Montag, 21. Mai 2012

Why Serbia lost when Nikolic won, or, who is Tomislav Nikolic to me

The biggest loser is... Serbia! Tadic will be fine. Years ago, I was thinking about what Tadic could do once he's no longer president of Serbia. I concluded that he'll most likely advance to an international position (but, my premise was that he'll retire after his 2nd term, no longer having the constitutional right to run for the 3rd time). There simply can't be a position in Serbia he could be satisfied with. For sure he won't be the PM, to him that's a demotion.

So, how come Serbia lost in these elections? Nikolic is an old-type politician, the 1990s model. For those who don't know, or remember the period differently, '90s in Serbia sucked! They sucked so bad that now, more than 10 years after we defeated the man responsible for them, we get someone like Nikolic as president, because 10 years is not long enough to mend all the damage to the society done by Milosevic and his clique.

Let's just recapture some of Nikolic's achievements:
He started off as an employee of a cemetery in Kragujevac, in Central Serbia. That's why, after he became a prominent politician, his opponents would call him a "gravedigger". I think the title suits him right. There's just something about him that evokes this darkness of cemetery and death.

He is, or was, the "kum" (translates as both best man and godfather) to Vojislav Seselj. Seselj is a very special figure in Serbian politics. An exceedingly intelligent man (to this day holds record as the youngest PhD at his University), but evil to the bone, he was one of the nationalist politicians that emerged in the early '90s when the country introduced multiparty elections. (This is a link about how Seselj, on the right, dealt with his opponents. They had an argument on the TV show, where Seselj keeps talking about the man's dead father, and then the man splashes him in the face with water. The next day, Seselj and his bodyguards beat the man up, and Seselj claims that the man simply slipped on a banana peel:

Nikolic boasts one of the longest careers as a member of Serbian Parliament, of around 20 years. This is one of the issues - how can someone who's pretty much only been a government employee have a luxurious apartment in one of the most expensive neighborhoods in Belgrade?

For a short period, Seselj's radicals were forming a government with Milosevic, and Nikolic was one of the ministers, or maybe a deputy PM. His history is generally obscure, and I was too young back then to remember all of these details.

His real career only starts after Seselj relocated himself to the Hague Tribunal's detention unit in Scheveningen. Just 20 days later, PM Zoran Djindjic was killed. What do we remember about Nikolic from this period? That he held a speech at Seselj's farewell rally in which he said: "If any of you sees Zoran Djindjic around in the next month or two, tell him even Tito had leg problems just before he died", referring to Djindjic's ski injury because of which he wore a cast on one of his legs:

Seselj being in Hague, Nikolic was the de facto chief of the Radical party in Serbia. He was running the show, in a manner hard to describe as anything but disgusting. This was the general description of how Radicals acted. There are many examples, but very few in English (none here):  (Radical women cursing the traitor Nikolic)

The biggest political bomb in Serbia was when Nikolic decided to break off from Seselj. In Serbia, all members of Parliament are conditioned by their respective parties to sign a blank resignation note and give it to the party. Just in case the MP gets some ideas about switching to another party. In the Radical party, to which Nikolic belonged, he, being the deputy president of the party, held all the resignation notes. So, when he decided to form a new party (because he lost to Boris Tadic for the second time, for which he blamed Seselj and his ultra-nationalist rhetoric, which wasn't moderate enough for an average voter), effectively splitting the Radicals into two parties, no one could activate his (and his new MPs') resignation note, because "he had lost them", as he put it.

Since then, he claims to be pro-EU, but also pro-Russian at the same time. He's famous for saying he wants to see Serbia become a Russian province. Also famous for a weird hunger strike. He was on a hunger strike for about two weeks, but no one knew why. Then he held a rally and said he'll sit in front of the Parliament until the government accepts his terms (again, no one remembers why this happened), but he added he'd sit on a stirofoam because he's an old man. So, now everyone makes fun of him and stirofoam. Just stupid s**t like that. (hunger strike) (stirofoam)

In the latest election, the issue of his University degree took the lead as one of the most talked about issues. In short, he "graduated" in 2007 with a degree in Marketing, but in 2008 elections he said that he's studying at the Faculty of Law. Why, if he even then had this degree? Also, according to his student file, he passed all of his 2nd year exams in 3 days! Then, when they checked his bachelor thesis, it's on a completely different topic than what the University says it is. And the University? It belongs to one of his former political allies. All in all, fishy. (unconvincing explanation)

So, that's why I say Serbia lost. Our political culture took a major blow, because it's this kind of demeanor that Nikolic consistently shows.

On the positive side, the Radicals are no more! The newly formed Progressives (Nikolic and Co.) took over all their votes and the radicals didn't pass the census threshold of 5%.


  1. Very, very interesting note. I will continue with the videos tomorrow. By the way, the water splashing was famous all over the world!!! I remember it clearly. I just have a quick (and very layman) question: Why was there no better alternative than Nikolic?

  2. Alternative within the opposition to Tadic, or alternative to Nikolic, including Tadic?
    In the first case, that's the result of a very stale political life in Serbia. No new parties, definitely no new ideas. Nikolic's Progressive party is actually one of the newest ones. If you forget the fact that he's still the same man, which apparently most people did...
    In the second case, Tadic is a pretty good option, if you ask me. My expectations from politicians are not that high, and he pretty much meets all of them - he's relatively uncorrupted (most of the corruption accusations are to his party members, never him, and I believe he's clean), he's good-looking and charismatic (very important with the ladies, pardon, women voters), he's a democrat and he's ostensibly for a stronger civil society and modernization, he's well regarded abroad, he's not a lunatic...
    So, why did he lose? People got tired of being poor and Nikolic offered Tadic as the culprit. That was his message, and he stuck by it, so in the end enough people believed him. Mind you, it's a very slim margin. The first time they faced off, Nikolic lost by 250,000 votes, the second time by around 100,000, and now he won by only 33,000! So, he only needed to convince several tens of thousands of people to change their minds. Not an impossible task, you would agree. Also, the nationalists are pretty diligent when it comes to voting. The democrats aren't, and as the turnout was low, this meant the nationalists are favorites. The combination of all of this contributed to Tadic's fall.

  3. There's something about Radicals, Nikolic included, that I always found intriguing - they almost exclusively use quasi-arguments to prove a point, but it works! I'm baffled by it. The only way to rationalize that their success is based on this kind of argumentation is to conclude that people must be idiots when they can't tell that it's a load of crap, and believe them. That's very frustrating.