Serbia Chooses The West, Barely

Serbia has re-elected pro-Western president Boris Tadic by a narrow margin. It sets up a confrontation between Tadic and Serbian prime minister Vojislav Kostunica, whose parliamentary support for a less Western-friendly course will get tested in the resolution of Kosovo’s status. If the Kosovars declare independence, Serbia could find itself with a destabilizing internal battle:

The West sees Tadic’s victory as a sign that Serbia has turned away from the reactionary nationalism that fuelled the wars that marked the break up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Last week, the European Union signed an interim accord with Serbia covering trade and relaxation of visa rules — an initial step towards eventual EU membership — and on Monday the bloc welcomed Tadic’s win. “The EU wishes to deepen its relationship with Serbia and to accelerate its progress towards the EU, including candidate status,” the Slovenian EU presidency said in a statement.
Although both Tadic and Nikolic had vowed not to accept Kosovo’s independence, Tadic’s priority is to see Serbia pursuing a path towards EU membership. His pro-Europe views are not, however, shared by Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, who wants to pursue a more confrontational policy with the West over Kosovo.
Kostunica is in coalition with Tadic’s Democratic Party (DS) yet he refused to back Tadic in the presidential election, and he has insisted that if Kosovo declares independence, and this is recognized by the EU, then Belgrade should abandon its bid for EU membership.

This goes beyond EU membership, but that will probably be the catayst. Tadic could pull down Kostunica and force parliamentary elections at any time, and over any issue. If Kosovo declares its independence, and especially if the EU rushes to recognize it as most believe it will, the Serbs will have a strong inclination to rely on their allies in Moscow rather than embrace the Europeans they see as dismembering the traditional Serbian nation. And Russia will be happy to play power politics and take up their cause against the EU.
What we have here is a resumption of the Balkans version of the Great Game, subsumed for decades by the fascist and totalitarian Nazis and Soviets but rising again over the last twenty years. The shadows of the empires that fought for control in this Eurasian frontier are back at it again under different guises, and the peoples of the Balkans have once again become pawns in the struggle. The stakes are somewhat different this time around, however, as the question is not who will rule the Balkans as it is who will have their influence strengthened there, and therefore build more credibility and have more political satellites.
In any event, if the West relies too much on Tadic, they may be disappointed. Tadic also opposes Kosovan independence and isn’t likely to react with joy to an EU recognition of it. He may be pursuing EU membership as a gambit to get Europe to butt out of Kosovo rather than assisting European ambition to sever Kosovo permanently from Serbia. If the EU does recognize Kosovo’s independence, Tadic may join Kostunica in looking East rather than West.