Serbia has a new government!

It took just 57 days, which by Serbian standards is pretty quick. It’s a strange beast, with Milosevic’s old Socialist party riding shotgun on a coalition of pro-Western liberals and technocrats, but it’s actually less insane than what they had before. In order to make it work, they had to pass a Law on Government authorizing a whopping 28 Ministers or Ministry-level positions… it was the only way they could keep all coalition members satisfied.

The new PM is Mirko Cvetkovic. I knew him slightly when he worked as Deputy Minister for Privatization a few years back. He struck me as intelligent, hard-working, focused, and tough, but also as stubborn, gruff, and not inclined to suffer fools gladly. Those are just one man’s impressions from several years ago, so take them with a grain of salt.

This is the most liberal government Serbia has had since Zoran Djindjic was shot back in March 2003. (I don’t include Djindjic’s hapless successor Zivkovic.) It’s worth recalling that when Djindjic was shot, his approval ratings were in single digits… which is one reason his killers thought they could get away with it. I’m just sayin’.

The new government inherits various problems that will be tiresomely familiar to anyone interested in Serbia, and one big new one: how to handle the issue of Kosovo independence. Should be interesting to watch.

Finally, via Eric Gordy, here’s the “form your own Serbian government!” game. (You don’t have to read Serbian: it’s pretty self-explanatory.) I think they made it too easy to win… but then I suppose a realistically hard version would take around 55 days to play. I also think this could be turned into a real tool by some clever young political science grad student somewhere.

Anyway, congratulations to the new government, and good luck.

[Update: Welcome, Andrew Sullivan readers. If you’re interested in Balkan stuff, check out our archives. This is a group blog, so if you like something, most of the individual authors have home blogs — you can find mine over here.]

Serbian elections, short version

The mostly pro-European Democratic Party (DS) did surprisingly well — possibly because of a surprising last-minute from Brussels to give Serbia a “Stabilization and Association Agreement”. This was fairly blatant intervention on Brussels’ part, but it seems to have worked — at least in terms of getting more votes for DS.

Prime Minister Kostunica’s increasingly nationalist and obnoxious Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) tanked and burned, possibly because they overplayed their hand — they were all Kosovo, all the time, and pretty explicitly anti-European.

The Serbian Radical Party (SRS) got 28% of the vote, which is almost exactly what they got in the last election, and also the one before that.

The Socialist Party of Serbia (Milosevic’s old party, still kicking) did okay, picking up a few extra seats.

So the vote totals are: Continue reading

Serbia votes; what happens next?

Serbia votes tomorrow. Some observers are casting this as a choice between Good (the EU) and Evil (wicked nationalism). Eh, not really. From the point of view of most Serbian voters, it’s more like a choice between “Not so great, stumbling along, more of the same” and “What the hell, this sucks, let’s try something different”.

This is not to say that electing Nikolic would be without consequences. It would be seen abroad as a thumb in the eye of the EU and a return to old-fashioned xenophobic nationalism (even if it isn’t, at least for most Serb voters). It would stop Serbia’s progress towards EU candidacy dead for at least the next year or two. Unless Nikolic starts barking at the moon — and I don’t think he will; if he wins the election, he’ll internalize the lesson that “acting moderate is good” — I doubt foreign investment will suffer much. That said, there will be a lot of people thinking a Radical President equals a return to the good old days of the 1990s. Nikolic would have to fend those people off, because any hint of a return to the cronyocracy of the Milosevic years will cause investors to run away fast. Continue reading

Serbia: Kostunica would prefer not to

With three days to go before Serbia’s Presidential runoff, Prime Minister Kostunica has announced that he won’t endorse either candidate.

This is a boost to Radical Tomislav Nikolic — in the final Presidential debate last night, he thanked Kostunica for not taking a side — and a rather large slap in the face to incumbent Boris Tadic. Kostunica’s party is in coalition with Tadic’s; and when the coalition agreed to make Kostunica PM last year, part of the deal was that he’d support Tadic’s re-election. I haven’t yet been able to find what justification Kostunica is giving for reneging (or whether he’s given any at all) — if anyone knows, I’d be interested to hear.

As to why Kostunica did it… well, he hates Tadic. He endorsed him last time, but only grudgingly and at the last minute. This time I guess he just couldn’t bring himself to do it. Continue reading

Serbia sells its energy company to Russia

“Against stupidity, the Gods themselves contend in vain.” — Schiller

So Serbia’s government has agreed to sell its oil and gas company, NIS, to Russia’s Gazprom.

By itself there’s nothing wrong with this. What’s stupid about it is the price. NIS has a market value of around $2.8 billion. The government is selling it to Gazprom for $400 million, plus the promise of another $500 million in investment over the next five years. In other words, Gazprom — a company not exactly strapped for cash — is getting a windfall of almost $2 billion, at the expense of one of the poorest countries in Europe.

Why is the Serbian government doing this? Several reasons, all of them bad. Continue reading

Dutch to veto Serbia’s SAA?

Apparently the Dutch have said they won’t approve Serbia’s Stability and Association agreement unless Serbia comes up with suspected war criminal Ratko Mladic.

This comes from the excellent B92 site:

Holland will not let Serbia sign the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) until Ratko Mladić is transferred to the Hague [said] Dutch European Affairs Minister Frans Timmermans… in an interview published by Belgium daily Le Soir today.

“We have been saying, and I repeated this clearly, that Serbia has to cooperate fully with the Hague Tribunal. This means that Mladić has to be transferred to the Hague Tribunal prison,” said Timmermans.

By the way, I went to the Le Soir site to find the interview. You know what? Everything but the front page is pay-per-view. Cripes. What is this, 2004? That just seems so very Belgian somehow…

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Serbia: That Incredible Shrinking Country

This weekend’s election results in Serbia, and in particular the gridlock state of the political process and the resilience of the vote for the nationalist Serbian Radical Party (as ably explained by Doug in the previous post), pose new, and arguably reasonably urgent questions for all those who are concerned about the future of those European countries who currently find themselves locked outside the frontiers of the European Union. What follows below the fold is a cross-post of an entry I put up earlier this afternoon on the new global economy blog: Global Economy Matters. I don’t normally like cross-posting, since I would prefer to put up original Afoe content, but my time is a bit pressed at the moment, and I feel the issues raised are important enough to merit a separate airing on this site.
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Photographs on the fence

If you’re ever in Pristina, capital of Kosovo, you’ll want to swing by the Government building.

(It’s called the Government building because, well, that’s where the government is. The Parliament, the Prime Minister, the President, and half a dozen or so government agencies are all squashed into one huge building downtown. It’s sort of refreshing. Imagine being in London or Berlin and just popping down to “the government”.)

Why? Because there are these photographs. Between two and three thousand of them… closer to two, I think. The government building has a fence around it; and, since the building is pretty large, the fence is easily a couple of hundred meters long. And it’s covered with the photographs of Kosovar Albanians missing in the 1999 war.

It’s not a very cheerful display, obviously. But it’s certainly food for thought. And if you walk the length of the fence, you’ll spot some patterns.
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The Hunt for Mladic and Karadzic

Today is the 10th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre. AP quotes the commander of EU peacekeepers in Bosnia saying “the net is closing in” on the two men responsible for the worst massacre in Europe since World War II.

Nice, except that’s followed up by the dumbest quote I’ve seen this morning (it’s early yet): “It’s a bit like getting Osama bin Laden,” he said.

No, it’s not.
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