International Writers Magazine:Serbian
Crossroads in Serbia
downtown Belgrade the sun streams sideways across 5,000 faces. All
eyes are on an orator whos words I do not understand in a
literal sense, but whos meaning I perceive innately. He speaks
forcefully, almost aggressively, repeatedly utilizing a nationalist
call and response cheer to keep the crowd focused on his take home
He pauses to ringing
applause after an emphatically spoken thought, and to my left, Jasna
"Me too," whispers Ivan, pointing to his arm.
"I was just saying how crazy this whole thing is," Jasna says,
filling me in. "This man up there is a fool, but look at all these
people cheering him on. It gives me goosebumps."
I look down and its true, the hair on Jasna and Ivans arms is
standing straight up, and its not because they are excited or nervous;
its because they are scared about what might happen to their country.
Serbia was about to have a national parliamentary election which would
determine the political course of the near future in a country that
stands at a crossroads between conservative nationalism and a westward
looking movement that hopes to align with Europe.
We have been walking aimlessly through Belgrade, Serbias pleasantly
bustling capital, where a mixture of bombed out buildings, picturesque
parks, quaint cafes, and Soviet cars provide ample eye candy for the
visitor. After some pizza by the slice, we turned a corner and came
The rally is for the Serbian Democratic Party, the largest conservative
party in Serbia (not to be confused with the "Democratic Party,"
a center-left party that it spawned from) and a recent proponent of
the idea that Kosovo should not be allowed its independence. Essentially,
the position reflects the SDPs bet that they can stay in power
if they align themselves with Russia and not the West.
"The funny thing is," Jasna quipped with irony, "the
SDP was in favor of Kosovo independence until recently when the polls
showed that they were going to lose the election. It looked like the
radical right wing was running away with it, so they changed up their
Another indecipherable voice boomed over the PA but my ears caught ahold
of a familiar word: Putin. It just so happened that one of the Russian
Presidents secretaries was on hand, and had brought words of inspiration
to be read to the crowd from Vladimir himself. Pretty impressive for
a little landlocked country in the middle of Eastern Europe. Or is it?
Though the average American would be hard pressed to find Serbia on
a map, thanks to the conflict over Kosovar independence it has been
a regular topic of discussion on the news in the U.S. over the past
ten years, and the lingering conflict continues to make it a symbolic
focus in the power play of East-West politics.
The five thousand in attendance accompany the PA for a rousing rendition
of the national anthem of Serbia followed by Russias anthem, solemnly
led by Putins deputy on stage. Russia, once the undisputed political
and cultural center of this region, is currently being upstaged by the
EU, which has steadily advanced into the former Soviet Bloc and brought
its western cultural tendencies with it. The Balkans, though not yet
a part of the EU, are slowly being surrounded by member states and courted
by the EU much to Russias dismay. And today, Russia has sent a
guy all the way from Moscow to let the likely electoral victors know
that Putins government will be glad to support them as long at
they steer clear of the EU.
The sun has almost set, and the throngs look tired. My hosts, Jasna
and Ivan, look tired as well, or at least tired of subjecting themselves
to right-wing political blather just for my enjoyment. Still in awe
of the spectacle of the event, its implications spawn a million questions
in my head. Was there enough nationalist sentiment to push Serbia back
toward Russia and the Kosovo conflict again? How would the EU react?
We return to our wandering through Belgrade, but we are quiet and quickly
forge a path toward home. They, and I, are worried about what will happen,
not just because of what Serbians will have to endure, but because of
its implications as to Serbias outlook on the ever more connected
world. Jasna and Ivan seem tired of their home, tired of the same old
arguments about Kosovo and the nation, tired of feeling like a rag doll
being tugged at by two squabbling toddlers. For me, perhaps the eye-opening
day has not been as unfamiliar as it seemed. Maybe it hit a little too
close to home; the politics of fear, masquerading as patriotism, was
nothing new to me, but to see it afresh and thriving on the other side
of the world was enough to take the wind out of my sails.
© Brian Rogers June 2008
Election Results: May 2008
Bloc: 102 Seats
Radicals: 77 Seats
Kostunica __ 30 Seats
Socialist 20 Seats
Liberal D 14 Seats
*As of June 6th 2008 there is still no actual government formed