An heir to Milosevic: Is he better?
A likely replacement, Vojislav Seselj, is a popular nationalist and
BELGRADE, YUGOSLAVIA — When Western policymakers envision Serbia after Slobodan Milosevic, they hope for democracy, European integration, and ethnic tolerance. What they may get, however, is quite different: Vojislav Seselj, who is the leading voice here of nationalism, confrontation, and isolation.
Mr. Seselj is the second most popular politician in Serbia after Mr. Milosevic. He narrowly lost to Milosevic's candidate, Milan Milutinovic, in a disputed presidential election two years ago and has since been taken into the ruling coalition as a vice premier.
With airstrikes, analysts say, he is only gaining popularity. "More bombs make him stronger," says Ognjen Pribicevic, a political analyst in Belgrade. "The longer the war, the more he is helped."
According to a source connected to the governing coalition, Seselj is becoming impatient with Milosevic and is looking to play a greater role in Yugoslavia's war with NATO.
"Mr. Seselj is not happy with how he is being used by the regime," says the source. "He's obviously in the game right now, but he wants more. Never underestimate him."
And there are few signs that the NATO air campaign, now in its third month, is letting up. Over the weekend, NATO bombers hit power grids throughout Serbia, almost completely stopping electric and water supplies.
Peace efforts led by Russian envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin have so far yielded few results. NATO countries are facing growing divisions.
And Milosevic continues to defy NATO demands to withdraw his troops from Kosovo, the warring province that is the center of the conflict.
"Everything is wide open," says an independent analyst in Belgrade. "The longer this goes on, the more possibilities there are. Will there be a [NATO] ground invasion? Will Milosevic try to make a peace deal? Will the bombing go on through the summer?"
But if there is one constant, it is Seselj, who is against letting any foreign troops onto Serbian soil and who seems to encourage conflict with ethnic Albanians from Kosovo.
Although Milosevic is clearly his master, Seselj has enough support in the parliament and among the populace that his views must at times be accommodated.
But in the past month, analysts say, Milosevic has had to rein him in by denying him television coverage. Otherwise his popularity could balloon - or he could rouse public opinion to a level at which a political compromise with NATO would be impossible.
While other Serbian leaders have acknowledged the use of excessive force in Kosovo, Seselj denies any improper behavior. He said Sunday, "We implemented only legal and legitimate forms of violence, which were necessary.... Our army will never completely retreat from Kosovo."
Seselj says that as many as 300,000 ethnic Albanians were in Kosovo as illegal immigrants and should either be deported or, for those who are now refugees, refused reentry.
"Their county is Albania and they should live there," he said this week. "The only Albanians who should live here are the ones who think of Serbia as their fatherland."
Seselj has also had confrontations with other ethnic groups, and, like Milosevic, thrives on war. As NATO has bombed Yugoslavia, he has turned his sights inward, accusing the democratic opposition, the independent media, and human rights workers of being traitors.
"Seselj is used for internal discipline," says an independent journalist here. "Milosevic lets him loose when he wants to radicalize the population."
A thick-necked, red-faced Bosnian Serb, Seselj was a brilliant law student who was arrested by Yugoslav authorities in 1984 for fomenting revolution.
He had been caught with an unpublished document he wrote advocating that Tito's six-republic Yugoslavia be replaced by a Serb-dominated entity. Among other things, he wanted Bosnia and Montenegro abolished.
He served nearly two years in prison and returned to Belgrade a nationalist hero. Milosevic saw potential in him, and sponsored his political career.
When war broke out in Croatia, Seselj organized a paramilitary group called the Chetnik Movement - and later the Serbian Radical Party.
His forces were among the most wild and undisciplined of the paramilitaries. Milosevic eventually turned on him, using him as a scapegoat and, through a party statement, calling him "the personification of violence and primitiveness."
After Seselj's strong showing in elections two years ago, however, Milosevic called him into the government, and since then the two have worked closely together.
As a top politician, Seselj has pulled a gun on student demonstrators in front of the parliament, thrown a glass of water at the speaker of the parliament, and beaten up protesting teachers, taxi drivers, and a lawyer.
He has also been accused of trying to evict Croatians from Zemun, where he used to be the mayor, and from Hrtkovci, a Croat-populated town in northwestern Serbia.
Despite his maverick tactics, however, it is Milosevic who will most likely determine his fate - pulling him up when greater defiance is needed and pushing him down when he becomes a threat to the establishment.
"Seselj's future depends on how this [war] is resolved," says an opposition politician.
"When nothing is normal, when there is no electricity, no water, and no bread to feed the children, he becomes a bigger player in the game."