Prague, 3 November 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj says federal Yugoslavia "sincerely wants" to join the union of Russia and Belarus.
Seselj made the comment while attending a meeting of parliamentarians from Belarus and Russia in the Russian city of Yaroslavl on the Volga river yesterday. He told the gathering in a televised address that "it is necessary to reunify Orthodox Slavs in order to defend their freedom."
The Russian media further reported that Seselj said that the West supports the enemies of Belarus, Russia and Serbia, but he did not identify who these enemies are.
Seselj is head of the Serbian Radical Party and has long been known as strongly anti-Western and an extreme nationalist. The anti-Western tone of his address was therefore to be expected, while his emphasis on the need for "Orthodox Slavic unity" clearly represents a plea for some form of tangible support by Belarus and Russia for Serbia's nationalist cause.
Serbia's relations with Russia and Belarus have always been close, although the issue of "Slavic unity" has apparently never been seriously contemplated within the Belgrade political establishment. And yet, Seselj, radical as he is, may not be alone.
RFE/RL Balkan analyst Patrick Moore says that the subject was touched upon last Sunday by Yugoslav Defense Minister Pavle Bulatovic. Serbia is part of the Yugoslav Federation.
Moore recalled that Bulatovic said:
"...that looking into the possibility of joining this arrangement with Belarus and Russia might be advisable, but he had no enthusiasm whatsoever. He basically said that since the rest of the world has deserted Belgrade and Yugoslavia finds itself with few if any friends, that it is at least worth looking into what might be available."
Moore further noted that Bulatovic's remarks - in response to a reporter's question at a Belgrade television interview - marked the first time that a mainstream political figure has addressed the subject.
For the time being, Seselj's appeal has also received a relatively muted response from the Russian and Belarusian parliamentarians. And so far, there has been no reaction at all from the governments of either Belarus or Russia.
The Russian media reported that Sergei Baburin, deputy chairman of Russia's State Duma (lower house of parliament) said that the issue of Yugoslavia's joining the union has not been addressed in any practical manner.
But both Russia and Belarus have consistently expressed interest in, and support for, rump Yugoslavia. Russia has traditionally used its ties to fellow "Orthodox Slavs" to maintain influence in the Balkans. Belarus has been outspoken in the support of the Belgrade government, declaring willingness to send weapons and troops in case of need. But whether any form of "union" between Yugoslavia, Russia and Belarus would strengthen those existing links in any practical way is uncertain.
Indeed, if the Russia-Belarus union were to serve as a blueprint for that, it would leave a lot to be desired. Belarus and Russia signed a formal union treaty last April. It envisaged close political, economic and military ties. In practice, this has led to the formation of a loose customs union, but it has stopped far short of creating a unified state. There is no indication that such a state will emerge in the near future.