Like the scene in the Wizard of Oz where Dorothy is told to "behold the Great Wizard!" and to "ignore the man behind the curtain" (who is pulling the levers to create the Great Wizard's false image), today's Serbian election headlines in the West proclaim an ultimate triumph for Tadic's "pro-EU, pro-Western" forces in Serbia": "Pro-EU alliance wins Serbia election", "Serbia's Tadic claims victory for pro-EU camp", and "Pro-EU Forces Win in Serbia"
These headlines sound like the issue is resolved, the shower of EU carrots worked, back to business now because "Serbia is all settled, the Balkans are stabilized and Serbia now has a pro-EU government". Might be a lot easier if it were true, but this is not the case in Serbia, not by a long shot. In fact, the political war to form a new government in Serbia hasn't even begun yet, and by all indications, it could result in some a very unexpected twists, turns or reversals -- or it could all collapse in failure and require another return to the ballot box for Serbian voters.
Yes, it's true that Serbian elections results yesterday provided "a win" for the Tadic pro-EU coalition forces as they took home 38.75% of the vote and 102 seats in the Parliament. The Nikolic Radicals were second with 29.2% of the vote & received 77 seats in the Parliament*. Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia was a distant third, and won only 11.34% and 30 seats in the Parliament.
But Serbia's Parliamentary election is not "a winner take all" game -- at least not unless you win by more than 50% of the vote and the Tadic coalition didn't do that -- they only got a little less than 39%. According to the Serbian Constitution, a coalition of at least 126 seats out of 250 seats in Serbia's Parliament is absolutely necessary in order to form a new government . Tadic forces right now have, neither enough seats (104) on their own to accomplish that alone, nor do they appear to have enough in the way of "friends and allies" anymore in other Serbian political parties to make that happen. Tadic needs at least 22 more seats in the Parliament in order to form a government and there is a huge question as to where he can possibly pick up those seats.
Tadic's signature on the SAA document without the agreement of the Parliament drove away the usual king-maker party, Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia, and it is highly doubtful that they are ever coming back to the Tadic coalition. In fact, it was Tadic's signature on that SAA document that led to Kostunica's picking up his toys & going home in the first place, resulting in the dissolution of the last government only a few months after Tadic's February's election "win" and requiring this new election.
But here is where the Serbian election results could get really dicey: minority parties could ultimately prove to be the real "winners" of this political war to establish a government, and Tadic & Company could get left completely out in the cold.
An alliance between Nikolic's Radical Party and Kostunica's Democrats (not unlikely) would give them a combined 107 seats in the Parliament, three more than Tadic has now. If these two in turn, ally with the Socialists (just possible) who won 20 seats in the Parliament, they are over the top at 127 seats in the Parliament, and the Nikolic/Kostunica/& Socialist Alliance could be the real winners of this election in being able to form a government -- leaving the Tadic coalition marginalized and screaming "It's not fair!" to anyone who will listen. But according to the Serbian Constitution, this would be completely "fair", and no less "democratic" than our own US electoral college system -- come to think of it, Serbia's is actually more "fair & democratic" because every block of voters gets a voice in the parliament until the next election. If this minority coalition scenario happens, it just could turn Boris Tadic into the "Al Gore" of Serbia (which might still be a real step up for him from the "Judas" nickname he has been wearing lately after the SAA signature.)
The only strategy for Tadic now is to get one or more of the minority parties on his team, and that is not going to be easy.
Adding Nikolic's Radicals would put Tadic way, way over the top at 179 seats, but that's a highly improbable alliance for a hundred different reasons, not the least of which is that they are at opposite ends of the political spectrum from one another.
Adding Kostunica's thirty seats alone could also do it for Tadic (132 seats) -- but even more improbable now given the state of their relationship after Tadic not only signed the SAA, but at the same time, one of Tadic's minions publicly stabbed Kostunica in the back with an EU official.
Adding an alliance with the old Milosevic Socialists would help Tadic. (Now wouldn't that be a real irony?) But even with the Socialists (124 total seats), Tadic would still need to pick up a minuscule leftover minority party with a few seats -- who in this case are actual "minorities", Bosniak Muslims, Presevo Albanians, Vojvodina Hungarians, etc. -- to make it over the top. The real minorities love Tadic (so does Kosovo's Hashim Thaci), so those little votes are easy, but an alliance with the Socialists would damage Tadic's narcissistic image in the West and it would be a marriage of convenience sure to collapse at the first sign of trouble. Plus, the Socialists are unlikely to be willing to join into that little political orgy, whoever's bed that they might otherwise be willing to get into.
In any case, Tadic has 90 days to form a new government. My bet is that if it doesn't happen very soon, it isn't going to happen for Tadic at all. Then one of two things will happen -- either a Nikolic/Kostunica/Socialist will step in to fill the void (if they wait at all). Or it will be back to new elections and this Serbia/EU/Russia/US circus will start all over again.
Gee, aren't we glad that "Kosovo independence" stabilized the Balkans? NOT! Kosovo has been the single biggest destabilizing factor in this Serbian political free-for-all, whether directly or indirectly, and it's all because President Bush decided to follow Bill Clinton's stupid political lead --right off a Balkan cliff. And we are going to be picking up the pieces of that Kosovo Independence "crash" for a long time, as far away as Tibet and "Palestine", let alone Serbia.
Something that will not likely make an impression on the Western press is the real level of Serbian voter ambivalence in this election. Only 60% of Serbia's eligible voters even turned out to vote at this crucial moment in Serbia's history. Does this mean that they don't care? Or that they can't decide?
Well, let's see. Pretend you are a Serbian voter and you've got two main choices: 1. Vote for the party that is pro-EU and promises you "a better future", in spite of the fact that most of that EU countries supported the ripping off of 15% of your most precious territory (Kosovo), love to humiliate you every chance they get and are sending a mission to your territory without an invitation? 2. Or, vote for the party that wants to turn more toward Russia, knowing that the Russians haven't told you what "the bill" for their support is yet, and you know that the EU & US will use you as their punching bag to an even greater extent if you vote pointing East?
So what's your choice? Screw yourself or screw yourself?
It's not hard to understand the Serbian feeling that there is "no right answer, the game is rigged for you to lose so you might as well not play (vote) at all". And, every election in that last seven years for Serbia (and there have been many) has been billed by politicians & the West as as "crucial", "make or break", "East or West", "EU or isolation" "life or death". That would wear me out, too -- especially when not much changes no matter who you vote for.
Although the stakes were not as high (or were they?) I can recall a similar feeling years ago, back when I couldn't even force my hand to check the box for either "Bill Clinton" or "Bob Dole" for president -- a nasty, frustrating scenario that is likely to be repeated this November, with new players but the same Catch 22 alternatives. Luckily, no one was threatening me with economic sanctions and violence as they are with Serbian voters, whatever choice I made (or were they?).
What is very certain is that the real heat on Serbia's new government (or lack of one) is due to be turned up even higher next month:
In June, the Eulex Mission is due to be deployed to Kosovo.
In June, Kosovo's contrived, mail-order "constitution" is due to come into effect, and the US & EU will pretend to take it seriously, even if no one else in the world does.
And, this June will be the first Serbian Vidovdan without Kosovo. Vidovdan, commemorating a time when six hundred years ago Serb Christians stood up to the Islamic invasion in spite of knowing they would lose their lives against overwhelming odds, but that generation of Serbs had the guts to do it anyway because they said to themselves, "Better a grave than a slave". So what will this generation of Serbs and Serbians tell themselves on this Vidovdan, a date when so many significant events have taken place in Serbian history? That they are the ones who lost Kosovo, who don't have the guts to fight for it, and who would rather be "EU slaves than graves"? Or that they are just sick of dying & killing for Western "entertainment" value.
Once again, 2008 post-election Serbia ultimately finds itself in the same predicament that Bishop Sava so eloquently described Serbia's position in the 13th century:
“At first we were confused. The East thought that we were West while the West considered us to be East. Some of us misunderstood our place in the clash of currents so they cried that we belong to neither side and others that we belong exclusively to one side or the other. But I tell you Ireneus we are doomed by fate to be the East in the West and the West in the East, to acknowledge only heavenly Jerusalem beyond us and here on earth--no one.” —St. Sava to Irenaeus 13th Century
Must be the geography. Because few countries have been forced to fight against so many larger and more formidable powers as many times as Serbia has just for their right to exist and have a normal life -- with elections and politicians that really mean so very little to the ultimate quality of their lives, no matter how hard they try to get it right.
*Since this article was written, a more accurate election vote count has emerged and has altered the numbers slightly. Nikolic's Radicals picked up one more seat in the Parliament and the Liberal Democrats lost a seat.