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Serbia: Restoring Monarchy Debated Ahead Of Crucial Parliamentary Election

The Serbian Orthodox Church is calling for the restoration of the monarchy in Serbia, nearly six decades after it was abolished by the communists. The idea is not new, but this time it comes on the eve of crucial parliamentary elections. Does the monarchy have any substantial support in Serbia -- or is it just a ploy to attract disillusioned voters ahead of the poll?

Prague, 3 December 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Pavle, says restoring the constitutional monarchy is the best solution for Serbia's many problems.

In a letter to Crown Prince Aleksandar Karadjordjevic dated 29 November, Pavle said the communists' ban on the monarchy in 1945 was the result of "unprecedented tyranny" and should be revoked.

Karadjordjevic seemed only too happy to agree. The English-born son of the last Yugoslav king said restoring the monarchy is the "right thing to do" and would be "in the interest of the people." It was the first time the prince, who moved back to Belgrade following the ouster of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, has publicly spoken on the issue.

"Serbia must not delay its return to the world, [to] Europe [and] to the future. The price of that delay is now being paid by all Serbian citizens. Serbia as a constitutional and legitimate monarchy will make all of its citizens proud once again and will provide respect for Serbia both at home and abroad," Karadjordjevic said.

The idea of restoring the constitutional monarchy was last raised in 1999, when it was backed by then-opposition parties and enjoyed the support of some 7 percent to 15 percent of the population. The Center for Marketing Research polling institute says that figure is unlikely to have changed significantly, but a poll taken by state television earlier this week shows Serbs -- by a ratio of more than 3-to-1 -- embracing the monarchy.

The idea, however, has found less-than-enthusiastic backing among political parties. So far, only the Serbian Renewal Movement, led by Vuk Draskovic, has voiced its support. "The monarchy is not a retrograde decision at all," Draskovic said. "It is a decision for the future. Everything great and successful that we Serbs, since the times of the Karadjordjevic [dynasty] up to now, have achieved, we have achieved under the monarchy."

The Renewal Movement is running in the 28 December parliamentary election in coalition with another small party, New Serbia. Draskovic says that if the coalition wins, it will restore the constitutional monarchy within a week, even without a referendum.

For now, though, there is hardly any chance of that happening. Analysts say Draskovic's Renewal Movement has no chance of winning a majority and that it is simply trying to lure voters.

Dejan Anastasijevic, a political analyst for the independent "Vreme" weekly in Belgrade, told RFE/RL: "Mr. Draskovic wants to create for himself a niche within the Serbian political system. And as I said, since there are about 10 percent of voters who would favor monarchy, Mr. Draskovic has decided to fit into that niche in order to be able to get into parliament. His problem is that he is running a center-right party which has to compete with several other larger and stronger center-right parties, so he had to find something that would make him different from the others."

Representatives of pro-reform parties, both in the governing coalition and the opposition, say the issue of Serbia's constitutional system can be decided only in a referendum.

Since the idea apparently is not the order of the day, the more relevant question appears to be why it was launched at all -- and why did it cause such a stir?

Anastasijevic says it is not the first time the Orthodox Church has tried to meddle in politics in Serbia. "The church obviously stepped out of its spiritual role and went into politics, but that is not unusual in Serbia," he said. "The church has come up with political demands before, even in Milosevic's times, but usually they were largely ignored by the government."

Serbian political analyst Djordje Vukadinovic, editor in chief of the philosophical journal "New Political Thought," says the proposal to reinstall the constitutional monarchy now was not accidental -- despite the fact that many agree it would not solve Serbia's political crisis.

Relations between pro-reform parties are strained, and the reformist camp in Serbia was further weakened after an ultranationalist candidate won the most votes in last month's failed presidential election. Analysts say the nationalist right cannot hope to win a majority in the 28 December poll but is almost certain to strengthen its position because of the disarray in the reformist camp.

The vote will be the first big challenge for reformist parties since they ousted Milosevic three years ago, and its outcome will determine the pace of future democratic reforms.

Vukadinovic says he expects the monarchy idea could be kept alive even after the election if the poll does not resolve the political crisis. "If it is not resolved, as I am afraid it will not be, then we could expect a fresh revival of these arguments, possibly in connection with a referendum that would have to decide on the future of Serbia, probably on [the future of the union state of] Serbia and Montenegro," he said, "because then how could we possibly have a union between two states, one of which is a monarchy and the other one a republic?"

The idea could also play into the hands of those who would like to see ties weakened between the two republics in the loose union state of Serbia and Montenegro. Montenegrin President Filip Vujanovic earlier this week said that, should Serbia decide to become a monarchy, the survival of the union state in its present form would become "impossible."

(Zoran Glavonjic of RFE/RL's Belgrade bureau contributed to this report.)