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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A New Start for Serbia After Presidential Vote

The victory of the liberal Boris Tadic in the Serbian presidential election is a step forward in the search for lasting peace and stability in the former Yugoslavia. But despite Tadic's considerable political skills, it is only a small advance on what remains a difficult road. Serbia must work hard to make the most of the election in its efforts to end its international isolation. And the EU and the United States must respond more positively to Belgrade than they have in the 3 1/2 years since the overthrow of former president Slobodan Milosevic.

The priority in Belgrade is to create a stable government capable of implementing painful political and economic reforms and cooperating with the West on controversial issues headed by the war crimes tribunal. Last year's general election left the moderate nationalist, Vojislav Kostunica, heading an unwieldy coalition of moderate nationalists and pro-West reformers, ruling with the support of Milosevic's Socialist party. The coalition excludes Tadic's Democratic Party, the biggest reformers' grouping, because of rows with Kostunica's supporters.

Kostunica reluctantly backed Tadic for president to keep out the ultra-nationalist candidate. Now Tadic promises to support Kostunica. Their followers must pull together. A Tadic-Kostunica alliance is now Serbia's best chance of progress.

The two must find ways to satisfy the West over cooperation with The Hague. Kostunica has expressed doubts over sending more suspects to the tribunal. Tadic has been more pragmatic.

The West must make it easier for Serbia to accept the tribunal's justice. The court must show greater flexibility in considering Serb offers for some cases to be tried in Belgrade. Next, it should show its impartiality by putting more effort into pursuing Serb complaints about war crimes allegedly carried out by non-Serbs.

Finally, the West should be more patient and more generous. The huge effort made by Serbia in handing over Milosevic in 2001 was not properly recognized. The response was a small dollop of aid and immediate demands for more suspects. Alleged war criminals must not escape justice. But efforts to put them behind bars must not come at the expense of other aims, including the political stability of Serbia.

Without stability, Serbia cannot pursue economic reform or attract foreign investment. It cannot deal with the problems arising from the creation of the awkward joint state of Serbia and Montenegro, nor can it contemplate negotiating the future of the breakaway province of Kosovo.

The EU and the United States have invested heavily in rebuilding the Balkans after the Yugoslav wars. They must not be distracted from finishing the job by problems elsewhere.

This comment is excerpted from an editorial in the Financial Times.