Alexa

Serbia's pro-Western liberals under threat, on defensive amid Kosovo nationalist tide

Serbia's pro-Western liberals under threat, on defensive amid Kosovo nationalist tide

It's dangerous to be a liberal in Serbia, once again.
Just as they thought the hostilities of Slobodan Milosevic's era were history, Serbia's pro-Western forces are facing a backlash from nationalist anger over Kosovo's independence declaration.
Prominent human rights activists and liberal politicians have received death threats and their offices have been ransacked. The independent B92 television station is receiving hate mail. Rioters protesting Kosovo's independence declaration tried to hit the station, too, but were turned back by riot police.
"It is all part of a totally changed political climate in Serbia," says Natasa Kandic, Serbia's leading human rights activist who herself has been publicly branded a traitor by the nationalist media and politicians.
"These events are very worrisome and alarming," Kandic added. "It is hard to predict where Serbia is heading."
Riding a tide of anger over Kosovo's secession, Serbia has turned its back on the pro-Western policies launched after the 2000 ouster of Milosevic.
The change of course spells trouble for Serbia's moderates, who _ as was the case during Milosevic's rule _ are being blamed for the loss of Kosovo and targeted by the nationalists as traitors and Western puppets.
The situation has deteriorated rapidly since Feb. 17 when Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leadership declared independence from Serbia _ a move followed by swift recognition by the United States and its Western allies.
The events unleashed a wave of officially sponsored anti-Western fury that culminated with last week's hooligan attacks on the U.S. and other foreign embassies, and the looting of Western-owned banks and shops.
The nationalists also vented their anger at those they considered local traitors: the pro-Western Liberal Democratic Party, Kandic and her Humanitarian Law Center, and the independent B92 television station.
Cedomir Jovanovic, the Liberal Party leader and the main critic of government policies on Kosovo, received death threats as the rioters tried to attack his home in downtown Belgrade. Several party offices throughout Serbia were ransacked.
Kandic said the mobs attempted to set fire to her own offices in central Belgrade, while she received death threats.
On Monday, B92 TV said its journalists have received large quantities of hate mail threatening a "bullet to the head" for some journalists. The station demanded that the state take action against those making the threats.
"Obviously ... someone wants to impose censorship on the station," said its lawyer Slobodan Kremenjak.
Liberal Serbs say the political shift in post-Milosevic Serbia was made possible by the assassination in 2003 of the reformist Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. The slaying halted the country's modernization.
Djindjic was gunned down by Milosevic's paramilitaries and mobsters in front of government headquarters. His killing has come to symbolize the dangers the liberals face in a country crippled economically and scarred emotionally by the wars of the 1990s.
Now Djindjic's followers fear that the attacks on government critics are designed to silence any dissent and completely sideline pro-Western groups and politicians.
Those include Serbia's President Boris Tadic, who earlier this month won re-election by promising to take Serbia toward European Union membership, but whose triumph has been overshadowed by the Kosovo events.
Analysts agreed that despite his electoral victory, Tadic has been put on the defensive. Meanwhile, the nationalist Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica has seized the initiative by stoking nationalist fervor over Kosovo.
Biljana Srbljanovic, a well-known playwright, said that hard-liners in the government were using Kosovo to "annul the electoral will of the people."
Srbljanovic said Tadic has a "historic responsibility" not to allow Kostunica _ whose own popularity has plummeted due to lack of resolve on key issues _ impose his nationalist policies on the nation.
William Montgomery, a former U.S. ambassador, wrote in the Danas daily that "the moderates and those still wanting a European future (for Serbia) continue over and over again to find themselves wrong-footed, on the defensive, and forced to concede more and more ground."
Kandic said Tadic was powerless to stop the nationalist rampage in Belgrade, which showed his weakness as a politician.
She alleged that "Putinization of Serbia is under way," referring to the increasingly autocratic domestic policies of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Montgomery agreed, saying that "this is a dangerous and complex time for Serbian moderates still wanting a European future."