On Sunday May 6th, Serbs went to the polls to not only vote in a contested presidential election but also for parliament. The opposition party, the Serbian Progressive Party which was recently criticized for, ironically unlike its namesake, being "far right" did not win the election after all, despite winning the most number of seats in terms of a single party.
Instead, Serbia's Democratic Party and the Socialist Party formed a coalition, one which would be more EU-friendly. The two parties’ coalition in parliament will have 111 seats – enough to rule but by only a slim margin, and may cause difficulties for the coalition in the near future.
The presidential election will go into a second round. According to the Serbian-based Centre for Free Elections and Democracy, the incumbent president, Boris Tadic, won at least 26 per cent of the vote. Many criticized his opponent, Tomislav Nikolic for swaying to wherever “the wind blows” as a young resident of Belgrade put it recently to me. The Democratic Party and the Socialists have been on good terms since 2008 and offered their support to Tadic. He is expected to win in the run-off election on May 20th 2012.
Serbia is also criticized for not having come to terms with its past. May 9th was the 62nd anniversary of the Schuman Declaration, putting the idea of reconciliation and coming to terms with the past in everybody's minds. This also brought up the sooner-than-later possibility of Serbia’s membership to the EU as a topic to be discussed as early as next year.
But will the focus on EU membership for Serbia have any effect on the attitudes of Serbs? One of my sources from Belgrade wrote in reference to the elections, “We just don't support any of those choices given there.” The best thing the West can do is to “help Serbia [through] more investments, which can help suppress monopolies. Although that is not the best solution, with this kind of politics and political leaders Serbia has now, nothing else seems to do anything good for [the] Serbian people.” Dragan Stojkovic, an unemployed citizen, who recently lost his job was quoted in the Wall street Journal as saying he would vote for Tadic because of prospective EU membership. This would also imply further Western economic investment into Serbia’s economy.
However, investments and more money is not the only answer. Jelena Petrovic, a PhD candidate in the War Studies Department of King’s College London, wrote in her essay (which won the St. Gallen’s Wings of Excellence Award at the annual St. Gallen’s Symposium in Switzerland) about the increase of nationalist sentiments among the youth in the Western Balkans. Stating that “internationals” have “missed the obvious – the need to invest in [the] future at least as much as in presence.” She identified several factors as “weak links” in the chain contributing to this increase. They are the lack of the familial unit’s proactive involvement, the low quality of the educational system, the lack of objectivity in the media, and the “political elites’” use of “historical revisionism” to win seats in their respective parliaments. In other words – more money is not the only solution.
In her discussion, Petrovic stressed that her observations pertain to the Western Balkans and not just Serbia. Her recommendations in her paper “Rising Nationalism…” were that the “international community” and the Western Balkans adopt a “medium to long term approach” as well as further cooperation between the international community and the region on projects such as a collaboration on writing “joint history textbook,” as well as youth exchanges.
The need for further improvement in media and education is definitely needed – not only according to Petrovic’s recommendations but also according to some of my friends in the region. One recently explained to me that it is not just about the younger generation, however. This distrust in the media and of politics and feeling of being “exploited by others” and the paranoia of the West “resulted in big problems for our people and poor standard[s]. So we don't trust anyone or think any knowledge is objective truth.”
The question that remains to be answered is whether change will occur – and how EU accession would help or attempt to “solve” Serbia’s internal problems. For now, it is up to Serbia. The decision is in their hands with the second run-off election less than less than nine days away
Maia Lazar is a student at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland, and an editorial intern with New Eastern Europe.