Serbian Election Campaign fails to address environmental concerns
The General Serbian elections held in May resulted in the election of a new president, Tomislav Nikolić – leader of the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS). Voters were given a wide range of political options, however transparency of the election process itself and media coverage did not meet satisfactory standards – according to international observers. The Republican Electoral Commission revealed that 4.3 per cent, or 170 000 Serbian voters had cast white ballots. This amounts to double the number of white ballots cast during the 2008 elections. Apart from the lack of transparency, the dubious role of the media and subtle ‘white ballot’ protest – the issue of environmental concern failed to hit the political agenda.
An article published in the Balkan Insight, a regional online magazine on 5 June read:
The determined and serious face of Boris Tadic, Serbia’s former president, the smile of the President-elect Tomislav Nikolic and the open arms of Cedomir Jovanovic, leader of the Liberals, will no longer stalk Belgraders all over the city, as authorities have started the post-election clean up. More than half of the election campaign posters in the city centre were already removed in the first week following the presidential election, which was held on May 20th. The city’s secretariat for inspection is in charge of the cleaning and said that all the campaign posters will be removed in the coming weeks.
This proves that Serbia is capable of organising an efficient clean-up campaign post election. However this begs the question – what happens to maintaining a clean country beyond the election campaign? Moreover, how much and in which ways were environmental issues present during the campaign? The presidential elections held in France this spring illustrated that concerns about the environment held a rightful and important place.
Yet this was not the case in Serbia.
Media monitoring carried out by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation placed emphasis on topics that would capture the interest of politicians, namely the fight against poverty and unemployment, social policy as well as foreign and regional policy. The topics which did not receive attention were: minority rights, gender equality, social inclusion, social entrepreneurship, sustainable development and culture. Under these neglected topics, environmental issues also claimed its stake.
Due to the scarce number of texts published on the issue, it became apparent that certain topics remained in the spotlight, whilst others slid into the background.
Amongst the environmental problems discussed, most were related to infamous environmental concerns surrounding Serbia – namely the pollution of water and air, illegal dumps, the necessity to protect ecosystems, as well as the importance of attracting new investments which contain a strong ecological component.
When reading texts which focus on environmental issues and simultaneously tied into the election campaign several trends are noticed: there are no particular differences between the topics discussed and the approach taken by the incumbent government and the opposition. Secondly, texts which deal exclusively with environmental topics are generally related to a specific objective by the political party, or the issue is simply treated superficially. Lastly, there is a profound absence of texts which analyse environmental problems and discuss possible solutions.
Some solutions have been promised – without going into much detail about how and when these promises would be rolled out. A few promises include: building a water treatment plant to solve the water problems in Vojvodina (a northern region of Serbia); forming a cadastre of woods and springs in Belgrade in order to protect them from real-estate industry and solving the problem of waste water in the capital city.
The Minister of Environment, Mining and Spatial Planning, Mr Oliver Dulić, emphasized that EU funds do exist for financing environmental protection projects. He claimed that in the upcoming election period, 10,5 billion euro would be invested in environmental protection of Serbia (five million of which is reserved for the treatment of waste water). These staggering numbers are either too optimistic or simply, form part of general election propaganda.
Other Serbian parties have taken matters into their own hands, and have organized events aimed at raising awareness of ecological problems. Along with discussing the most pressing issues related to local communities, they also handed out samples of what is supposed to manifest as ‘practical care’ for the environment – seedlings and glass bottles of water. One of the parties, on the occasion of Earth Day, organized a gathering in front of the green market to remind the public of ways to protect the environment.
These demonstrations may seem basic, yet also serve to educate, as account has to be taken of the generally low level of environmental awareness amongst Serbian citizens. A few topics that need to be addressed include: discarding the use of plastic bags, the improvement of thermal isolation for houses and flats, making use of walking and bicycle riding as modes of transport, switching off electronics and the planting of trees. An example of an alternative coverage of environmental issues during the election campaign, could be the report of a farmer who managed to use cow manure in the creation of electricity.
With environmental and other vital issues being placed on the back burner of the political agenda in Serbia, and with a sporadic public awareness focused on local problems, the improvement would be, at best – slow. One can only hope for the advancement of Serbia’s integration into the European Union, which would in turn push for more rapid and encompassing reforms within this sphere – as it did with a number of other countries that joined Serbia during the previous decade. One can only hope that the vitality of the EU remains in place at this point.
(1) Photo source - Anonymous Srbija – Facebook page
(2) Copyright by: OSCE/Shiv Sharma at Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights
Caption: One of the unfulfilled promises - building a water treatment plant to solve the water problems in Vojvodina (a northern region of Serbia) – see map.