surrealist film directors)? Be that is it may, it could happen that we find out soon.

Then there is the question of whether DS would behave like a democratic party if it were not constrained by Kostunica. As much as it would be nice to believe that, they just do not seem to be able to show that capacity. Some of the people who could have led an effort like that within the party are out (Z Zivkovic, maybe even C Jovanovic?), and of the people who are in, there are only a few (Sutanovac comes to mind) who seem to offer much of anything. I would love to be proven wrong on this, though.

Dejan said...

DS is probably hoping for DS + G17 + minorities government. This is especially possible if parties like Čanak's LSV join them beforehand, and it leaves LDP out of the picture.

Eric, you are probably right about DS's democratic potential. I don't think that really matters. If they manage to form a burden-free (a proper majority without likes of Koštunica) government after the elections, at least they'll get us back on tracks. EU integration process will take care of the rest.

Aleksandar said...

1) EU integration - the process of integrating into the supranational systems and relationships of the European Union.

2)EUization - the process of adopting European norms/legislation/bureaucratic practices at the domestic level.

3)Europeanization - a process of normative social change from broadly speaking conservative to broeadly speaking liberal values.

DS wants #1, is willing to do #2 and is quiet or ambivalent about #3. Sadly, Serbia seems to need #3 the most. Instead of tolerating 1 and 2 and keeping quiet about 3, Djindjic embraced Europeanization, in the normative sense, and urged a paradigm shift from aggressive nationalism to a new set of values. This is where the key to Serbia's future lies. Sadly no one combining the credibility, courage, and gravitas needed to carry this message forward exists right now. 5 years after his death, it is clear why Djindjic's message was so important for real change to happen in Serbia.

So yeah... the results of these elections may help us muddle through #1 and #2 a little more quickly... but that sense of a new, hopeful beginning, of rebuilding a society on a fresh foundation, the lesson-learning brought on by facing head-on the series of spectacular failures in recent Serbian history... don't count on it.