serbia genocide 1

Serbia: Back To Genocide?

Serbia is not a perfect democracy, and the dominance of one party, the Democrats, for the last decade has not helped. Is that cause for concern?


serbia genocide 1


Serbia, it seems, may be returning to the dark days of the 1990s, with former allies of ‘Serbian Saddam’ Slobodan Milosevic and his extreme nationalist counter-part Vojislav Seselj (both charged for war crimes in the Hague), Ivica Dacic and Tomislav Nikolic, recently being elected as Prime Minister and President respectively. As Reuters has pointed out, an alliance of this sort last existed ‘at the close of Milosevic’s disastrous 13-year rule, when his forces expelled almost 1 million ethnic Albanians from Kosovo and NATO bombed in 1999 to wrest the province from him.

This interpretation is what has dominated the headlines in the West, anyway. But such alarmism is unwarranted, as there is unlikely to be any significant change in Serbia’s democratic prospects or its policies towards Kosovo and the EU.

Dacic and Nikolic and their parties, the Socialist Party of Serbia and the Progressives, have changed a lot in the past five to ten years.

Dacic has been referred to as Milosevic’s man, but, much more recently than that, he was an ally of the Democratic and pro-Western President Tadic. The Socialist Party he leads (and which Milosevic founded) had always been closer to the populist and ‘patriotic’ opposition since Milosevic’s fall in 2000, but in 2008 switched sides and joined the Democrats, helping them secure a much-needed parliamentary majority. Dacic became Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister. This about-face was – it was no secret at the time – engineered by Western embassies in Belgrade, and Dacic henceforth became a loyal man in the Democrat-led coalition, including its policy towards Kosovo and the EU. The Socialists entered the most recent elections in that coalition and intending to continue it, and it is only because of Tadic’s surprise defeat that they, again, decided to change sides. Dacic’s promotion to Prime Minister should hardly, therefore, be cause for alarm.

Nikolic, too, has an unsavoury past, but support for him over the past decade has had more to do with dissatisfaction with the rule of the Democrats, in power uninterrupted since 2000, than with support for extreme nationalism. His supporters are the socio-economic ‘losers’ of the transition, whose numbers have grown with Serbia’s current recession. Moreover, his current party, the Progressives, were formed from a 2008 split from Seselj, and have tried to shed their nationalist image.Western embassies probably had something to do with his split from Seselj, and Nikolic has been keen to emphasise his  changed character, taking a former American ambassador as an advisor and even inviting former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, a supporter of NATO’s 1999 bombardment of Serbia, for consultations.

The Guardian recently noted Nikolic refusing to rule out the partition of Kosovo, as if this was a radicalisation of Serbian policy. In fact, this was long been an option for Serbia, although officially it is almost always denied, as Serbia refuses to hand over any of its territory. Nikolic and Dacic emphasise their commitment to the territorial integrity of Serbia, as do all the major parties in Serbia, but, despite some nationalist posturing, immediately after the elections Nikolic went to Brussels and confirmed that he would be respecting recent Serbia-Kosovo agreements on ‘normalisation’ and continuing that process, claiming that the EU did not require recognition of Kosovo. Thus, it seems that the same Serbian policy will continue of pretending not to know that they are, bit by bit, being led towards de facto recognition of Kosovo. As Nikolic emphasises, the EU path remains the priority.

Likewise, in relation to Bosnia, where Milorad Dodik, the leader of the Serb entity, Republika Srpska, has been a thorn in the West’s side, there is unlikely to be any real change in Belgrade’s role. Dodik, in fact, had good relations with President Tadic, whom he backed in the May elections.

Nikolic may not initiate reconciliation with Serbia’s neighbours to the same extent as Tadic, and has already committed a few gaffes in this regard, but there is unlikely to be any real deterioration in regional relations, or inter-ethnic relations within Serbia. It is worth remembering that some of the best regional ‘reconcilers’ have had radical nationalists pasts. Former Kosovan President Ramush Haradinaj, for example, who was supported by the West as someone who embraced the idea of a multi-ethnic Kosovo, had to step down in 2004 to face trial in the Hague for horrific war crimes against national minorities committed just a few years earlier. It is notable that, as has become standard practice, the two key Bosniak politicians in Serbia have been given ministries in the new government, one as a deputy prime minister. (Their background is, incidentally, about as radical as Nikolic’s, both formerly advocating the secession of the Serbian region where most Bosniaks live.)

Serbia is not a perfect democracy, and the dominance of one party, the Democrats, for the last decade has not helped. Multiple changes in power are the real test of a democracy, and there shouldn’t be much to fear from Nikolic and Dacic in this respect. Whether they implement the same EU-sought policies as the Democrats, or perhaps the economic programme their voters sought them to implement, remains to be seen, but as far as Serbia’s democratic prospects and its relations with its neighbours go, there is no cause for alarm.

6 thoughts on “Serbia: Back To Genocide?”

  1. The article shows aptly the current outlines of Serbian policy, but it underestimates the political and sociocultural background of its protagonists, as well as the elusive and tremendous forces of history in the Balkans. The “Democratic”decade had at least a parenthesis of being “Anti and Post-Milosevic”, but it has obviously appeared that Slobo is far from being dead. The new -or rather old- actors will always consider Kosovo, Montenegro, BiH and -to a certain degree- even Croatia as Serbias natural sphere of influence, which implies further potential for diverse conflicts. As the author points out rightly, their daily politics behavior may be far less confrontative compared to the nineties but a big question mark must be allowed for political longterm objectives of the Nikolic/Dacic government (f.e. closer ties to Russia…). gjPS: Actually there was and still is only one war crime  in Former Yugoslavia classified as “Genocide”, and that was Srebrenica. Though there were never any genocide-like crimes in Kosovo at any time (but certainly there were war crimes). The Kosovo genocide myth is simply a lie and was used as justification for an illegal war. This German ARD documentary illuminates this topic impressively: It began with a lie; ARD 2001. 

    1. JelisavacGoran Kosovo had no choice, did you not see what the Serbs did in Croatia, Bosnia and finally in Kosovo? The crimes committed by the Serbs were real – rape, torturer and murder of many Muslim innocent children. The international community saw what occurred in other places and did not want that to continue in Kosovo. The Serbs are upset with Kosovo because Kosovo fought back with NATO, they took the pains of war right to the front steps of Belgrade- they gave them a taste of the real pain that they caused in previous years to others. Kosovo had no choice but to brake free, you can’t expect someone to stay in an abusive relationship. The international court ruled 10-4 in favor of the Kosovo independence.

      1. BradyTu JelisavacGoran I can agree on some points -especially the abusive relationship- but comparing the conflict in Kosovo to the other Yugoslav wars is deficient. I’d rather assume the entire Serbian rule in Kosovo since 1912 as a general failure, since the Serbian as well as the meantime Yugoslavian state mainly failed to integrate and accept the Albanian population as entirely equal citizens and compatriots. For this reason it seems quite comprehensible that Kosovo-Albanians ultimately approached a path to independence. In contrary to the roots of the other Yugoslav conflicts, the basis for the Kosovo conflict was its importance to the blossom of Serbian nationalism in mid- and end eighties (f.e. The SANU Memorandum in 1986 or the Gazimestan gathering in 1989). I see potential further conflict development as rather negative due to the new Serbian government. Well at least old and well known opponents are now facing each other once again (Dacic vs. Thaci) but now under altered geopolitical circumstances. gjPS: The ICJ did not vote on the independence itself but on the legality of the act of its declaration. Therefore it has no legal -rather symbolic- value  for Kosovo’s pursuit for recognition. 

  2. “As Croatian forces withdrew from Vukovar on 15 and 16 November 1991, they
    dragged Serbian civilians from the cellars where they were hiding, and massacred
    them. These Serbs were axed to death in a courtyard, after being dragged from
    the cellar at 74 Nikola Demonja Street in Borovo-naselje, near Vukovar [Names,
    courtesy of the Radosav Pavic and Velimir Trajkovic (both
    wearing red); Zorica Pavlovic, her brother Zoran, mother Nada and Milojka
    Pavlovic.]” am not to sure why the article has placed the photo of murdered  Serb family and civilians under the headline of Serbia: Back To Genocide?

  3. Hi, thanks for commenting everyone.Topol Thanks for pointing out about the picture – the editors have changed it now.JelisavacGoran BradyTu Thanks for your comments. I don’t know whether I’ve underestimated the continuing strength of nationalism; we can only speculate about the course the new government will take. But it seems to me that the Progressives and Socialists just want their turn in power, and to help in attaining that have dropped any prospect of confrontation with Europe/America, despite their support for Kosovo independence.Your perspectives about Kosovo are all very interesting. As far as genocide goes, I’m not an expert on genocide classifications, but it is interesting to note that according to the highly precise research of Natasa Kandic’s Humanitarian Law Centre in Belgrade, about 10-13,000 Albanians and 2-3,000 non-Albanians (mainly Serbs and Roma, from Kosovo) were killed in the conflict (figures from memory). As Albanians formed about 80% of Kosovo’s population at the time, then the suffering of each group was actually, proportionately, fairly similar. Also, it was only after NATO bombing began that the vast majority of these deaths took place…

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