Saturday, May 17, 2008

A losing victory for Tadic?

Sometimes you win and yet you loose. The most famous example was probably Pyrrhus (319-272 BC) whose victories cost more than they delivered. A famous example in Dutch politics is the "losing victory" (overwinningsnederlaag) of the social-democrats in 1977. The victory had made them so arrogant and demanding that in the end a coalition was formed without them. It looks now like Tadic has placed himslf in a similar situation.

On the surface it looks like Tadic had a solid victory. But underneath it looks rather problematic:
- The DSS and the SPS used to be counted among the "reformers" that would be more inclined to form a coalition with Tadic than with the Radicals. Yet Tadic has alienated them so that both now prefer the Radicals.
- With its "majority decision" policy that ended up bringing the cabinet down the DS showed itself an unreliable coalition partner. The whole idea of a coalition is that you find together a compromise and that you then defend that together in parliament. And so "majority decisions" in a coalition is just an euphemism for betraying your partner.
It is my impression that since his victory in the presidential elections Tadic has been looking for an opportunity to repeat his success in national elections. As any political advisor will tell you that voters don't like it when you break up a coalition he behaved instead in such a way that Kostunica felt forced to initiate the break up.
- On Kosovo - one of the most important political topics - the DS seems divided. While Jeremic was engaged in successful diplomacy against the recognition of Kosovo other politicians seemed to have different ideas. Dinkic proposed to stop paying Kosovo's debt - what easily could be explained as giving up. And in a previous job Assistant Foreign Minister Delevic was even more radical. She foresaw that in the end Serbia would have to recognise Kosovo in its present borders as a price for EU membership. A normal government would have worked out a compromise on this. But the DS's majority policy made this impossible.
- Then there is the hate speech. Westerners are so used to hearing that hate speech is a property of the Radicals that they fail to ignore that part of this image is the consequence of the hateful way in which Tadic and friends paint their opponents. The DS likes to paint its opponents as primitive, violent, anti-European, pro-Russian and irresponsible. This works well to win an election. But the problem with these labels is that people start to believe them - even those who thought them up. And that makes it very difficult to cooperate later in a coalition. Mutual respect is a basic requirement for democracy and I find that conspicuously lacking with the DS.
Of course the Radicals have their own hate speech. Calling the democrats "traitors" is rather irresponsible in a country where political murders are not uncommon. But at least their scolding is connected to a concrete subject (Kosovo) and the DS is capable of defending itself by explaining their Kosovo policy. The scolding from the DS on the other hand seems primarily intended to humiliate and denigrate the others. This is not about politics but about connecting them to the bad things of the Milosevic era in the public image.
Another thing one should take into account is that the Radicals are a populist party and that means the use of simplistic language. It means for example not complaining about corruption but flatly saying that someone is a thief. The label "traitor" can be explained similarly. But as a big party they will need to behave more responsible. Some time in government might help to accomplish this change.
I get the impression that Tadic listens too much to American advisors. In the US and some other big countries you have basically two big parties. Both sides can afford to malign each other as they usually don't have to work together in a coalition. Smaller Western countries tend to have a more open system with smaller parties that need to form a coalition. Such a system is more democratic but in larger countries (more than 50 million inhabitants) the fragmentation becomes so much that the system becomes unworkable. It is probably no coincidence that one quite often hears Tadic supporters demand a more American system for "clarity". They have no use for cooperation.
- This brings me to another aspect: respect for democracy. Allthough I was in favour of the SAA and consider the Radical suspicions exaggerated, I certainly was not in favor of the way Tadic signed it against the will of the parliament. Whether it was against the letter of the law I leave to the lawyers, but it certainly was against the spirit of the law. Democracy is based on trust and that is why you have the rule that you don't use the period between a governmment resignation and elections for controversial measures.

This is not the profile of a party that anyone would like to work with. So if the DS ends up in the opposition they only can thank themselves.

In the Netherlands the social-democrats never really recovered from their loss of power in 1977. Let's see what happens in Serbia.


Bg anon said...

Wim are you aware of the anti European (not Euro sceptic but Euro phone) strain of Serbian thought?

To be clear you must realise that there are anti Europeans in Serbia that are not a reaction to Tadic or his statements. Further I believe that in previous years Tadic has been an inclusive president. Some would say too inclusive. It seems to me that it is / was DSS that left DS not the other way round.

The signing of the SAA by the government was in accordance with the constitution. It goes before parliament after that. It was a little petulant of Tadic but sometimes the constituency he represents gets a little fed up of always being the reasonable ones. Besides it was DSS that were pushing the view that signing the SAA was recognition of Kosovo.
It was time to push ahead. The illegality, if there was any which is a matter of interpretation, was in the fact that a parliamentary vote was not taken.

The new parliament will get the chance to vote on it. And do not be surprised if it is passed - whether that is by a DS led government or a SRS led government. Part of the SPS coalition will vote for SAA and the pensioners and SPS are yet to decide.

Wim Roffel said...

Hi BG anon! Every country sooner or later gets an "eurosceptic" movement. When Poland and Czechia voted in referenda about becoming EU members 77%-80% voted in favor, what is not that different from the 70% that are in Serbia in favor of EU membership according to the polls.

The way the SAA was signed would be nearly unthinkable in my country and many other Western countries (George Bush wouldn't have a problem with it). Respect for other opinions is a fundamental part of democracy.

You think that it was time to push ahead. I think this benefit was outweighed by the generated distrust and that a little delay to get others on board would have been a good investment.