Serbia: Former Radical Nikolic Forms Progressive Party

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1. (SBU) Former Radical and Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) leader
Tomislav Nikolic gave his first press conference on October 8
outlining SNS principles, which include engaging countries that
recognize Kosovo independence. The SNS is steadily gaining support
among the rank-and-file of the Serbian Radical Party (SRS), despite
continued attacks from Nikolic’s former SRS associates and cold
responses from other parties on the Serbian right. While some of
Nikolic’s statements (such as his claim that the SNS aspires to be a
decent part of the center-right, and his avowed support of a
European future) are encouraging, so far they remain mostly rhetoric
designed to make him appear more housebroken to Europe and the
United States. The real test will be whether Nikolic unveils a
policy statement that rejects the policies of the Radicals,
including the drive for a Greater Serbia and active opposition to
the Hague War Crimes Tribunal. He will have a chance to do so at
the SNS founding convention on October 21. End Summary.

Confident Nikolic Assembling Support

2. (U) At an October 8 press conference in Belgrade, former Serbian
Radical Party (SRS) Deputy President and leader of the “Forward
Serbia” parliamentary faction Tomislav Nikolic discussed his plans
to launch the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) at a party congress on
October 21. Flanked by SNS supporters including former SRS General
Secretary Alexander Vucic, former SRS-affiliated members of
Parliament, writer and columnist Brana Crncevic, and law professor
Oliver Antic, Nikolic expressed optimism that the SNS would take
power in Serbia within a year. Nikolic listed his priorities as
leading a progressive Serbia that protected national interests,
created a better life for citizens, acted as a bridge between East
and West, and cooperated with all countries that did not recognize
Kosovo independence. Nikolic added, however, that the SNS would be
ready for “tough discussions” with countries that recognized
Kosovo’s independence. Notably absent from Nikolic’s comments at
the press conference was any reference to a Greater Serbia policy,
although he had mentioned it in press interviews after his split
with the SRS.

3. (U) Nikolic announced that the SNS had collected the signatures
of 10,000 citizens to date and expected 50,000 supporters by October
21, which would be the basis for local branches in every Serbian
municipality. He also informed the press that he had invited the
leadership of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) and New Serbia
(NS) to discuss the formation of an opposition bloc. Nikolic stated
that NS leader Vladimir Ilic had accepted the invitation while DSS
had not responded. The SNS was further buoyed by a poll released
after the press conference by Strategic Marketing that showed the
SNS receiving 21% support of all voters compared to 28.9% for the DS
and 7.2% for the SRS. (Comment: The SRS and SNS numbers combined
however, still add up to less than their showing in the May 11
elections. End Comment.)

4. (SBU) The press conference capped a week of intense publicity
for the SNS split. SNS spokesman Nejbosa Stefanovic told reporters
on October 2 that about 75% of former SRS members and local boards
had joined Nikolic’s movement, though post has been unable to
confirm this figure. Nikolic told the daily paper “Blic” on October
4 that the SRS would effectively no longer exist by the end of that
week. On October 6, in a widely anticipated move, former SRS
General Secretary Alexander Vucic announced on Pink TV that he would
join the SNS as Nikolic’s deputy. Though Vucic announced that he
would withdraw from public life when announcing his resignation on
September 14, our contacts tell us that Vucic has been quietly
drafting the SNS party platform over the past few weeks.

5. (SBU) There are also signs that SNS is gaining access to
financial resources to support the party. According to one
well-placed credible journalist, Serbian tycoons Miroslav Miskovic
and Milan Beko are keeping SNS well-funded. Other observers and
diplomatic contacts claim that Nikolic is receiving support from
French donors and is currently negotiating with one of Germany’s
party foundations for an assistance package. (Comment: A
representative of France’s National Front Party had campaigned for
Nikolic both during this year’s presidential and local elections.
End Comment.)

Taking Heat from SRS, Seselj

6. (U) The growth of Nikolic’s movement has been met with harsh
reaction from SRS quarters. SRS deputies have been repeating many
of the claims that were heard immediately after the split, such as
Nikolic being on the payroll of intelligence services and assisting

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ICTY. SRS President Vojislav Seselj weighed in on the public debate
when his September 8 memo to the SRS Central Fatherland Board
appeared as a paid advertisement in the local daily “Kurir” on
October 1. The rhetoric later turned more personal with SRS deputy
leader Gordana Pop-Lazic claiming that Nikolic was “crying on my
shoulder when he had problems with his mistress.” SRS deputies
seized on press reports of Nikolic’s meeting with the Ambassador to
derisively label Nikolic’s followers as “Munter’s witnesses.” The
Ambassador had met with Nikolic — at the latter’s request — to
discuss Nikolic’s plans to create a modern center-right European

7. (U) The SRS has also begun to push the dispute with Nikolic into
the courts. The SRS on October 13 filed suit against Nikolic and
Banca Intesa at the Trade Court in Belgrade claiming that Nikolic
improperly signed a four-year loan agreement worth roughly 630,000
on behalf of the party without the approval of the Central
Fatherland Board. SRS spokesman Zoran Krasic stressed the loan,
signed in March of this year, would cost the SRS a total of 850,000
and contained an “interest clause” stating that Banca Intesa would
gain unlimited rights over SRS property in the event of an
annexation or rift in the SRS as a legal entity. Nikolic denied
that his actions were illegal and claimed the accusations were
“despicable lies.”

8. (U) Although the SRS is apparently unable to challenge the
mandates of National Assembly members who switched to Nikolic’s
caucus (reftel), it has succeeded in terminating the mandates of SNS
members of other bodies who were ejected from the SRS. On October
8, Nikolic confirmed that seven mandates in the Belgrade City
Assembly were returned to the SRS, leaving the SNS without
representation. Liberal Democratic Party, Serbian Socialist Party,
and DSS members joined the SRS in the vote terminating the mandates
while DS members abstained, according to SNS spokesman Stefanovic.
At the national level, the SRS is reportedly seeking to rebalance
the division of parliamentary committee chairmanships. G-17 Plus
whip Susana Grubjesic told us that the SRS wanted to chair the
Finance and Administrative Committees; the latter, currently headed
by Nikolic and responsible for mandate-related questions, was a
non-starter, she said.

Parties Wary of SNS, Observers Urge Skepticism
——————————————— –

9. (SBU) Some parties on the Serbian right have sought to cast
aspersions on the motivations and durability of the SNS. Serbian
Renewal Movement (SPO) Vice President and Diaspora Minister Srdjan
Sreckovic told the Ambassador on September 29 that the SNS was not a
modern political party and that Nikolic himself could not be trusted
or rehabilitated. DSS officials told us that they were wary of
cooperating with SNS because “one political move does not make us
forget what these people did last year or ten years ago.” Our
contacts tell us that the NS’s Ilic is willing to cooperate with the
SNS but will cautiously wait to see how viable Nikolic’s movement

10. (SBU) Political observers are warning that Nikolic’s movement
may enjoy only limited traction in the long-term. Veteran journalist
Braca Grubacic commented that SNS was making a perilous effort to
win voters from all edges of the political spectrum by advocating
party principles on issues such as Kosovo, corruption, and economic
policy that were almost indistinguishable from those of other
parties. In Grubacic’s view, it is unclear whether Nikolic is
personally capable of being the kind of leader who can successfully
walk such a political tightrope.

11. (SBU) Political commentator Misha Djurkovic also questions
Nikolic’s ability to successfully lead the SNS. He noted to us that
the SNS has thus far not yet attracted capable intellectuals
necessary to transform SNS into a serious movement. Describing
Nikolic as well-intentioned but unaware of how others are
manipulating him, Djurkovic predicted that the SNS would gain no
more than 8-10% of the electorate in the long-term.


12. (SBU) Nikolic’s break with Seselj has gotten a lot of
attention, but polling numbers do not demonstrate any new
groundswell of support for him, his new party or his ideology.
While his pro-European statements and professed willingness to talk
with countries that have recognized Kosovo are encouraging, he has
yet to take concrete steps to show he is really serious. Detractors
— of which he has many — maintain that his Europe talk is cheap
and that until he publicly disavows dreams and schemes of a Greater
Serbia and demonstrates a willingness to work with the Hague War
Crimes Tribunal, he should be approached with caution. Regardless,
we need to know more about Nikolic and the electorate to whom he is
attractive and will follow developments related to him and his new

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party very closely. The October 21 party convention should provide
us more answers. End Comment.