Serb Nationalist Leader Returns After War Crimes Trial

Serbian nationalist leader Vojislav Seselj returned to Serbia after an inconclusive, 11-year war crimes trial in The Hague to find his former allies pursuing European Union membership instead of a Greater Serbia.

The war-crimes court for former Yugoslavia in The Hague ordered Seselj’s temporary release on Nov. 7 due to deteriorating health. The leader of nationalist Serbian Radical Party surrendered to the Netherlands-based international tribunal in 2003 to stand trial for alleged crimes against humanity during former Yugoslavia’s bloody breakup.

“The court said it’s a temporary release,” Seselj told chanting crowds of supporters outside his party’s headquarters in Belgrade. “But the temporary will last until we overthrow,” President Tomislav Nikolic and “all the defectors and traitors who sold their honor, renounced Serbian nationalism and became servants to Western powers.”

Seselj’s return comes as his country is balancing preparations for EU entry as soon as 2020, while also strengthening ties with Russia, which has clashed with Europe over the crisis in Ukraine. His party, the proponents of Greater Serbia that would also include Montenegro and parts of Bosnia and Croatia, were allies of late Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic.

“There are attempts to use Seselj’s return to destabilize Serbia but that won’t be allowed,” Labor Minister Aleksandar Vulin said on Nov. 7.

Prominent Members

During the 1990s, a decade of wars, sanctions and economic mismanagement, President Nikolic, Premier Aleksandar Vucic and central bank Governor Jorgovanka Tabakovic were prominent members of Seselj’s Radical Party.

They left in 2008 to form the Serbian Progressive Party, winning the 2012 election amid widespread discontent with the global recession and a European debt crisis that left 400,000 people without work, weakened the dinar 30 percent against the euro and forced the government to borrow heavily to avoid an economic slump.

Vucic now leads the Progressive Party with mostly former Radical Party members. He has pushed for more EU-leaning policies while maintaining close ties with Russia, Serbia’s most powerful international ally in preventing world-wide recognition of Kosovo’s independence.

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