Day: January 26, 2012
I’ve asked Milan Marinković, who lives in Niš, to begin writing on the Balkans for peacefare.net. His name should be familiar to you from some of the perceptive comments he has submitted over recent months. Here is a first piece, to which I’ve contributed a bit as well:
Many in Serbia tend to equate nationalism with patriotism. It would be more accurate to say that they confuse the two.
Patriotism is devotion to a country. A patriot seeks to make it more prosperous, more modern, more stable and secure. In fewer words: into a generally better place to live.
Nationalism regards the nation as a group under permanent threat from others. The group is thus forced to defend itself repeatedly, sometimes against nonexistent or fairly harmless enemies. The most prominent among these “enemies” in Serbia today is none other than Angelina Jolie. Her film on the war in Bosnia, In the Land of Blood and Honey, is regarded as an attack on Serbs and Serbia.
Regardless of who is perceived as the dangerous “anti-Serbian element” at a given time, several political parties readily accept and exploit nationalism. Election campaigns–the parliamentary election is to be held in May–intensify nationalist sentiments. Serbian politicians find it useful in gaining votes to manipulate and exploit fear.
Those who play the nationalist card are not uniform. At least three types of nationalists exist in Serbia: militant, conservative, and moderate.
Militants and conservatives both believe Serbs should avoid integration into the Western world in order to preserve their religion, tradition and customs as vital aspects of national identity and culture. Where they differ is in means. Militants are prepared to use violence.
The best recent example is the violence in Belgrade during the Gay Pride parade in 2010, when several thousand members of ultranationalist groups–including football (soccer) hooligans–rioted for hours, leaving more than a hundred injured policemen, who had been ordered to abstain from using force. Also, in 2008, during demonstrations against Kosovo’s declaration of independence, militant nationalists stormed and set ablaze the U.S. embassy. On a smaller scale, street attacks on LGBT activists, Roma, journalists and others take place on a weekly basis in Serbia, especially in multiethnic Vojvodina in the north.
Conservatives do not publicly advocate the use of violence, though they may sometimes support it tacitly. Former Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) Prime Minister Vojislav Koštunica is a conservative nationalist.
Moderate nationalists agree with their conservative counterparts on the importance of national identity and tradition, but believe that Serbia nevertheless needs to be more flexible if it is to achieve its somewhat contradictory goals, which include EU membership. This requires never-ending attempts to strike a balance between East and West, leading to chronic indecision. The two most notable moderate nationalists on Serbia’s political scene today are President Tadić (Democratic Party) and his main political rival, Tomislav Nikolić of the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS). Some believe that Tadić’s most influential coalition partner, Interior Minister Ivica Dačić, also belongs to this group, though others would regard him as a chameleon who adapts to whatever the environment requires.
What all the nationalist factions have in common is the assumption that Serbia and Serbs, being the largest among former Yugoslav republics and peoples respectively, are destined to dominate the region, either through territorial expansion (the creation of so-called “greater Serbia”) or by more subtle methods. Anything that interferes with this ambition is regarded as a threat.
The last time this idea served as the foundation of Serbia’s national policy, wars left many thousands dead. Armed conflict today is far less likely—the Serbian armed forces are just not up for it, the moderate nationalist politicians don’t want it, and the international community is watching more carefully than in the 1990s. But it is not clear whether a moderately nationalist Serbia will fit a European Union suit tailored to patriots rather than nationalists.