By Bojana Barlovac
Two months after general elections in Serbia, the victorious Progressives are finally the largest force in a new government.
But while enjoying the novel taste of power, they are having problems finding candidates of the right calibre to run key ministries.
Short of real experts, the party is visibly struggling to find the right people, and may have to borrow some candidates from their reviled and defeated centrist rivals.
“Several ministries, especially those belonging to the Progressives, will have no ministers due to the lack of professional personnel,” noted Serbia’s satirical Njuz.net site on July 11, one day after leaders of three parties, the Progressives, Socialists and United Regions of Serbia, signed an agreement to form a government.
The government, which is supposed to be formed on July 23, will be headed by Ivica Dacic, leader of the Socialist Party and once the right-hand man of Serbia’s former strongman, Slobodan Milosevic.
The government is expected to have 15 ministries, two less than the former one, and ministerial posts will be divided among the parties on an 8-5-2 formula.
That means eight posts for the Progressives, five for the Socialist-led coalition and two for the United Regions of Serbia.
The future leaders have outlined their priorities, including Serbia’s EU integration and continued dialogue with the unrecognised government of Kosovo.
But they have raised eyebrowns by declining to disclose the full list of future ministers – maintaining that personnel choices are less important than the government’s future agenda.
Analysts feel that eight ministries is a large number for the Progressives to fill, given that the party, although the most popular in Serbia, is short of the kind of experts who can head some of the more complex ministries properly.
As a result, the government is likely either to appoint some relatively unexperienced ministers, or it may have borrow key staff from the ranks of the defeated Democrats, who headed the previous government and are not short of technical know-how.
Aleksandar Vucic, acting head of the Progressives, said that the party’s main board will announce on July 17 its candidates for the eight ministries.
He insisted that the public will be surprised in a positive sense by the choice.
“They will be people who have energy and with whom you [the Serbian people] are not fed up,” Vucic promised on Tuesday.
A youthful Nikola Selakovic is expected to be one of those fresh faces.
Aged only 29, he is due to take over the Ministry of Justice and hit the ground running with initiatives dealing with some of the country’s most pressing issues – the fight against corruption and organised crime as well as judicial reform.
Selakovic was born in the western town of Uzice but soon moved to nearby Nova Varos and then to Belgrade, where he finished elementary and high school before attending Belgrade University in the Faculty of Law.
“He was a whizz-kid winning every competition he took part in,” one of his school colleagues recalled to Balkan Insight.
However, Selakovic may have difficulty repeating his winning streak in his future ministerial post, given his lack of experience in anything but law courses.
Political science professor Predrag Simic told Balkan Insight that he feared Serbia was continuing its old, bad habit of appointing inexperienced people to important positions in the country.
“Our future Prime Minister [Dacic] came to power in his early twenties,“ Simic recalled, noting that at the tender age of 24 in 1990, Dacic had become the first president of the youth wing of the then ruling Serbian Socialist Party and served as the party spokesperson during the Nineties.
At the time, Milosevic was whipping up Serbian nationalism in a drive to carve a “Greater Serbia” from the ruins of Yugoslavia.
Simic puts the lack of suitable candidates for important positions in the Progressives down to the fact, firstly, that it is a young party, and secondly to the fact that it is a party that has built its indentity on negative opposition to the Democrats.
“Experts specialized in certain fields will be joining them one by one, as it was the case in the past,“ Simic told Balkan Insight.
He noted that the DOS coalition, which toppled the regime of Milosevic in 2000, also came to power with relatively little experience of government – but experts soon flocked to join them.
The backgrounds of the the Democrats who were in the DOS and the Progressives today differ considerably, however, some say.
The Democratic Party, which was set up in 1989 as the first opposition party in Serbia, contained an intellectual elite that had been waiting to wrench Serbia out of Milosevic’s grasp for more than a decade.
The Serbian Progressive Party, SNS, was formed in October 2008 by a group of MPs who broke away from Vojislav Seselj’s ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party, SRS.
Tomislav Nikolic resigned as deputy leader of the Radicals over disagreements with Seselj – now on trial in The Hague – over calls for the Radicals to moderate their nationalist image a little and embrace the EU.
Political analyst Dejan Vuk Stankovic notes that the Progressives and Democrats have always appealed to different constituencies.
The Progressives have always been “oriented towards the poorer people and towards the masses, so there was not much room for an intellectual elite,” he told Balkan Insight.
According to Stankovic, the second reason for the paucity of talent in the party lies in the overall political culture in Serbia.
He believes that the political and intellectual climate has been in decline for much of the last 20 years.
The governments that took power immediately after Milosevic’s fall in 2000 had real experts in finance, economy, and EU integration, Stankovic says, because many talented people, driven abroad under Milosevic, had returned home. In a mood of patriotic enthusiasm, many were keen to join the government.
“Now the situation has changed,” he notes. “Intellectual elites no longer wish to take part in the political arena, regardless of the government,” he adds.
Meanwhile, admitting a lack of experts in their own ranks, the Progressives have shyly turned to some of the Democrats who were deemed to have done a decent job in the previous government.
One such is Milica Delevic, the head of Serbian office for EU intergation, who has been told that she can keep her post, or even move up the ranks as Foreign Minister.
Another mooted candidate for the post of Foreign Minister is Leon Kojen, a former adviser to Boris Tadic, Serbia’s former president and the leader of the Democrats.
Another Democratic candidate who is negotiating with the Progressives over keeping a post in the new government is Rasim Ljajic, the outgoing Labour Minister.