Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Ultranationalists riding high in Serbia after crucial vote

Ultranationalists riding high in Serbia after crucial vote

BELGRADE, Serbia: The party that won the most votes in Serbia's elections is staunchly anti-Western, has counted Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein among its allies, and wants to go to war over the breakaway province of Kosovo.

Many in the West had feared the ultranationalist Radicals would come out on top in the weekend parliamentary vote, but their stronger-than-expected performance shows how Serbia is having trouble moving beyond the bloody legacy of its late autocrat Milosevic.

The Radicals, who ruled Serbia together with Milosevic and were his iron fist during his Bosnian, Croatian and Kosovo war campaigns in the 1990s, won 28.7 percent of the vote to give them 81 seats in Serbia's 250-seat parliament.

They don't have a majority to form the next government alone, but may try to woo Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica into a right-wing coalition — perhaps by offering him the premiership.

The pro-Western Democrats, who were second in the polls and won 64 seats, would also need the support of Kostunica and his third-place Populist Coalition to form a government, but don't want him to retain the top job.

They are hoping Kostunica can be convinced that joining their camp is the only way to prevent Serbia from plunging back into international isolation.

Kostunica, long know as a masterful political operator, appears to be relishing his role as kingmaker and throughout the campaign kept open the possibility of aligning himself with either side.

The deputy Radical leader, Tomislav Nikolic, said Serbian President Boris Tadic, also the president of the Democrats, should offer "our strongest party" a mandate to form a government.

"But, I know he won't do it," Nikolic said, predicting new elections by the end of the year because "the so-called Democrats cannot agree on anything, let alone the new government."

"And, after the new vote we'll be even stronger," Nikolic said, appealing to Radical supporters to "have patience because we'll soon be ruling Serbia."

The Radicals' pre-election platform was drafted by their leader Vojislav Seselj who is awaiting a trial at the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands.

It called for using force to block Kosovo from becoming independent under a U.N.-backed plan, giving up attempts to join the European Union, establishing "brotherly" ties with Russia, and keeping alive Milosevic's dream of uniting all Serbs in the Balkans into a single country.

In the vote, the Radicals won the most votes in almost all Serbian constituencies, including the capital Belgrade, which had been a traditional pro-Democratic Party stronghold.

The Radicals' supporters were active in paramilitary units in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo, and are widely blamed for launching campaigns that wiped out non-Serbs near the border regions.

Seselj rallied volunteers for an armed rebellion by Serbs against Croatia's secession from Yugoslavia and threatened to scoop out the eyes of Croats with a rusty spoon. He later claimed the remark was a joke.

During their alliance with Milosevic, the Radicals constantly attacked the United States and "internal enemies" — such as opposition officials — who allegedly supported U.S. policies.

After Milosevic's ouster in October 2000 by united pro-democracy forces, the Radicals slowly sneaked back into the public eye, winning air time with bombastic remarks in parliamentary sessions.

They protested Milosevic's extradition to the U.N. war crimes tribunal in 2001 — support that later prompted Milosevic to urge his supporters to vote for the ultranationalists, rather than his own Socialist Party, in elections.

Radical leaders often visited Saddam during his reign, publicly praising the Iraqi leader for his bravery and defiance of the United States. In return, Saddam's Baath party financed the Radicals' election campaigns. They are also known for maintaining ties to ultranationalists like France's Jean-Marie Le Pen and Russia's Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

Ultranationalists riding high in Serbia after crucial vote - International Herald Tribune

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