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The Netherlands and Belgium have put Serbia in a dilemma before
The Netherlands and Belgium have put Serbia in a dilemma before its upcoming preterm parliamentary elections on May 11-a dilemma that may sink the European Union into a nightmare.

Belgrade faces a hard choice in the pressing demands to extradite General Ratko Mladic to the Hague Tribunal, thereby clearing its conscience before joining the EU. Mladic, accused of war crimes, commanded Bosnian Serb troops during the Balkan interethnic war of 1991-1995. If Serbia refuses to extradite him, the EU will not sign the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) that would open the door for EU membership. Things are even more muddled because no one knows where Mladic is. He was last spotted in Belgrade during a soccer match several years ago.

The firm stance of several EU members is not new to Belgrade. Serbia has seen many similar ultimatums since the end of the NATO operations against the former Yugoslavia nine years ago. The overthrow of President Slobodan Milosevic, which made Europe leap with joy in 2000, made Serbs look forward to Western aid since they had to restore their war-ruined economy and infrastructure. The European Union, however, made provisos, persistently demanding the extradition of suspected war criminals, mainly Milosevic.

Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic secretly dispatched Milosevic to The Hague. Now, five years after his assassination, the main street of Belgrade still lies in ruins; Serbia cannot afford to restore the missile-hit Interior Ministry and General Staff. Many regard their sinister remains as a silent reproach to Iron Lady Europe.

Tens of bombed dual-purpose enterprises, which manufactured household appliances and military equipment, also lie in ruins to this day. Unemployment has leaped over 20%. Lawyers, engineers, architects and other professionals are often seen behind shop counters. This is serious-these humiliated people belong to the most active population group with a pro-Western potential.

Soccer matches gather thousands of anti-Western unemployed young people. Serbian nationalists, now accused of war crimes, recruited their illegal armed militants out of such frenzied young men. It is frightening to hear soccer fans chant the names of Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb leader, moving the Serbian fight forward.

The Serb community is polarized, with intellectuals, students and businessmen on one side, and the unemployed, frustrated youth and hundreds of thousands of refugees from Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo on the other.

Last winter's presidential elections demonstrated this split in action. Leading in the first round was Tomislav Nikolic, who had replaced Vojislav Sesel as the Serbian Radical Party leader. Sesel appeared before the Hague Tribunal on his own free will, and is now in prison. Incumbent Boris Tadic, the Democratic Party (DS) leader, won the runoff in an unprecedentedly close race.

The electorate proceeded in its choice from the candidates' stances on the Kosovo issue and talks with the EU. Nikolic insisted on severing diplomatic relations with countries that would recognize Kosovo's independence. Tadic agreed with his rival that Kosovo was an inalienable part of Serbia, but stressed at the same time that his country would be doomed unless it joined the EU; and he won, though by slim margin. He could not rely either on parliament or the cabinet in his policy of integration into Europe.

The coalition government, led by moderate nationalist Vojislav Kostunica, leader of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), would not make peace with the president. The Serbian rulers became deadlocked, the cabinet resigned, and a preterm election was set.

The same political forces will run for parliament now-forces that will never make peace with each other. The name of the Democratic Party of Serbia sounds quite European, yet it is ideologically close to the Radical and Socialist parties, Milosevic' admirers making the core of the latter. Tadic's DS, with its modest liberal support, can hardly contend with this mighty coalition.

Kosovo has seceded from Serbia, and many voters on May 11 will be guided by anger and disillusionment and may turn away from Tadic's Democrats. Wary of their unpopularity, EU High Representative Javier Solana suggested signing the SAA before May 11. Now, the Belgian-Dutch demand of Mladic's extradition as a proviso of Serbia-EU rapprochement may bury the project, with intellectual voters apathetic while their radical opponents become more united. Frustration leads individuals and nations to aggression, so desperate short-tempered Serbs may be dangerous-suffice to recall recent clashes with blue helmets in Kosovska Mitrovica and riots in foreign embassies in Belgrade.

The May 11 elections may be something of a déjà vu, with yet another coalition government constrained by a tug of war between the forces of isolationism and integration. A never-ending crisis in the corridors of power, Ukrainian style, will impede economic progress. So Serbia will not create enough new jobs nor attain average European living standards. Labor migration will skyrocket, although Europe already has more than enough guest workers. Anti-Western moods and nationalism will rise again to endanger the neighboring countries, add problems to Serbian officials and NATO's Kosovo Force, and be a burden on the entire European Union. The world remembers Balkan history all too well, with political confrontation starting military clashes that triggered two world wars.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.


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