Serbian Electorate Must Choose–Stomach or Heart?

narodna_skupstina_srbije.jpgThe Serbian coalition government, with moderate nationalist Vojislav Koštunica as Prime Minister–has collapsed following dissension within the multi-party governing coalition over the “loss of Kosovo.” Voters will go to the polls to elect a new government on May 11th having to make a stark choice in the polling booth: whether to side with the nationalists in their struggle to forestall Kosovar independence, or to vote in a more moderate pro-European government, thereby placating not only members of the European Union but calming the nerves of wary international investors, who have become the life-blood of the Serbian economic system. As reports reports:

…The coalition government collapsed at the weekend, with nationalist Prime Minister Vojislav Koštunica blaming disunity over the conflicting goals of pursuing European Union membership versus defending Kosovo, the province which seceded last month with EU backing.

“Right now, around 1.0 billion euros worth of investments have been put on hold,” [Deputy Prime Minster Božidar] Djelić said. “There is a growing risk perception considering that some parties want to halt Serbia’s road to Europe. The elections will be a choice between Europe and investors are extremely careful.”

Heavily reliant on foreign investment for growth, Serbia is believed to need between 3.0 billion and 5.0 billion euros a year to ensure solid economic growth, single digit inflation and financing of its current account gap of 16 percent of GDP.

“In the absence of the required level of foreign investment, foreign creditors could also decide to put on hold lending to Serbian companies,” said Pavle Petrović of the FREN/CEVES thinktank said.

“The resulting crisis would lead to forcible reduction in external gaps through inflation, currency depreciation, a fall in output and wages. In that case, the central bank could soothe and postpone, but not eliminate the crisis,” he said.

Serb Demonstrators Attack US and Croatian Embassies in Belgrade

The Washington Post reports that following a massive (upwards of 150,000 participants) and peaceful demonstration in the Serbian capital of Belgrade, with the theme “Kosovo is Serbia”, a group numbering a few thousand at most has attacked the US and (neighboring) Croatian embassies, setting the US embassy on fire. The demonstrations were held in the aftermath of Albanian Kosovars’ official declaration of independence on Monday. The US is one of many countries to have officially recognized Kosovo as the newest ex-Yugoslav independent state, setting off a public and official outcry on the part of Serbs, for whom Kosovo is the historical birthplace of their nation.

Politicians in Belgrade are caught between their rhetoric to do what it takes (short of violence) to prevent Kosovo from achieving full-fledged independence and the lack of many good non-violent options to do so, given the Serb leadership’s openly declared goal of one day joining the European Union. One possibility would be to energize (or otherwise entice) the Serbs in neighboring Bosnia and Herzegovina to agitate for higher levels of autonomy, or outright independence, stressing the similarities of the situations. This would certainly raise the ire of European leaders and would not earn the Serbs any bonus points in their quest for further integration into European political and economic institutions.

Here is footage from the Belgrade independent media outlet B92:

From the “About Video” (translated by me): Beograd — Stotine nasilnih demonstranata nakon završetka mitinga napalo američku i hrvatsku ambasadu. U 19:13 intervenisala policija.

“Upon the conclusion of the [official] demonstration, undreds of violent demonstrators attacked the American and Croatian embassies. The police intervened at 7:13 pm.”

You can find a gallery of photographs from the day in Belgrade at B92’s website here.

U.S. Formally Recognizes Kosovo Independence

We discussed in class today that of the four characteristics of a state, the only one that Kosovo had, at that point, not fulfilled was international recognition by other states. According to this Washington Post story, the United States has begun to change that:

kosovo_independence1.jpgPresident Bush hailed the newly independent Kosovo and officially recognized it as a state and a “close friend” on Monday, expressing strong support for the new Balkans nation even as he rebuffed protests by Serbia and Russia.

The formal announcement came in a statement issued by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is traveling in Africa with the president. “The United States has today formally recognized Kosovo as a sovereign and independent state,” she said. “We congratulate the people of Kosovo on this historic occasion.”

I understand what it feels like to be a Kosovar Albanian today as it takes me back to 15 January 1992, when European and other states, including the United States, formally recognized the independence of the Republic of Croatia. I can also sympathize with Serbs, who must feel like their heart has been ripped out of their body given that Kosovo is integral to history and spirit of the Serbian nation. Ivo Banac has written that “the history of the Balkans is a history migrations, not only peoples, but of lands.” The Serbian nation was founded on land that the Serbs no longer control politically as a result of the vicissitudes of politics in that part of the world and the drift of the center of gravity of Serb political northward over the centuries. It is incumbent upon the new Kosovo government and the international community to allow Serbs to continue to have access to the sacred religious and spiritual monuments of their past.

You can see a comprehensive slide show of photographs marking the situation here.

Below is a photograph of the famous Serbian Christian Orthodox Gračanica Monastery in Kosovo.