Serb-led Yugoslavia is in turmoil. Leader Slobodan Milosevic is squeezed by a rising Serb ultranationalist, and he is sending police against pro-democracy protesters who want more rights.
The show of force betrays a panic that could mean troubles for the Balkans. Historically, troubles in Serbia have spawned war throughout the region. With Milosevic's grip slowly slipping after a decade in power, Serbia has not been this unstable since the Yugoslav federation broke up in war in 1991.Presidential elections Sunday in the two republics of Yugoslavia may only make things worse for the Yugoslav leader.
Serbia's tiny partner in Yugoslavia, Montenegro, may elect a pro-Western president who is Milosevic's declared foe.
In Serbia itself, and among Bosnian Serbs, ultranationalist Vojislav Seselj is making strong political gains. This weekend, Seselj faces a neo-communist Milosevic protege in a runoff for Serbia's presidency.
Seselj, a bright lawyer with a talent for demagoguery and maneuvering, is still pushing the "Greater Serbia" that Milosevic espoused when helping start war in Croatia and Bosnia, but that was abandoned with the Dayton peace accords that ended the Bosnian war in 1995.
Seselj advocates Serb conquest of large swathes of Bosnia, Croatia and even Hungary - bringing "Greater Serbia" to the borders of "Greater Germany."
Seselj's paramilitary troops fought Croats and Muslims from 1991-95. He preaches ethnic intolerance inside Serbia, where about one-third of the 10 million people are minorities, including 2 million ethnic Albanians.
He pledges to introduce "Work, Order and Discipline" if he comes to power - a message that appeals to rural Serbs who used to support Milosevic but are fed up with the fact that his clique is living well while most people are out of work and battling poverty.
Milosevic's rival says he would expel rebel Albanians and other "disloyal" minorities.
The democratic opposition to Milosevic is fractured, and one of the three leaders of massive anti-Milosevic marches last winter appears to have switched sides.
Independent media speculated that Milosevic offered opponent Vuk Draskovic money and lucrative official posts to lure him into participating in Serbia's Sept. 21 elections.
Those elections were boycotted by Zoran Djindjic, the most popular leader from the winter marches and the first noncommunist mayor of Belgrade in 50 years.
Draskovic finished third in the Sept. 21 vote, out of the running for president. He blamed Djinjdic's boycott and repaid him last week by siding with Milosevic's party to dump him as mayor.
Recognizing that only unity can stave off a future controlled by Milosevic or Seselj, disparate pro-democracy forces are trying to band together.
Djindjic, in particular, is approaching anti-Milosevic forces in both Montenegro and Serb-held parts of Bosnia.
These include Biljana Plavsic, the Western-backed Bosnian Serb president, who is locked in a power struggle with wartime leaders tacitly supported by Milosevic.
Djindjic also is in contact with Milo Djukanovic, the pro-Western candidate in Montenegro's presidential election.