Socialists as kingmakers in Serbia

By bne IntelliNews May 19, 2008

Dejan Kozul in Belgrade -

The Socialist Party of Serbia has become the most wanted partner for both pro-Europeans and nationalists alike following the elections on May 11. Whether the party is going to begin a new chapter and join the pro-EU Democrats, which narrowly won the elections, or keep living in its nationalistic past is a question that concerns not only Serbia, but the whole of Europe.

Less than eight years ago, Zoran Djindjic, the late head of the Democratic Party, and the rest of the Serbian opposition were preparing for the final battle against former dictator Slobodan Milosevic and his Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS). The elections were successful and SPS was beaten. Since then, the Democrats and Socialists haven't had much in common. In fact, during their first term, the Democrats arrested Milosevic and sent him to the Hague, where he subsequently died.

Now, the Socialists are in the perfect position to be kingmakers in the country, as neither the Democrats nor the nationalist Radical Party won enough votes in the May elections to form a government on their own. Who will the Socialists side with?

Serb president and head of the Democrats, Boris Tadic, declares the Socialists to be acceptable partners, as they appear to have since become real social democrats. "For the first time, SPS has showed sophistication during this campaign. They were speaking more about social problems and even the EU, than Milosevic," says Dusan Lazic, a former Yugoslav diplomat and a member of the European movement in Serbia.

Lazic is quite optimistic about a possible alliance between the Democrats and SPS, because he thinks that only with the Democats and Serbia on an EU course can the SPS become a real social democratic party, join Socialist International - the worldwide organisation of social democratic, socialist and labour parties - and finally put the legacy of Milosevic behind them.

The trouble is, most Socialist voters are the elderly who are still attracted by the Milosevic era. While Ivica Dacic, leader of the Socialists, wants Serbian membership of the EU, Lazic says that inside the party there are still strong movements endorsing Milosevic's politics. "The question is, who's going to win this battle? I strongly believe that Dacic knows what is best for his party."

Lazic is not the only one who thinks the Serbian Socialists have changed. Renaud Girard, a journalist with Le Figaro who often comes to Serbia, has also noticed a sea change in SPS policy. "I know what kind of party they were during the Milosevic era - there was no difference between them and the Radicals. But Milosevic is dead while Seselj is not," he says, referring to the actual head of the Radicals Vojislav Seslj, who is on trial in The Hague. "That fact has changed the SPS policy and they have moved away from the Radicals' extreme nationalism. The Socialists stand a greater chance of becoming a modern party with the future inside of the Socialist International."

Are the Socialists going to take that chance or join the Radicals instead? Only Dacic knows. Bargaining began on the first day after the polls and nobody thinks it will last for months. What future lies ahead for Serbia seems to be just a matter of days.

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Socialists as kingmakers in Serbia

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