President of Serbia Boris Tadic opened his Tuesday evening address with the words of former American President Woodrow Wilson: “Democracy is not so much a form of government as a set of principles.”
But in a statement that characterized the tone of the evening, he later conceded, “One can talk about principles, but first one must solve some problems.”
So began Tuesday’s World Leaders Forum session in Low Memorial Library’s rotunda, where Tadic highlighted the controversial question Serbia now faces: Can the country’s fledgling democracy thrive if the accepted democratic principles are foregone for practicality?
The Democratic Party toppled the previous regime in 2000 with the Bulldozer Revolution and under Tadic has recently raised Serbia’s average salary from 44 to 440 Euros. Still, the scars of the past remain. The disputed secession of Kosovo as well as the conflict with Bosnia and Croatia present immediate and unresolved issues.
In his speech, Tadic rarely touched on past strife except to emphasize Kosovo’s violation of the Serbian Constitution and the UN charter with its secession. To him, an ethnically motivated secession could be the end of nationalism not only in the region, but in the world. At any mention of the future borders of the Baltic peninsula, Tadic repeated his mantra on the issue, “No Partitions.”
Tadic spoke about the future of the region. In chronological order, he stated his actions are to apologize, to find a sustainable solution, to kindle respect, and to be integrated into the EU. With the coming of the Obama administration, Tadic is especially optimistic concerning Serbia’s future international relations.
As the question and answer session neared, several Columbia students sat at the edge of their seats, ready to present Tadic with tough questions. The recurring issues remained Serbia’s past relations with other former Yugoslavs and the current policies of the democratic regime.
When asked about the past Serbian’s genocide of other ethnic groups in the region, Tadic responded, “What is genocide? There were war criminals and violence, but genocide would open a very difficult discussion. The genocide was on all sides.”
A Serbian graduate student asked about the recent power bestowed on the Serbian government to easily shut down news organizations. This was the question that prompted Tadic to reconsider his earlier reliance on Wilson’s words, saying that, in practice, real problems come first before principles. He responded similarly when pressed about regulations on demonstration.
That Tadic’s pragmatism makes him incompatible with the widespread democratic ideals he preaches attracted the ire of many present. As was noted toward the end, 80 percent of EU countries disagree with Tadic’s position on Kosovo, and most democratic press groups frown upon easy government regulation of the press and demonstrations.