Bochsler, D. (2008). Hawk in Dove’s Clothing: Political Trajectories of Political Parties in Serbia, 2003–2008. Středoevropské politické studie, 10(4), 292-319. Získáno z
Daniel Bochsler, Center for Comparative and International Studies, University of Zurich

Manuscript, prepared for the Central European Political Studies Review

Hawk in dove’s clothing: Political trajectories of political parties in Serbia, 2003-2008

Daniel Bochsler, Center for Comparative and International Studies, University of Zurich[*]


During the period of party system stabilisation after 2003, Serbia experienced two major party trajectories, the repositioning of the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) and the emergence of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). This article explains both moves as strategic choices of the party leaders, considering the logics of spatial models of elections: the SPS attempts to abandon its difficult electoral position as part of the nationalist bloc and to access new voters as a modern economic left-wing party, while the new reformist LDP profited from the natural move of its main competitor, the Democratic Party, to the political mainstream, and forced it to come back to its programmatic roots.


Keywords: Serbia; party system change; spatial models; communist successor parties; new parties.

Why can party trajectories draw a new picture of post-communist party systems?[1]

Apart from a few exceptions, a close look at the literature on post-communist party systems makes our minds diving into dizziness and disorientation. Parties in post-communist countries appear as little strategic actors, their moves difficultly predictable, and the party development seems to be thriven rather by personal quarrels than by any rational behaviour that would be akin of being investigated with models that rely on rationality and strategic orientation. Work on strategic positioning of political parties and programmatic choice has mainly contributed to the image of parties making populist appeals with no coherent program. In established democracies, it appears that parties are competing along social cleavages and with programmatic and ideological diffe­ren­ces (1967), and new successful parties are rather serving new political niches, with voters who had not been addressed by previously existing parties (Meguid 2005). In contrast, it seems symptomatic for the seeming chaos and disorientation that appears from the literature on post-communist party systems that new and highly successful political parties in post-communist democracies in Europe to adopt catch-all strategies with less distinctive programs (Innes 2002). Either, they position in the very centre of the political spectrum where already many other parties compete (Sikk 2006), or they use nationalist issues and populist appeals (Mudde 2005). Serbia seems to go along with other countries of the region (Vykoupilová, Stojarová 2007).

A first look on the coalition formation after the 2008 Serbian elections might deepen the picture of dis­oriented parties. The elections were called after the Demo­cratic Party of Serbia (Demokratska stranka Srbije, DSS) broke its previous coalition with the pro-European parties because it did not sup­port the government's EU integration process any more. After new elections in May 2008, the for­mation of a politically quite natural coalition of three (so far) EU-sceptic parties would have been possible, since these parties held an absolute majority of seats in parliament: DSS jointly with the Socialist Party of Serbia (Socijalistička partija Srbije, SPS) and the Serbian Radical Party (Srpska radikalna stranka, SRS). All three parties had stressed in the elec­toral campaign their affinity to each other, and their programs share many similarities. Nevertheless, the coalition nego­tia­­tions resulted in an alliance of the pro-European and anti-nationalist reform parties with the com­mu­nist successor party SPS, which is still linked to its heritage of the authocratic regime of Slobo­dan Milošević in the 1990s, and used to be the main enemy of the pro-Europeans since 1990.

Such party trajectories are quickly interpreted as part of the madness of post-communist party systems, or as a consequence of personally motivated affinity or hostility. This article argues that this is not so. At the example of two recent party trajectories in Serbian politics, I show that there is more rationality in post-communist party systems than is commonly assumed, and that re-posi­tio­ning of Serbian parties in the issue space occurred with very considerate strategies. Rather than portraying the fuzziness, I offer rationalist explanations for the parties' re-positiong in the issue space. The theoretical explanation which I employ relies on the Downsian and Neo-Downsian approach, based on political positions in a space which is defined by the most salient political divisions and issues.[2] Political parties and voters in the Downsian space of political positions and preferences are both rational actors, and they both attempt to maximise their political outcome.

In party system development in post-communist democracies in Europe, two phases can be distin­guished. The period from the first to the second election was often characterised by a complete change of the character of party competition (Bielasiak 1997: 33; Olson 1998; Bochsler 2007). In the first multiparty elections in post-communist countries, usually very heterogeneous umbrella coalitions, uniting a broad alliance of reform-oriented parties, won a landslide victory against the old regime party. The most relevant question in such elections was usually the regime change, occasionally related to questions about the state borders. In the Serbian case, a broad alliance of reform parties (Democratic Opposition Serbia, Demokratska opozicija Srbije, DOS) won a landslide victory over the old regime parties in the first reasonably free parliamentary elections on 23 December 2000, following the bulldozer revolution earlier the same year. Not only in Serbia, but in all countries of the region, the umbrella movements soon broke up, leading to a party dispersion process with plenty new parties that competed independently, occupying each their specific location in the political space. This opens a second phase, the shakedown period, where the number of parties diminishes. Parties that did not find an electorate were abandoned by voters and politicians, or forced to merge with other parties.[3]

The literature on party positioning in political spaces has accurately explained why parties take certain positions, and how this is related to their electoral success. As a consequence, it is little specta­cular to show that certain parties were not successful in their attempts to find a place in the new electoral market. However, post-communist countries offer the unique opportunity to study the emergence of successful new parties, and of the re-positioning of old parties in an already partly established party space. Due to the relevance of these changes in party competition and of re-positioning of political parties for the comparative literature, this article focuses on the period after the initial configuration of the Serbian party system, starting with 2003. It investigates the two major trajectories in the Serbian party system which occurred after 2003, until the fourth elections in 2008. The focus on this period has the advantage that it leaves the turbulent times of the break-up of the umbrella movement apart. I limit the investigation to party trajectories where either a relevant party changed their position in the party space in a major way, or where new parties emerged on the electoral market. These trajectories are seen as successful, if these parties managed alone, or as the lea­ding party in an electoral coalition, to pass the 5% threshold in any national parliamentary election after 2003.[4] The criterions are fulfilled by the Liberal-Democratic Party (Liberalno demokratska partija, LDP), which emerged as a radical pro-European party in the 2007 elections, and the SPS, which was continuously present.

The study of the two most relevant party trajectories illustrates how party actors consi­de­rate the electoral potential in the political space in their strategic decisions. It gives rather sugges­tive than definitive conclusions, given as well the limited research design, with a focus on success­ful cases of party transformation, without looking at parties that do not change their position, that do not even emerge or that never won enough votes in order to become relevant players in the party system.

The first section of this article offers a short summary of the theory of political issue spaces and spa­tial positioning of political parties, on which the further analyses will be based. This is followed by a description of the political space in Serbia, and of the trajectories of the LDP and the SPS, and a tentative conclusion.

Rational explanations for parties to change their position

Spatial models of party competition

According to spatial models of party competition, voters are mainly "motivated by the policies that the competing parties [...] present in their current campaign" (Adams, Merrill, Grofman 2005: 15). Being rational, voters prefer parties which are close to their own positions. These policies can be modelled as a one- or multi-dimensional political space, relying on one or several factors that con­tain positions on policy issues. If there is only one major political issue or if opinions on all major poli­tical issues strongly correlate, then there will be only one political dimension that is relevant for poli­tical parties and their voters. Otherwise, there might be several important dimensions in the policy space, depending on the number of non-related factors which contain similar policy issues. While voters are attempting to chose the party which is closest to their most important political prefe­rences, rational parties are trying to attract a maximal number of voters, and accordingly search a position in the political space that helps them to reach the largest potential of voters possible (see next paragraph for some more reflections on this point) (McGann 2002).

Commonly, the study of political spaces and party systems investigates rather stable party systems, where every party has found its own place. This is why models of party politics that rely explicitly or implicitly are much more developed for situations of stability than for situations of change.

However, the idea of stability namely relies on changes which previously occurred, or strategic poli­tical positioning. Only after a situation of movement, one might expect that the party system finds its own balance. It is little wonder that in countries that only recently left communist authori­ta­­rianism and started a process of democratic consolidation, the party system might be more fluid and open to adoption than in the Western democracies, where political parties have mainly been frozen along the cleavages that emerged historically, after new groups of voters obtained their voting rights (Lipset, Rokkan 1967). We might thus even find much stronger evidence for stra­te­gic behaviour in the East, according to the prediction of spatial models, than we might find in many countries in the West.

Spatial models rely on three main components. First, the structure of the political space, which is defined through the most important axes of political orientation and the distribution of voter preferences along these axes. Second, the models rely on the institutional-organisational frame­­work and capacities. Political institutions, such as party financing laws, electo­ral thresholds, decentralisation, or the regime type, or the financial capacities of political parties have an impact on the formation of the party system. They can facilitate the creation of new political parties, or much more often make the entry of new parties difficult. Third, party leaders and politicians act as strategic actors, and – considering the struc­ture of political space and the institutional-organisational framework – decide upon the position of their parties. The parties of a party system are however interconnected in their strategic decisions: the positio­ning of one party can affect the strategy chosen by other parties who are com­peting for the same voters (cf. Meguid 2005). Drawing on these determinants of party com­pe­tition, we expect that changes in the party system can be explained through institutional change, chan­ges of voter’s posi­tions, or when parties attempt to find a new position in the political space, in order to increase the number of their potential voters.

In this paper, I will focus on the latest aspect, and show how party trajectories in Serbia can be seen as an attempt to adjust the party supply to the voters’ demands.

On the other hand, there are other competing explanations which might apply for the parties under study and should be carefully discussed.

Historical legacies, personal impacts, and political Darwinism

While spatial models of politics rely on the idea that parties chose rationally the best position in the political space to maximise their voters, it is not the only possible answer to the puzzle why parties chose a certain program, why they change their policies, or why they join a cabinet or not. Often, explanations based on the historical legacies, specific policy preferences or personal interests of the party membership and of party leaders, or on personal quarrels can be plausible too. I argue that such history- and personnel-related explanations are often closely linked to strategic decisions. There are plenty of legacy-based influences on a party’s positioning, and at least as much politicians might try to influence its program, and often, there are several personal and historical factors that play within the same political party, and each of them – if it would dominate – might lead to a different result. Both the organisational characteristics of political parties and the reliance of parties on electoral success restricts them to the strategically most appropriate path. If a party assembly does not chose a good party leader or it opts for a badly guided political strategy, the party will either fail in elections, drop out of the electoral market, or as a reaction of bad results, it will later need to correct its political program. There, Anthony Downs, the father of rational choice models in political science, and Charles Darwin, the father of evolutionary choice in biology, go hand in hand. Parties can either chose the right direction to develop, or alternatively they risk to disappear. However, while biological species develop over long time-periods through ran­dom muta­tions, political parties are more intelligent organisms. On the one hand, they are lead by strategically thinking actors, which might not always, but often, steer them in a strategically wish­ful direction. On the other hand, if a path would be strategically little promising, defeats in opinion polls or electoral defeats often do have immediate effects on the party leadership, change the internal distribution of power, and put more strategically thinking politicians to the driver’s cab, so that parties will find the strategically right path. While this argument might be tested in a different place for its accuracy, it explains why the focus on strategic spatial models does not necessarily neglect alternative legacy- or personality-based explanations, but complements them, and different approaches might explain the same outcomes independent of each other.

How party systems change

While the previous literature on party systems has mostly focused on stable situations, a few studies have investigated aspects of party system change. Two important investigations (Hug 2001; Meguid 2005) present a models about new parties’ entry and old parties’ reaction to it. Meguid (2005) shows how mainstream parties need to react on such new party entries, because the new parties are approaching their previous voters. On the one hand, they can move towards the new entering parties, trying to prevent voters to switch to new parties. On the other hand, they can also try to manipulate the political salience of the issue on which the new parties try to find their voters.

For post-communist democracies in Europe, previous research has shown how institutional mea­sures, namely regarding party financing, can be built up in order to make the entry of new parties more difficult. Surprisingly, a study on new parties in the Baltic states has shown that the most successful new competitors did not approach electoral niches, thus did not take a pronounced position on a specific issue, but rather targeted at the centrist voters (Sikk 2006).

The political space in Serbia

To discuss the positioning of political parties in Serbia, we need first to introduce the main dimen­sions of political orientation in post-2000 Serbian politics. Mainly, there are four political conflicts which are addressed by political parties and which seem relevant to voters in elections for the party choice. The four issue dimensions have been highly correlated in the party system. I discuss the four dimensions before the changed discussed later occurred, thus before the trajectory of the SPS, and without considering the position of the new LDP.[5]

The regime conflict regards the conflict between politicians close to the authoritarian Milošević re­gime versus the democratically oriented reform parties. More precisely, the SPS, and repeatedly the SRS have been the main pillars of the Milošević regime, while the pro-European reform parties (DS, Serbian Renewal Movement/Srpski pokret obnove, SPO), the nationalist-conservative parties (DSS and New Serbia/Nova Srbija, NS), and the parties of the ethnic minorities belonged to the Democratic Opposition Movement and jointly defeated the Milošević regime in public protests and in elections in 2000. Later emerging parties of the pro-European bloc, G17+ and LDP,[6] have taken clear stands on the side of the reformers. Similar to most other post-communist countries, the re­gime conflict has remained present in Serbian politics, leading to quarrels about the heritage of Milo­­šević, about the eligibility of members of the old regime to high state positions. The division is regularly put to the agenda when the reform parties commemorate important events in the public resistance against the regime, or by the few court cases regarding political violence committed during the autho­ritarian period.

Nationalist-authoritarian values are a second important dimension of Serbian politics. Namely, the attempts to create a Greater Serbia, the promotion of the Serbs as the dominant ethnic group, and autho­ritarian rejection of civic liberalism have been a position which has been highly salient on the Serbian political agenda in the 1990s, and been a priority both by the regime parties SPS and SRS, and likewise by parties of the democratic reformers, namely the SPO, while the DSS “oscillated bet­ween the nationalist and democratic opposition”, and the DS adopted a nationalist agenda in 1994-5 (Bieber 2003: 75). The opposite view of Serbia as a non-nationalist civic-liberal state has been suppor­ted in most periods by the DS, but only the Civic Alliance of Serbia (Građanski Savez Srbije, GSS) has consequently defended this view throughout the 1990s. In the post-Milošević period, the buil­ding of a Greater Serbia has been replaced on the everyday political agenda by other related issues, such as the willingness to cooperate with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugo­slavia (ICTY), by the question how to deal with the past, the relation to neighbou­ring states, human and minority rights, policies of non-discrimination, and the approval of a democratic system. Most par­ties belon­ging to the DOS movement take rather civic-liberal stands, with exception of DSS and the small NS, which both share rather nationalist positions, promote a strong relation of the state to the Serbian Orthodox Church, and can be characterised as nationalist-con­ser­vative (Đurković 2007; Komšić 2003: 48). The Serbian Radical Party is clearly located at the ultra-natio­na­list end of this dimension. The Socialist Party has inherited a nationalist legacy from the wars that Serbia fought under the poli­tical leadership of Slobodan Milošević in the 1990s, and, even if it does not advocate Greater Serbia loudly, it often stands close to the SRS, in questions with an authori­tarian connotation and has been a fierce opponent of the ICTY.

The nationalist-authoritarian issues are closely related to Serbian foreign policies, since in first line full cooperation with ICTY, and further the strengthening of civic rights and tolerance are a pre-con­­di­tion of the integration process into EU (and some of them for NATO too). The most pronoun­ced pro-European parties are the civic liberal ones, around the DS, along with the newly emerged G17+ party and the SPO. Likewise, the DSS and NS were over long periods mainly positive towards Euro­pean integration, but in 2007, the DSS joined a cooperation agreement with United Russia, the Russian party of power, and expressed the rejection of NATO membership. In 2008, both DSS and NS 2008 rejected the possibility of EU integration, after a majority of the EU member states has recognised Kosovo, and that the EU was expected to take over the UN mandate in Kosovo. And, even if the ultra-nationalist parties in a few occasions have approved Serbia’s EU integration, in most instances they remain rather negative (see Komšić 2007), a position which the Socialists did not change until their 2003 party congress (see below).

Finally, the positioning on the economic conflict has been rather fuzzy. Clear protagonist of a strong role of the state in the economy is the SPS, along with a few minor parties that declare as Social Democrats, whereas G17+ favours radical liberal economic reforms. Other parties have less clear-cut positions: SRS declares to be right-wing, but has increasingly campaigned for losers of the economic transition, promising price controls and an increase of the welfare state – posi­tions that are usually connected to the economic left. Similarly, DSS has a tradition as a right-wing party representing the interests of an economic elite, but after the party won a very hetero­ge­neous electorate after 2000, it changed its economic direction (Goati 2004: 208-209). DS favours liberal economic reforms, while promising socially egalitarian policies (Stojiljković 2007a: 144-145).

In sum, the positioning of the parties on the four dimensions has been to a high extent correlated in the period after 2000. While the most reformist parties have (mainly) shared anti-nationalistic values, and been united in their opposition against the old regime, favoured EU integration and liberal economic reforms, the old regime parties took the opposed stands.

In the following reasoning, I will show how the most recent Socialist move might change this pattern, inverting the established dimension of orientation in Serbian politics.

A new pro-European pole on Serbia’s party space

Getting the reform euphoria back into the political system

With the Liberal-Democratic party, a new pro-reform player has emerged, five years after the start of Serbia’s transition. The creation and positioning of the party can only be understood if looking at the large pro-reform party, the DS. The DS membership was always pronouncedly pro-European and pro-reform, but as one of the largest party, it was after 2000 in several periods in different roles in governmental responsibility, and was partly behaving pragmatically. After the murder of Zoran Đinđić, the first reform prime minister, belonging to the DS, in March 2003, the circle of persons around Đinđić was replaced by different party streams, Boris Tadić became party president in February 2004, and the DS moved towards a new, more mainstream-oriented position, not at least due to its main competitor, DSS. In the December 2003 elections, the incumbent government lead by the DS lost its majority of seats in parliament, and the DS did not enter the new cabinet lead by the natio­nalist-conservative DSS. Instead, Boris Tadić won the presidential elections in June 2004. In this position, Tadić and the DS were in some crucial points pragmatically cooperating with the DSS-lead government. This grew dissatisfaction in the most reformist wing of the party. On the 2004 DS party congress, Čedomir Jovanović, deputy prime minister in the interim government in 2003, attacked the DS leadership for the cooperation with DSS prime minister Vojislav Koštunica (DSS), whom he intituled the “new Milošević”. In the aftermath, a group around Jovanović tried to form the Liberal-Democratic Fraction inside the DS. This, however, was not accepted by the DS, and Jovanović was excluded from the DS by the end of the year (cf. Goati 2006: 172). He founded the new LDP on 5 November 2005.

The party attempts to be seen as the only guarantee for a continuation of the Đinđić reform program, accusing the DS that it stalled its pro-European reform program after the Đinđić murderer. Accordingly, reforms and change is the first priority in the party program,[7] and a solution to the questions of The Hague and Kosovo – problems inherited from the Milošević regime – figure among the first points on this way of reforms and European integration. The party argues that Serbia needs to face its recent past, and deal with war crimes committed in the 1990s, as a basis of socie­tal modernisation. Issues such as lustration, hu­man rights, autonomy for multi-cultural regions, and Western integration (into EU, NATO, but as well through increased cooperation with neigh­bouring states) take an important place in the pro­gram. With regards to economic issues, the party takes clearly liberal-conservative stands, and wants to reduce the size of the govern­­ment. The party favours an acceleration of the tran­sition, increased efforts in privatisation, the transfer of state regulatory activities on inde­pen­dent, market-oriented regulatory bodies, and the abolish­ment of state-controlled prices, which should lead to economic growth and reduce poverty. With regards to social welfare, the party favours a reform of the Serbian education system, wants to replace the state-controlled health care with a mandatory health insurance, and under the title “social policies”, the program speaks of equal chances instead of criminal networks, client-orien­ta­tion, increased quality, efficacy and instead of linear social subsidies. For the fight against poverty, the party does not list redistributive pro­grams, but rather accuses feudal attitudes in government positions, and "fascist, racist, and xenophobe tendencies" to exclude parts of the population from social and economic life.

The new party takes positions close, but more radical than the DS, and accuses the DS of a program which is too compromising with the nationalists. It addresses voters, who are disappointed by the pragmatic cooperation of the state president Boris Tadić's (DS) pragmatic cooperation with the Koštunica (DSS-lead) government. They feel disappointed by the fact that the reforms are not going on fast enough and Serbia is not moving fast enough on the European integration track, and believe that the DS restricts itself too much by the public opinion, when addressing issues of Serbia’s recent past and the relations to Serbia’s minorities and neighbours, instead of speaking out loudely on these issues.

Indeed, the 2004-2006 period was characterised by an openness of Tadić and his DS towards the nationalist-conservative parties. This gave Tadić the nickname of a mannequin, due to his role of not being only popular in the population, but as well having little political weight. Prime minister Koštunica (DSS) was perceived as the real leader with substantial influence over Tadić. Examples are the DS' approval for an important role of the Serbian Ortho­dox church in the state (Gajić 2005), Tadić's only half-hearted excuses for Serbian mass crimes,[8] or his radical rhetoric on the Kosovo issue for the domestic public, namely a symbolic visit to the Koso­vo Serbs in March 2005.[9] One of the possibly most painful flirts with the nationalists and the sus­pected opinion of the majority was the DS’ support for the new Serbian constitution in the 2006 re­ferendum. Initially, the DS favoured a constitution with emphasis on greater decentralisation, namely with a restitution of autonomy to the Vojvodina province, and “liberal democratic values in a civic state” (International Crisis Group 2006: 2), all issues which clearly belong to the pro-reformist field in Serbian politics. However, all these points were opposed by the DSS. In the text brought to a referendum in October 2006, Serbia was defined as a nation state (while Milošević's constitution had defined Serbia as a civic state), Serbian and the Cyrillic alphabet were mentioned as the only national language (despite the numerous minorities, some of whom have their own languages, and others who use the Latin alphabet). The preamble prescribed Kosovo as integral part of Serbia, preventing any possibility of recogni­sing Kosovo's independence (International Crisis Group 2006: 13-14). A coalition of all rele­vant parliamentary parties, including the DS, rallied for the project in a united campaign. The Kosovo issue constrained a broad coalition to support the pro­po­sal, because “Koštunica used the preambular statement that Kosovo is a part of Serbia to force other par­ties to support the draft lest he accuse them publicly of insufficient loyalty at a time when the province is in danger of being lost” (International Crisis Group 2006: 4). Similarly, the accent of the referendum campaign was put on the Kosovo issue, and opponents branded as Albanian separatists.

Only the coalition around the LDP along with a few minority parties was opposed to the new constitution and called for a boycott of the referendum.[10] As a consequence, the party got subject to heavy attacks by most Serbian media and demonstrators, but this helped the party to position itself during the referendum campaign as the main protagonist in the pronounced anti-nationalist field. The low turnout in the referendum of alleged 55% can be read a massive success of the opposition around the LDP. If taking reports of fraud and manipulation serious, turnout was even below 50% (International Crisis Group 2006). This would mean that a very substantial part of the voters who usually support the DS or other pro-constitution parties followed the boycott call of LDP and its allies.

The centripetal logic of multi-party systems, and destabilisation through new entries

Both the DS’ move towards a more nationalist position and the LDP entry can be understood in a spatial model of party politics. To facilitate the argument, I consider only credible competitors in the electoral market; these are parties which are able to pass the 5% legal threshold in parliamentary elections, so that votes cast for these parties can be inverted into seats.[11] Before the entry of the LDP, three such pro-reform parties, DS, G17+, and SPO,[12] were able to get into parliament in the 2003 elections. After both G17+ and SPO might have lost preferences in the pro-reform camp, due to their support for a nationalist-conservative cabinet in the beginning of 2004, the DS remained the most pronounced and credible pro-European reform party. Other parties located next to the DS have repeatedly proven that they were not able to pass the 5% legal threshold in elections, and were thus unable to survive on their own in national politics.

While many theoretical models have discussed the strategic positioning in two-party configurations, McGann (2002) has argued theoretically how political parties might position and re-position them­selves in a multi-party system. He assumes that there is one dominant axis of party orientation, and voters are distributed along a lognormal function. In Serbia the most salient political issues (in 2003) could be located along one dominant axis, with the pro-European reformers at one end, and the ultra-nationalist forces close to the old regime at the other extreme. Furthermore, McGann assumes that the number of parties is stable, which is often quite reasonable, given that the institu­tional framework and preventive counter-action by established parties makes it quite difficult for new parties to entry (Hug 2001). McGann shows that when party leaders are free to decide strategically about the positioning of their parties, then there will be a centripetal effect, which means that the parties with the most pronounced positions on the dominant dimension will rather move towards the political centre, so that “the parties near the center are ‘squeezed’ by the more extreme parties” (2002: 54). They do this even against the will of the own members and previous electorate, thriven by the incentive to win new voters from the centrist parties. The scenario is highly plausible for the Serbian party system, given that the internal party demo­cracy is extremely limited (Goati 2004). This theoretical background is accurately exempli­fied the empirical observation about the DS move towards the nationalists. In such a situation, space at the end of the political axis is created. Some voters feel little represented, but they can only chose between abstaining in elections, or voting for the lesser evil, and as long as a party can win more voters in the centre than it loses when radical voters abstain, it will move further towards the centre of the political spectrum.

However, this leaves the pronounced reformist partisans disappointed, because they see the DS distan­­cing itself from their position, and the whole setting changes, if a new party manages to get into the party system. Indeed, in the Serbian case, the DS’ move to the political mainstream left so many voters disappointed, that at the end of the main political axis the space was created for a new politi­cal option. This perfectly explains why the LDP emerged in this position. On the other hand, the emer­gence of a new party at the end of the axis of party competition changes the mechanisms of party com­petition completely: As long as the DS is the only credible competent for pronounced refor­mist voters, spatial models of party competition would predict a centripetal change towards the centre; after the entry of a more pronounced reformist party, the DS party leadership can no more neglect its pro-reform voters and members. For voters at the reformist periphery of the axis, the LDP offers a new alternative, and accordingly, DS needs to care more about them, means it needs to move back towards its pronounced reformist electorate. Or, alternatively, it can attempt to create reasons which make it little attractive to vote for the new LDP option.

How the political mannequin gets back to his roots

As one would predict, based on spatial models, the DS reacted on the LDP entry in two ways. First, in order to prevent the LDP from gaining too many votes from disappointed former DS voters, it moved back towards the pro-reformist field. Second, it ruled out any governing coalition with the LDP, partly depriving the LDP of any governing option, and making it less attractive to its voters (because the party appears to potential voters as not having chances of getting real influence on politics). The DS leader Boris Tadić said that the LDP was not acceptable as a coali­tion partner, because it would accept Kosovo’s independence. While this might partly be under­­stood as a reassuring act of the DS’ clear position against Kosovo independence, this rejection was as well needed in order to signal that the LDP had no chances to get into any governing coalition.

On the other hand, the DS made several policy moves and created symbolic events in order to re-position itself as a pronounced pro-reformist force, and not to leave this field to the LDP. In the 2007 elections, the DS tried to attach to the legacy of the former DS prime minister Zoran Đinđić (DS), and not to leave this symbol to the LDP. While the LDP promised a program in the spirit of Đinđić, the DS called for the renaming of a Belgrade boulevard after the murdered prime minister, and put his widow Ružića Đinđić on top of its electoral list (although she did not enter the DS parliamentary delegation after the elections). In terms of its program, the DS reacted to the entry of the LDP with an emphasis on tolerance, on Europe, and on the extradition of war criminals. This was supported by the nomination of Božidar Đelić as prime ministerial candidate, finance minister in the Đinđić government and is seen as being com­mitted to drastic economic reforms.[13] The pro-European and reformist credentials of the DS were underlined by the visit of the EU enlargement commissar Oliver Rehn to president Boris Tadić in the last days of the campaign.

In early 2008, the break up of the DS with its nationalist-conservative coalition partners, and its re-orientation as a clear reformist protagonist was perfect. The turn had been fuelled by the procla­mation of Kosovo independence, and the succeeding developments. The nationalist-conservative par­ties, under the leadership of prime minister Koštunica tried to link the question of Kosovo inde­pen­dence with the Serbian foreign policy and the issue of EU integration. Accordingly, the natio­na­list-conservatives demanded for a stop to EU integration of Serbia and wanted to re-orient the Serbian foreign policy towards Russia, and Serbia redrew its ambassadors from all countries that recognised the new state. The DS could however not risk international self-isolation and the stalling of the EU integration process that belongs to the most important issues of its electorate, and on which it is particularly vulnerable to electoral losses to the LDP. The existence of a clear pro-Euro­pean alternative makes it impossible for the DS to reach any compromises on this question. This policy difference was already a major issue in the campaign for the presidential elections 2008, when Koštunica refused to support the candidature of Tadić (Bochsler 2008c: 746), and shortly after these elections, the governing coalition of Tadić and Koštunica broke over the question if the integration process should be conti­nued. When on 21 February, Koštunica and the deputy SRS leader Tomislav Nikolić, organi­sed mass protests in Belgrade against Kosovo independence, orchestrated by physical attacks on (at this time unprotected) embassies of the US and European Union member states, Tadić marked clearly his distance on this issue, escaping to a state visit to Romania.

Against the votes of the nationalist-conservative ministers in the government, the pro-European cabi­net majority decided to sign the Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the European Union, which lead the governing coalition break apart, provoking early elections in May 2008. The elections were mainly fought along the EU integration of Serbia, and won by the pro-European refor­mers around the DS. While it is difficult to judge how much the LDP advanced in the 2008 elections in terms of votes,[14] the party's success might rather be in terms of a policy change of the ruling party: bringing the DS back to its old position, or helping the mannequin Boris Tadić to find his old roots. However, the rational logic of political positioning in the issue space teaches us that a radical competitor is needed in order to prevent the DS from moving too close to the mainstream, and to make compromises to the nationalist-conservative parties. Given that the suggested logic has applied in Serbian politics too (along with other factors), then the LDP entry would have forced the DS to accelerate the EU integration steps, and for this reason to break up with Koštunica.

The hawk in dove’s clothing?

The second case of a party trajectory regards the Socialist Party of Serbia. The party has a long legacy, being the successor of the Union of Communists in Serbia (Savez Komunista Srbije). It re-named in 1990, but stayed under the leadership of the previous secretary of the Serbian commu­nists, Slobodan Milošević. After the decease of Milošević in March 2006, but most importantly around the parliamentary elec­tions in 2008, the SPS underwent a spectacular political trajectory. Pre­viously linked to Milo­šević and his authoritarian-nationalist program, the party attempted then to re-position and to cut (to some extent) the ties to its past. The main re-posi­tio­ning, however, occurs less through a fundamental change of position than through the Socialists’ new accent on social welfare policies. Three aspects appear as important to understand the move. First, I discuss the genuine problem of communist successor parties strategies in post-commu­nist politics, and their new location in the issue space. Thereafter, I explain the re-positioning of the Socialist party of Serbia, and third, I show how this is related to the wish of becoming member of the Socialist Inter­national.

Reform, disappear... or sit it out: trajectories of post-communist parties

After transformation to democracy, the political survival of former communist parties is endangered. Having lost their political monopoly, they are often discredited for substantial parts of the electorate. In the first elections right after (or during) the political transition, the old regime conflict overwhelms, and with very few exceptions, the elections are won in a landslide victory by the reform parties, which usually compete in a broad umbrella coalition (Olson 1998; Bochsler 2007). The situation in Serbia was not different, where in the first reasonably free elections in 2000, the Socialists fell back to some 14% of the votes.

Despite the losses, the former communists managed to survive in most post-communist countries, often after having been excluded from government for several years and after having undergone deep-going party reforms. In the beginning of the democratic period, the communist successor parties are so discredited that it is hard for them to get back into government (Druckman, Roberts 2007; Grzymala-Busse 2001). In a few exceptional cases, Albania, Bulgaria or Romania, the former com­mu­nists stayed in power throughout the wave of partial democratisation in 1989/90 (Grzymala-Busse 2006), and similarly, there was no clear break in Montenegro. Where the former communists managed to return as reformed Social Democratic parties, they helped to structure the orientation in the new party system, and to create a robust compe­tition.

While the communist successor parties suffer from their negative political heritage, their crucial advan­­tage over other parties is that they already have strong organisational structures at time of demo­cratisation. The argument holds even in Serbia where a multi-party system has been intro­duced in 1990, and at the time of the “bulldozer revolution” in 2000, oppositional pro-democratic parties had developed their structures. Still, the Socialist Party had an organisational advantage, since it could take over the party funds, and it could inherit political nobilities across the country in numerous positions in local politics and in the economy, even if leading figures were swept away from positions in national politics (Goati 2002: 18).

Apart from organisational and programmatic reforms, the transformability of former communist parties into new parties in the democratic system relies on the personal (dis)continuity of the par­ties’ leadership. While a few countries in Central and Eastern Europe went through very extensive processes of lustration, and others through some kinds of mini lustration, Serbia rather resembles countries such as Albania, Romania or Ukraine that lack even minor attempts of lustra­tion (Letki 2002). Trials for political crimes committed in the authoritarian period were limited to the prosecutions by the ICTY, where among others the SPS leader Slobodan Milošević and the SRS leader Vojislav Šešelj stood trial. These were not accompanied by any prosecution for crimes not related to the wars. To the contrary, both party leaders kept their positions at the top of the SPS, respectively the SRS; – in the case of Milošević until his decease in 2006. Domestic courts opened trials only for a few acts of political violence. In sum, there was no lustra­tion in Serbia, but rather personal continuity within the old regime parties.

Rather than party reforms being a condition for the entry of the Socialist Party, it is suspected that some of the few processes for political crimes of the Milošević regime have been called off in 2008, in order to facilitate the Socialists' return into power. Instead, there is silence from both parts of the DS-SPS coalition about the historical role of Slobodan Milošević and the Socialist Party. On the one hand, on 28 June 2008 for the first time, no high ranked SPS officials attended the yearly commemoration of Milošević’s extradition to ICTY.[15] On the other hand, while negotiations about the new Serbian government were going on, one of the most important Serbian court case about poli­tical crimes was stopped. Allegedly after taking order from political autho­ri­ties, the public pro­se­cutor in the Serbian town Požarevac cancelled its accusation against Marko Milo­šević, son of the former president, and five of his collaborators. They had attacked and heavily injured three mem­bers of the opposition in May 2000. If other processes should be cancelled later, members of the Milošević’s family, who at time of writing were still fugitive in Russia, might return to Serbia.[16] Finally, on 18 October 2008, the DS leader Boris Tadić and the SPS leader Ivica Dačić signed an agreement of reconciliation, declaring that they wanted to settle their former conflict, which can be see as a rehabilitation of the Serbian Socialists.[17]

With look at the considerable level of violence exerted by the Milošević regime, and the deep clea­vage between the old regime and the democratic opposition a few years earlier, it appears puzzling why in 2008 an unreformed com­munist successor party could become acceptable to the reformists. In the case of the return of the Socialist Party of Serbia to political power, time might have been more relevant why it became acceptable, first as a supporter of the DSS minority government in 2004, and later as a coalition partner of DS in 2008. On the one hand, by time, the question of personal continuity gets resolved naturally. With Milošević’s decease in 2006, the most important pro­blem of personal continuity was resolved. On the other hand, by time, the old regime conflict gets less important in relation to other political cleavages. The more however other conflicts be­come salient, the more it becomes difficult for the reform parties to form a politically united govern­ment. In the Serbian case, as a consequence of growing differences within the former DOS coalition, the formation of a common and politically coherent government of DS and DSS appeared much more difficult than reconciliation with the SPS. And in the period of 2004-2008, the Socialists were able to enter a number of municipal governments and to cooperate pragmatically in local coa­li­tions with pro-European parties.[18] It appears that the SPS so far successfully chose a third path for com­mu­nist successor parties: neither reform, nor disappear, but just sit it out.

The inversion of Western Social Democratic values in the East

Having discussed the external acceptability, in the following paragraphs I switch to the SPS internal motivations to move away from its natural coalition partners. Namely, the new SPS strategy is less related to personal or organisational aspects than of the search for a new position in the political issue space. While there is substantial work on the impact of historical legacies on the ability of communist successor parties to reform and to become a successful new player in the new party system,[19] only few authors have investigated the same problem as a strategic question of positioning in the issue space, based on spatial models of politics. Two dominant dimensions of political orien­ta­tion might help to understand the strategic decisions taken by the communist successor parties regarding their positioning. The first issue regards mainly the importance and intensity redistri­bu­tive policies. On the economic dimension, the position favouring strong redistributive policies and state intervention is related to the left, whereas the right wants to reduce the state and redistribution to a minimum. The second issue regards the nationalist-authoritarian dimension, or socio-cultural values, where the left is usually related to liberalism, and the right to societal authoritarianism.

Both political dimensions exist both in Western Europe as in Central and Eastern Europe, and decide – to a varying degree – on the electoral orientation of the voters to a large extent, but the link between both political axes is inverted in both parts of the continent: “While in Western Europe preferences in favor of economic redistribution go hand in hand with socio-culturally libertarian and post-materialist values, this is not the case in Central and Eastern Europe. There, socio-cultural liberta­rianism goes often along with the economic right whereas the economic left is closer to social authoritarianism” (Fischer 2008, forthcoming). In the West, Social Democratic parties are called leftist, combining socio-cultural liberalism and the advocating of (slight) economic redistribution. But in post-communist Europe, due to the negative correlation of both value axes, only a small field of voters supports this combination of values.

Accordingly, Social Democratic parties in the Western European sense have remained rare. Instead, parties position as left-wing only on one dimension that has been described as being important to Western Social Democrats. Some communist successor parties have adopted a reform agenda, with Western values of societal liberalism, but a severe reform agenda which creates social hardships, best visible in the case of Hungary, and to a lower extent in Poland, facilitated in both cases by the legacy of the Communists' policies in the last decade (Evans 2006: 258; Kitschelt, Mansfeldova, Markowski, Tóka 1999). Other, non-reformed parties typically remain authoritarian and economic egalitarian or patrimonial, such as in the cases of the communist successor parties in Albania, Romania or Bulgaria in the 1990s, or the Social Democratic Party of Slovakia (which is not a direct successor of the Communists though). Accordingly, it might not astonish us that the former Com­mu­nists were often coalition partners to nationalist and ultra-nationalist parties (Ishiyama 1998).

In Serbia, similar to other post-communist countries, orientation along the left-right dimension is difficult, and the Western European value axis inverted (Stojiljković 2007a: 136). There are accounts of the left-right posi­tio­ning of political parties in Serbia (Slavujević 2006), but it is questionable, how useful the dimen­sion is, and after 2000, the share of Serbian voters who could identify their position on the left-right axis was much lower than of their Western European fellows (Mihailović 2006a: 127). The perception of the left-right dimension in Serbia might be not issue-driven, but rather party-driven, which means that by definition, voters suppose that the Socialist Party is left, and the more a party is distant from the Socialists (on all issues, including such that elsewhere do not belong to the left-right-axis) the more it is right. In everyday politics, the economic axis does not play a major role, and rather, orientations and coalitions are formed along the nationalist-authoritarian dimen­sion.

The new strategy of the Serbian Socialists

The positioning of political parties along the two mentioned dimensions has created a strategically challenging situation for the Socialist Party in Serbia. With regards to the international inte­gration, to civic-liberal values, and to Serbian nationalism, the party’s policies were authoritarian and nationalist. After 1991, the party started to advocate a Greater Serbia,[20] and in the program of 1992, it called the Northern-Atlantic and European institutions, EU, OSCE, NATO, imperialist organisa­tions and enemies of Serbia (Vykoupilová, Stojarová 2007). The Socialists rejected any autonomy for Vojvodina and Kosovo (in the 1996 program), and the minority-friendly program points existed only on paper, but did not have an impact on the implemented policies (Goati 2004: 50-51).

But the ultra-nationalist program of the party did not pay out after 2000, in terms of votes. The issue might have lost salience, since everyday economic problems have gained a higher priority to many citizens, and most importantly, the Socialist Party does not own the nationalist issue as its own. The Socialist and the Radicals are not only tied due to their common governing experience in the 1990s, they as well share similar positions on several important issues, such as in the old regime conflict, nationalism, EU integration, or the promise of social change for losers of transition. The Radical party has increasingly campaigned for losers of transition, promising a combination of social wel­fare and nationalism. In the public opinion, however, it remains a right-wing party, with an accent rather on nationalist issues than on redistributive policies. There is no other Serbian party that might credibly mobilise on these issues, apart from a few tiny parties that fail to pass the elec­to­ral threshold on their own. For authoritarian-nationalist voters, the Serbian Radical Party offers the more credible alternative to the Socialists. Recently, in the eve of the proclamation of Ko­so­vo in­dependence, as well prime minister Koštunica and the coalition of DSS and NS have become closer to the ultra-nationalists. The lack of ownership of the Socialist Party on nationalist issues was further reflected by the relationship to Slobodan Milošević. He, and his fellow prisoner Vojislav Šešelj, standing trial at ICTY, were promoting in their televised defences a Serbian nationalist view of recent history, and accordingly, they could even increase their symbolic importance for the natio­na­lists back home. However, while the Radical leader Šešelj stayed in close contact with his SRS, regu­larly giving orders about the programmatic direction of the party, this could not be said about the Socialist leader Slobodan Milošević, who in the 2004 presidential elections even supported a Radi­cal, instead of the own SPS candidate.[21] The Radicals thus increasingly became the only domi­nant party which could represent the hardcore nationalist vote.

A look at the electoral results confirms the impression that the SRS wins when voters are putting an accent on nationalist issues. The SPS could hold voters mostly in Central Serbia, where the ethnic composition of the population is homogeneously Serbian, not at least in municipalities where it is still represented with local nobilities in important posts. Quite in contrast, the SRS is highly success­ful in areas with an ethnically mixed population, where nationalist issues are much more salient among ethnic Serbian voters (Stefanović 2008). Being marginalised by the Radical’s suc­cess, the Socialists were endangered in every parliamentary election to fail the 5% legal threshold.

Against this background, the trajectory of the Socialist party gets more understandable. There are two main changes in the Socialists’ program. On the one hand, they changed their position regarding EU integration, creating common policy space with parties of the pro-European reform bloc. On the other hand, the Socialist tried to reinforce the economic policy axis, where they can rather compete against other parties.

At the December 2006 party congress, ahead of the 2007 elections, the Socialist were mainly stres­sing their new social orientation, putting an accent on economic policies of an extension of the welfare state. The party promised to reintroduce the social welfare system of the early 1990s and claimed to be the only real left-wing party in Serbia. It spoke out in favour of a regulation of the mar­ket, mixed property structure, full employment. More specifically, it bases its economic and wel­fare policies on the importance of collective employment agreements and on participation of employees at their workplaces. It speaks of a better, just and human society and democratic socialism (Stojiljković 2007b: 189). Already on its party congress in 2003, the party had switched its position with regards to the European Union,[22] a position re-confirmed three years later. Still, the party is negative towards cooperation with NATO, but it stepped back from its firm rejection in the 1990s, and stated in 2006 that it would accept the people’s verdict in this question.[23] Apart from that, the party did not campaign any more on nationalist issues. The SPS repeatedly declared to be the only relevant left-wing party in Serbia, apparently pointing at its left-wing economic program. Finally, in the new program of 2006, the Socialist Party writes that its goal is the membership in the Socialist International (SI).[24]

The goal of this new direction of the Socialists is to increase the relevance of the economic dimen­sion in Serbian politics, instead of the authoritarian-liberal dimension, knowing that on the second dimension, they are not very competitive.

This new direction was clearly not only reflected in the SPS campaign ahead of the 2008 parlia­mentary elections, but as well during the coalition formation in summer 2008, when the SPS be­came the junior partner in the pro-European government of prime minister Mirko Cvetković (DS). The slight re-positioning of the Socialists opened a few new windows of opportunity. First, the opening in the EU question made the Socialists a possible coalition partner for the pro-Europeans. This, however, means that they can play the role of the pivotal voter in the national parliament as in local assemblies all across Serbia, since they are acceptable as coalition partner both to the pro-Europeans around the DS, and to the nationalists around the DSS and SRS. This gives the party much more power in coalition negotiations.

Certainly, for the electorate of the SPS, the new orientation is a major rupture – and the party risks to lose parts of its voters on the way to its new pro-European identity. However, and most impor­tantly, the party could bring in the strengthening of social redistribution as one of the main pillars into the coalition agreement, and make “social justice” one of the most frequently used words in Serbian politics. This label positions the SPS in the public perception as the issue-leader in favour of a strong social welfare state. The clear positioning of the SPS might force other parties to take clearer stands on the economic dimension, and SPS might hope that this dimension obtains greater importance in Serbian politics. Welfare policies are very popular with many Serbian citizens, who are still used a state that takes care of citizens “from the cradle to the grave” (Stojiljković 2007a: 135). Finally, the party hopes that its inclusion in a pro-European coalition might help its plans to become member of the SI.

Social Democracy® and the role of the Socialist International

The best way of gaining credibility to be the Social Democratic party is the membership of the Socia­list Inter­natio­nal. Most SI members, likewise with the Party of European Socialists (PES), today do not only advocate a strong welfare state and policies of redistri­bution, but namely include as well values and policies of societal liberalism and democracy. This however creates problems of cohesion when it comes to the integration of parties in post-communist Europe into the Social Democratic family. The SI has been reluctant to accept members with a nationalist-autho­ri­ta­rian program, so that a few parties with such a direction could only become SI member through mergers with other Social Democratic parties, with whom they shared some economic stands. The problem of integrating Social Democrats in Central and Eastern Europe in the Western Social Democratic family was seen recently, when the Slovakian Smer was suspended its membership in the PES, following a coalition with Slovakian ultra-nationalists (Fischer 2008, forthcoming).

Several parties aspire to hold the place of the Social Democratic party in Serbia. There are a few par­ties which are not only calling themselves Social Democrats, but also being oriented upon the Western European model of Social Democrats, with civic-liberal values and a social-redistributive program. The most important party in this field is the Social Democratic Party (Socijaldemokratska partija, SDP), which is an SI member. But these parties fall short of votes; none of these parties is able pass the electoral threshold on its own, or as the leader of a party coalition. Apart from these parties, the Social Democratic space is occupied by the DS, another SI member. It is mainly distin­guished through its anti-authoritarian position, but with regards to economic policies, it is diffi­cult to locate; certainly it does not stand out because of a strongly redistributive policies, but rather, cer­tain of its ministers are pushing for economic reforms towards a liberal economy. Finally, several regional Vojvodina parties locate themselves in the Social Democratic realm (cf. Bochsler 2008b). The SPS, however, has so far being refused a membership in the SI, due to the party's historical legacies, the enduring link to Slobodan Milošević and the lack of reform (Stojiljković 2007a: 132-133). Against this background, it can be understood why the SPS tried to get SI member through a coalition with the DS. Furthermore, the party leadership hopes to strive its authoritarian legacy through a programmatic reorientation. But this reorientation has so far remained weak. Social Democratic parties and SI members from neighbouring countries have announced that they would oppose the SPS membership application in the SI.[25]

What can we learn from these party trajectories?

The article reflects exemplarily the strategic considerations of two Serbian parties when choosing their position in the policy space. Often, party systems in post-communist countries in Europe are perceived as fuzzy, party positions as little consistent and thriven by personal quarrels and politicians’ personal interest, while voters to fall for populists. Contrasting this view, this article attempts to explain recent positional changes in the Serbian party system with look at the spatial logics which determine the strategies of political parties. Arguing that political parties are strategically behaving political organisms, I show that re-positioning occurs in order to access a new, larger potential of voters. If this should be the case, then party trajectories should rather lead to a differentiation of political parties in the party space, and stabilise the party system.

Based on the analysis of the two main party trajectories in Serbia in the period 2003-2008, I show that both parties are attempting to access a part of the electorate which previously has not been served well by political parties. The first case presented is the emergence of the Liberal-Democratic Party (LDP), which positions as a pro-European party in favour of radical social and economic re­forms, and advocates a reconciliation with the neighbouring states, and internal minorities. It is argued that the appearance of the party at this location is perfectly understandable, given that the Democratic Party (DS), which is the main pro-European reform party, has began increasingly to compro­mise with the nationalist-conservative field after 2003, and this created a political vacuum in the pronounced pro-European end of the political space, which was filled by the LDP. On this position, the LDP appeared less as a new natural coalition partner with similar political preferences, but first of all as a natural competitor for the DS voters and members. This forced the DS to pull the wheel over hard. On the one hand, it fought against the credibility of the LDP, stressing that it is not a viable coalition partner, and such, signalising voters that the LDP would do hard to get any governing responsibility, despite the LDP in many cases being the natural coalition partner of the DS. On the other hand, the DS moved back towards its programmatic origins, preventing the possible desertion of the most reform-oriented part of its voters towards the LDP, given that the new party defends their position more pronouncedly than the DS. When the political representatives of Kosovo proclaimed the independence of their country, the coalition of the pro-Europeans with the nationalist-conservative parties fell in a deep crisis about the orientation of Serbia, namely about the question if the EU integration of Serbia would allow the country to defend the Serbian claims on Kosovo. While the nationalist-conser­vatives wanted to interrupt the EU negotiations and to break the relations with the countries that recognised Kosovo’s independence, the pro-European did not see Kosovo as a reason to stop the European integration process. Unlike in earlier situations, before the entry of LDP, the DS was now constrained to remain loyal to its pro-European electorate, and to insist on an EU friendly poli­cy. I suggest thus that the competitive situation in the pro-European field, with the new LDP posi­tio­ned more on a more radical position than the DS, might have prevented the DS from compromises on these issues with the Koštunica nationalists.

The second party trajectory investigated in this article regards the recent re-positioning of the Socia­list Party of Serbia (SPS). I show that the SPS, as long as it was identified as an ultra-nationalist, anti-European and authoritarian party, had a very similar position to the Serbian Radicals (SRS), but the SRS had more credibility on these issues. The losers of the transition, which are addressed both by SRS as SPS, did rather prefer to vote for the more pronounced Radicals than for the Socialists. The SPS could only act as a junior partner to the SRS, and survived only based on a few remaining ties with its old followers. For the SPS, however, it was highly problematic if its own survival was linked to the life expectancy of its voters. Against this background, the trajectory of the Socialists appears as a strategic move in order to stress a new issue dimension in Serbian politics, which so far has not been clearly structured. The Socia­lists moved towards a pro-European position, but most impor­tantly they stressed economic questions and social welfare, toned down on nationalist issues, allo­wing them to form a governing coalition with the DS with a programmatic accent on EU inte­gra­tion and social justice. The SPS expects that this will help to politicise the economic dimension much more, and they will be the issue-holder on welfare policies. This way, they do not only attempt to access new groups of voters, but as well to bridge the regime conflict, and to become a more modern Social Democratic party, possibly allowing them to access the Socialist International.

Although the examples are only very selective and the findings rather suggestive than definite, they offer a small piece of evidence for a change how we see party systems in post-communist countries. Have political parties in Central and Eastern Europe become highly rational actors, with very sophisticated sensors for electoral potential and spatial positioning? Or do we still perceive them as thriven by random and incoherent decisions, by personal interests, making unexplained trajectories? So far, this study remains on a descriptive level, and on rather rudimentary measures of party posi­tions, different to other studies on spatial models, which usually are investigated based on quanti­ta­tive measures and calculations. Rather than presenting a definite, systematically tested argu­ment, this study focuses on the party trajectories in one country, and prepares the basis for a more compre­hensive test, worth to be studied as well for further countries and cases, and using quantitative data.



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[*] Center for Comparative and International Studies, ETH/University of Zurich, Department of Political Science, Hirschengraben 56, CH-8001 Zürich, Switzerland.

E-mail:, Phone: +41 44 634 50 28 or +41 22 5481555, Fax: +41 44 634 50 98.

[1] I am grateful to Slaviša Raković and to the two anonymous reviewers for their comments that helped to strengthen the argument of this article.

[2] See Downs (1957); McGann (2002), and many others.

[3] For the shakedown hypothesis, see O’Donnell and Schmitter (1986: 58); Taagepera and Shugart (1989: 147) and Cox (1997). Dawisha and Deets (2006) and Bochsler (2007) investigated the hypothesis for countries in Central and Eastern Europe.

[4] The case selection of this study relying on the electoral threshold of 5% is limiting the study on these parties which have passed the institutional barriers, so that political institutions do not have any filter effect on the parties under study, and need not to be considered for this investigation. For the Serbian case, changes in the electoral rules are particularly interesting to explain the emergence of ethnic minority parties. In 2007, for a first time ethnic minority parties were exempted from the threshold. They are not considered however in this study, because none of them got even close to 5% of votes, which are used here as well as arbitrary threshold of relevance, and because there are no major known changes of positions of minority parties in this period, and only two previously non-existent small Roma parties emerged with one seat each in the parliament elected in 2007 as new competitors, but lost their seats again one year later.

We need to be aware that institutional power can be used in other forms too, for instance using the state institutions in order to prevent a new competitor from emerging in the political system. This might be an important reason why the Serbian oligarch and media tycoon Bogoljub Karić failed to establish his Movement of Serbian Force (Pokret Snaga Srbije, PSS) as a new party in Serbia (cf. Bochsler 2008a).

[5] See Pantić (2006); Slavujević (2006); Mihailović (2006b); Goati (2004) for more information on party positioning.

[6] G17+ emerged from an NGO with mostly economic experts. Its first party leader, Miroljub Labus, was previously DS member.

[7] Program “Drugačija Srbija” (Different Serbia), from 2007. Found on [last accessed on 16 June 2008].

[8] His strategy relies on a recognition of Serbian war crimes, and excuses for such, but the common Serbian relativising that war crimes were committed by all former Yugoslav countries similarly (Danas, 7 December 2004, “Tadić: Svi jedni drugima dugujemo izvinjenje”). Commenting on an assembly that was aimed at denying the crimes committed in Srebrenica, Tadić stressed the freedom of opinion (Nin, 2 July 2005, Ljiljana Smajlović, “Srebrenica kao sudbina”).

[9] When speaking to the Serbs in Kosovo and the international community, Tadić was apparently more moderate and sending certain signs of support of a multiethnic Kosovo. Namely, Tadić encouraged the Kosovo Serbs to participate in the 2004 parliamentary elections in Kosovo, and was trying to cool down emotions after the Kosovo riots in March 2004 (Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia 2005)

[10] The vote would only be valid if more than half of the registered voters turn out.

[11] Otherwise, we would expect that voters and politicians defeat these parties, because supporting them does not help to influence politics (Duverger 1951).

[12] Allied with NS. Later on, NS turned around and joined the DSS in an alliance.

[13] Nin, 16 November 2006: „Šta nudim Srbiji”.

[14] In 2007, the party obtained 5.3% of the votes, one year later 5.2%. However, in 2007, the party was allied to Nenad Čanak's League of Vojvodina Social Democrats (Liga Socijaldemokrata Vojvodine, LSV), and one year later, Čanak allied with the DS. Probably, LSV contributed more than 0.1% of the votes in 2007, so that the LDP might claim a net increase in votes.

[15] Radio Free Europe (Radio Slobodna Evropa), 28 June 2008, Serbian news program.

[16] B92, 10 June 2008, “Oslobođen Marko Milošević”. A similar arrangement concerning legal procedures against the Milošević family seems already to have been part of the 2004 agreement when the SPS supported the first Koštunica cabinet (Goati 2006: 244-245).

[17] "Deklaracija o političkom pomirenju i zajedničkoj odgovornosti za ostvarivanje vizije Srbije kao demokratske, slobodne, celovite, ekonomski i kulturno razvijene i socijalno pravedne zemlje", Politika, 21 and 22 October 2008.

[18] According to my counting in some 20 municipalities, including Niš, the second largest city in Serbia, and most of the Niš city municipalities.

[19] See for instance the two edited volumes by Ishiyama (1999) and by Bozóki and Ishiyama (2002).

[20] In the 1993-1997 period, when Slobodan Milošević was a central figure in the international peace negotiations for Bosnia and Herzegovina, the party position on Greater Serbia was more nuanced.

[21] Vreme, 7.12.2006: “Izborna Kampanja: Dvojci i Kormilari”.

[22] Deklaracija šestog kongresa Socijalističke partije Srbije, 18 January 2003, Belgrade,

[23] Programska deklaracija sedmog kongresa Socijalističke partije Srbije, 3 December 2006, Belgrade,

[24] Programska deklaracija sedmog kongresa Socijalističke partije Srbije, 3 December 2006, Belgrade,

[25] Politika, 1 July 2008, “Prilika za novi život socijalista”.

Copyright (c) 2008 Daniel Bochsler

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