Milosevic's wife foretells the fate of a hardliner

IF YOU are a Serbian politician, you need not seek your destiny in the stars. The easiest place to find it is in the fortnightly magazine column of Mira Markovic, a leading figure in Serbia's League of Communists and the wife of President Slobodan Milosevic.

Her role as an intimate adviser to the president is well known, but it is Ms Markovic's journalism that captivates Belgrade's chattering classes. Her penchant for correctly predicting the future is so uncanny that diplomats and local political journalists call her column in Duga 'the horoscope'.

Perhaps Vojislav Seselj, the hard man of Serbian nationalist politics and an alleged war criminal, who was arrested last week, should have been reading her articles more carefully. Ms Markovic was one of the first people close to the government to attack the head of Serbia's Radical Party, describing as 'primitive' Mr Seselj and his message of a Greater Serbia built on the blood of its enemies. 'Seselj is a shame for Serbia,' she wrote recently.

Mr Seselj's latest crime? Spitting at the speaker of Yugoslavia's federal parliament, Radoman Bozovic, last Tuesday - for which he was stripped of his parliamentary immunity, arrested by 30 policemen, taken to court, sentenced and sent straight to jail, all in less than 24 hours.

In comparison with the accusations of war crimes levelled at him by the West, the charge of spitting seems trivial. But the arrest of Mr Seselj may be far more significant than his 30-day sentence suggests.

Some analysts think that Mr Seselj's behaviour was a sign of his frustration with Mr Milosevic, who has been distancing himself from extreme nationalist politics.

Over the past three months, Mr Milosevic has broken with the his former client warlords and imposed an arms and fuel blockade on the Bosnian Serbs for their rejection of the latest international peace plan for Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Mr Seselj, once the closest ally of the Serbian regime, became an ardent and theatrical opponent of the president's political U-turn, accusing Mr Milosevic of treason. Observers see Mr Seselj's arrest as the beginning of the government's showdown with nationalist forces, and, perhaps, the first step towards a war crimes trial of a man who has come to symbolise the brutality of Serbian aggression in Bosnia.

'I hope that the (war) criminals will not escape their responsibility, and I do not mean in a distant future,' Ms Markovic wrote in her latest column. As it hit the streets of Belgrade, Mr Seselj was already on his way to jail.

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