Serb nationalist defies court, burns EU, Nato flags

Serbian ultranationalist Vojislav Seselj set fire to European Union and NATO flags outside a Belgrade court Thursday, insisting he would not return to The Hague to hear the verdict in his war crimes trial later this month.

Seselj, 61, who has liver cancer, was allowed to return to Serbia for treatment in November 2014 while awaiting judgment from the U.N. war crimes court.

Four months after Seselj was freed, judges in The Hague ordered him to return March 31 to hear his verdict, saying he had broken terms of his release by telling supporters he would never go back.

Seselj was tried on three counts of crimes against humanity, which included persecution, deportation and forcible transfers, and six other charges that included torture and murder during wars in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia’s Vojvodina region, amid the collapse of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Seselj surrendered in 2003, and his trial ran from 2007 to 2012.

Seselj’s display of defiance came after Serbia’s High Court canceled a hearing on his extradition to The Hague tribunal on Thursday, citing procedural reasons. The nationalist instead burned the EU flag outside the building, saying, “It burns well,” before setting fire to the NATO flag as well.

“I will not go voluntarily, but I will use every opportunity to inflict expert professional, political and moral damage on The Hague tribunal,” Seselj told dozens of cheering supporters.

The extradition could increase political pressure on Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic and his Progressive Party just before a parliamentary election on April 24. Vucic, a former protege of Seselj, broke with his party in 2008 to pursue a more pro-Western course.

As leader of the far-right Serbian Radical Party, Seselj plans to run for parliament in the coming election.

His return to The Hague might improve his popularity, helping his party pass the 5 percent threshold of votes required to enter parliament.