Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Will the Real Serbia Please Stand Up?

INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP - NEW BRIEFING

Will the Real Serbia Please Stand Up?

Belgrade/Brussels, 23 April 2008: The international community should refrain from counter-productive intervention in Serbia's 11 May elections, including offering to sign a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA).

Will the Real Serbia Please Stand up?,* the latest policy briefing from the International Crisis Group, examines the situation after Kosovo's independence and ahead of parliamentary and local elections. The vote is unlikely to change Belgrade's policy towards the new state, even in the unlikely event a pro-Western government comes to power.

"Public anger over Western support for Kosovo's independence is such that any attempt by the EU or US to support pro-Western parties prior to the elections risks strengthening the nationalist vote", says James Lyon, Crisis Group Senior Adviser.

Kosovo's independence declaration on 17 February 2008 sent shock waves through Serbia's politics and society. Rioting led to attacks on nine Western embassies, destruction of foreign property and looting. The government fell on 10 March, split over whether to pursue a nationalist or pro-Western path. Belgrade's efforts to create a de facto partition of Kosovo's north threaten the new state's territorial integrity, challenge deployment of EU missions there and complicate implementation of the Ahtisaari Plan.

There is a real likelihood the Serb Radical Party will win the elections and form a coalition government. If that happens, Euro-Atlantic integration would halt, and nationalists could be expected to support a more belligerent response in Kosovo, including use of low-level violence by Kosovo Serbs. The nationalists might also encourage Republika Srpska to leave Bosnia-Herzegovina and meddle in Macedonia. A backlash against pro-Western activists and increased media repression could likewise be anticipated.

Yet Serbia could also remain without a government until September. Kostunica would stay caretaker premier and continue to define Kosovo policy. He is likely to play a significant role in forming a new government, perhaps even as premier once again.

At best, the West will have limited influence for many months. Meanwhile, any attempt before the 11 May elections to pressure or induce Belgrade into more cooperation risks strengthening the nationalist vote.

"In the run-up to 11 May, Brussels and Washington would be well served to lower levels of rhetorical support for the pro-Western parties", says Sabine Freizer, Crisis Group's Europe Program Director. "In particular, EU leaders should not appease nationalist forces by offering a Stabilisation and Association Agreement before Serbia has met the long-standing condition for it: full cooperation with the Hague Tribunal".


Contacts: Andrew Stroehlein (Brussels) +32 (0) 2 541 1635
Kimberly Abbott (Washington) +1 202 785 1601

To contact Crisis Group media please click here
*Read the full Crisis Group briefing on our website: http://www.crisisgroup.org

The International Crisis Group (Crisis Group) is an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organisation covering some 60 crisis-affected countries and territories across four continents, working through field-based analysis and high-level advocacy to prevent and resolve deadly conflict.



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