Serbian nationalist surge blamed on broken promises

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The Independent Online

Democratic parties in Serbia have mobilised in an attempt to bar ultra-nationalists from government after the party of the war crimes suspect Vojislav Seselj came first in Sunday's parliamentary elections.

Official results released early yesterday confirmed that Mr Seselj's Serbian Radical Party (SRS) won 26.7 per cent of votes, or 81 seats in the 250-member parliament.

Opinion polls had predicted the outcome, but part of the Serbian public is trying to figure out why the Radicals are so popular: Mr Seselj himself is in detention in The Hague awaiting trial for war crimes.

Dusan Janjic, an analyst, said the result reflected public opinion on the record of the reform-oriented parties that toppled Slobodan Milosevic three years ago, commenting: "It's all about failed promises, corruption and theft."

Stojan Savic, a shop vendor in central Belgrade, said: "[The Radicals] are the only party that always stood by its word." Voicing the anti-Western opinion of many Seselj sympathisers, he added: "The Radicals are not willing to sell their country for a handful of dollars."

The failed promises of quick economic recovery by the pro-reform parties are often mentioned by Serbs as the main reason for their loss of popularity. Another is their misunderstanding of what a market economy actually is: they think selling off state-owned companies to Western ones is a betrayal of the national interest.

Tijana Lukic, 28, a bank teller in one of the dozens of foreign banks that have arrived in Serbia in the past three years, said: "Many thought that capitalism was a salary of €1,000 (£700) a month. But they think little about the hard work that goes hand in hand with it."

The swift pace of reforms brought in by the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) brought the privatisation of prosperous businesses. In reality, it meant job cuts and work for the "new Yuppies", who speak English or work with computers. People aged over 45 have no chance of finding jobs, while workers kept at minimum salaries under Mr Milosevic's regime have seen their factories close.

Privatisation brought more than £500m into state coffers, but instead of creating new jobs, it led to accusations of corruption. The pro-reform regime, led by Zoran Djindjic, did not get rid of the "new rich" who thrived under Mr Milosevic, and were accused of links to organised crime. Zorana Stamenic, a 33-year-old Belgrade teacher, said: "Everything remained the same, with just the outside picture being different."

The reform-oriented government suffered a further setback with the assassination of Mr Djindjic in March, and DOS fell apart. Now it appears that the former members of DOS, with 42 per cent of votes or 124 seats in parliament, will have to negotiate a new government. They may try to invite some of the smaller parties, such as the Serbian Renewal Movement of Vuk Draskovic, to join.

Key to such efforts is the Democratic Party of Serbia, led by Vojislav Kostunica, who succeeded Mr Milosevic in 2000. Mr Kostunica said: "It was easy to elect the parliament, but for the government it will be much more difficult."

Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief, appealed to the pro-democracy parties "to work together in order that a new government based on a clear and strong European reform agenda can be formed rapidly."

But with the New Year and the Orthodox Christmas celebrations coming up, a new government is not expected to be in place for weeks. Even then, as analysts predict, the differences among its members might give it a short life.

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