And the Winner Is…

The general elections in Serbia, held on January 21, were described as "low-key" by the BBC. Somewhat greater voter turnout than in the past – 60% of the electorate showed up at the polls – didn’t translate into clear results, however. Of the 250 seats in the Skupstina, the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) got the biggest share – 81 – but not enough to form a majority. Sixty-four seats went to the Democratic Part (DS) of President Boris Tadic, and 47 to the Popular Bloc of outgoing Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica. His former coalition partners, G17 Plus, won 19 seats. Sixteen went to the Socialists (SPS), once led by Slobodan Milosevic, and eight were filled with candidates from ethnic minority parties. Fifteen seats went to a coalition led by Cedomir Jovanovic’s Liberal Democrats (LDP).

Cheering from the Sidelines

From the very beginning, the campaign was influenced from the outside – first by the decision of the UN to postpone its recommendations on the future status of the occupied Serbian province of Kosovo, and then by the constant pressure from the EU and US to elect "pro-Western" candidates. UK and US ambassadors wrote editorials in Serbian papers, hectoring voters. So did the British PM Tony Blair. US diplomat Daniel Fried openly cheered for the Democratic Party.

After the results were announced, these same people issued congratulations to the "democratic victors" – obviously expecting their favorites to somehow overcome their internal disputes and form a government that would obediently accept diktats from the Empire, just as DOS once did.

Winners and Losers

Even though they got the largest share of the votes, the Radicals didn’t really win the election. They cannot form a government of their own, and the odds of other parties forming a coalition with them are slim. This is mostly because the Radicals are reviled by the Empire, and the other parties are competing mainly in who can grovel more and better before Washington and Brussels.

Similarly, the Democrats may claim victory, but they won far fewer votes than they hoped for, and now have the unenviable choice of making deals with parties they’ve sniped at in the past. Some analysts float the mathematical possibility of a DS-G17-LDP minority government, but the leadership conflicts in this arrangement make it an unlikely development in reality. Kostunica and his Popular Bloc didn’t do too well, but are still in a strong position to influence policy, and may well become a junior partner in the new government.

The biggest winners by far are Cedomir Jovanovic and the LDP. Formerly a fringe splinter of the Democrats, the LDP gathered up all the loud, malicious voices of Jacobinism and Empire-worship and won parliamentary representation. Already wielding public influence widely disproportionate to their marginal political strength, the Jacobins now have a parliamentary outlet.

Conversely, the elections were an utter defeat for Vuk Draskovic, whose coalition with Kostunica in the last government got him the position of Foreign Minister. His party, once considered the main opposition to Milosevic, didn’t even qualify to enter the parliament. The post-Milosevic Serbia has been cursed by an astoundingly poor choice of top diplomats in times when diplomacy was crucial – first the treacherous Goran Svilanovic, then the uncouth, self-centered Draskovic – so whoever follows on the job would almost have to be an improvement by default. This being Serbia, that is by no means a foregone conclusion.

Kosovo Looming

Unfortunately, what Serbia needs most at this juncture is a strong government and a strong diplomacy. After delaying the proposal for "resolving" the status of occupied Kosovo for almost three months, UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari has met with Contact Group representatives in Vienna this Friday, and is scheduled to announce his plan to Belgrade and the Albanians next week.

Ahtisaari – and more importantly, those in the US and Europe pushing for a separation of Kosovo from Serbia – are seizing on the moment when the government in Belgrade is in transition. Another clue is in the perception of the Democrats:

"The major parties all say they will not accept the loss of Kosovo, but the Democratic Party of President Boris Tadic – the party favored by the West – has come closest to telling Serbs that it might be inevitable." (Reuters)

Britain’s Daily Telegraph phrased it similarly, calling the Democrats "the only major party to accept that Kosovan sovereignty is probably a fait accompli."

Western cheerleading for Tadic and his party now begins to make sense.

Ahtisaari’s Plan

In a feature published Thursday, Reuters writer Douglas Hamilton rightly described what’s coming as the "carve-up" of Serbia. Hamilton cites Ahtisaari’s claim that his proposal "provides the foundations for a democratic and multiethnic Kosovo in which the rights and interests of all members of its communities are firmly guaranteed and protected."

That is, of course, complete and utter nonsense. If human rights of non-Albanians could not have been protected in the past seven-plus years, with a UN government and a presence of up to 60,000 NATO troops, how can anyone honestly expect that a KLA-dominated Albanian regime running an independent Kosovo would guarantee them? The systematic murder and expulsion of Serbs, and destruction of Serb property and heritage, that have taken place during the occupation are crystal clear indicators that no Serbs would survive in an independent "Kosova." Otherwise, why would NATO be "braced for a possible Serb exodus"? (Reuters)

Matt Robinson of Reuters cites "diplomatic and UN sources" as to the contents of Ahtisaari’s plan, considering Kosovo’s separation a fait accompli. According to these enthusiastic leaks, the proposal "gives Kosovo the right to enter into international agreements and apply for membership of international organizations and institutions… talks of the right to ‘dual-citizenship’ and urges Pristina to establish good relations with Serbia and other neighboring states."

Of course, all this would be done under the supervision of 15,000 NATO troops and an EU governor, with similar powers to those of the Bosnian Viceroys since Dayton. As "compensation," Serbs would get some local autonomy, empty promises about protection of heritage, and the possibility of getting money from Belgrade – so long as Pristina takes a cut first.

"In effect, Kosovo would be given the attributes of independence but remain under the wing of the international community … similar to the status given to Bosnia in 1995," comments the Financial Times.

Deliberate Attrition

Faced with unexpected opposition from Belgrade and Moscow over the past year or so, the US and EU imperialists appear to have decided the solution to their Kosovo conundrum should be more of the same.

They know they have no legal grounds for declaring the occupied province independent. A recent LA Times article analyzing the "inevitable" loss of Kosovo, contained this interesting passage:

"US diplomats queried on the point said that lawyers had not looked at the precedents but that Kosovo’s case was different because it had been a UN protectorate, and that the Serbian ‘ethnic cleansing’ there in 1999 in effect ended Serbia’s right to control the province."

This sort of "logic" is ludicrous. Kosovo was made a UN protectorate in 1999 following an illegal NATO aggression, launched not to stop alleged "ethnic cleansing," but to impose a peace agreement (Rambouillet).

Faced with a shortage of arguments, the Empire is trying the argument of force; to effect, continuing the occupation until "status quo" becomes so entrenched that independence remains the only option. Ahtisaari’s proposal doesn’t end the occupation, but rather redefines it – to benefit the independence cause.

The rationalization offered by editors at the Los Angeles Times, who endorsed the Ahtisaari proposal, confirms this reasoning:

"…the UN compromise is the only practical solution for now… The two sides aren’t ready to be peaceful neighbors, but taking small steps in that direction, while preserving the peace, would help them get used to the idea"

‘Nice, Soft Landing’

Imperial policymakers may think that by establishing a "democratic" government in Belgrade they’ve neutralized Serb opposition, and that Moscow would accept some sort of payoff (neither of which may be true), but that still leaves the Albanians themselves to manage.

Promised independence by the KLA, having seen NATO support it in 1999 with bombs and boots on the ground, and assured near-constantly by the partisan press and high-powered allies in the West that their seizure of Kosovo was a foregone conclusion, the Albanians are getting impatient and unhappy. Certainly many of their leaders understand what Ahtisaari’s proposal will eventually accomplish, but how do they communicate this to the masses they’ve fired up to extraordinary lengths of single-minded hatred?

EU’s foreign policy commissar Javier Solana, himself a key player in the events of 1999, told the Albanians this week, "It is very important that everybody behaves properly if we want the last part of the journey to have a nice, soft landing."

Facing a Choice

In order to make Kosovo’s separation "nice and soft," the Empire needs Serbia’s acquiescence. The pressure is again on Serbia to approve of this land grab. Whoever ends up leading the new government in Belgrade will have to make a choice: defend Serbian sovereignty, constitution and interests, or submit to Imperial coercion. While Moscow’s support is promising, Russia can’t – and shouldn’t – fight battles the Serbs themselves aren’t interested in fighting. However watered down, Ahtisaari’s proposal is still secession. There is no way Belgrade can, or should, agree to this.

Read more by Nebojsa Malic

Author: Nebojsa Malic

Nebojsa Malic left his home in Bosnia after the Dayton Accords and currently resides in the United States. During the Bosnian War he had exposure to diplomatic and media affairs in Sarajevo. As a historian who specializes in international relations and the Balkans, Malic has written numerous essays on the Kosovo War, Bosnia, and Serbian politics. His exclusive column for Antiwar.com debuted in November 2000.