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Serbian nationalism stirs again

The Serbian government faces three crises that could inflame sentiments here following the death of Milosevic.

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When Serbian state television cut into its usual programming to carry a live report on the arrival of Slobodan Milosevic's body in Belgrade last Wednesday, the station received hundreds of angry calls from viewers demanding that it stop giving such importance to the fate of the former Yugoslav president.

When the report ended, hundreds more furious calls came in, this time from Mr. Milosevic's supporters, demanding the channel carry 24-hour coverage of his funeral arrangements.

"Even after his death, Milosevic continues to divide Serbs into two enemy blocs," says Nenad Stefanovic, chief editor of state TV.

Despite the battlefield losses in the 1990s and the popular overthrow of Milosevic, Serb nationalism remains a potent force and the country is still torn between its past and future. Milosevic loyalists have seized on his death to galvanize voters and try to regain the power they lost five years ago. At stake is the blueprint for Serbia's European integration that reformers have drawn up as the keystone for stability in the Balkans.

A farewell rally for Milosevic in front of the parliament building here Saturday, attended by around 80,000 predominantly older people, put wind in the sails of the nationalists who already enjoy the support of almost half the electorate, according to recent polls.

Two hours later, pro-democracy forces could muster only a few hundred younger demonstrators at a nearby square to celebrate what they hoped was the end of an era, but feared might signal its rebirth.

Among them was Branka Prpa, widow of a journalist murdered by members of Milosevic's security forces in 1999, who was dismayed that the authorities had allowed the former president's supporters to gather on the steps of parliament. It was there, she recalled, that anti-Milosevic protesters had overthrown the government in 2001. The former president's supporters chose the same spot Saturday "to send a message to the citizens of Serbia that he has returned from the dead, that he will triumph over us," she said.

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