25 January 2007
BBC Europe editor Mark Mardell assesses the tactics of Serbia's hardline nationalists, and falls for the charms of the capital, Belgrade.
It could be a polling station anywhere in Europe's urban landscape, Birmingham, Berlin, or Brussels. A low concrete primary school, a faded Sonic the hedgehog spray-painted on one wall. The acting party leader, accompanied by his elegant wife, his son and daughter-in-law, walks through the rather scrubby, muddy grass that lies in front of the ranks of high-rise flats.
The snappers snap and the cameras whirr as he places his vote in the perspex ballot box. But this is Belgrade, and the politician is the acting leader of Serbia's Radical Party, Tomislav Nikolic.
Mr Nikolic: The West has no reason to worry
Ana, a pretty 10-year-old in a red top, rushes forward excitedly to get his autograph. Afterwards she shows me his signature, and tells me that her grandmother has a photograph of him and she loves him. I doubt she knows that American diplomats and the European Union regard him and his party with distaste, as a symbol of Serbia's difficult and dangerous past.
After voting, Mr Nikolic told me the West had no reason to worry about his party, but stressed that Kosovo couldn't become independent. We'll see soon enough: the UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari will announce his plans on its future in the capital, Pristina, on 2 February.
After the polls close, supporters celebrate at Radical Party HQ. They wave beer bottles, surrounded by a band blowing French horns with a passion. The party, already Serbia's largest, has increased its vote, and taken Belgrade off the Democrats, although it is unlikely to form the government.
Newspapers in Kosovo report the election, with the headline: "Serbia votes for the past". Why? Well, the Radicals' leader, Vojislav Seselj, is in The Hague, awaiting trial for war crimes, inciting mass murder and torture. Mr Seselj has the unusual distinction of being accused of unacceptable brutality by one Slobodan Milosevic, who said he was "the personification of violence and primitivism". Not nice to have on your CV. But the Radicals were once in government with Milosevic and sell his picture at their rallies.
Military headgear goes down well at Radical Party rallies
The Radicals believe in a Greater Serbia, although they don't say how they would keep Kosovo, let alone get Croatia back. Their rallies abound with men with shaven heads, sporting a variety of military headgear and belting out nationalist songs with great gusto.
WAITING FOR BETRAYAL
But Mr Nikolic, who is effectively in charge of the party (as the leader is likely to stay behind bars in the Netherlands for a while yet) has been trying to soften the Radicals' image. Most of his speeches at the rallies have been about the economy and the need to fight against corruption. Talk about Kosovo is shrouded in subclauses about the need for social dialogue and is anything but rabble-rousing. But is the party really changing?
The excellent Balkans Investigative Reporting Network has published an article suggesting that those with their hands currently on the tiller are rather embarrassed by their captive captain.
At any rate, it seems to me to be a sensible strategy to keep quiet about the bits of their programme that everyone in Serbia knows about, while trying to garner protest votes. It makes sense for them to stay in opposition, untouched by the grubbiness of real power, waiting for betrayal. But parties can come to believe their own propaganda, and changes adopted for electoral reasons can become real. (Who now thinks Labour too soft on defence, or too pacifist?)
Describing the Radicals in journalistic shorthand is a bit of a challenge. I tend to opt for "hardline nationalists". Others at the BBC have been saying "ultra-nationalists". I tend to shy away from "extreme right" or "far right" because it's too close to wrapping a value judgement up in a description. Not to mention Lord Tebbit's mischievous and thought-provoking contention that such parties are left-, not right-wing.
I used to argue that parties like the British National Front were fascist, pure and simple, and should be described as such. (I am not keen on "neo-" in this context, and am not sure if it is meant to mean "nearly" or "new".)
Is fascism defined by policy, or a love of uniforms and strong leaders?
But I wonder now whether it is best to save "fascist" as a historical description of the rash of such parties in the 1920s and 30s. Is fascism defined by policy, or a love of uniforms and strong leaders? And are there any parties, anywhere in the world, that still call themselves fascist?
THE KOSOVO FACTOR
The Radicals keep stressing that all the main parties in Serbia agree that Kosovo should remain part of Serbia. It was written into the new constitution which was passed by a referendum at the end of last year. But Western diplomats are hoping that if the democrats can form a government, this article of faith will be a little like the Republic of Ireland's claim on Northern Ireland or the UK Labour Party's Clause Four: something that is clung to for years out of sentiment, without affecting real policy, until the leadership judges the time is right ditch it safely.
In Britain and America there is a hard-headed view that whoever is in government in Serbia doesn't matter; Kosovo is going to become independent and there's nothing they can or will do about it.
Serbian Radical Party (SRS) - Tomislav Nikolic
Democratic Party (DS) - President Boris Tadic
Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) - PM Vojislav Kostunica
Socialist Party of Serbia
Liberal Democratic Party
But Serbia can stir up Serb sentiment in Kosovo itself. While the Radicals went on about bread-and-butter issues during the election campaign, not so the party of the Prime Minister, Vojislav Kostunica. His Serbian Democratic Party (not to be confused with the Serbian president's Democratic Party) made Kosovo a key campaign issue. It worked. In Kosovo itself, it beat the Radicals and topped the polls.
Mr Kostunica has also said Kosovo's fate will be an important part of discussions about forming a coalition. Some European Union diplomats think he was to blame last year for a suspension of talks on closer relations with the EU because he dragged his feet over the capture of accused war criminals, such as General Ratko Mladic.
Some people give Belgrade a bad press but I like it here. It's a proper big city, not chocolate-box pretty, and definitely a bit grimy, but full of vim, the streets still ablaze with Christmas lights draped round the trees - the Serbian Christmas is on 7 January and New Year a week later, according to the Orthodox calendar.
The years of embargo and visa restrictions have taken their toll but for the visitor this means a certain old-world charm has been retained. The hotel we are staying in has proper heavy keys with a solid metal medallion at the end, rather than those plastic cards you get everywhere. It's true, the lift smells suspiciously of petrol and the hallways are filled with unidentified pieces of furniture draped with white tablecloths, as though on display before burial. But the sofas of plush red velvet and long windows, which the curtains don't quite cover, make up for that.
The years of embargo have had some positive side-effects
For some reason, it reminds me of places I used to stay in France with my parents in the 60s, but others think it is straight out of 70s Moscow. I must say, I think all the European capitals I have visited have something going for them, bar one, which I am not going to name. But you can. Which European capital do you really dislike?
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I went to Sarajevo and fell in love with its amazing mixture of East and West. They have mosques, churches, synagogues right next to one another. It is an example of tolerance, of amazing hospitality to everyone who visits the city. Brasov in Romania is also an amazing city with plenty to offer. One city that I am not so eager to go back to would be Sofia... the people are strange and not too welcoming.
Sophie Ciurte, Chicago, Illinois
Reimo, sorry to hear that Aberdeen is not to your taste - I actually quite like it but it is my home city. However, it is not a capital. Pristina has its charm although living here at this time of the year is a bit depressing (especially if the power station fumes blow across the city). Belgrade is actually a great city and worth a visit - but ultimately there is no European capital that is a total loss. Rather, I think if you dislike a city it probably reflects your personality defects rather than those of the city you're attacking. On the Radicals in Serbia I think their rhetoric is that of a party that does not want to govern rather than a realistic political platform.
Michael, Pristina, Kosovo (but originally Aberdeen, Scotland)
I think Serbia and all ex-Yugoslav republics have got stuck in time with their history... I have to say poor Brussels does deserve to rank as the most boring city in Europe. I have been there several times and every time I go the more boring it gets. As for the cities I like, I have to say I love Tirana, Athens, Paris, Rome and Barcelona. Belfast is also special. A city is not only what you see but also what you get out of it, what feelings and positive energy it gives you. I think though that all Mediterranean cities have something special and as we say in Albania: a mix of sea air with bread, salt and pepper.
Altin, Tirana, Albania
I lived and worked as a journalist for 6 years in Belgrade - during Tito's time. I went back not too long ago and found that very little had changed: Skadalja was still offering music by Romany violinists while you ate, politics of all shades were still being discussed in the smoky Writers' Club, old ladies were still going door-to-door selling kajmak... and oh, yes, the poor were still poor, and the 'entrepreneurs' (to be polite) were still getting richer by the day.
I will stick my neck out and say that in my mind, an independent Kosovo would be a disaster, a comment that Western diplomats who know the old Yugoslavia would agree with. It was inevitable that Slovenia would go its own way after Tito's demise, and the same could be said of Croatia, and to some extent Macedonia, but for the rest? Only time will tell.
Alan Dean, Antwerp, Belgium
Worst European capital? It's Helsinki! It's so cold everyone stays inside as much as they can, except for the homeless and the intoxicated (and the intoxicated homeless), so those are the only people you meet on the streets... My favourite capital in Europe is probably Lisbon, Portugal.
Péter, Makkosmária, Hungary
If the Serbs fancy being ruled by Nikolic and his ilk, then that's their business. They'll just have to settle for a life on the European periphery - an anachronism that nobody cares about, a bit like Belarus... And as to the worst city in Europe, I am amazed that nobody has mentioned Minsk.
Steve, Prague, Czech Republic
Without going into who's guilty and who's not, Serbia is the only country in Europe about to lose 15% of its territory. It may be right from the moral standpoint, but why wasn't it the case for some other European countries? I am actually impressed at the fact that close to 70% of Serbia's citizens voted for Europe. As for Belgrade, it needs to be cleaner, but it's a party town...
Boris Denic, Belgrade, Serbia
My vote for favourite city has to go to Sarajevo. One of the most fascinating places on earth! Even after everything that has happened, the spirit of the people lives on. Worst has to be London.
Amelisa, New York City, USA
Now that it is the capital of an independent state, Podgorica, Montenegro, would rank near the bottom for me simply because it is so tragic that the capital of such a beautiful country is such a dump.
Nathanael, Washington, DC
Belgrade might not be the prettiest town in the world, but it definitely has its charm, especially on those warm summer days on the floating cafes on the Danube. Serbs are a special people too, no matter who they vote for.
Simon, Montreal, Canada
Belgrade is a wonderful city! Very exciting, hustle-bustle sort of place. There is always so much happening. You go out onto the streets at 3.00 a.m. and there are still people playing music, buying and selling stuff at street stalls. There are 3 million people in a city you could walk across in an afternoon. That's because of all the high blocks of flats etc. right in the centre; it gives the place a frisson and intensity you don't get elsewhere. Best of all, life, culture and discussion haven't (yet) been smothered by the ghastly political correctness that has made even ordinary discourse in, say, London such a misery.
M.T.Pearse, Houghton NY, U.S. (ex-UK)
What a surprise that supporters of Serb nationalist Radicals are using this venue to once again try to convince the rest of the world that they are the victims. No one is buying it, get over it and move on. Belgrade is a lovely city. However, that is much more than I can say for its citizens. I personally love Krakow (used to be the Polish capital) and would recommend it highly for its beautiful architecture, hospitable locals and lovely food.
Aneta, Chicago, USA
The next government of Serbia will most certainly be more pro-EU than the last couple of British cabinets. As for best/worst capitals, I am a citizen of Serbia and can say this: I had nothing but a good time in Brussels. Unfortunately I can't say this for my own capital. With all the "old world charm" people there are as snobbish and rude as Parisians and I had a miserable time almost every time I had any business in the fair city of Belgrade.
Bucharest is by far the worst capital in Europe. Overcrowded with people barely able to keep it together. A really drab and uninviting place.
Brian Smart, Eureka, CA, United States
I've been living with my wife in a far-flung, remote region of Serbia, close to the Bulgarian border, for almost a year. On the few occasions I have visited Belgrade I have been delighted with the city. I can certainly endorse all the positive statements made about Serbs, their friendliness and hospitality. Those familiar with the country will recognise "Pirot" as synonymous with a fanatically tight-fisted attitude to money. So thrifty are the people here that they use the phrase "banished to Scotland" to describe extravagant big spenders. I've found the Serbs have an almost English sense of humour, born out of adversity perhaps. It is true to say that Serbia (or at least this part of it) wins few marks for efficiency and many aspects of life here can be infuriating, but having travelled widely, I can confidently state they are the friendliest people in Europe.
Peter Sykes, Pirot, Serbia
Belgrade is a fantastic city, overflowing with culture, bars and other forms of entertainment. The Serbian people could not have been more welcoming or generous. I would definately recommend visiting before it changes too much.
R. T. Garwood, Brussels
I think the worst city is Aberdeen in Scotland. I have studied here almost a year and it is not very happy experience. All the buildings are grey in here and the same..semi attached apartments. There is only one main street where the shops and malls are located. Every other street looks the same. The most i don't like is the people. Every day..mostly weekends people get so drunk here..all the streets are filled with drunk young people. I had here more in six month period more fights then in Estonia in five years. PLEASE STAY AWAY!!!!!
Athens for me is not only the worst European capital but probably the worst World capital I've visited (and i've seen some stinkers). Although has anyone been to Vaduz (Lichtenstein)? There is no reason to go there - none. Go easy on Brussels though - the food and the beer are some of the best Europe has to offer.
Alan, Glasgow, UK
I dislike Sofia in Bulgaria. I saw there the true homecity of Borat. I dont understand why they accepted them in EU. Belgrade is as well a dark and uninviting spot. Boring as hell.
Byron, London, UK
Personally I like Ljubljana, Slvenia the best. It is clean, not too large and has lots of history. Pristina is a dump. When will they ever clean it up? Belgrade is sad and grimy. London England has great theatre.
I must speak up for London on the grounds of history and architecture alone plus the best underground system. Yes it's got too much traffic but that's improved. The most dis-improved capital is Dublin which is quickly turning from a quaint and lovely Georgian town into a huge grasping vomit dressed hen party centre...not the worst but certainly heading that way. The worst ? Cardiff, dour, grey dirty and with no redeeming features apart from not being Swansea which is the cess pit of Europe.
Jim Corbett, Cork, Ireland
It's been a while since I've started reading people's posts on this site and I am amazed at how furiously anti-EU the Brits are. The simple fact that Brussels comes out as the worst capital of Europe must be either a sign of this or of poor travel itineraries. And I am really puzzled-if they dislike EU so much why is it that they don't vote for some party that has this as part of their programme? Folks, stop tourmenting yourselves with this. Just get out and get EU-free. Frustrations are like cigarette smoke, they annoy others a lot before killing them!
Bogdan, Bucuresti, Romania
Paris, it has a smell of garbage mixed with parfume pretty much everywhere you go. Next I would have to say Sofia, grey, ugly, full of depressing people.
I went to Belgrade for the first time in May 2006 and loved it. Because of the war and sanctions its much overlooked. Hopefully one day soon it will re-emerge and people appreciate what a beautiful place it is. Serbia needs to come back to Europe and Europe needs to welcome it in.
Alex Delvinos, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
May I suggest a league, so that we know where to and where not to go.
So that would definitely place Brussels in last place, closely followed by London. Having had the misfortune to be stuck in London for a whole day recently, I cannot see what charms the city has over Brussels.
Stewart, Staphorst, Netherlands
You should definetly visit Belgrade. Lots of cultural events, from traditional theatre to contemporary art exibitions. Lots of clubs with a diverse selection of music (there was even a "Mongolian" night in one small alternative bar which I used to visit). The main problem, as in many European capitals is the traffic system. It's horrible and it has been for past 15 years, but from that chaos emerged a generation of extraordinary bus drivers (officialy one of the best in Europe). Pay no attention to that awful commercial on CNN. Serbian authorities gave lots and lots of money to CNN's advertising team to make a good commercial on Serbia but when I saw the result, I was insulted. So, pay no attention to political western view of Belgrade because like my mother says - "When they say it's a bad country, you should visit it because there must be something really good going on in there". You are all welcome to one of the last "not-fully" globalised cities in Europe.
Valentin Salja, Belgrade, Serbia
I do have a fondness for Edinburgh, but of all the continental European capitals I've been to, Rome is the only one I'd like to live in.
MarkG, Aberdeen, Scotland
Brussels is my least favorite city in Europe.
There is no place like Belgrade. It's the best. Serbs are among the most hospitable people in the world and despite many adversities they definitely know how to enjoy life.
Ceci, New York City, USA
Belgrade is a fascinating place, and while it might be a bit grey and polluted, the people were extremely warm and friendly towards me. There were sad looking faces around, but every time I opened my mouth and let out a few words of English, those faces suddenly broke into broad smiles.
Tim Partlett, Frankfurt, Germany
Sarajevo is my favourite so far. Absolutely magical place. I do want to go to Serbia to explore that part of the world more, although I think their history and attitudes might make me feel unfomfortable. Love Berlin as well. Loathe Paris - dull dirty rude place.
Run down, drab, congested, insanely over-beurocratised, extraordinarily corrupt, overpopulated by people remarkable only for their meanness of spirt, poluted and resentfully xenophobic. Which city? The captital of Europe, of course: Brussels. If Europeans can't get this one right, it doesn't bode well for the rest of Europe....
David Peart, Belgium
Dublin is the worst capital in Europe. Grey, crowded, with the air of a British provincial county town. Full of oafish drunks (not all of them British). The recent influx of wealth has only served to highlight the appalling poverty at the fringes.
Greg Hoover, Nairobi, Kenya
I like Belgrade! I feel like at home in Belgrade. It's location on two big rivers, Danube and Sava, makes it really unique. Although I remember much better overal atmosphere in the city in the past (let's say, middle 80s!), I think, some of the city's good atributes are back again.
Regarding the political issues, I fully agree with Mark from Sidney, Australia.
I wish all the best to the Balkan peoples!
Risto V. Filkoski, Skopje, Macedonia
Definetely the worst European capital is Brussels. I arrived at the Gare du Midi, and what I saw was rubbish, abandoned building sites, and no one in the street, combined with a gray sky. We wandered throughout all the city and I was impressed to see a dump of diswashers inh the middle of a plaza. The only people in the street where turkish. Is Brussels a ghost town??
Carlos I, Caracas, Venezuela
Belgrade is a fascinating city! Everytime I'm there I'm always amazed at how elegant and (especially compared to other Balkan capitals) clean the city is. Athens is the only European capital I dislike - it's a dump!
Nick, London, UK
Worst European capital: Brussels, for what it is and everything it stands for. Even beats London, which at least is just a large collection of oversized villages, so can be forgiven for sprawling so much - and the history just grabs you by the heart! My favourite European capital is Budapest - which is why I've moved here.
I love the Serbs and if possible i want to go to Serbia.I was a full supporter of Serbia in the World Cup since France 98.
I wont forget the (i think 1996) bombing of Belgarde for 90 days that is stupid.
yonas T.Hailemriam, Addis Ababa,Ethiopia
The worst capital in Europe? Easy. It's London. It is the pits. Hideously overpriced, suffocatingly overcrowded, extraordinarly dirty, superstuffed with traffic and lacking in any coherent kind of style.
D Ewing, Limoges, FRANCE
Just to get back to european capitals for a moment. I spent a depressing year in Bucharest and would like to put it forward as the worst capital. Its archetecture after the 1982(?) earthquake was based on the world stopping Norht Korean and Chinese models of flats. I think I need say no more on that... where the only interesting part was the ornamental spaces for gun emplacements on the roofs. The people where generally unfriendly and terribly unhappy looking (unless, bizarrely, they were in McDonalds where everyone smiled). We even had a bet one day to see how long it took to find someone who was both smiling and wearing bright colours. 40 minutes of hard looking later... the longer it took the more we looked as a joke turned into a frightening reality... until one person fitted the bill (probably an ex-pat). The only upside was the wine was cheap and sometimes very good .. ohh and they make great pastries. Did I mention it was cold grey... anyway, yeah. Don't go... the best thing about the place was the train station, not for it's mock victorian iron work ceiling but that you couldget a trainout into the georgeous countryside.
Mike, Canggu, Bali, Indonesia
Paris has to be the worst capital in Europe by far on grounds of their rudeness alone. Everyone there is rude and the customer service is absolutely appalling.
Phil Stark, Cardiff, Wales
Having sampled the semi eastern-bloc, semi mediteranean cultural feast of Croatia I am very keen to make Belgrade one of my next travelling destinations. I would also like to pile some more misery upon the Euro dump of Brussels.
I found the sweet smell of caramel syrup and cream coated waffles combined with an ever present and pungent waft of urine in most streets rather a put off firstly. The city was grey, people's faces were sullen and gray and the buildings were gray and domineering. If ever a train journey seemed bound directly to the the destination of Hades, for me, it would be the airport train to Brussles city centre. The good points-you can escape to another country in not much time.
Alexander Horne, Aberdeen, Scotland
Tebbit's claim of facism belonging on the left is given weight by the collectivist and economic interventionist tendencies of the movement, but it counterbalanced by its more right wing aspects: traditional values and national interest.
The two axis "political compass" model has less problems classifying facism. One axis is economic left to right, and the other axis relates to freedom: authoritarian vs liberal. Authoritarianism is considered the key factor of facism, thus the latter axis is more important for classification.
It pains me to say this because I was quite hurt by four other responses denigrating my own home city (since when does its streets smell of urine?!) but I'm not very fond of Zagreb. The rest of Croatia is thoroughly beautiful, which only makes the capital stand out like a sore thumb.
Chris, Brussels, Belgium
I would like to invite people from EU to visit Belgrade (and Serbia as well), for at least a weekend. I think you will be suprised how big and interesting our capital city actually is, and how the Serbian people can be polite and warm despite all the problems in the past 15 years.
Vlada Banovic, Belgrade
The European capital I really dislike is London. I worked there for a couple of years. The food is expensive rubbish, cafés and bars are largely soulless chains, the architecture beyond Westminster is awful and the transport system is a joke. The worst thing of all is the housing - with landlords charging a fortune for meagre accommodation.
Simon Harrow, Paris - France
I have to say Paris - the attitude of the French combined with the roads make it a nightmare!
I was tempted to go with London and its Orbital Car-Park (aka the M25), but I just like the old dump too much!
Dave Morga, Sydney, Australia
Tirana. But I'm also not sure it's in Europe.
Mat Hague, Sofia, Bulgaria
I dislike Tirana very much.
Radoslav, Paris, France
We're not in the EU yet, and of course are continentally Asia. Those two factors notwithstanding, here would be my first choice as my last choice among "European" capitals any day of the week...
Helen, Ankara, Turkey
I like Tirana very much. It is a really charming mediterranean city. The food is great, the people lovely and warmhearted. The architecture reminds me of the impero-roman style, but they have also a touch of very original touch of socialist style. Of course here is not case of the heavy and grey buildings you can see everywhere in Sofia, Belgrade of Bucharest. Tirana's style is happy, colorful and gives you a feeling of everlasting youth.
As for Serbia, I know only Belgrade. And I dislike it. I wouldnt spend there my holidays.
Roberto Langerano, Torino, Italy
Of the European capitals I have visited, I will rank Sofia as the most "strange", I do not necessarily dislike it, but I would not wish to go back, it depressed me, its greyness, the people looked so terribly unhappy. Maybe it was the time, January 1994.
Lucia Orozco, Madrid+Spain
Every European capital I've been to had at least something going for it.
Even Pristina - soon to be a full-fledged European capital if Kosovo gains (something like) independence this year - has a charm of its own. A friend of mine recently described Geneva, with its predominance of UN and international workers, as "an upscale version of Pristina". Good thing Bern, not Geneva, is the Swiss capital.
Belgrade, of course, is the best, if you don't mind the hardline nationalists.
Neil MacDonald, Belgrade, Serbia
Politics, elections, blah, blah. Come over to Belgrade. This is still the only place in Europe where Christmas lights are dismantled in late february-early march. Why? Well, why not? "Western" obsession with logic may be good for the budget, but it's unkind to the soul.
Vladimir P., Belgrade (naturally)
I visited Belgrade in September 2005 and found it an interesting and rather imposing city. Staying with Serbians it was rewarding to be given an insight into their culture. As to the question, my least favourite European capital is without doubt Brussels. From the miles of underground tunnels, to the anonymous EC Quarter to the lack of any signposts, it is not somewhere I enjoy living close to at the moment.
Adam Flynn, Newtownabbey, Northern Ireland
Belgrade is definitely a vibrant city for anyone who wants to visit. In my opinion there is no better city in the Balkans. As for the elections and the radicals, that appears to be the natural reaction to the double standards afforded the Serbian nation politically. Serbs in Croatia have lost their homes and been expelled, in Bosnia they have managed to keep some sort of a hold on their nationhood (albeit tenuosly and under regular threat), then kosovo is about to be afforded the rights to self determination that was given to Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia but not Serbia. That would be enough to turn anyone radical let alone years of economic sanctions and aerial bombardment.
Mark, Sydney, Australia
Brussels must come down as the worst European capital. It's the capital of Flanders, but the Flemings don't like it (and don't like to pay for it) because it's mainly French speaking. It's the capital of Belgium, but there is almost no-one who claims to Belgian. They are all either Flemish or Walloon. It's the capital of Europe, but Europeans are largely stuck in a narrow nationalistic mindset, especially when it comes to paying for Europe. So, Brussels is left to its own devices, burdened with a large Arab minority which is not known for its will to settle in and invest. Consequently, Brussels is filthy and run down, despite its location in the wealthiest European region. It is said to be the only capital with a net loss in population every year. The plus side is that housing is still comparatively cheap despite the high architectural quality as Mark can probably confirm.
Ronald Grünebaum, Brussels, Belgium
A muslim woman who has lived in Serbia since moving there from Bosnia 20 years ago, told me that she would vote for the Radicals. She, like her ethnically Serb husband and Croat neighbour, abhors the destruction brought to her country by Nato bombs. She sees the Radicals as the only ones strong enough to chart an independent future for the country instead of simply accepting the dictates of the west.
I think the Radicals want to retake or renegotiate the Krajina region of Croatia, rather than the whole country. If Kosovo's independence will be granted then some (probably the radicals) will argue that it sets a precedent for Krajina. Having lived with a Croatian serb refugee (and her extended family) in Belgrade for over two years now, I was quite puzzled about the previously single-tracked analysis of the Radicals at the beeb. The Radicals have indeed garnered a lot of votes on refugee issues and corruption, and it's good to here why other people - some of them in my partner's family - voted for the Rads. And I'll pass on your concerns about the long term strategy of the Radicals. I don't like Bratislava. Thanks
Rob H, Belgrade
I tend to think of politics more of a continuous circle than a line from left to right, but I do find it annoying that people won't call people fascists like it's bad taste or something. Just because they don't label themselves that way doesn't mean that commentators should shy away from the word. Don't be so P.C.
Ed Cooper, UK & Kazakhstan
Mr. Mardell, rather than being so appalled by the Radicals' voter base, you might take some heart from the fact that they got significantly fewer votes within Serbia than they did in the last election. Far from being the big deal threat you are painting them as, they are a fading force.
Yes, it is fair to note fascistic tendencies in Serbian politics -- all the parties have inherited the Titoist emphasis on the Leader, and some do, indeed emphasise blood and soil. It might be worth remembering that fascism was not a movement confined to the 20s ans 30s, but had its roots in late 19th century Romanticism, in northeastern Italy, not all that far from here...
Cathrine, Beograd, Serbia
Mr. Mardell forgot to mention that the turnout of the Kosovo Serbs has been only 48%, as compared to 60% in Serbia. That, and newspaper interviews with random citizens, show that Kosovo Serbs are preparing to live in an independent Kosovo. They don't necessarily see themselves as dependent on Belgrade anymore.
Seb Bytyci, Bloomington, USA
If you could give us more info on the Radicals domestic policies, it would help us decide whether or not they are 'fascist'. However, it is a good point there you make. Thailand under Thaksin Shinawatra was at the very least 'ultra nationalist' if not a tad fascist yet nobody in the 'press' said that for fear of upsetting business interests no doubt. In that sense, some journalists are too easily swayed by 'popular perception'. Nice to see that you are not!
F. Stephen Thompson, Bangkok, Thailand
Rather soft approach considering Radicals DIRECT involvements, participations in war conflicts and ethnic cleansing in former Yugoslavia. Mr. Nikolic may have sharpened his outer image, cloaked himself in tie and suit, but his past is still cloudy and highly dubious - as is the future direction of his Party. Western right-wing parties, no matter how evil - simply couldn't be compared to Serbian Radical Party - since they've never been involved in mass murders and ethnic cleansing - bestialities unseen since WWII.
Serb myself, I carry an enormous burden of guilt and shame for their evil deeds and their pure existence.
In Middle Ages, such spirits were burnt on stakes. And properly.
Michael, Vojvodina, EU
Serbian people need assurance that justice can reach everybody not only those who suufered on other sides. Then would nobody vote for radicals.
Kimberley Golubovic, Edinburgh, UK
Really sad that Mr. Mardell relies so much on stereotypes instead of looking at the facts. Fact 1 being that, although the Radicals got more votes that the other parties (28%), the parties making up the democratic bloc still got above 50%, so the Radicals are not the winners at these elections. Fact 2 being that the Democratic Party (23%) doubled the number of seats, so Mr Mardel could write about them and their supporters, if only he were fair and impartial.These may be just words and just a story, but the evident bigotry displayed here can really hurt.
Of all the European capitals Brussels and Bucharest must be the most boring, grey and horrible places.
However the large numbers of home-made Dacia cars and the general kindness of people living there tend to give Bucharest a bit of charm.
Compared to this, Brussels feels like an unusually cruel AND expensive punishment, fit only for EUcats and their captive audience.
Viktor, Brussels, Belgium
I am half British half Yugoslav. I have visited my relatives in Belgrade every 3 or so years since 1971. It hasn't changed as a city and nor - it seems has the mentality of the people (or a good proportion of them). The Serbs as they now are (although I see myself as Yugoslav) want to be part of Europe, but don't want to play by the rules. The Nato bombing showed a totally inept, ineffective and wrong response to their behaviour. But until the Serbs show that they want to be peace loving Europeans it will be difficult to know how to deal with Serbia.
Dimitri Ilic, Windsor, UK
'get croatia back'??? they don't want to do that. The radicals have an obsession with 'greater Serbia' which only includes the region of Krajna.(which personally I think is very primitive) I'd say it's small, constant provocations like the words 'get Croatia back' which turn Serbs radical. In movies they portray Serbs as terrorists, drug dealers, and murderers, and that's supposed to make Serbs Pro-Western. Compared to countries that go halfway around the world to invade a country for oil and cause over 500 000 deaths, it's hardly a reason to keep 6 million Serbs 'hostage' because of two fugitives. Oh yeah - and the worst city is Brussels.
Johnson Williams, London
If you compare BNP in UK, National Front in France, and othe right wing parties accros Europe, the main election strategy is nationalism, slogans and politics against immigrant populaation. This is very similar to Serbian Radical Party, Croatian National Party (HDZ), three Bosnian National parties each of them "protecting" different ethnic/religious group. All this tell us that large proportion of Eastern and Western European population will blindly follow ideas expressed by right-wing nationalistic parties.