Serbia's Elections

The Stench of the Old Regime

In the parliamentary elections just held [Dec. 28], Serbia came face to face with its own image and showed it, as it is at this moment, to the world. If during [Slobodan] Milosevic’s time, the ugly image could have been attributed to the media and other manipulations of an autocratic regime, that is no longer the case. What we have in front of us right now is a more or less authentic picture of Serbia’s political being. And let’s be honest: A Serbia that looks like this cannot count on a great deal of sympathy from the rest of the world.

The convincing first place of [Vojislav] Seselj’s Radicals and the entrance into the Parliament of Milosevic’s Socialists show that Serbia has not rejected the policy now on trial at The Hague. And it doesn’t much matter whether this is a consequence of irrational spite or a well-thought-out political concept.

In any case, Serbia sent a warning signal that it could go back and resurrect the problems that had shaken this region in the 1990s. The stench of the old regime was not even very well concealed. Other warmongering politicians in the Balkans who are returning to the scene (in Croatia and Bosnia) at least try to clean themselves up and bring some new people to the game. Serbian Radicals and Socialists march through democratic institutions led by their old wartime leaders.

At this moment, the parties of the old regime have not sufficiently renewed themselves to return to power. That gives hope that a democratic Serbia could prevent a return to the old policy, if there existed a common sense of responsibility for the fate of the country. Four highly antagonistic groups within the democratic bloc will have a majority in Parliament that will allow them to form a government. That is the democratic maximum that Serbia can achieve at this moment. Some analysts do not rule out the possibility that the Radicals and Socialists will form a majority with one of those parties that now claim they would never do so.

This option is highly unlikely, but it is possible that nobody will form a majority—a situation that would lead to new elections. It is likely that in repeated elections, votes for the Radicals would continue to increase—a scenario leading to restoration of an antidemocratic program.

What happens next depends partly on the political elite and its readiness to subordinate personal and party ambitions to the country’s interests. But it will depend even more on the larger public and its maturity in recognizing what is being offered in a chaotic political market.