From The Economist print edition
The Serbian president has become unusually powerful
WITH bombers streaking overhead during a military passing-out ceremony in Belgrade on September 13th, there was no mistaking the expression of satisfaction on the face of Boris Tadic, Serbia’s president. It looked more like his victory parade. Just two months after struggling to put together a European-leaning government in July, Mr Tadic now stands as the undisputed master of his country.
This is because the largest Serbian opposition group, the ultranationalist Radical Party, has imploded thanks to an internal war between the devotees of Vojislav Seselj, currently standing trial for war crimes at the United Nations’ tribunal in The Hague, and the allies of the more pragmatic Tomislav Nikolic, who led the party within Serbia.
The split became apparent on September 2nd, when two Radical women deputies issued blood-curdling curses in parliament. They accused Mr Tadic of being “a traitor” because his government had arrested Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb president, and sent him to stand trial in The Hague. Nothing unusual here. But then one of them, Vjerica Radeta, shouted something odd: “A curse on every Radical, on his seed and family, who ever meets with Tadic after the shameful extradition.”
Soon her meaning became clear: Mr Nikolic had been secretly meeting Mr Tadic to strike a deal to ratify a key agreement with the EU that the Radicals had hitherto opposed. Mr Nikolic announced that the agreement was good for Serbia. This raised the ire of Mr Seselj, who from his prison cell urged deputies to vote against the accord.
As a result the Radical party has fallen apart. Mr Nikolic has been expelled with 17 of his supporters and is setting up his own party. Mr Tadic is thus freer to pursue his rapprochement with the EU. “On the one hand this is the best thing that could have happened to Serbia because the Radicals are divided into pro- and anti-European wings,” says Zoran Lucic, a top Serbian pollster, “But on the other I am afraid that for some time we will have an effective one-party system.” And that party, of course, is Mr Tadic’s.
Not everything is going his way. On September 15th the Netherlands blocked an EU trade agreement with Serbia, saying it must first find and extradite Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb military commander. Now that Mr Tadic is all-powerful, that may be easier to do.