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NO 115-116

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Helsinki Charter No. 115-116

January - February 2008


Democratic Party and the Future of Democracy in Serbia


By Nastasja Radovic

Is it possible that Serbia could be so 'off center,' i.e. so unlike the rest of the Europe by which it is geographically determined, to again opt for political models - if those could be called models at all - that have brought it to the edge of self-destruction once? It seems it would not 'by a hair,' judging by the outcome of the recent race for the Serbian presidency. And yet, the 'referendum-like vote' as the democratic candidate labeled the elections for a new Serbian president was not exactly the reflection of popular 'pro-European' feelings. Public opinion polls and analyses conducted in previous years demonstrated numerous paradoxical perceptions of Europe. The most paradoxical finding was the one indicating that the same group of people opting for the EU would join it hand in hand with the accused of the most serious crimes against humanity. Such confusion clearly mirrors re-barbarization of 'social consciousness' the recently demised Desimir Tosic, a founding father of the Democratic Party, so much insisted on. In the wake of the election, even the Radicals made no bones about supporters of their candidate, Tomislav Nikolic, being at the same times advocates of Serbia's membership of the EU. But only under 'Serbian conditions.' This might not be that bad if the very electorate of the Radicals' candidate can comprehend it at all. However, neither is the other side - the one that voted in Boris Tadic and reelected him the President of Serbia - monolithic. Since its establishment, the Democratic Party has been drawing on a more-or-less strong nationalism of some of its founding fathers. As the time went by, its factions formed other parties, including Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia. And the Democratic Party itself has always taken pains not to 'overemphasize' any 'anational' elements in its program, let alone in action.

Since domestic politicians, in general, do not differentiate people from nation, and would be hardly capable of explaining the meaning of the Serbian nation 'in real life,' populism - be it smaller or bigger - always makes a perfect tool for 'bypassing' things. In actual life, this is nowadays evident in an almost fatal attraction the incumbent Premier has on the Democratic Party leadership and its unwillingness to even hint to party supporters that it would do its best to have the party cross 'the line' of the blind alley of the Serbian mainstream policy. On the other hand, the party leaders supposed to work on the 'how to proceed' project seem to oscillate these days between 'fear and hope;' the fear of a chaos in Serbia that would wipe out everything they have earned so far, both at the party ladder and in personal welfare. They seem to prefer status quo, which provides them with good, though delusive feeling of being 'on the right course.' And that the future belongs to them. As for hope, it sources from the feeling that 'everything is under control.' And that nothing has changed.

But is that so? At the very beginning of Tadic's second term of office, the continuity of presidency in the hands of the Democratic Party laid bare all the weakness of its present-day position. Elected in direct vote and having won the second round by a thin margin, Tadic gives away that he is a weakened president and not only due to the amendments to the presidential authority. The governmental crisis, caused by Vojislav Kostunica's denial to side Tadic in the election, ended in the umpteenth withdrawal of the Democratic Party and the newly elected President. An 'optimal' solution was found again: the government remains to the detriment of its clear-cut commitment to Serbia's European course. According to well-informed sources, now that the latest governmental crisis has been patched up the issue of Serbia's integration into Europe is placed in a back seat. It was even ignored for the sake of the future of the incumbent government. The 'imposed' Premier thus not only strengthened his position but also showed that he has a final say in both the matters of domestic and foreign policy. And that he authoritatively intones the state policy. Everyone could have witnessed that in the Serbian parliament on the eve and in the wake of proclamation of Kosovo independence. Kostunica and his cabinet were even unreservedly backed by the deputy president of the Serbian Radical Party, Tomislav Nikolic. Tadic withdrew his participation in the "Kosovo is Serbia" rally at the eleventh hour and thus at least spared his voters the humiliation of watching his symbolic defeat: the group portrait with the Radicals' leader.

The Democratic Party presents itself to the world as a moderately leftist party in the membership of the Socialist International. The smaller part of its top leadership - those more engaged in 'political counseling' than in terrain work and governance - presents itself to the domestic public as 'left-of-center' advocates. But 'yappy politicians' without any ideological affiliation are those who dominate the party executive bodies and governmental offices. Though they behave as 'pragmatists' the public mostly sees them as careerists, all of which in a way mars the image of the ministers and other public servants coming from the Democratic Party. While Kostunica exerts himself to make 'the essence of the Serbian national being' dear to the heart of the executive branch, the Democratic Party members of his cabinet and Tadic himself seem more and more prone to compromise either for personal or party advantage.

Along with the party's declarative advocacy of social democracy, neoliberal voices 'from within' about Serbia's economic future are frequently expressed - however, they are promptly hushed up by the messages of the party's concern for social peace and the society of 'equal opportunities.' What marks the party mass - multiplied, the same as the mass of party voters, especially after the assassination of Zoran Djindjic and major reshuffling in top management - is the whole spectrum of political stands. The history of the Democratic Party since 1990 fully mirrors the confusion caused by the clumsy replacement of the one-party system with a multiparty one - under the aegis of the 'social-nationalistic' Socialist Party of Serbia. Though a 'winning' party today, it is nothing but an input area for various 'ideological,' political and petty-political expectations. This is why the people of some smaller towns hardly differentiate the Democrats even from the Radicals.

    There are many reasons for such a deplorable state of 'social consciousness' in Serbia. But the first and foremost of all is that a considerable part of Serbia's leadership exerts itself to belittle it inasmuch as possible by boiling everything down to people's everyday worries.

Judging by the policy he has been pursuing so far - while in party and state offices - the leader of the Democratic Party, Boris Tadic, himself tries to follow a sort of 'political syncretism." His public statements and moves combine a bit of everything: 'diluted' nationalism, sentimental 'historicism,' 'togetherness' he calls 'the unique state policy,' at least declarative concern for all citizens, 'shy' interest in other ethnic groups rather than just in Serbs, ad hoc advocacy of social equality in combination with the advantages of individual initiative and creativeness of market economy, and frequent insistence on presidential 'man of the people' gestures. All in all, his policy is hardly clear, and his ideology even less. Tadic is not a man to be 'afraid of' and many are really attracted by his 'casual behavior.' His PR people seem to count on that the most. And all this is what could have been interpreted as Tadic's 'concept' up to now.

    On the other hand, his policy of a 'unifier' - manifested in the slogan 'Both Kosovo and the EU' - made him a favorite of the past elections. But his rival also - true, with some delay - realized that was a winning combination.

    People still place trust in Tadic, though their trust is growingly a mixture of 'fear and hope.' What makes him less and less convincing is his 'conciliatory tendency' that probably has nothing to do with his temperament but is harmful in politics. For, in politics compromise is not the same as conciliation and giving in. Whereas Zoran Djindjic - whose pragmatism many invoke as something positive, and not in Democratic Party only - manifested that a compromise should produce a better solution and maximally secure the attainment of a specific goal, Democratic Party's today's policy produces many a rotten compromise and bad outcomes. This is why fear of the future spirals in the greater part of the Serbian society. And this is why a part of Democratic Party's electorate growingly identifies itself with the stands of the party's banned faction, now the Liberal Democratic Party. For his part, Tadic demonstrates somewhat exaggerated disinterestedness in the latter.

As it seems, thanks to the popular vote in the past election the Democratic Party has reached both its maximal potential and the upper limit of its capacity to partake in state policy. Tadic's and Democratic Party's concept of the 'state' does not suffice for the establishment of a normal state. The trouble is that their responsibility for Serbia's future is presently extremely big, while their resoluteness about the necessity to open up new avenues pretty small.


NO 115-116

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