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    Crunch time for Serbs in EU vs Kosovo election

    04.05.2008 - 15:50 | Son Güncelleme:

    The final week of campaigning began for Serbia's most crucial election in the post-Slobodan Milosevic era, with every sign that divisions over the country's future course are deepening.

    The coalition that toppled the late strongman is now fragmented, divided over allegiance to the West or Russia, and calling each other traitors and liars.

    The balance of power shifted to the nationalists since Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, who beat Milosevic in 2000 as a pro-Western moderate, became increasingly hardline over the secession of Kosovo with U.S. and European Union backing.

    "Our principles are for the survival of Kosovo in Serbia, for the survival of Serbia itself," he said this week, accusing his erstwhile allies, the pro-Western Democratic Party, of treason for signing a pre-membership pact with Brussels.

    "Now when they're trying to take away a piece of the country's territory, when its heart is being ripped out and a pact with the EU offered in return, one can't deny that this election will determine Serbia's destiny."

    His campaign around the slogan of "Uphold Serbia" echoes 19th century romantic nationalism and the introspection and paranoia of the 1990s. 'Yankee Go Home' leaflets show how far the party has strayed from its pro-Western roots.

    It has been striking similar notes as the nationalist Radicals, whose platform of Serbian dignity and a non-aligned path between East and West have made it the strongest single party for the last five years.

    Their main common position is over Kosovo: Radical leader Tomislav Nikolic has said Serbia should not "sell itself" and join the EU until it gets back its cherished province, cradle of its Orthodox faith.

    "We can work together as friends, but hands off our territory," Nikolic said in a campaign speech. "If you think Kosovo must be independent, forget Serbia as the place where you'll make money."


    The convergence between Kostunica and Nikolic has Serbs forecasting a coalition, making the Democrats the only party that hold up the tide of new nationalism and a shift away from Europe and towards Moscow, Serbia's main backer over Kosovo.

    Totally sidelined by Kostunica during the eight months of their fragile government and playing second fiddle to his rhetoric on Kosovo, they are now fighting back.

    Their campaign includes grainy gray footage of poverty and isolation during the Milosevic years, and a technicolor alternative version of a prosperous 'European Serbia' of well-dressed young people with perfect smiles and big plans.

    "We need to tie our little boat to the big European ship," Deputy PM Bozidar Djelic of the Democrats said on Tuesday while signing the accord with the EU. "I'm a Serb patriot and I'm convinced today is a truly patriotic day."

    The pact was offered by Brussels explicitly to boost the Democrats. It will remain mostly symbolic until Serbia fulfils conditions for ratification by arresting war crimes fugitives from the Yugoslav wars, and then starts to reap the benefits.

    Slogans aside, polls show that to clinch a majority and prevent the Radicals from coming to power, the Democrats may need a helping hand from a party of the past.

    Serbian media are speculating that the Democrats have done the math and swallowed their pride, and are already making overtures to the Socialists, the once-dominant party of Milosevic.


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