Experts say that President Tomislav Nikolic has a sound economic plan for Serbia, should he implement it.
By Bojana Milovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 06/06/12
Analysts say President Tomislav Nikolic's actions regarding Kosovo will have an influence on new investment. [Reuters]
Serbia's new nationalistic president, Tomislav Nikolic, rattled the Balkans in his first week in office with public statements that cast doubt on his promises to accelerate European integration and be a stable partner for the region.
Experts say that if Nikolic actually works towards the goals he endorsed during his presidential campaign -- a better standard of living, solving economic problems, European integration, reducing crime and corruption -- investors will come to Serbia.
Investment adviser Mahmut Busatlija, an associate at the Economics Institute in Belgrade, said the new president's attitude towards Kosovo will have the biggest influence on new investment in Serbia.
''All eyes are now on Nikolic's moves regarding Kosovo. I hope that he will lead a real and rational policy in that segment,'' Busatlija told SETimes.
Serbia is struggling with the economic crisis, a decline in the population's standard of living and rising unemployment. The public is concerned about how Nikolic's election will affect foreign investment and the overall economic situation.
Busatlija reiterated that the post of president is one of protocol and that the constitution does not envision the president's interference with government policy. "I expect that Nikolic will submit economic initiatives and proposals to the new cabinet, but will not interfere much with its work," he said.
Rather than focusing on Kosovo or Balkan relations, Serbia's election was driven by the economy. More than 400,000 jobs have been lost since the economic crisis began, and the unemployment rate topped 23% this year. State statistics show that more than 750,000 of Serbia's 7 million people are looking for a job.
Serbians are concerned with pulling the country out of its economic slide. [Katica Djurovic/SETimes]
Nikolic, a former Yugoslav deputy prime minister under the rule of Slobodan Milosevic, first came into the public eye in the 1990s from the Serbian Chetnik Movement, an ultranationalist group that later produced the Serbian Radical Party.
He began arguing for EU accession in 2008. But his actions since taking office last week have raised questions about his true intentions for Serbia. In an interview on Montenegrin TV, Nikolic denied that the 1995 deaths of 8,000 men and boys in Srebrenica was genocide, even though the UN and the International Court of Justice declared it so.
Nikolic has also referred to Croatia's border town of Vukovar as a "Serb town." Vukovar was heavily bombed by a Serb-led army during the country's war for independence in 1992.
Milan Kovacevic, a foreign investments adviser and member of Scientific Society of Economists, told SETimes that the negative impression Nikolic's election may have left initially can be improved quickly and easily.
''The condition is to prove there are no big U-turns in hitherto state policy, that Serbia really is going steadily towards Europe and that it is determined to install a system compatible with Europe as soon as possible,'' Kovacevic said.
He added that investors are waiting to see the influence of the latest political events on the economic situation and investment, which will be assessable only after a new government is installed.
Toplica Spasojevic, president of the Serbian Association of Corporate Managers and vice president of the National Alliance for Local and Economic Development, said the election of the new president does not change much on the economic front, because the government, which defines the key policy elements, will probably have the same objectives as the previous one.
''The international community will certainly closely watch the first steps of the new president. There is still a level of suspicion. For the time being, the new president is sending messages that do not deviate significantly from the policy that has been led so far, but he will definitely leave a mark of his own,'' Spasojevic said.