Serbian President Tomislav Nikoli? was inaugurated yesterday (11 June) at a ceremony in Belgrade marked by the absence of heads of state from neighbouring countries, following comments by Nikoli? who denied that the 1995 Srebrenica massacre amounted to "genocide". EURACTIV Serbia contributed to this article.
Of all eight Serbian neighbours, only Filip Vujanovi? of Montenegro, the last former Yugoslav republic to secede from Serbia in 2006, attended the ceremony.
Nikoli? was elected on 20 May. In an interview for the Montenegrin TV on 1 June, he said that the Srebrenica blood-letting (see background) was a war crime committed by some Serbs, who should be brought to justice. But he stressed that no genocide had been committed, prompting a rebuke from the European Commission.
The regional press noted in particular the absence of leaders from other former Yugoslav republics, including Ivo Josipovi? of Croatia , Danilo Turk of Slovenia, Djordje Ivanov of Macedonia, and Bakir Izetbegovi?, who holds the rotating presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary – three EU member states neighbouring Serbia – also didn’t send high-level delegations.
From the EU side, Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle attended the event, conveying the message that the new Serbian head of state still had a chance to demonstrate his attachment to European values and to his country’s EU future.
Nikoli? is a former ultranationalist, having served as deputy to Vojislav Šešelj, the leader of the Serbian Radical Party. Šešelj is standing trial for war crimes at The Hague tribunal. In 2008, Nikoli? changed course, setting up the Progressive party and taking a more pro-European stance.
Looking both to East and to West
In his inauguration speech, Nikoli? said Serbia's charted European course was “the way of the future”. He pledged to cooperate with everyone for Serbia's benefit and conduct a policy of peace, stability and cooperation in the region.
"I will build friendships the world around because Serbia is not entitled to enemies. Serbia's European road is the way of the future, the way of economic prosperity, and I will help Serbia continue on that road," Nikoli? said.
He said he would "work with everyone, in the East and in the West, because Serbia can only win that way, and has nothing to lose."
After his election, Nikoli? symbolically chose Russia as his first foreign destination and made statements honouring Putin, using phrases reminiscent of the Stalinist era.
He said he would protect the constitution, respect and maintain the territorial integrity of Serbia and attempt to bring together all political forces in the country to establish and run a common policy on Kosovo, a former Serbian province and whose independence Belgrade doesn’t recognise.
Speaking on 7 June following an outbreak of violence in Kosovo, Nikoli? urged the region's Serbs to remain calm "in the face of provocation” and refrain from violent actions directed at members of the international civilian and military organisations present there.
"The Serbian government and all of our country's institutions must undertake everything in their power to protect the safety and rights of the citizens of Serbia who live in Kosovo," Nikoli? said during a meeting with the presidents of four municipalities in Serb-populated northern Kosovo.
Serbian politicians are working to form a government. On 6 June, Boris Tadi?, who lost to Nikoli? and leads the pro-European Democratic party, informed the president that the coalition he was trying to form was very close to a parliamentary majority.
Nikoli? plans to visit Brussels on 14 June.