Tomislav Nikolic, a former right-wing nationalist and leader of the Serbian Progressive Party, was elected President of Serbia in May 2012. Nikolic won against his opponent and the Democratic Party candidate Boris Tadic, the former President of Serbia who resigned as President before the Presidential Election in April 2012. Nikolic, who is an outspoken admirer of Russia, was known as a close ally of Slobodan Milosevic, the former Serbian strongman. He bagged 50.21 per cent of the votes, while his opponent, Boris Tadic, got only 46.77 per cent of the votes. Boris Tadic, who was a former Professor of Psychology (University of Belgrade), ran the Presidential Election campaign advocating that Serbia should be a part of the European Union (EU). But Nikolic, the present President was previously averse to the idea of Serbia being part of the EU and said that his main objective was to solve the problems created by the Democratic Party. But after being elected President he shed his ultra-nationalist image and advocated being a part of EU and a friend of the United States. It is quite paradoxical for him to change his stance in recent times, as he was the part of Slobodan Milosevic Government when the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) supported by the EU bombed Serbia in 1999 during a war in Kosovo.
In 2008, Nikolic left the far-right Serbian Radical Party led by combative leaders like Vojislav Seselj and Ratko Mladic who are war criminals undergoing trials in the International Court of Justice, The Hague. He then rebranded himself as pro-EU and messiah of the downtrodden destitute rather than his previous image of ultra-nationalist and being pro-Russian. The defining issue of the election was the country’s flagging economy, which Nikolic promised to strengthen by imposing higher taxes on the rich to help pay for social benefits. After becoming President Nikolic made it clear that he will maintain cordial diplomatic relations with Europe as well as the United States.
Serbia with a population of 7.3 million has got an unemployment rate of 24 per cent. The currency of Serbia has been devalued in respect to US Dollar. President Nikolic needs to control the country’s increasing deficit despite his promises to expand social protection. He also has to persuade the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to renew the $1.3 billion precautionary loan the terms of which ended in February.
Facts from the Past
Serbia became a sovereign republic in the summer of 2006 through a referendum over the independence of Serbia from the Union of Serbia and Montenegro and which was supported by Montenegro. The end of the Union of Serbia and Montenegro marked the complete separation of the six republics of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia which was formed in 1945 and comprised Serbia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia. The exit of Slovenia and Macedonia from the Republic of Yugoslavia happened seamlessly but there were devastating wars in Croatia and Bosnia. Serbia and Montenegro were the only two countries which remained in the Republic of Yugoslavia from 1993 to 2003. In 1998, violence started in the autonomous Serbian province of Kosovo. The Kosovo Liberation Army which was supported by the ethnic Albanians, who formed the majority in the country, rebelled against the Serbian rule. To control the situation the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) launched air strikes in Kosovo and Serbia in 1999. After the Serbian forces were driven out, the United Nations (UN) took control over the administration of the country. Kosovo declared independence on 17 February 2008 despite staunch Serbian protest.
Although the current Serbian government is pro-Western and routing for recognition and membership of the European Union (EU), traditionally Serbia was an ally of Russia. The election of the ultra-nationalist Tomislav Nikolic as President of the country in 2012 is likely to see further overtures towards Russia as the President declared his intention to strengthen ties with both the EU and Russia.