Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Denationalization

In the recent period, even more and more talking has been done on when and what should be denationalized. Few weeks ago in B92, it has been mentioned that around 500.000 people will receive back their stolen property from the Communists after the WWII. Out of these 500.000, around 90% of them will have their lives changed dramatically, if the law on denationalization.

On the TV show "Timofejev", a reportage has been made where a Serbian-American artist, George Ilic is awaiting his family's property to be returned which consists of the now empty are between the hotel "Moskva" and the Kraljice Natalije street, as well as a great part of the Zvezdara forest where his family's vineyards were. He hopes that, as soon as he gets it all back, he will invest and develop a business. However, some people can just hope for a monetary compensation, like the Vranes family whose workshop doesn't exist anymore on the corner of Kneza Milosa and Krunska Street. They can only hope for money in their accounts, as many people expect also the same.

Whether property returned or simply monetary compensation, this act would have great social effects in the Serbian society. Since Serbia already has a wealthy elite, mostly people of supsicious backgrounds such as Miskovic, Beko and Karic, the new elite is already the bearer of old civil values that were dominant in the pre-WWII Yugoslavia and can become not only a competition on the economic elite of Serbia, but also the competition to the so-called "civil intellectual elite" of Serbia. It is a question whether in this case the civil values of the royal Yugoslavia, that had an evolution from the 19th century until the violent overtaking of communism, will prevail over the post-communist civil values, or will they cohabitate?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Politics Update

It looks as if we are witnessing the beginning of the end of the current government as the political situation in Serbia becomes clearer.

The rough timescale of events will be as follows - the finalisation of the new Serbian constitution, a referendum on the constitution in October / November and finally elections in December / January.

President Tadic and PM Kostunica have agreed on this loose timescale and are also close to agreement on the form the new government might take. In plainspeak this means who gets what ministries. Some are speculating that Kostunica may actually remain Prime Minister and in return Tadic will be backed by Kostunica and his satellite parties in the Presidential elections. Talks are ongoing and who gets what will be influenced by the election result.

The Serbian Radical Party is also playing ball and is being consulted before the final text of the constitution is written up and brought before Parliament.

What does this mean in terms of Serbia's short to medium term future? Almost certainly another 'democratic' government which should be comfortably in place before Kosovo is proclaimed conditionally independent. This government will likely serve a full term.

In terms of party politics it signifies the return of the Democratic Party to government as the leading reformist party as they will receive the lions share of votes from the democratic block voters. However, it also means an almost amazing turn around in fortune for Kostunica and his DSS. It looked as if his favourite pet project, the constitution, was dead in the water but he may well toast success now. This, coupled with funds from the NIP, will allow him to build up some momentum before the election date and perhaps allow him to steal a few points away from rival parties. If his DSS manage 15 percent they will be delighted.

The Radicals have no interest in power at this point - harbouring no desire to be governing whilst Kosovo goes independent. They thus sacrifice their chances of governing for a further 4 years. Of course they reserve the right to take to the streets on Kosovo and to perhaps try to topple the government that way. Still, its interesting to speculate about how the Serbian Radical Party will look at the election after next. If the democratic block does throw its full weight behind Tadic at the Presidential elections the Radicals will likely face further electoral defeat.

Smaller parties, such as Cedomir Jovanovic's LDP may enter parliament, ironically also due to the constitution. LDP will bitterly campaign against the constitution due to the clauses naming Kosovo an integral part of Serbia.

But for once it looks like events are conspiring in Serbia to produce a more positive outcome.

PS Where Mladic fits into all this is anyones guess. Thinking off the top of my head it might be seen as potentially risky to deal with it now - meaning that the most likely (or optimally the best) time to locate and arrest will be in January.

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Thursday, September 21, 2006

Battle for third mobile operator begins / NIP

Somewhat sooner than expected, the Serbian government announced that the license for the third mobile phone operator, to compete against Telenor and state owned MTS, would be granted before the end of the year.

The news suggests that the Serbian government did a good job in selling Mobitel to Telenor since some observers claimed that part of that contract would be to give the winner at least 6 months of 'breathing space' before having to compete against a third rival.

As previously stated the starting price for the license will be 320 million Euros. Potential bidders include France Telecom, Oraskom (Egypt), Deutch Telekom (Germany), Telefonika (Spain), KPN Mobile (Holland) and Mobilkom. For now there is no word from mobile giant Vodaphone who have an agreement with Mobilkom not to compete on the same market.

The favourites must be Mobilkom who want to be present on the Serbian market as part of their wider regional strategy. But the same is true for Deutch Telekom (T-Mobile).

For now most analysts are keeping silent on how much they believe the government will bank but government sources suggest that any sum over 500 million Euros will be highly satisfactory.

And much of that total will be ploughed into the National Investment Plan which is a smart strategy for governing DSS since polls suggest that the Serbian voting public is rather keen on the NIP. Rather predictably the IMF have been sounding the alarm bells on the same issue. They claim that the money could be more wisely spent and are worried about the potential inflationary pressure on the economy.

It is crucial that funds from the NIP are wisely spent since there are only a few more large scale privatisations left to be carried out in Serbia - such as NIS (Oil Industry of Serbia). And one must be wary of the government tending to spend money on projects they believe will increase their popularity rather than benefit the country in the longer term.
However, many of the projects, particularly relating to infrastructure are necessary and long overdue. The current government may be fortunate to find itself in this position but if the money is well spent the current government will deserve to be remembered positively, on this issue at least.

Media Roundup - The Dreaded M(ladic) Word

The man who never seems far from the headlines - Ratko Mladic is again the subject of conjecture in the Serbian media.

The latest speculation seems to centre around an alleged Russian connection. Namely, during the Bosnian war Mladic appears to have bought weapons from the chief of Russian State Security Stjepasin. And yesterday it materialised that one of Mladic's right hand men, Marko Lugonja was arrested just minutes before his flight was due to take off - bound for Moscow. One version claims that Lugonja had already boarded the airplane but men in suits burst into the aircraft and then detained him. The other, preferred by Lugonja, is that he was stopped at passport control.
The operation was co-ordinated by the Special War Crimes Prosecutor Vukcevic in conjunction with the security agency BIA.

Either way the event was something of a fiasco since although Lugonja was meant to appear in court soonish, he still had the use of his passport and was technically was free to travel. Its not immediately clear why this occurred but with the Serbian record of letting suspects flee, hardly surprising.

Logonja now claims that the whole incident was set up with the intention of impressing the 'internationals' and Carla Del Ponte. As in many shady episodes in the Balkans there may be some truth in this - but of course this doesn't mean he didnt intend to flee.

Another Hague indictee Goran Hadzic is also (somewhat suspiciously) making the news. In what feels like a PR campaign by the Serbian government the potential arrest of Hadzic is being touted in the media as a possible offering to Del Ponte and the EU in return for the continuation of Serbian EU integration.

Sources quoted in the media say that if the EU refuses to continue the talks then the government will be forced to call a general election.

Are the Europeans impressed? Will Serbia go to the polls yet again this October?
Stay tuned.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Veliki brat meme

Veliki brat (Big brother) just started showing in Serbia. I won't go into discussion about this show, because everything has been said already, and we are all sick of it yet we still watch it.

What is interesting for me here is what big news the winner of the show will miss in the next one hundred days*. My tips as for the events in Serbia are concerned:

Kosovo independence,
Serbian parliamentary elections.

You are free to continue this meme on your blog or to add some of your suggestions in the comments if you don't have your own blog.

* Come to think of it, missing these news and not being a part of the crazy house we will have here in the next period is almost bigger reward than the official one, 100.000 EUR in cash.

BG's note - we will be doing some coverage of Big Brother Serbia over the next 3 months.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Opinion Poll - and its potential impact

One should always take opinion polls with a pinch of salt but this one conducted in Serbia from the 21st - 24th July by Strategic Marketing (one of the most respected pollsters) has caused recent comment. Its part of the poll I mentioned below regarding Europe.

The usual 'how high can the Radicals go?' question reverted to the 'who is in the lead?' question which we haven't seen in Serbia for many months:

The Serbian Radical Party 36 percent
Democratic Party 31 percent
Democratic Party of Serbia 11 percent
Socialist Party of Serbia 5 percent

Parties G17, Nova Srbija, LDP (Cedo Jovanovic) follow on under the required census.

The poll is extensive and is part of the stats I gave below on the EU (hmm why are CESID and others only commenting now?) and provides interesting statistics on a number of other issues including the most pressing public concern (unemployment) and public optimism - people are predictably negative.

Conclusions? For the first time in many months, if elections were to be held tomorrow DS and DSS could form a government. That's a government without the need for hangers on, grand coalitions between parties etc. Both DS and DSS support is rising even if support for the Radical party is also in the ascendancy.

This throws a bit of a spanner in the works since senior members of the Kostunica government recently took the decision to continue with their current government until early next year. Not such an easy 'decision' to make when your coalition parties are threatening to steal the rug from under your feet. But Kostunica has a contingency plan involving bringing other parties into the government coalition to fill the gap.

The poll might put DSS in a slightly stronger negotiating position with these smaller parties - at least temporarily. After all Kostunica has less to lose than they do if he calls elections.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Guca - not the only Serbian brand

Another Guča (alternative foreign transcriptions Gucha, Gucca, Goocha, Gutscha or even Gootzscha) festival is finished and we give you the recap here.
Officials say that the festival was visited by almost half of million visitors this year, more than ever. Tons of grilled meat, (pechenje, pljeskavice, cevapcici) hectolitres of alcoholic drinks (pivo, vino, rakija) and thousands of cubic metres of festivals speciality - sauerkraut (kiseli kupus) were devoured and hundreds of people still fell their ears buzzing because of loud trumpet music. Hundreds of thousands of EURos remain in pockets of entrepreneurs such as room and hotel owners, restaurant workers, musicians of all kinds. Dark numbers - one registered death case and several hundred drunk driving fines, probably dozen drunken fights and several dozens broken hearts.

This years Guča also brought an aftermath discussion started by criticism from Teofil Pancic about whether it's good to advertise the festival as Serbian brand, being that it doesn't actually always represent Serbians in a positive way.
I have to agree with one thing - that it is certainly not good to advertise it as the ONLY Serbian brand, and certainly not good to talk about it in a way that our prime minister did:

"Gucha represents in a best way what Serbia is today, what does its openness, belief in oneself, hospitality, party and music. Trumpet festival is a confirmation on our courage and joy both in good and bad times. It represents people's return to the roots, joy and meaning of life.
It speaks about who we are, what we are, our urges. We express our joy and sadness with trumpet, we are born with sounds of trumpet, and also buried with sounds of trumpet. Guca is Serbian brand, it's a value that can represent Serbia in the world.
Those that cant understand and love Guca, cant understand Serbia. If we are going to go in EU without our melodies and colors, than we wouldn't know who we are."

Now what is wrong with this speech, besides the fact that it's politically motivated (elections are coming) and completely unnecessary on one such festival? Well, it simply is a bit far from the truth.

You don't have to love trumpet and Guca to understand Serbia. You dont even have to know what Guca is to love Serbia. Because Guca is far from only thing that can represent Serbia, and that is exactly what the prime ministar is clumsily trying to make out of it.

Speeches like this one are dangerous because they give ultra natinalists more rights to claim this festival as their own and in a way 'kidnap' it from other people. That's why it is possible to see young men proudly wearing t-shirts with war criminals in the festival crowds, thank god only a handfull of them, but still one handfull too many.

Personaly i think that Guca is a good brand because it does represent "the life as it once was" but that's why i'm afraid that it doesn't fall into trap of being the ONLY thing Serbia can give. And hopefully the plans of making an international festival and letting the foreign bands compete together with Serbian ones stop the nationalistic aproach to the whole thing.
But also it seems as forbidding all kinds of political speeches is a must in the future.

Yet another festival is underway, Leskovacka rostiljada, or "Leskovac Grilliade", roughly and poorly translated to English by yours truly. If Guca is celebration of brass music, this must be celebration of food (not if you're vegetaerian and only if "food" translates as "meat" in your system of values). Held in a small town of Leskovac in Southern Serbia, it is an annual festival with more and more foreigners attending each year. Why? Well simply because they discovered that they can eat better, bigger and tastier Pljeskavica for one EUR than they could with Doner Kebab, Giros, Falafel or hamburger, for two or three times the amount of money in any other city in Europe. Clever, don't you think? Plus the party goes on deep into the night, but that is something that you should be getting used to in Serbian festivals.

Speaking of weird festivals I have to mention this one as well, but it seems i can't get to describe it no matter how hard i tried, so i'll just leave the address: http://www.ballscup.com/ Now think if we advertised that as the best or only Serbian brand? I can only imagine my conversation abroad: "Yes i am from Serbia. No, we don't all eat that."

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Serbian media roundup

This is the first in a regular series of fortnightly reports on a subject(s) in the Serbian media.

In conjunction with the OSCE Blic newspaper recently chose a female government - that is a government with every Minister represented by a woman. One woman was selected as Minister by readers every day out of a list of successful women.

Of the better known women Zorica Tomic (writer, lecturer) was chosen as Minister of Culture, Princess Jelisaveta Karadjordjevic was selected as Minister of the Diaspora, Milka Forcan (PR manager at Delta - Miskovic) as Trade and Tourism Minister. Ivana Dulic-Markovic (prominent because of the recent 'ustasa' jibe) was voted Vice Prime Minister and Ruzica Djindjic (wife of assassinated PM Djindjic, involved in a number of humanitarian and environmental organisations) chosen as Prime Minister.

Initially I was skeptical, although I support the rights of women, in my opinion there would be little difference in the world if women traded places with men in senior positions. That is because sex or gender is much less important than the culture of power and the system in which the human race currently finds itself. Thus, when you read the words of some editor or from some of the women involved that they are 'convinced that the world would be a better place' (if they were to run it) one feels a little dubious.

However, after consideration, I agree that this campaign of promoting the profile of professional women is beneficial to society. Equally there is something to be learnt from all of this in terms of future politics in Serbia. The women who were selected in the most senior roles are here to stay in Serbian politics / public life.
Ruzica Djindjic's vote was particularly impressive, 1689 votes, and the only candidate throughout the series that really made an impact on the public - she received thousands of votes and trounced her competitor for the PM spot, Vesna Pesic.

This confirms my opinion concerning Ruzica Djindjic - that if she wants to (and those who know her say that she will wait for her children to grow up before a final decision) high office is hers for the taking. Other opinion polls have confirmed this. Some months ago senior Radical Party officials decided on a policy of targeting her but when it became clear that she currently has no interest in office the attacks ceased. The implication is clear.
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