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10 May, 2008 02:14

Serbs torn between Russia & EU

Political campaigning has drawn to a close in Serbia ahead of Sunday's parliamentary election. President Boris Tadich called the early vote following a political crisis. The government was split over whether Serbia should integrate with the European Union

At Belgrade's largest military cemetery, veterans gathered to mark Victory Day with a sombre salute to their comrades, who fell in battle.

Branimer Ivanovic was among the first Serbian partisans to welcome the Red Army as it entered the city.

“We met the Russian soldiers not far from here. They asked us for water and we gave them. On one of their tanks was written, 'we are going to take Berlin'. They had come from Stalingrad. Russians are the best soldiers in the world because they have Slavic souls and fight with all their heart for peace,” Branimer recalls.

Tomislav Nikolic, who might well win Sunday's parliamentary election, represents the Russian alliance. A hardliner, who promises to protect the poor, Nikolic says he considers Russia to be Serbia's main ally.

He's seeking to expand economic and the two political ties between the countries.

Two days before the election the Serbian government has announced its decision to ask its parliament to ratify a deal signed between Moscow and Belgrade back in January. According to the deal, Russia and Serbia will create a joint company that will build the Serbian stretch of the South Stream gas pipeline and allow Gazprom to buy a controlling stake in the Serbian oil monopoly NIS.

Sunday's parliamentary race is tight.

The latest polls put President Boris Tadic's Democratic Party in the lead with 32.4 per cent.

Trailing half a percentage point behind is Tomislav Nikolic's Radical Party at 31.9 per cent.

This means that Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, whose Democratic Party of Serbia, expected to get 13.5 per cent of the vote, could be a kingmaker in the next parliament.

“DSS is using more Russian connection than radicals but both of them are using the Russians as a kind of backbone to get into power. But people are not really convinced Russia can help,” Srdan Bogosavljevic from Strategic Marketing Research Group.

And yet, out on the streets of Belgrade it almost seems as if there's another election campaign on the go. The European Movement in Serbia is handing out brochures and CDs to encourage people to see the benefits of voting to join the EU.