CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, June 22, 2004
Serb election should pave way for return of the king
BY JOHN O'SULLIVAN
BELGRADE, Serbia -- Belgrade is a city where contrasts meet -- East and West, Hapsburg and Ottoman, Turkish coffee and espresso. If Serbs are renowned in Europe as fiercely nationalistic, that is because they had to fight so many occupiers over so long a period for their independence. They won those battles -- the last of which was the Second World War in which Serbs were on the side of the allies against the Germans, though Serb communist Partisans and Serb monarchist Chetniks fought against each other at least as fiercely in order to control postwar Yugoslavia.
The communists won and, under Tito, put the national and political evolution of the country into deep freeze until Yugoslavia began to break up in the early 1990s. Serbia, led by cynical communists who sought legitimacy by embracing a hyper-nationalism that smelled of the 1930s rather than the '90s, promptly embarked on a series of wars with their post-Yugoslav neighbors to salvage a Greater Serbia from the wreckage of Titoism.
Serbia lost the second set of wars. That cynical communist par excellence, the former president of Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic, is now on trial at the Hague for war crimes. And the Serbs are attempting to come to terms with the political facts of life in modern Europe.
The first such fact is that losing wars has consequences. There will not be a Greater Serbia. Indeed, the Serbia that exists is almost certain to lose its province of Kosovo, where the Albanian majority seeks independence, when "final status" negotiations on its future get under way. Even Montenegro, its semi-reluctant partner in the rump federal state of Yugoslavia, may well break away.
It already uses a different currency -- the euro. In the circumstances, the question for Serbs, formulated by a shrewd observer of Serbian politics, Damjan de Krnovic-Miskowic is a simple one: Will Serbs seek to pursue their interests or their resentments?
The answer will be provided next Sunday when they go to the polls in the runoff election for the presidency of Serbia. In this contest the two remaining candidates are Boris Tadic of the Democratic Party, who won 27 percent in the first round, and Tomislav Nikolic of the Radicals, who chalked up 30 percent. Tadic is nonetheless a narrow favorite since he is backed by the present governing parties, by most of the smaller parties whose candidates have been eliminated, and in coded diplomatic language by the European Union. What does that signify?
To oversimplify, Tadic, a moderate who in Western Europe would probably be a Christian Democrat, represents the interests of Serbia; Nikolic, a nationalist whose former party leader is on trial at the Hague like Milosevic, represents her resentments. On Sunday a Tadic victory would represent Serbian interests in three distinct ways: * It would move Serbia closer to the West -- something that is in Western interests. The Balkans cannot be stable unless Serbia is stable too. An isolated or isolationist Serbia would be a constant source of problems for the United States and Western Europe. At the same time, a Serbia on good terms with Washington would have a real say in the "final status" negotiations over Kosovo that are so vital to Belgrade. **It would be good for the economy. Tadic favors sensible free-market policies. His election would be a signal for international agencies to be a little more generous. And as a symbol of political stability, he would also attract external investment. * And Nikolic would initially be so suspect in Washington, London, Paris, Berlin and Brussels that, paradoxically, he would have to sacrifice Serbian interests in order to establish his respectability. Either that -- or move closer to Russia, Africa and China.
So Tadic should win, but Nikolic should not be demonized. Even in defeat, he will likely get 40 percent to 50 percent of the total vote. His Radical Party, once extreme, has recently moderated its nationalism and embraced minority rights. That should be recognized. And it is also in everyone's interests that Serbia over time should develop a respectable moderate nationalist conservative bloc that can be safely trusted with power, as has happened in Spain, Italy and Hungary.
That, however, is a question for a later election. But should Serbia have many more presidential elections? Or an elected presidency at all? The president's powers are very limited in a parliamentary system. As an elected official, however, he is inevitably a potential rival to the prime minister. As a player in the political game, he cannot easily switch to the role of umpire in constitutional disputes as a head of state sometimes must.
And as a party politician he is inevitably a divisive national figure rather than a unifying one. That last is a perennial problem in republics -- even the United States struggles with it as the current Bush-hatred illustrates -- but it seems especially acute in Serbia today because the country badly needs national unity and a respite from politics after the wars and revolutions of the last decade.
Ultimately, the answer may be the restoration of a constitutional monarchy under Crown Prince Alexander. The crown prince returned to Serbia after the collapse of communism, and since then he has played a shrewd and positive role -- uniting the democratic opposition against Milosevic and organizing charitable works that bring Serbs together.
He plainly possesses the calm and stable (and stabilizing) temperament that a constitutional monarch needs. He is not campaigning for a restoration of the monarchy but holding himself in readiness in case the Serbian people should decide in its favor. And he is held in considerable respect by all factions. A restored monarchy under King Alexander would be two large steps towards a permanently stable Serbia with strong links, including royal family links, throughout Europe.
So candidate Tadic should best be elected on Sunday. But President Tadic should start working himself out of a job.
Copyright © 1998 NJ.K.V. Prestolonaslednik Aleksandar II
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