Serbian elections focus on keeping Kosovo
Presidential polls take place Sunday amid intense debate that has pitted hard-line nationalists against more moderate politicians.
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"What's key in the election run-up is that in newspapers, TV, publicity – all you hear is Kosovo, Kosovo, Kosovo," says James Lyon, with the International Conflict Group in Belgrade. "[Prime Minister Vojislav] Kostunica is beating Kosovo endlessly. This could have been handled much differently."Skip to next paragraph
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Sources in Belgrade and the Serbian Embassy in Paris confirm that pro-European President Tadic and pro-Kosovo Radical Party leader Nikolic are leading in the polls. Mr. Tadic is seen in Europe as an easier politician to work with and a genuine democrat, in contrast with the style of the radicals.
"The Europeans have no desire for ideological radicals to sit at the top of the Serbian government," says Henning Reicke of the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin. "The advantages of joining the EU is something no reasonable politician could oppose."
To be elected in Round 2, Tadic is said to be highly dependent on the support of Prime Minister Kostunica, a true believer in the nationalist Kosovo mythology. In recent weeks, Tadic has begun to reposition himself as a more devout nationalist. "Tadic is fighting for his political life. He thinks he can win by becoming more nationalist … ," says the European diplomat. "But will this work? A lot of the nationalist bloc voters may think, why vote for the copy, if you can vote for the original?"
Only one Serb candidate, Cedomir Jovanovic of the Liberal Democrats, has an unavowed pro-Europe, forget-Kosovo platform. He is at about 5 percent in the polls. Mr. Jovanovic told Reuters this week that "Kosovo has already been independent for nine years, and I feel ready to face the fact that Serbia has lost its right to govern Kosovo."
As soon as Jan. 28, Brussels and Belgrade are readying to sign a "Stabilization and Association Agreement" – the formal path leading to Serbia's eventual EU membership. But foreign minister Dmitrij Rupel of Slovenia, which holds the EU presidency, says signing may shift to after the elections, pending further cooperation by Belgrade on Gen. Ratko Mladich and Radovan Karadzic, wanted by The Hague for war crimes in Bosnia.
Mihailo Papazoglu, spokesmen of the Serbian Embassy in Paris, says the SAA is "a sign Europe supports the democratic forces in Serbia, and [that Serbia] is being welcomed by the 27 EU states. The message is that after sanctions and the '99 bombing campaign, that the West, the EU, is on our side."