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Serbian Parliament Speaker Calls For Closer Russia Ties

Nikolic was an ally of late President Slobodan Milosevic (epa) May 9, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The newly elected speaker of the Serbian parliament has said Serbia should seek closer ties with Russia and not the West.

Tomislav Nikolic, of the nationalist Serbian Radical Party, said Russia would bring together "nations that will stand up against the hegemony of America and the European Union."

He was addressing parliament hours after being elected chairman during a tense overnight session on May 8.

In his speech to the 250-seat chamber, Nikolic said that "Serbia should associate itself with the Russian and Belarusian union.” That reprises an idea put forward in 1999 by late Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic.

NIkolic also said that "a majority in Serbia" would strive for membership in a Russian-led alliance of states and “not in the European Union.''

But he added that Serbia was "unfortunately" not a Russian province.

Russia 'Ready To Strengthen Ties'

Earlier that day, Russian Ambassador Aleksandr Alekseyev met with Nikolic and told him Russia was ready to cooperate with Serbia and strengthen ties.

MORE: Coverage in Serbo-Croatian from RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service.

Regional reaction, in Serbo-Croatian.

But Western governments have strongly criticized the election of Nikolic to parliamentary speaker.

The U.S. State Department, in its reaction, warned Serbia not to retreat to the isolation of the Slobodan Milosevic era.

Spokesman Sean McCormack said Nikolic used inflammatory language during election debates that harkened back to some of the days of "hate speech during the Milosevic era."

"Nobody wants to see individuals trying to whip up nationalism in destructive ways," McCormack said.

"That doesn't help Serbia. That doesn't help this process move forward and to help build a more stable Balkan region. So, what we would hope is that in the wake of this particular parliamentary debate that emotions cool, that the rhetoric be toned down."

The EU's enlargement commissioner, Olli Rehn, said that "the election of an ultra-nationalist as Serbia's parliamentary speaker is a worrying sign." He said Serbia was at "a crossroads."

Party Leader On Trial

Nikolic's remarks appeal to anti-Western sentiment in Serbia, which remains strong as reflected by his own election. Nikolic is a former ally of late Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic.

The anti-Western camp is unhappy with the European Union's decision last year to suspend pre-entry talks with Serbia over its failure to capture indicted war crime suspect General Ratko Mladic, who is wanted for war crimes in Bosnia in the 1990s.

For the Serbian Radical Party, Mladic is a hero. The party's leader, Vojislav Seselj, is on trial at the war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

Vojislav Seselj (file photo) (epa)

Many Serbian conservatives are also angered by the UN plan to give more autonomy to the province of Kosovo. Russia, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, says it would veto the move.

The election of Nikolic comes at a time when Serbia is about to take the chair on May 11 of the Council of Europe.

RFE/RL Balkan Report

RFE/RL Balkan Report


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