Accessibility links

Serbia's President-Elect Faces Difficult Task of Uniting Divided Republic - 2004-07-02


Nearly a week after he was elected president of Serbia, the pro-Western Boris Tadic faces the task of uniting a divided republic. He also has to get the country to comply with international demands for the surrender of war crimes suspects, a key condition for foreign aid. Some Serbs have their doubts, but most believe Mr. Tadic is up to the task.

Thousands of supporters, shouting and waving Serbian and European Union flags, lined the streets of Belgrade to welcome what they hope will be a new era under Boris Tadic.

His victory came after years of political wrangling following the ouster of autocratic President Slobodan Milosevic in 2000, which ended a decade of Balkan wars in which a quarter of a million people died.

Among those celebrating the Tadic victory was Ivan Vejvoda, the former foreign policy adviser to Zoran Djindjic, Serbia's first noncommunist prime minister since World War II who was assassinated last year.

Mr. Vejvoda, who is now executive director of the independent think tank Balkan Trust for Democracy, told VOA News that the Tadic victory was confirmation of the pro-democracy revolution that brought down the Milosevic regime four years ago.

"This is a fundamentally important election for Serbia because it confirms the victory of the democratic forces in Serbia in 2000 against the Milosevic regime," he said. "It also confirms that Serbia in its preponderate majority is for democratic reform and modernization and Euro-Atlantic integration."

However, analysts acknowledge that Mr. Tadic's victory was just over 50 percent, meaning that nearly half of those who voted favored his ultranationalist rival, Tomislav Nikolic.

Mr. Nikolic has said he sees no reason for Serbia to become closer to the European Union. To join the EU would mean cooperating with the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal, which his Serbian Radical Party despises.

At a fruit and vegetable market in Belgrade people are divided over who can take them out of Serbia's dire poverty. A Serb's average monthly income is around $170. Roughly one in three Serbs of working age is without a job.

Serbs have been disappointed before. Five years after the NATO bombardments that forced President Milosevic to withdraw his troops from Kosovo, several major buildings still have to be reconstructed.

Seventy-year-old Mockic Petor, a former Belgrade radio technician, says he voted for Mr. Nikolic because he does not believe in Western promises anymore.

"Elected leaders aren't really interested in people. They are only out for themselves," he said. "After 40 years of work I have nothing, no savings. Mr. Nikolic would have dealt more with people's problems and would not be worrying about getting Serbia into the European Union."

Yet 26-year-old street cleaner Juvtic Cajo, who belongs to the impoverished Roma, or Gypsy, community, believes President Tadic will lead the country to a better future.

"It is very difficult for Gypsies to live in Serbia because we like everyone else are receiving very low salaries," he said. "And we depend on the salaries so we can hardly survive. We very much hope that Tadic will do more things, not only for Roma, but for the rest of Serbs, because if they live better, probably we Roma will also live better. And we like to live here. This is our country."

Mr. Tadic himself is optimistic about the future. He said his victory marks a new era of progress for the troubled republic.

And he believes a negotiated settlement between rival ethnic groups is possible to achieve a secure future for Kosovo, the Serbian province that has been under United Nations control since 1999.

"This is the future for Serbia. I really believe that," he said. "There is no question that right now we have the right way."

Analyst Vejvoda says Mr. Tadic's experience as defense minister has provided him with valuable contacts with Western politicians and could speed up the reforms and foreign aid Serbia desperately needs for reconstruction. He says many Serbs are fully aware of the problems that lie ahead.

"I think that people clearly understand what the difficulties are. They are resilient," Mr. Vejvoda said. "They know that we have to catch up in the integration process to Europe that all our neighbors are already engaged in."

While the powers of the Serbian president are limited, he is seen as crucial in uniting Serbia as it prepares to re-enter Europe after years of international isolation.

XS
SM
MD
LG