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As Tadic seeks coalition, new hope for Serbia

The victory of his pro-EU party Sunday defied the Western view of Serbs as unwilling to let go of historical grievances. Now, a peaceful future seems possible.

By Staff writer, Andrew WanderCorrespondent / May 15, 2008


Two months ago, mobs in Belgrade attacked the US embassy after Kosovo declared independence from Serbia.

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Then came last Sunday's improbable, unbelievable, and completely unforeseen vote: Serbs defied all expectations and polls to cast ballots decisively for the pro-Europe party of Boris Tadic, the main democratic voice in Serbia – and against the Radical Party, whose nationalist ranks indulged in 15 years of war in the Balkans.

In Europe and the US, the surprise question this week is whether there is hope for a peaceful future for Serbia after all, and whether history in the former Yugoslavia must always hew to the tragic.

To be sure, Mr. Tadic must within 90 days find a coalition partner to form a government; the nationalist parties together scored nearly the same number of seats in the Serb parliament. But the elections indicate a side to the Serbs that defies their profile as fatalistic victims unwilling to let go of ancient myths, say a number of diplomats and analysts.

"Serbia has been the most regressive and eastward-looking place in the Balkans," says Marshall Freeman Harris, a former State Department Balkan expert. "But this election may show things aren't as black as they seem. The US and Europe will recognize there is still hope."

A defeat of 'policies of aggression'

Sunday's elections were seen as yet another crossroads for Serbia's weary electorate, between Tomislav Nikolic, a pro-Russia ultranationalist, and Tadic, a liberal.

Though the win was muted by news of natural disasters in Asia, Tadic heralded it as a victory for integration with Europe and a defeat of "the policies of hatred and aggression."

"Serbia can become the engine of the Western Balkans and the EU is ready to accelerate [Serbia's] status," said Olli Rehn, the chief Brussels official for enlargement of the European Union.

The victory by the democrats in Serbia, at least in the popular vote, may vindicate those in Europe who argued that Belgrade deserved a steady diet of positive assurances and "carrots" – rather than the tough love and "sticks" policy to keep Serbia in perpetual isolation until it hands over accused war criminals like Gen. Ratko Mladic.

Just prior to the election, EU officials in Brussels voted to give visas to Serbs for €40 ($62) – a popular move among young Serbs, a generation that has complained of being trapped in Serbia, unable to travel or go abroad for study or exploration.

As Belgrade prepares to host the finals of Eurovision, an American idol-style European singing and talent contest on satellite TV, the city is abuzz with anticipation - and younger voters are reminded of their proximity to cosmopolitan Europe. [Editor's note: The original version gave the wrong date for the Eurovision finals.]