VICTORY in Serbia's presidential run-off election for Boris Tadic, candidate of the Democratic Party, constitutes a step toward the future for the Balkan nation of 10 million.
Mr. Tadic represents a Serbia that looks forward to eventually joining the European Union, with all that means in terms of economic betterment. This includes improved employment opportunities for Serbs across the 27-nation EU and open borders for trade, travel, and cultural exchange.
It also means a lesser likelihood of renewed military confrontation between Serbia and NATO - a return to the 1999 war - when, as expected, the Serbian province of Kosovo declares its independence later in the spring.
Mr. Tadic will be obliged as a leader to protect Serbia's interests when Kosovo's Albanian majority makes its move, but the clash is likely to be lower key. Since the EU supports Kosovar independence, it will be likely to offer more than just comforting words to Serbia to assuage its anger.
Serbia can eventually be persuaded that, in fact, it is better off without Kosovo's population, 90 to 95 percent of which is Albanian Muslim, within its borders. But measures will have to be put in place to assure the security and rights of Kosovo's Serbian Orthodox minority and their historical and religious monuments.
Kosovo's eventual Albanian-majority government must be told firmly and unequivocally by the EU and the United States that reasonable behavior on its part will be the price of any advancement it may aspire to in Europe and the world. There are old grievances and considerable residual hatred between Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo, but tolerance of such aberrant, abhorrent behavior will not be acceptable on the part of a civilized European government.
Mr. Tadic's new government will not have an easy time of it, even with the election behind him and a relatively open road ahead. His victory was tight. With a 67 percent turnout, he received 51 percent of the vote to 47 percent for his opponent, Tomislav Nikolic of the Radical Party.
Mr. Nikolic and his point of view, including a more militant position on Kosovo, had Russian support. Even though Serbs voted for movement toward the EU, there is still a strong isolationist streak in Serbian politics, about to be reinforced by Kosovo's independence move.
The United States wants to end definitively its military commitment in Kosovo, and to see general movement toward prosperity and peace, in Serbia, Kosovo, and the Balkans in general. Mr. Tadic's victory points in that direction.