Tadic garnered about 50.5 percent of votes cast on Sunday, compared to nationalist Tomislav Nikolic’s 47.9 percent, according to the Belgrade-based Center for Free Elections and Democracy, reported CNN.
The European Union welcomed Tadic’s re-election as a sign that Serbia was looking to follow through with its plan to join the EU and not turn to Russia, as nationalists urged, in retaliation for the West’s planned recognition of Kosovo’s independence.
Kosovo is expected to declare its independence in February or March. The province has been under U.N. administration and policed by NATO peacekeepers since 1999.
Leading members of the EU and the United States back the breakaway province, but Russia has objected to any unilateral declaration of independence for fear it would encourage other separatist movements in the region.
Both Tadic and Nikolic opposed independence for the majority-Albanian province, but they differed in how they would approach it. Tadic’s pro-EU stance makes him less likely to retaliate against Western nations that grant diplomatic recognition to Kosovo.
Tadic’s Democrats played a pivotal role in the ouster of former autocratic President Slobodan Milosevic in 2000. Nikolic, deputy leader of the nationalist Serbian Radical Party, served as a deputy prime minister during Milosevic’s 1998-99 war in Kosovo, when NATO bombed Serbia to stop his deadly crackdown against separatists in the province.
Analysts explained, however, that those who voted for Nikolic should not be necessarily seen as radical ultranationalists.
“It is unacceptable to consider that 2 million people who voted for Nikolic are extremist Serbian nationalists,” Goran Svilanovic, a former foreign minister who works at a think tank promoting Balkan stability, told the Los Angeles Times. “They are not haters of other peoples. They are people who are not satisfied with the arrogance of the government and are unsatisfied with the corruption and the way the government has handled” the poor and unemployed.
The issue of Kosovo’s independence caused some rifts in Tadic’s coalition. Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, who opposes any deal with the EU if it supports the province’s independence, refused to back Tadic in his re-election bid and had yet to personally congratulate him on his win, Reuters reported Monday.
In December, the EU stopped short of endorsing Kosovo’s independence and instead agreed to send a 1,800-member security force to maintain stability. Last week, the EU offered Serbia a package of incentives as part of a deal toward membership that included political ties, a free trade agreement, visa liberalization and cooperation in education, reported CNN.
After Tadic’s win, France said the EU looked forward to signing a political deal with Serbia on Thursday to cement its membership bid, according to Reuters.
In a message to Tadic, Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the EU’s executive commission, called the win “a victory for democracy in Serbia and for the European values we share.” He also called this a “critical moment” for Serbia and the western Balkans, the Associated Press reported.