War in the Balkans: Pact: Serbs choose to unite with Russians

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The Independent Online
HIS WAS the only voice that echoed round the 32 marble columns. He was the only MP to speak without notes. The man who once said that his Chetniks had graduated to "rusty shoehorns" in putting out Croat eyes - black humour, he later protested - knew how to hold his audience.

The friend of Jean Marie le Pen of France and the Russian extreme nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky and acquaintance of Alexander Lukashenko, the President of Belarus, had no doubt that this was "one of the most important moments in history". Yugoslavia, Vojislav Seselj told us all, must join the union of Russia and Belarus.

And it did, by God. Only four members of the joint Yugoslav parliament dared to vote against the motion yesterday - one was a long-bearded priest - and they were booed and wolf-whistled for their pains.

"Would you like to come over and join us here?" Mr Seselj, the Serbian deputy prime minister, taunted them from the Radical Party seats, raising his right hand in derision. "Would you like to join us?" There were many who did. One after another, MPs for the Democratic Party, the Serbian People's Party, the Serbian Renewal Party stood up to make their contribution to Slavic unity.

"It is binding," the foreign ministry spokesman, Nobojsa Vujevic, told me beside the members' dining-room a few minutes later. "Economic, military, this is a real union."

Growing a little plump in middle-age but with his trademark left forelock fringe as dark as ever, Mr Seselj - whose brutal militiamen fought their way through Croatia and Bosnia - went much further. "We don't have a single member who does not realise that our future lies in the East," he shouted. "There is not a single Orthodox person - not a single patriot - who has not turned to the East. We can say bad things about a mother and we have been angry with our mother - but Mother Russia assures us that we are not alone in this world."

The strikes against Yugoslavia, Mr Seselj told us, would not achieve Nato's aim. "Nato will break its teeth deep in the Balkans. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia will never capitulate, even if they impose greater destruction on us. We are linked by history, culture and civilisation with Russia and Belarus."

He was the only one to talk of Mother Russia. The rest - Velizar Nikcevic, Milan Perisic, Gorica Gasevic, even Momir Bulatovic, the Yugoslav federation's Montenegran Prime Minister with his bushy stand-up hair and groomed moustache - sounded more like fraternal delegates of another generation.

We heard about aggression and "human potentials", about the violation of peace-loving peoples, of imperialism and world hegemony. Was it the union of Russia and Belarus that Yugoslavia was voting to join, or the Warsaw Pact? Mother Russia, if you believed what you heard in the Yugoslav parliament yesterday, was still the Soviet Union. "It was Seselj who first went to Belarus and met Lukashenko," a Serb journalist remarked afterwards. "It's all the idea of the Radical Party. But even the Russian- Belarus union is not yet functioning."

It was, then, a political-propaganda gesture, but by no means an empty one. Vuk Draskovic's Serb Renewal Party had never been so keen on this Slavic amalgamation. But now Yugoslav MPs line up to show their patriotism, even if they have to dance with Cossacks on the Sava river bridge as part of Belgrade's human shield.

Russia, too, may be prepared to accept Yugoslavia's new allegiance. President Boris Yeltsin's proposals for contact group and G8 meetings were dismissively turned down by the West. And Russia - as every member of the Yugoslavia's parliament could tell you - is very angry.

Moscow may have national interests that go far beyond the Balkans, but many Yugoslav diplomats believe it could, ultimately, furnish military aid to Belgrade if the Nato strikes continue. If Yugoslavia is surrounded by Nato countries and with what Serbs call the "trying-to-be-Nato" countries, its neighbours could still feel Russia's anger. Hungary's agreement to allow a reduced Russian aid convoy to pass through its territory to Serbia (minus five armoured vehicles and half its fuel trucks) was a sign for Serbs that even Budapest does not want to enrage Moscow now.

"Nations which surrendered themselves too easily to the West's plans are already feeling the negative impact," Mr Seselj announced. "The West wants to impoverish them... I know our decision will be universally approved by the federal parliament. It will give a better future for our children. We Serbian radicals must be one with the citizens of Russia and Belarus. This union cannot be negated."

There were suggestions in the parliament yesterday that Romania and Bulgaria should be asked to join the new Slavic union, that only an alliance between Belgrade, Minsk and Moscow could ensure "stability and international peace". It was all heady stuff.

At the start of yesterday's sitting, members stood for a moment's silence - in an auditorium built for the old Yugoslavia that stretched from Croatia to Macedonia - in memory of the dead from Nato's bombardment. Emotion was high. Realism less so, as the Serb journalist noted after the vote. "If we are expecting help from Belarus," he said, "we must commit suicide at once."

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