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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 November 2006, 13:01 GMT
Seselj still Serb 'people's hero'
By Nick Hawton
BBC News, Belgrade

Posters of Mr Seselj's Serbian Radical Party in Belgrade
Mr Seselj's party is the largest single grouping in parliament
Drive through the towns and villages of rural Serbia and there is one smiling face you are not likely to miss.

Peering down at you from billboards and street walls is a picture of Vojislav Seselj, leader of the Serbian Radical Party and one-time lecturer, alleged paramilitary leader and now defendant at the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

Even in Belgrade, regarded as less nationalistic than the more conservative countryside, his picture appears on trees and telegraph polls, his name written in graffitti on the walls of student buildings.

The posters are there for the coming January general election but the graffitti has been there for years, a testament to the support he still enjoys. Mr Seselj's Radical Party remains the largest single grouping in the Serbian parliament.

For many Serbs, but by no means all, Mr Seselj remains a person to look up to, a representative of uncompromising Serb nationalism. In the past, he was one of the key advocates of a greater Serbia.

Conspiracy theories

Serbian television has been closely monitoring events at the Seselj trial in The Hague, especially since he began a hunger strike two weeks ago.

Mr Seselj's supporters hold his picture at a rally in Belgrade on 23 November 2006
Mr Seselj's supporters want to "stop The Hague tyranny"

Many here still believe the death in The Hague of former President Slobodan Milosevic in March is shrouded in mystery and suspicion.

Belgrade's newspapers gave the start of Mr Seselj's trial low-key coverage, although one tabloid referred to an alleged CIA plot to kill him. Conspiracy theories abound, as ever.

"I don't know if he's a war criminal or not," says Mladen, 55, sat in a Belgrade bar.

"But at least he fought for Serb interests. And, anyway, The Hague is totally anti-Serb. He was never going to get a fair trial."

Seselj theatre

Others prefer to look to the future.

"We need to move on and think about where Serbia goes from here. Seselj only represents the past," says Dragan, 44, who runs a small shop in Belgrade.

Vojislav Seselj. File photo
Mr Seselj has been a key advocate of a greater Serbia

At his farewell rally in 2003, thousands of flag-waving Radicals from rural areas flocked to Belgrade to see his final speech before he handed himself in.

I was there in the crowd. His rabble-rousing rhetoric was a hit with his admirers.

Mr Seselj's antics at The Hague and his mockery of the tribunal have struck a chord with many Serbs.

Once he told judges to remove their robes because they reminded him of medieval inquisitors and, on another occasion, refused to be represented by a court room lawyer because he had a "bird's nest" on his head, referring to the lawyer's traditional wig.

Radical muscle

Some people even have short video excerpts on their mobile phone of Mr Seselj's confrontations with the judges. It has almost become a party piece.

Others condemn the fact that the leader of the Radical Party has been waiting for three years for his trial to begin.

Despite his trial having begun - and notwithstanding his hunger strike - Vojislav Seselj has just been put at the top of his party's list for January's election to the Serbian parliament.

And no-one is ruling out the possibility that the Radicals will again enjoy electoral success.




SEE ALSO
Serb punished for trial no-show
27 Nov 06 |  Europe
Profile: Vojislav Seselj
27 Nov 06 |  Europe
Country profile: Serbia
10 Nov 06 |  Country profiles
At a glance: Hague tribunal
20 Feb 03 |  Europe

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