Choosing between Kosovo and the EU: the Fictional Dilemma in Serbia
Present and Past
It's often overlooked in the West what the people of Serbia lived through, and the hardships they endured since the breakup of the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990's. They were manipulated and betrayed by the rule of Slobodan Milosevic and collectively punished by the international community for Milosevic's misguided role in the Croatian and Bosnian conflicts. The resulting international sanctions and isolation imposed on Serbia nearly destroyed its economy and impoverished its population to a degree that is not apparent to many outsiders. With Milosevic ousted in the October 2000 election, Serbia's citizens had expectations of a brighter future. Eight years, and countless elections later, many in Serbia feel that democracy has not done much for them. Foreign investment in Serbia is far short of what was promised, unemployment remains high, and the future remains bleak for much of its population. Squabbling and jockeying for power between the many political parties has created a political paralysis where the people see corruption and inaction as the hallmarks of the "democratic" political process. Moreover, many in Serbia see the international community as indifferent to their continued suffering. After eight years of democracy, they haven't experienced much of the expected economic benefits, but have been continuously subjected to stern lectures and demands from the EU and the US. The last straw for many Serbs was the illegal declaration of an independent Kosovo on Serbian territory, with the backing role played by the EU in its creation.
Future: May Elections 2008
The recent elections in Serbia have been publicized as being of crucial importance, not only for Serbia's future, but also for the stability of the Balkan region and beyond. It should be however understood, that for the Serbian electorate it is not simply a choice of voting "for Europe" or "for democracy" versus "siding with Russia" or "choosing isolation". In actuality, most Serbian political parties have a pro-European agenda combined with the fight for respect of international law in the Kosovo issue. There are differences in approach but most of them boil down to the same agenda, both stressing the importance of the EU & Kosovo for Serbia. The primary differences among the main political actors are that the reformers have been emphasizing the benefits of a "European future," while the radicals consider the EU's action as interference in Serbia's internal affairs and see it as brazen attempt to "buy" the Serbian electorate. If nothing else, it seems that Tadic's "pro-EU" victory (102 mandates as opposed to 78 mandates for the radicals in the Serbian Parliament) will prove beneficial for Serbia, as it emphasizes its EU potential, thus attracting more support from the EU in regards to Serbia's further development and EU integration.
The issue of Kosovo was a significant concern in the elections, and it will not likely go away any time soon. The radicals certainly played up the issue of Kosovo, yet the reformers could not afford to ignore it either. Kosovo's declaration of independence has touched a raw nerve among the Serbs, not only because of its historic and spiritual meaning central to their national identity, but because it is perceived as having been engineered by the United States and the EU. As a result, the radicals are able to make the case that the West not only broke apart the former Yugoslavia, but is also now in the process of actively dismembering Serbia. This ironically creates a sense of animosity towards the EU, while at the same time; Serbia's recent signing of the SAA has established its path to eventual membership.