Only a few hundred hard-line Serbian nationalists turned out in Belgrade this week to protest the arrest of wartime Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic. Does this negligible reaction from the once-powerful nationalists indicate that their cause is finally waning? Branka Trivic, a correspondent at RFE/RL's Belgrade bureau, believes it does.
RFE/RL: Why have the Serbian nationalists remained so quiet following the arrest of Radovan Karadzic?
Branka Trivic: It seems to suggest that the Serbian project of radical nationalism has finally collapsed. One wonders why? Well, most likely because the Serb population has lived in complete isolation, humiliation, and poverty the whole of the last decades since the '90s and they gradually came to understand that nationalism and poverty lead them nowhere.
Even those who supported ultranationalist Radical Party leader Tomislav Nicolic in the recent parliamentary and presidential elections did so because Nicolic was offering a fairy tale of economic and social well-being. Higher wages, better salaries, a fight against corruption, more social justice, and so on, so even Nicolic realized that in the election, social democracy would work better, would attract much more votes than the old-time nationalist scene of redrawing the Serbian borders, regaining all the former Serbian wartime entities lost to Croatia, and exercising an "Anschluss" [the 1938 annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany] of all the ethnic-Serb territories in the former Yugoslavia to Serbia; he didn't even play the Kosovo tune in his election campaign.
RFE/RL: Are Serbs turning instead toward the West, and seeking a European identity?
Trivic: The Serbian transition towards democracy, towards the European Union is not an easy process, but the hardest steps have already been taken. There were massive layoffs because of the closure of bankrupt socialist enterprises, banks, and so on, but that's all behind Serbia now.
This leads us to expect that there will not be massive movements of social dissatisfaction in the coming time, even when social-economic problems arise -- and they are likely to arise. The hard-line parties will do all they can to capitalize on every crisis, but it's not likely they will have great popular support, so at the end of the day the Serbian population seems likely to give credit to the only experiment they have not tried so far, that of joining forces with Europe, which will bring about peace and stability, normalcy, and better standards of living.
It's up to the newly elected pro-European Union government, but also the European Union itself, to ensure that they don't get disappointed, frustrated, apathetic again.
RFE/RL: Can we be sure there will not be a resurgence of Serbian nationalism?
Trivic: The proof, for me, that the nationalist movement in Serbia is exhausted, is that there have not been any massive protests when Kosovo became independent. Well, we've seen some events on the streets of Belgrade, there was a rampage against the Western embassies, but that was more the work of a few hundred hooligans, and a couple of days afterward everything was peaceful, so I mean the Kosovo issue was the most painful issue for Serbia, and we haven't seen any massive protests.