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Serb nationalists revel in old-style fighting talk

Written by: Staff
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BELGRADE, Dec 5 (Reuters) They dream of pushing Serbia's borders into Bosnia and Croatia, of turning their backs on Western democracy, of fighting to wrest back Kosovo.

They dream of telling Brussels and Washington to go to hell, and in both Western capitals the idea of them coming to power next year is unappealing enough to provoke disputes in NATO and the European Union over how to defuse the situation.

Hardline nationalism is stubbornly persistent in Serbia.

Despite the failure of his ultranationalist policies, the ideology of the late Slobodan Milosevic still resonates strongly for one voter in three as Serbia heads into an early general election that will be fought on its strategic direction.

This weekend, for them, was a bit like the good old days.

The election is not until January 21, but true to their undeniable talent for organisation, the opposition Radical Party was already making the running, gathering 30,000 supporters for an anti-US rally in Belgrade on Saturday.

The Radicals have maintained strong backing from 30 to 35 per cent of voters according to polls, while their political cousins in Milosevic's once dominant Socialist party have melted away to a paltry five per cent, paying the price of his downfall.

Rhetorically, however, there is little to distinguish them, as noted by the tiny Social Democratic Union party which says both ought to be banned from the election, for calling for war and border changes in the volatile Balkans.

It was a few provocative quotes meant to arouse Serbia's traditional defiance that annoyed opponents.

''Kosovo is Serbia's birthplace and no one has the right to say that we will not go to war for Kosovo,'' said Ivica Dacic, chosen by the Socialists early on Monday to be the successor to Milosevic, who died in detention in The Hague in March.

SPLENDID ISOLATION ''Going to war for Kosovo'' is a far-fetched idea in a country wrecked by three wars in the past 15 years, and Dacic's remarks were discounted in Monday newspapers. Kosovo's 90 per cent ethnic Albanian majority threw off Serb dominance with the help of NATO in 1999 and feel they are on their way to independence.

Even a nationalist government in Belgrade would not mobilize troops in a bid to forcibly re-take the NATO-patrolled province.

But it would exact as painful a diplomatic price as possible, even if the pain were mostly Serbia's own.

Radical leader Vojislav Seselj, who has been on a hunger strike at The Hague war crimes tribunal for over three weeks, says Serbia should ''cut off relations for ever'' with any country which recognises an independent Kosovo.

At the weekend, Seselj issued an edict to the party in the form of a ''last will and testament'', ordering it to uphold the dream of ''Greater Serbia'' on Bosnian and Croatian land.

The Radicals' programme backs unification of Croatian and Bosnian Serbs by peaceful means. The West fears any ethnic carve-up could re-ignite a violent chain-reaction.

Seselj urged the party to fight globalisation and attempts to make Serbia a NATO and European Union member. Belgrade should foster closer ties with Russia and an ''honest friendship'' with China, India, Arabic, African and Latin-American states.

He also bans deals with pro-Western democratic parties, and if he starves himself to death in prison those parties are likely to lose votes in January's ballot.

Dacic, 40, says Socialists will remain true to Milosevic, their only leader since the party was founded in 1990. They will oppose extradition of any war crimes indictee to The Hague.

The party passed a resolution praising the late strongman for his efforts to preserve peace while the former Yugoslavia was breaking apart.

''Wars in which he led his people were imposed and unprovoked, planned in the West,'' it said.

REUTERS SHB RK0930

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