Thursday, April 21, 2011

The hunger strike

Tomislav Nikolic, is the leader of the Serbian Progressive Party whom I previously wrote about in this politics post. Surprisingly enough he held true to his promise to protest again if the president –- a member of the Democratic Party -- did not announce early elections by mid-April. The next general elections are due in May of 2012, and the current president, Boris Tadic, and his crew have said they refuse to call early elections before Serbia receives EU candidate status, which is hoped to occur near the end of this year if all goes well.

When we were in the US Embassy in Belgrade, the officers voiced contentment with Tadic being in power and a democracy being tried. They were the first to say that Tadic hasn't held his promises with everything but apparently he's sufficiently cooperated with the EU and US and so I have a feeling that this refusal involves the inner-workings of the EU. If early elections come about from a people's revolt or submissive force then Serbia will be seen as an even less stable country which is not in the interest of their EU accession.

So what did Nikolic do exactly? He organized another rally on April 16th during which he declared he would go on a hunger and thirst strike until early elections were called. Can you imagine that? Absolutely no food or even water? After three days an IV was forced in him and his people accepted medical care on his behalf since he wasn't lucid enough to do so. After regaining strength and sanity, he announced yesterday from the hospital that he would end his thirst strike but continue his hunger strike.

It's been six days and his doctor has said he's lost more that 10 pounds. Hunger strikes have been tried before and they certainly show dedication but this seems to consort with insanity.

Why does he claim Serbia needs early elections? Because of the deepening economic crisis and widespread corruption in the current government. The thing is Nikolic is hardly some doe-eyed philanthropist looking to promote peace and democracy. In fact, in 2003 he ran for president as the SRS (Serbian Radical Party acronym) candidate, the nationalist, pro-Slobodan Milosevic (Serbian dictator of the '90s) party! The leader of the SRS before Nikolic, Vojislav Seselj, has been in the Hague awaiting trial for gruesome war crimes. Basically Nikolic comes from a party with an extremely bloodied past. Nikolic became the leader of the SRS and then resigned in 2008 to start the Progressive Party, but just because his connection to Milosevic and the Radical Party is now less obvious it doesn't mean that his ethics or political views have shifted.

When does he want elections to be held? December 18th. President Tadic has sited the end of the year as the time Serbia will become an EU candidate -- since 2003 it has been a 'potential candidate' -- and also at this time they will receive a date for the start of compulsory membership talks. Frankly early elections would complicate all of this making Serbia look weak and less attractive to the EU and it doesn't seem to bode well for Nikolic that his ideal date is in the midst of all these previously stated targets.

The majority of Serbia (and Eastern Europe) is Orthodox and they use the Julian calendar, as opposed to Western churches which use the Gregorian calendar. But once in a while Easter falls on the same day in both calendars and this year is one of those years so Easter for both is this Sunday. Because of its proximity, Nikolic has asked the public to "treat my strike as a fast." Then the Serbian Patriarch shot back on the 18th saying that food and water strikes were non-Christian and he told him to end it. The Serbian Parliament, President Tadic, and other political figures have also told him to end this strike so now it just seems sort of foolish and characteristic of the Serbian term, inat. This word has no direct translation but it is a very strong, spiteful stubbornness.

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