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Last Updated: Friday, 13 February, 2004, 16:55 GMT
Ashdown calms nationalism fears
SRS deputy leader Tomislav Nikolic
Serbian nationalists performed well in December elections
The rise in support for nationalist parties in the Balkans does not mean the region is set for war, Bosnia's International High Representative, Paddy Ashdown, has said.

Nationalist parties have surged in both Serbia and Croatia, sparking memories of the rise in nationalism which led to the wars of the 1990s that tore Yugoslavia apart.

But Lord Ashdown told BBC World Service's Analysis programme that the countries were all moving away from nationalist ideals and towards Europe - but at different speeds.

"You have a balance between the pull of Europe and the pull of the nationalist legend," he said.

"When the scales shift and the pull of Europe becomes more powerful than the pull of the past nationalism, countries move forward."

"That's what's happened clearly in Croatia. In Serbia, the pull of the myth of nationalism remains stronger than the pull of Europe - though it is gaining, it hasn't yet gained.

"In Bosnia, that balance is about 50-50."


Old-style nationalism appears to be at its peak in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia. Around parliament people are wearing badges and t-shirts displaying the face of Vojislav Seselj, the leader of the Radical Party, who has been indicted for war crimes at the international tribunal in The Hague.

Lord Ashdown
Nationalism now is a product of fear
Lord Ashdown
In December his party won more votes than any other political group - but not enough to take power. The rest of Serbia's political parties are now trying to decide the make-up of a coalition government, but the radicals are expected to be the main opposition.

Meanwhile in Croatia and Bosnia, nationalists are also doing well.

Mr Ashdown said that while he did not see them as a threat to stability, they were an "impediment to progress".

"What you see happening in Serbia, in Bosnia to a certain extent, in Croatia, is exactly what happened during the process to transition in Poland, in Czechoslovakia, in Hungary," he explained.

"The first governments that sought reform on the paths to transition had to do some difficult things, and they were thrown out."

But it is not just the resurgence of nationalist parties that have prompted fears.

At a local level, a number of nationalism-related criminal acts are now being reported.

The reason the apparent trend is being taken so seriously is because Yugoslavia's brutal wars are still so fresh in the memory.

After communism collapsed, nationalism filled the void and the resulting wars saw the worst violence in Europe since World War II.

In Bosnia's capital, Sarajevo - one of the war-ravaged cities - Serbs and Bosniaks shop together.

The people of the Balkans - a great majority, 80% - want to live better, not to fight with each other about borders or minority issues. They've had their wars, they've had their quarrels
Milan Nikolic
But there are still those who are very much afraid.

"Nationalism still exists here, of course it does," said one Bosnian Muslim woman.

"I'm still too afraid to go back to my old village - I expect somebody to hit me.

"I wouldn't go there, I wouldn't take my children to live there."

'Frightened people'

However, overall, there is no feeling that nationalism should herald a return to war, insists Milan Nikolic - who has carried out a number of surveys on nationalism in the region.

Sarajevo has shaken off its war legacy
"The people of the Balkans - a great majority, 80% - want to live better, not to fight with each other about borders or minority issues," Mr Nikolic said.

"They've had their wars, they've had their quarrels. They learned something from it.

"Nothing good comes from it. Now they want to live better. They see hope in the European Union - and that is something that is good, constructive and really hopeful for this region."

Lord Ashdown said that he saw people's decision to vote for nationalists in all three countries as part of the same reason.

"Ultimately, nationalism now is a product of fear," he stressed.

"Nationalism was a self-confident, aggressive creed in the time of Milosevic. Now it is a fortress, into which frightened people huddle - rather than an aggressive creed that will motivate armies to do terrible things."

Serbia waits for a government
30 Dec 03  |  Europe
Serbia bloc folds after key role
19 Nov 03  |  Europe
Profile: Vojislav Seselj
29 Dec 03  |  Europe


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