BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Slobodan Milosevic's wartime spokesman was set to become Serbia's new prime minister on Thursday, triggering unease in the Balkan country despite proclaimed pro-European Union policies from the Socialist Party leader.
Ivica Dacic — who earned the nickname "Little Sloba" in the past for his admiration of the former Yugoslav president — has pledged not to revive the nationalist policies of the Milosevic era, planning instead to press on with Serbia's integration into the EU, but there are still fears that the election would undermine reconciliation in the Balkans and turn the country toward Russia.
Dacic and his coalition partners have strong ties with Moscow and have suggested in the past that they would drop Serbia's EU bid if it meant that the country has to give up its claim on Kosovo, the former province that declared independence in 2008
Dacic's government, which also includes President Tomislav Nikolic's nationalist party and several smaller groups, is expected to be sworn in Thursday at a parliament session, ending nearly three months of political uncertainty that followed an inconclusive election on May 6.
If elected, the new Cabinet will mark the first time Milosevic's nationalist allies have fully returned to power in Serbia since the former autocrat was ousted in a popular revolt in 2000 after a decade marked with wars, international sanctions and economic downturn.
Djordje Vlajic, an editor at Radio Belgrade, says the democratic public in Serbia fear a return to Milosevic's autocratic era of the 1990s, but such a scenario is impossible and "no one would dare reignite tensions in the region." He said Dacic has changed, "and built a pro-European image and he will seek to stick to that."
Vlajic warned, however, that "some elements (of war-era tensions) could return if the new ruling coalition does not send a clear message" that it has changed.
Outside of Dacic, the new government will also include other prominent figures from the Milosevic era. Aleksandar Vucic — in charge of defense and security in the new government — was Milosevic's former information minister, notorious for his extremist views during the 1998-99 Kosovo war.
Milosevic was widely blamed for instigating the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, which claimed more than 100,000 lives and left millions homeless. The former Serbian and Yugoslav leader was tried for genocide at the U.N. tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, where he died before the trial ended.
Post-Milosevic authorities have since managed to restore Serbian ties with the world and boost regional reconciliation. The reformists have also arrested war criminals and made Serbia a candidate for EU entry, gaining support from the United States and its EU allies who have sought to stabilize the Balkans.
Dacic was a loyal disciple during the war, and has evoked Milosevic's trademark defiance and populism even after forging an alliance with pro-Western Democrats in the previous government. Dacic, however, ditched the Democrats after reformist leader Boris Tadic lost the presidential election to nationalist Nikolic. Dacic then turned to Nikolic's nationalist Progressive Party for a new-old coalition, reportedly with support from Russia.
Among the challenges facing the new government are widespread joblessness and cash-strapped budget, amid deepening economic crisis. Average salary in Serbia is around €350 ($429), while poverty is widespread.