Understanding Serbian Politics (Or At Least Trying To…)

Hvala from Boris Tadic, originally uploaded by bill kralovec.

The past month I have been following Serbian politics on Blic, B92, and various blogs trying to make some sense of it. This post is my current understanding of it and I am sure it will change as I learn more, especially when I move to Belgrade in July.

On May 13, 2008, the country held parliamentary elections. In order to form a government, a political party needs to have 126 of the 250 seats (over 50%) of the seats in parliament. No single party won that many, so coalitions are forming among parties to try to get to the 126 necessary seats. The big issues in this election are defining the relationship of Serbia with the European Union (EU) and the country’s reaction to the Kosovo declaration of independence.

It looks like the winning side won by a touchdown, as the SRS-DSS-NS-SPS-JS-PUPS coalition won 128 seats vs. the losing side, DS-LDP-Minority Parties coalition won 122 seats.

Those acronyms are the political parties with candidates running for parliamentary seats. Even though there are lots of different parties, they seem to fall in one of two philosophical camps. Being an American, I am thinking of it as “red state” versus “blue state” dichotomy. In the US, the higher income, more diverse states like California, New York, and my home state of Michigan, vote liberal, democratic, while the red states vote conservative, republican party. In terms of population, it is about 50/50 for each side which happened this election in Serbia.

The Serbian “Blue State” people would support the Pro-EU bloc. This is the philosophy that Serbia needs to be part of the European Union to improve its economy and the well-being of its citizens. This is also the side that seems less bothered about losing a big part of their country (Kosovo). The “Blue Team” consists of mainly the Democratic Party (DS), which had the single most votes of any single party. They won 39% or 102 seats. They state they want EU integration and to “defend Kosovo,” which I am a little unclear on, but more on that later. The DS is the party of current Serbian President Boris Tadic and a thank you message from his web site is featured above. He believes in a free market economy and is very pro-EU. He has been pushing for further EU integration and signed a controversial agreement with the EU for a road map for Serbian membership. There are two other “blue state” parties in Serbia. The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP-it helps to memorize them to keep everyone straight) won 13 seats (5%) and they are the only party to support an independent Kosovo. The final “blue state” party is a coalition of minorities in Serbia. The minority parties are as follows:

– The Bosniak List for European Sandzak – 2 seats 1% These are the Muslims in the Sandzak region.

– The Hungarian Coalition – 4 seats 2% (must be in the Vojvodina region)

– The Coalition of Albanians of the Presevo Valley 1 seat

That gives a total of 122 seats for the pro EU or blue side. I am not sure if they ever tried to form a coalition or not.

The “Red States” of Serbia are the Radical Bloc. They believe that Serbia was humiliated with the loss of Kosovo. They also seem to lean more to Russia than that the EU although they have not clearly defined what they want to do about Kosovo or about EU membership. The red or radical bloc is led by Serb Radical Party (SRS) that won the second most seats of a single party at 78 seats (29%). They are “ultra-nationalist” and the president of the party is currently in the Hague on trial for war crimes.

The other “red” party is the Democratic Party of Serbia coalition with the New Serbia party (DSS-NS). They won 30 seats (12%) in the May parliament election. They are the sworn enemies of the DS. The red states or radical bloc had a total of 108 seats, not enough to form a government.

Outside of the Red State vs. Blue State paradigm is the ultimate in political acronyms. They are the independent bloc and are a coalition of several socialist parties. The first is the Serbian Socialist Party (SPS) that was founded by Slobodan Milosevic. They won 20 seats (8%). They formed a coalition with United Serbia (JS) and the Associated Pensioners Party (PUPS). That would make this bloc the SPS-JS-PUPS. The interesting point is that the coalition won 20 seats (8%). They would make the difference.

If the Pro-EU bloc could get them to form a government with them, that would mean they would have a total of 142 seats. If the Radical bloc could woo them to their side, they would have 128 seats, two more than the necessary 126 seats. The socialists held talks with both sides, and recently decided to go with the radicals. They seem to have a philosophy more in line with them. The details will be hashed out next week.

What does this all mean for Serbia? There is much speculation, but most commentators think it will be doom and gloom for the Serbian people, as William Montgomery write:

“The new government, probably with the Socialists in the lead, will undo some of the market-driven changes put in over the past seven years. Moreover, they will use the 10 billion euro foreign currency reserves to finance infrastructure projects, probably raise pension payments, and pay the cost of subsidies in order to demonstrate that their policies are better for Serbia. Western foreign investment will dry up in the face of the economic policy changes and the raised political risk of investment in Serbia.

Two or three years (at most) down the road, Serbians will find that inflation is far higher; the dinar far less stable and decreasing in value; and foreign currency reserves far lower. The situation will only continue to deteriorate from then on. The thought that Russian investors will offset all of the above flies in the face of reality. Other than a few high-profile projects, such as the acquisition of NIS in a “sweetheart deal,” high-quality investment that actually helps to build the Serbian economy will be very rare indeed.”

Or as Jonathon Davis writes,

“At worst we could see a unified Nationalist bloc with a tiny parliamentary majority drag a liberalising and increasingly European orientated Serbia into the Russian fold and return the country to the isolation and pariah status that it suffered in the 1990s.”

I really can’t state an opinion because I am still learning about the situation.

Weekend Family Journal – May 17-18, 2008

Mama and Oliver, originally uploaded by bill kralovec.

Friday night we hosted my nephew Sebastian’s sixth birthday party. His birthday is actually in June, but since he is leaving before then, he wanted to have a party with his friends. The theme was Harry Potter and Ale invited my brother Andy to perform some science magic tricks. Ale made the nice HP banners and all the kids had magic wands (stick with glitter on the end), etc. We had an efficient birthday party and had everyone out by two hours. Most Venezuelan parties drag on and on, with big delays between games, pinata, and cake. After cleaning up, we all passed out from exhaustion. Saturday we cleaned the house and did some yard work. Ale and I worked on the yearbook in the afternoon. I also played some baseball with the kids while Nadia got her hair done. Saturday evening our good Venezuelan friends Alex and Belkis and son Alexcito came over and invited us out to dinner. We went to the Bungaloo Restaurant in Anaco and had a very nice dinner. We had another nice bottle of Mendoza, Argentina wine-I find the wine from there is all good, especially the Malbec grape variety. It was great because the kids could play with the bean bags and seats in the restaurant while we sat and had a good meal.

Sunday morning we took the kids to the Parque Ballenas for a bike ride. After we completed the one kilometer loop around the track, we took some photos. Above we are trying to get Oliver to pose for a nice photo-impossible! Mom then cooked us some croissant egg sandwiches. We then went out with the Fernandez family again to a Chinese restaurant in town. I got a nice nap in the afternoon. Nadia and I ran around the campus at night and the boys played with Uncle Andy while collecting mangos. Overall, another great weekend with the family.