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The International Writers Magazine:Serbian Elections

A Crossroads in Serbia
Brian Rogers

In downtown Belgrade the sun streams sideways across 5,000 faces. All eyes are on an orator who’s words I do not understand in a literal sense, but who’s 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 message.

He pauses to ringing applause after an emphatically spoken thought, and to my left, Jasna murmers something.
"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 Ivan’s 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, Serbia’s 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 upon this.

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 SDP’s 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 position."

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 President’s 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 Russia’s anthem, solemnly led by Putin’s 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 Russia’s dismay. And today, Russia has sent a guy all the way from Moscow to let the likely electoral victors know that Putin’s 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 Serbia’s 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
Tadic 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

Serbian Elections
Jack Shenker

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