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Nationalistic debate as Serbia heads to polls

On Sunday, Serbs will weigh in on whether to pursue a pro-European Union path or a more nationalistic, anti-Western route.

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The European Union is so anxious to see a Democrat victory that last week they signed a crucial pre-membership accord, the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with Serbia in an attempt to boost the prospects of the beleaguered pro-Western parties.

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But observers warn that because the EU is seen as one of the principal architects of Kosovo's independence, the move could have the opposite effect.

"Tadic is trying to make this election a referendum on the EU – but he hasn't sold the EU to the Serbian population," says James Lyon of the Brussels-based think tank International Crisis Group. "In contrast, Kostunica has successfully defined the SAA as signing away Kosovo."

The tactic seems to have worked. The SAA is seen by many as a betrayal of Serbia. Graffiti in Belgrade denounces Tadic as a traitor, and earlier this week he received death threats. The polls are yet to show the breakthrough for his party that the EU hoped for.

Meanwhile, the nationalist lobby has concentrated on expanding its support base.

Emil Milosavic, an economist from Nis, explains why he supports the Radicals. "They will do the most to protect Serbia," he says. "Kosovo was stolen from Serbia. On top of that, we have a bad economy, a low standard of living, and massive corruption. I would like to see Serbia join the EU, but as an equal partner, and only with Kosovo."

Serbs in Kosovo will vote

Opposition to Kosovo's independence is the only issue that unites all mainstream parties in Serbia. In Kosovo itself, Serbs are planning to defy authorities in Pristina by holding elections on Sunday.

On Wednesday, Kostunica's DSS held a campaign rally in a new sports hall – paid for by the Serbian government – in the northern Kosovo town of Zubin Potok.

"Serbia needs a government whose first concern, not task or obligation, will be to respect the message that echoes through Serbia," Kostunica said, "and which has been accepted by the greater part of the world – and that message is: Kosovo is Serbia."

In a swipe at Tadic, he said those who had signed the SAA had "embarrassed themselves."

But not everyone in Zubin Potok agrees.

"I will vote for Tadic because if he wins, the EU will divide," says Bojan Bozovic, a shop owner and former journalist.

"Half will support Pristina, and half will support Belgrade," he adds. "But if the Radicals win, 95 percent of the EU will support Pristina, and Kosovo will be lost."