Monday, 21 January 2008

Time for Serbia to pick a side

The Serbian presidential election over the weekend could hardly have been encouraging for Brussels. Ultranationalist candidate Tomislav Nikolic emerged the winner with 39.4 percent of the vote, beating the 35.4 percent of incumbent candidate Boris Tadic. Since neither candidate won a majority, a second round of voting will be held in two weeks.

The election is being closely watched because it has huge implications for the future of the Balkans. The Serbian people can choose either Mr. Nikolic, who wants closer ties with Russia and is opposed to NATO, the US and the EU, or Mr. Tadic, who wants Serbia to join the EU and wants it to distance itself from Russia. In short, the election will determine whether Serbia takes the path toward Russia or the path toward the EU.

The 61 percent turnout – the highest since the fall of Milosevic in 2000 – shows how seriously the Serbs are taking the vote, and the result of the weekend shows that they are almost evenly split over which direction Serbia should take.

The vote is also crucial for the settling of the Kosovo issue. Technically both candidates oppose independence for the breakaway republic, but Tadic would possibly accept its independence in exchange for a fast-track to EU membership. Right now the situation is in limbo. The UN mission in Kosovo was supposed to end on December 10th and the elected representative there is ready to declare independence, but the world community is waiting until after the elections to make any decisions, for fear that granting independence will ensure a win for Nikolic in Serbia (for a more detailed background on the Kosovo situation click here).

Because the vote is so close, nobody knows how the election in two weeks will turn out. For now, the EU is holding its breath and hoping that it won’t soon find itself with an enemy at its doorstep.

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