Tuesday, February 17, 2004

unintended consequences
He's back, sort of.

A PARTY led from behind bars by former Yugoslav strongman Slobodan Milosevic looks set to return to the political main stage, ending weeks of deadlock in Serbia but prompting concern among the international community.

The Socialist Party of Serbia, which under Milosevic was one of the main actors in the bloody break-up of the former Yugoslavia, confirmed yesterday it was prepared to support a minority Serbian government led by moderate nationalist Vojislav Kostunica. Three smaller parties agreed at the weekend to join Mr Kostunica’s cabinet, but they lacked a majority in parliament after falling out with the Democratic Party of the assassinated Serbian premier, Zoran Djindjic.

If we're supposed to regard as credible attempts to bring liberal and democratic values to Iraq then it's probably worth looking at the success, or otherwise, of the interventions in the Balkans undertaken for the same purpose. The ethnic cleansers are back in power, or close to it, in both Serbia and Croatia. And in Bosnia, four years under Paddy Ashdown hasn't stopped ethnic nationalism remaining the country's main salient political fact. Here's Lord P's explanation.

"You have a balance between the pull of Europe and the pull of the nationalist legend," he said.

"When the scales shift and the pull of Europe becomes more powerful than the pull of the past nationalism, countries move forward."

"That's what's happened clearly in Croatia. In Serbia, the pull of the myth of nationalism remains stronger than the pull of Europe - though it is gaining, it hasn't yet gained.

"In Bosnia, that balance is about 50-50."

Others argue differently.

Analysts argue that increasing public frustration with the international community's demands - particularly relating to the tribunal - have also contributed to the SRS's growing popularity.

In a recent interview with the German media, Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic of the DS accused the West of responsibility for the nationalists comeback, accusing it of being "too rigid" over the EU integration process and membership criteria for the NATO Partnership for Peace programme.

Full cooperation with the war crimes tribunal is a prerequisite for membership of both international bodies, and the SRS has capitalised on popular opposition to The Hague.

Following Nikolic's success in the recent presidential elections, several DOS leaders, including Muslim moderate Rasim Ljajic, pointed to the increasing demands of the tribunal and accused Carla Del Ponte, the Hague's chief prosecutor, of behaving as if she were "a member of the radicals' election campaign staff".

In the event, the Serbian radicals did win a plurality of votes. And now in order to keep them from power, Slobbo has to be resurrected from the political graveyard. Is it the actual experience of applied liberalism that's reviving nationalism as a going political concern? Further evidence from Russia.

Indeed, all the problems Gessen sees as products of Putin's regime can be easily traced to the Yeltsin era. War in Chechnya, abuse of the media, vote rigging, using Zhirinovsky as a fake opposition figure… it's all there. The only difference is that Yeltsin didn't feel obliged to make many concessions to populism. He governed for the benefit of the Moscow elite, with an eye on pleasing his American advisors. He couldn't have cared less about ordinary Russians. They knew it, and hated him for it. And as Ames pointed out in our last issue, they're grateful to Putin for siding with them against Yeltsin's elite. Like it or not, that's democracy.