Serbia haunted by Milosevic's ghost

The Associated Press
Saturday, May 10, 2008; 3:21 PM

BELGRADE, Serbia -- Serbia is haunted anew by the ghost of Slobodan Milosevic.

Eight years after the late Serbian strongman was toppled in a popular revolt, and a little more than two years after his death while on U.N. trial for genocide and crimes against humanity, his former loyalists have never been closer to regaining power.

On the eve of Sunday's parliamentary elections, experts warned that nationalists who have tapped into widespread outrage over Kosovo's independence may ride an unprecedented wave of anti-Western sentiment to victory.

"People here just can't shake the feeling that Europe isn't fair and just toward Serbia," Braca Grubacic, a prominent political analyst, said Saturday. "Serbia is not like it used to be, but the problems and the political agenda are the same as they were during the Milosevic era."

A pro-democracy movement ousted Milosevic in 2000, and the man who presided over the bloody 1990s breakup of Yugoslavia died in March 2006 in a prison cell in The Hague, Netherlands, where a U.N. tribunal was trying him for atrocities in the Balkans.

Milosevic is gone, but he's far from forgotten.

The ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party _ whose leader, Tomislav Nikolic, proudly proclaims himself even more of a hard-liner than Milosevic was _ clung to a slim lead heading into Sunday's vote.

Although President Boris Tadic's pro-Western coalition was running a close second, potential kingmakers included nationalist Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's conservative coalition and Milosevic's Socialists. One _ or both _ were expected to team up with the Radicals to form a new government with a pronounced anti-Western and pro-Russia stance.

"Our time has come. We have to get rid of the Western stooges, who have brought us nothing good," said Radmila Mihajlovic, a 75-year-old Radical supporter and self-proclaimed former Milosevic follower.

Nikolic and Kostunica have capitalized on an acute sense of betrayal felt by many Serbs after Kosovo declared independence in February and gained formal recognition from the U.S., Canada, Japan and key European powers.

Serbs see Kosovo as the heart of their ancient homeland and Serbian Orthodox faith, and their bitterness has nudged the country toward ultranationalists promising to restore bruised national pride.

The nationalists also have exploited disenchantment with 30 percent unemployment, rising prices and corruption.

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