Sunday, February 04, 2007

Serbia's Recent Elections, Kosovo, and the EU

At the end of January, elections were held in Serbia, the first time since the split with Montenegro. The turnout was higher than anticipated – around 60%. International watchgroups were very satisfied with the voting process and procedures, finding no concerns of irregularities.

In the end, the Serbian National Party gained the most votes – 28.5%. As you may recall, its leader, Vojislav Seselj, is currently in The Hague on trial for war crimes, making news a few months ago after he went on a hunger strike. The two Democratic parties came in second and third, gaining 22.8% and 16.3% respectively. The former is lead by President Boris Tadic and Prime Minister Vojslav Kostunica leads the latter. Although I find it a bit confusing, this is how I understand it. Since the Serbian National Party has indicated its refusal to cooperate and form a consensus with another party, it will remain a minority party without major power. It is expected that the two Democratic parties will begin negotiations, reach an agreement, and work together, thus gaining a majority control. However, other combinations might eventually take place, including a change of President, Prime Minister, or both.

Pending Issues
There are two large issues in the forefront. One is Kosovo. Tadic, seen as more pro-Western and pro-EU, has indicated a willingness to meet with the UN envoy and discuss the plan proposed by UN negotiator Martti Ahtisaari. Kostunica, on the other hand, has refused to meet the envoy for any discussions. Kostunica’s Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) is opposed to any form of independence of Kosovo. In general, the Serbian population would like to see Kosovo remain a part of Serbia, particularly due to its cultural and religious significance to Serbs. Holding fast to these beliefs without appearing inflexible with the EU and UN is the trick.
Serbia’s possible entry talks into the EU is the other issue influencing decisions and actions. How Serbia reacts to the Kosovo negotiations and actions (or inactions) towards the capture and extradition of war criminals such as Mladic are huge factors. The European Union is seeking a formation of a new Belgrade government as soon as possible, hoping that it will proceed in a cooperative manner towards internationalism and on the way to the EU.

Now that the Ahtisaari Plan has been announced, it will be interesting to see what steps are taken, including any negotiations. The plan does not call for outright independence of Kosovo, but gives it substantial autonomy. For example, Kosovo would have the right to make treaties, apply for membership to international organizations, and its own flag and constitution. There would be protection zones around many centuries-old Serb Orthodox religious sites. Other concessions favoring Serbia include financing of Serb areas, self-government for Serbs, considerable control over the running of local police, and the right to certain direct links with Belgrade. It also says that Kosovo may not join with Albania, forming a Greater Albania. Concerns amongst the Serbs still living in Kosovo are high. The many Serb refugees who have fled Kosovo don’t see much chance or returning. Worldwide, people wonder what precedent this might play for other groups/areas wanting independence, including parts of Russia and Spain.

Time will only tell. I hope that both Kosovo Albanians and Serbs reach a consensus that is tolerable for both sides, with conflicts resolved peacefully in negotiations. Destabilizing the region is not in the interest of anyone.