Nationalists Surge in Balkans Elections

More than a decade after a breakup of Yugoslavia (search), many participants in the ethnic warfare that culminated in Europe's worst bloodshed since World War II (search) have crept back to prominence in three former republics — this time through democratic elections.

In Serbia — which dominated Yugoslavia before it's six republics started breaking away in the 1990s — an ally of former President Slobodan Milosevic (search) won a weekend mayoral election in the third-largest city of Novi Sad.

In Bosnia, voters in weekend municipal elections overwhelmingly picked the nationalist parties that led their ethnic groups throughout the 1992-1995 Bosnian war between Muslims, Serbs and Croats.

In Slovenia, the right-leaning party of former Defense Minister Janez Jansa snapped a 12-year hold on power by the Liberal Democrats in nationwide parliamentary elections Sunday.

As the defense minister of Slovenia, the first flash-point of Yugoslavia's breakup, Jansa was a key figure in the brief confrontation that led the heavily armed Yugoslav army to cede to the upstart Slovene territorial defense.

Long an outspoken nationalist who opposed granting citizenship to non-Slovenes in his republic, Jansa appeared to moderate his views going into the election.

Still a hero of Slovenia's 10-day war of independence, Jansa apparently capitalized in the weekend vote on his image as a tough leader.

In Bosnia, too, nationalists associated with the republic's bloody independence struggle triumphed in municipal elections, with preliminary results showing ethnocentric Serb Croat or Muslim parties winning 99 of 122 municipalities reporting results Sunday.

An estimated 250,000 people were killed and 1.8 million driven from their homes in the Bosnian war fought under the leadership of the same parties that triumphed Saturday. Among them was the Serbian Democratic Party — founded by Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb wartime leader now being sought for the U.N. war crimes tribunal for alleged atrocities.

The generally strong nationalist showing was dented by Serb moderates, who won 11 municipalities. Bosnian Serb political analyst Tanja Topic said that was a "positive trend."

"Nationalists did not reappear here. They were always here, but their support is dropping," Topic said.

Still voter disenchantment is grist for the mill of the entrenched parties because it keeps Bosnians who normally could be expected to vote for change away from the polls.

The low turnout in Bosnia Saturday — 45 percent of the electorate — reflected general disenchantment with the political process and failure by the political leadership to raise living standards.

In Serbia, the Radical Party, which strongly supported Milosevic's war campaigns in the 1990s, won the mayoral post in Novi Sad, the capital of the northern Vojvodina province.

Their candidate, Maja Gojkovic — a supporter of Saddam Hussein — narrowly edged out a Democratic Party challenger by a few hundred votes.

The Radicals, who were pivotal in spreading fear among non-Serbs in the Balkan wars with their paramilitary gangs, have made strong gains throughout Serbia.

They are the largest single party in Serbia's parliament. And their candidate for Belgrade mayor, Aleksandar Vucic, was only narrowly defeated by a pro-Western Democrat.

Pro-democracy groups toppled Milosevic, the former president of Yugoslavia, Serbia-Montenegro's predecessor, in October 2000, and extradited him for trial to the U.N. war crimes tribunal at The Hague, Netherlands a year later.

But euphoria over his ouster was quickly tempered by growing disillusionment over the slow pace of reforms meant to replace the poverty and isolation of the Milosevic era.

"Even in the capital, we are nearly 50-50 with the so-called democrats," Vucic said. "It is clear to everyone now whose time is coming in Serbia."