Challenge to Serbian Democracy

The bad news from Serbia's elections Sunday is that the ultranationalist Radical Party of indicted war criminal Vojislav Seselj won the largest number of seats in parliament.

The good news is that it probably won't be able to form a government, even if it allies itself with the nationalist Socialist Party led by Slobodan Milosevic - who, like Mr. Seselj, is also on trial in The Hague for war crimes.

Serbia's pro-West, reformist parties, which won 42 percent of the vote, now must put aside their bickering of the last 2-1/2 years and unite in a stable coalition to lead the country out of its morass. They must press market reforms, rein in corruption, and crush the organized-crime gangs that still dominate much of the country. And they must end the lingering power of the Milosevic clique by turning over more suspects to the war-crimes tribunal - despite the unpopularity of doing so.

Failure to do so could cost Serbia desperately needed aid from the European Union and the United States.

The democratic parties' inability to get together and govern competently would only further strengthen the ultranationalists' hand and lead to a situation similar to that of Weimar Germany in the early 1930s: The ultranationalists will continue to exploit Serbs' psychology of denial regarding their responsibility for the Balkan wars of the 1990s; their sense of "humiliation" by NATO; and support for an unattainable "Greater Serbia."

Their aim is to convince Serbs that economic and national resurrection lie in ethnic chauvinism and paranoia, rather than democracy and modernization.

Much of Europe's 20th-century misery is traceable to the actions of Serbian nationalists - from the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 Sarajevo, which set off World War I, to the 1999 attacks on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. A Serbia governed by ultranationalists would only continue to destabilize its neighbors.

It's long past time that Serbia reform and integrate into modern Europe - so that it will never be the spark for war again.

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