Monday, January 21, 2008

The "gravedigger" comes back to Belgrade!

And… they have done it again! The Serbs do not seize to amaze me with their incredible stubbornness which has now become a sort of national relic and a defining feature of their national identity. As Tomislav Nikolic, leader of the Radical Party of Serbia awaits confirmation of his victory in the first round of Serbia’s presidential elections I couldn’t help but reflect with horror on the dark days of 1989 when Milosevic was elected to the same position. And what a path it has been for Serbia and the entire region ever since… Today, people in Kosovo, Albania, the rest of the Balkans and among EU countries will be asking WHY?

Perhaps his nickname “gravedigger” suits him well. If elected in the 2nd round of February, Nikolic will almost certainly dig the grave of Milosevic’s dangerous nationalist rhetoric and take Serbia a few hundred steps backward in their path towards EU integration and prosperity. His party’s leader, Vojislav Seselj, is currently on trial at the UN's war-crimes tribunal in The Hague for murder and “ethnic cleansing” during the Balkan wars of the 1990s. Sadly, Serbia’s politicians are faced with a Catch-22. Almost all of them understand and quietly accept that Kosovo never belonged to Serbia and that the country would be better off without “its” province – but no one has the courage to accept it publicly. Almost all of them hate Kosovo and its people, but no one would even dare to question its status as the “cradle of Serb civilisation” - otherwise they loose their electability! The “neglected cradle” is a nickname that would perhaps suit the province better! Yet, today, they say, Kosovo was the determining factor of Serbia’s presidential elections.

Almost 10 years after what Milosevic and its widely popular war machine did in Kosovo, the Serbs still find it hard to come to terms with reality. As Kosovo’s politicians prepare to declare independence (most probably by the end of February), and with de-facto assurances from the US and EU members that its statehood would be recognized sometime in May, Serbia is still unable to deliver itself from the dark clouds of nationalism that have crippled the country’s GDP growth and economic development. GDP per capita in Serbia remains at a mere $4,400 for Serbia (including Kosovo) (2005 est.). Try comparing that with thatSlovenia, the first republic to break away from Yugoslavia – currently at an impressive $23,400 (2006 est.). Shouldn’t that perhaps be the decisive factor in the head of the typical Serbian voter?

If Nikolic is confirmed as its new President and Commander of Armed Forces in February, Serbia will face huge risks of regression, positioning itself even further away from EU integration and opting for a Belarus-like isolation. Perhaps the Serbs will be happy with a cold war prototype, Russian satellite type country while the rest of the region, Kosovo included, advances in their steady and prosperous economic boom. For the moment, the “gravedigger” has come back to Belgrade… Analyze that!

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