Serbian PM blocks EU pact over Kosovo, despite vote
Belgrade power broker Vojislav Kostunica is shaking the newly elected government over Kosovo.
Serbia's most skillful politician rarely smiles, doesn't socialize, and believes religiously in a special destiny for Serbia. Now, Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica is shaking Serbia's newly elected government – over the destiny of Kosovo.Skip to next paragraph
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Days after 2.2 million Serbs voted to join Europe by reelecting President Boris Tadic, Mr. Kostunica is playing a high-stakes game that has helped paralyze the government. He has accused the European Union of "jeopardizing the territorial integrity … of Serbia" as it prepares to send a mission to Kosovo, and blocked Mr. Tadic from signing an EU premembership agreement – saying it is a European quid pro quo for Kosovo's independence from Serbia.
The result could be to boost the radical leadership Serbia just voted narrowly against, analysts say – and promote policies that Europeans worry could destabilize the Balkans. Before elections, some analysts felt the government might fall if pro-Russia radical Tomislav Nikolic was elected. Now the way may be paved anyway by a statesman who is showing a talent akin to that of former hard-line Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic – whom he helped oust – for writing Serbia's script from behind the scenes, analysts say.
Just last spring, Kostunica used his fabled power-broking skills to halt a parliamentary takeover by hard-line nationalists. Now, Kosovo Albanians say, he is frightening Europe in a bid to delay independence, something Serbia has done successfully for two years under Kostunica.
Diplomats do grudgingly admire Kostunica's skills. Liberals here whisper he is twice as clever as Tadic and twice as dangerous as Mr. Nikolic.
In just over a year, Kostunica has resurrected the emotional volcano of Kosovo, invented a new relationship with Russia, given a green light to disaffected radicals, rewritten the Constitution, and made himself the center of politics – at a time when his approval rating has dropped from 81 percent in 2000 to 7.5 percent today. A popular Belgrade cartoon, made after Kosovo Albanians elected Hacim Thaci as prime minister in November, shows Kostunica next to Mr. Thaci, who says, "I won 40 percent and will be prime minister." A bubble above Kostunica has him thinking, "That's the easy way!"
Kostunica interlocutors describe him as sympathetic in his early days in power. But they say he has shifted from the anticommunist legal scholar who ran a small think tank in Yugoslavia to a democrat opposed to Milosevic to a power-seeker drenched in Serbian patriotism. "I found him very agreeable, very refreshing in 2000," says one diplomat. But today, "It is Kostunica's fault if more and more Serbs speak of fighting for Kosovo. He's become a raving nationalist."
When Jacques Rupnik of Sciences Po in Paris first met Kostunica, the Serbian politician was reading America's Founding Fathers and studying the US Constitution. Mr. Rupnik asked if Kostunica was a nationalist or a democrat; Kostunica said he was both. "He saw himself as the true nationalist and Milosevic as an opportunistic fake," Rupnik says.