The time of cohabitation

Author: Zarko Korac
Uploaded: Tuesday, 10 July, 2012

Thoughtful comment on the implications of Tomislav Nikolic's victory in Serbia's presidential elections by a leading figure in the country's progressive and critical opposition for more than a decade

 In one of his popular morning shows on radio Studio B, Dusan Radovic once said ‘If you don’t have a job, have a child – a bigger problem solves the smaller one’! It looks like the voters in the presidential election followed his advice; they chose the ‘bigger evil’, as a method of solving the huge economic and social problems in their country.
 
Of course, the failure of Tadic in the elections has several causes. It is not only an act of ‘punishment’ of the Democratic Party, which whacked on the head its most prominent representative and the man who, both formally and in real terms, ruled over it. The mounting dissatisfaction with the economic failure, unemployment and corruption, was naturally focused on the character who was carefully groomed as the ‘new and pretty face’ of the Democratic Party during the last nine years. In countries where both real and imaginary successes of a party are being personalized to the fullest extent, the act of punishment is also personalized. This is a lesson that Boris Tadic will have to remember.
 
However, one of the biggest causes of Tadic’s failure in the presidential elections is the uncertainty of a large number of voters about the true path Serbia should be taking as a country. Paradoxically, Tadic was the one who deepened this dilemma. Using nationalistic platitudes whenever he felt his popularity threatened, he seriously relativized the need for true changes within Serbian society. I could give many clear examples that prove this. An essay could be written about the wanderings of Serbia in foreign policy.
 
By personally selecting a minister of foreign affairs – a young man with no work or political experience - Tadic proved that he not only wanted to be the true creator of this policy, but that he also wanted to avoid accusations that his policy was vague or unclear. Hiding behind Jeremic, Tadic allowed foreign policy to be defined by the nonsensical statement about its ‘four pillars’ – all this in a country which is already lagging in EU integrations. This sent a message to the citizens – that EU integrations are not really a priority, that there is an alternative in politics, and that the main priority of foreign policy is ‘preventing the recognition of Kosovo as a state’. Much energy and time was wasted on this concept.
 
This was the pattern which finally brought Nikolic to the position of President of Serbia. The average voter did not perceive the politics of the Democratic Party as clearly pro-European and reformist, but only as one of several politics, which do not differ much in their fundamental premises. The politics of DS is not defined as a clear alternative to the politics of Tomislav Nikolic, or even, until recently, Kostunica, but only as a variation of the same or similar politics. Only in the final days of the electoral campaign did the Democratic Party attempt to take a clearer stance as a reformist party. However, the damage was already done. The voters did not have the impression that by choosing Nikolic, they were choosing a truly different politics, but more of an alternative to the existing one. In effect, DS itself reduced the importance of the electoral decision, by constantly adjusting to the electorate. And in this situation, Nikolic’s biography and his political wanderings proved not important enough to the voters.
 
A part of the ‘liberal intelligentsia’ and certain public figures joined this political confusion about the true consequences of presidential elections. Justifiably unsatisfied with the current tempo of democratic change in Serbia, they continued to advocate the standpoint that ‘any electoral change’ is good, and did so with increasing aggressiveness. Following the theory of the well-known American developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst Erik Erikson about ‘grumpiness’ as the most primitive phase of the desire to change, they knew what they did not want, but not much about what could be achieved under given circumstances. I hardly believe that the overjoyed face of the former dean of the Belgrade Law Faculty, always present at the ‘expert’ meetings defending Karadzic, Mladic and Seselj, and smiling behind Nikolic on election night, convinced them of the opposite. Their narcissism will certainly shield them from facing reality, that they will be forced to look every day at a president who volunteered in Seselj’s paramilitary forces, and who probably purchased his university diploma. They are doubtless happy, for a partial change of government has indeed transpired. Although their public influence is rather limited, it is indicative of a state of mind, which we were well acquainted with, when practically the same people wrote (and I mean literally) about the ‘dictatorship’ of Zoran Djindjic, and the need to ‘stop’ him, and all that during the times when he was waging a difficult battle with the politics symbolized and led by Vojislav Kostunica. It is not a coincidence that Vojislav Kostunica supported Nikolic, and that he was the first to congratulate him on his victory, which he called ‘the beginning of change’ in Serbia.
 
By electing Tomislav Nikolic as president, Serbia has entered a period of instability. The extent of this instability is yet to be seen. One thing is certain, the period of cohabitation has begun in Serbia for the third time. The experiences with previous cohabitations are very negative, even traumatic.
 
The first period of cohabitation started in January 2001, with the appointment of Zoran Djindjic as Prime Minister of Serbia. Even if the political, not personal, conflict with Kostunica, who was President of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia at the time, remained hidden from the eyes of the public at the very beginning, it exploded with the extradition of Milosevic to the Hague Tribunal, when Kostunica accused the Serbian government of ‘high treason’. What kind of cohabitation was that? A merciless political war began, a war which ended in the tragic assassination of Zoran Djindjic. It proved that the cohabitation of two completely opposite political options is not only impossible, but that Milosevic’s descendants are ready to commit a political assassination to stop democratic changes in Serbia. 
 
The second cohabitation was the government coalition DS – DSS (Democratic Party of Serbia), which lasted for one year. The Prime Minister was Kostunica, and the President was Boris Tadic. This cohabitation symbolically ended with setting fire to the mosque and several embassies in Belgrade, after the protest organized because of the proclamation of Kosovo’s independence. Even a political layman could see that not only was the violence partially orchestrated by the government, but that the police stood by and allowed the US embassy to be set on fire. DS was faced with a simple dilemma – either to enter into an open conflict with the West, or to force early elections, which Kostunica and his political allies narrowly lost. The irony lies in the fact that the practically unreformed Socialist Party of Serbia was the one that enabled Tadic to form the government.
 
Thus the previous two cohabitation governments in Serbia proved to be complete failures. This happened because they were not cohabitations of different political options working within a consensus about the most basic direction the country is taking, but instead cohabitations of political options which had completely opposite ideas regarding this direction. There is no cohabitation when this basic agreement is lacking. This is why cohabitation was possible in Croatia, even on three occasions, where presidents belonged to one party and prime ministers to another – because the consensus about EU integration of the country had been reached.
 
The first test of the possibility of cohabitation will be the formation of the government. If Nikolic stands by his statement that his party colleague Jorgovanka Tabakovic will be prime minister, then the first days of his presidential mandate will be marked by a severe political crisis. Of course, there is a possibility that he will try, encouraged by the results of the presidential elections, to force early elections by obstructing the creation of the government. Some form of the Greek scenario, with similarly catastrophic consequences. However, if the man who, just a few years ago, announced that he would like ‘Serbia to become a Russian province’, said during the electoral night that his first visits will be ‘to Germany and the US’, then maybe we can expect that he has begun to understand the true relationships in the world, and the political reality of the country he is living in.
 
The man who promised he would sell his apartment, so that he would not have to live on Zoran Djinjdic Boulevard, has got the opportunity to represent Serbia in the country and aboard. He has gone a long way from being Seselj’s deputy. But an even longer road is before him. The faster he understands that the support of Serbian citizens is only conditional, the better are the chances that Serbia will exit the inevitable political crisis relatively safely.
 
But those who believe that electing this man to be president of Serbia will be an act without consequences on the fragile relations in the region and the position of Serbia in the world are greatly mistaken. Serbia once again showed that only an uncritical attitude towards the recent past could bring into power a man who praised Ratko Mladic and volunteered to fight in the war. The true question for Serbia is not how this man was elected, but how was it possible for him to enter the second round of presidential elections? When it answers this question clearly, Serbia will begin its true democratic development.
 
Translated by Bojana Obradovic Pešcanik.net, 22 May 2012
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