AIM: start

SUN, 22 APR 2001 00:46:53 GMT

Political Scene of Serbia

DOS Splitting?

AIM Belgrade, April 11.

Links within the broad coalition that has overthrown the totalitarian regime of Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia last autumn are facing a serious challenge at this moment. The force, unreasonably squandered on minor personnel combinations, seems to be disappearing. Six semi-revolutionary months of excitement have gone by – spring has come which is traditionally a bad time for (every) Serbian administration, and with it the social crisis which inevitably leads to apathy and a split.

What is nowadays called the opposition practically does not exist in Serbia. Parliamentary opposition is criminalised, even openly criminal, and in such poor shape that it is no use counting on it. Among the autonomous citizens’ initiatives, partners in overthrowing Milosevic’s regime, some are still “holding out”, but their influence after formation of the government of Serbia in the end of January is diminishing. The University seems confused. There are only the media which are having difficulties in establishing the right orientation for themselves. The Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) perhaps has not intentionally created its political primacy. It has simply inherited the comfortable totalitarian model.

The ruling coalition has never had coordinated platforms, nor has it had the aspiration for that. They strove to be an anti-Milosevic’s corporation majority of voters would identify with. Their campaign rested on principled promises, not an ideology, because Serbia is constantly postponing the necessity of developing into a modern political society (its dictatorship, despite a few original details, was essentially old-fashioned and compilatory). In a normal state, true parties would sit down and determine a platform acceptable for most of them, some would remain in power, some would become the opposition. The problem with Serbia is that it is not a state, least of all that it has political parties in the true sense of the word. There is only something that is called parties, which are in fact groups of people who stick together because of interest.

It is no coincidence that the Democratic Party and the Democratic Party of Serbia play the dominant roles in this political game, because they have found the winning combination. The former is headed by Serbia’s Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic and the latter by Federal President Vojislav Kostunica, and the split in DOS is going along this line.

Two recent sessions of main boards of the mentioned parties have revealed the strategies: last week in Belgrade Kostunica unambiguously spoke about the plans of leaving the coalition and preparations for new elections. He justified this by probable departure of Montenegro from the federation and changed circumstances in Serbia itself. While initiating the campaign for the amendment of the Constitution, the Federal President could not avoid the differences inside DOS “concerning essential issues”. On the other hand, Djindjic was setting the members of his main board at ease in Banja Kovinjaca with the words that “everything is functioning well”. It could just be assumed that the two leaders were speaking about the same thing.

The two leaders intentionally chose to pass over in silence their mutual competition, since a person such as Kostunica who presents himself as a moralist and a legalist, could not afford to call for a split for personal motives, nor could a person such as Djindjic who presents himself as an efficient manager, afford to openly speak of failure.

It is no secret that Kostunica is discontented because Djindjic’s popularity is rising at this moment. The federal President was building his popularity on the international level, promoting new pro-democratic authorities, while Serbia’s Prime Minister got to grips with internal problems. Kostunica’s road was much easier, but after a short period of uncritical enchantment with the changes in Serbia, certain demands started to arrive from the West. From one day to the next it became increasingly clear that the federal President might not be the true partner and his rating which had at one moment reached fantastic 91 per cent started falling headlong. Six months after October 5, Kostunica calls for a split in the DOS and new elections trying to broaden his own, still biggest, popularity do his Democratic Party of Serbia.

It cannot be denied, however, that things are in the past few days taking the direction Djindjic did not wish them to take. It has become almost certain that Montenegro will formally depart from Yugoslavia, after which the so-called federation and all federal functions will lose significance. His government has managed to deal with the first tide of strikes and a short period of social lull lies ahead for it. In the West they have started to call Kostunica a politician of the past. Serbia’s Prime Minister is the one who is pulling the strings at the moment, while federal President is informed about main developments with delay, especially about the arrest of persons indicted for war crimes who are judging by public statements especially dislikable to Kostunica...

It is no secret that the warrant for the arrest of Slobodan Milosevic was issued during the federal President’s visit to Geneva where he had to attend the gathering which probably did not interest him much, the UN conference on human rights. The meeting of DOS leaders convened on Saturday at the Palace of the Federation at Kostunica’s initiative in order to resolve the crisis ended with Djindjic’s triumph. “Everything that has started must end”, said federal President and Serbia and the world started to applaud unaware that the federal President probably would never have started it. A day later Milosevic was arrested. He surrendered to Djindjic’s deputy Ceda Jovanovic and the media which were raising the question of the split in the DOS the most, are getting a new big topic.

Paradoxically, the arrest of the common opponent decisively affected the relations between the federal President and Serbian Prime Minister. If the prosecutor’s office manages to draw up a decent indictment, it will put Milosevic away behind bars forever, it will open the possibility of his extradition to The Hague Tribunal, and everything Kostunica was building his image on will flow away down the river of oblivion. First, the question will be raised of the role of the army in obstructing the arrest and responsibility of the problematic head of the Army General Staff general Nebojsa Pavkovic, until recently the right-hand man of the overthrown dictator, which is an introduction into re-examination of the notion of Kostunica as a great protector. Finally, with Milosevic’s arrest, the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) will probably disappear and its former supporters who joined and augmented DSS, he will not win the support of the “hard-liners”, nor is it possible to believe that deputies of the SPS would some day support DSS in a vote in the parliament. Had Milosevic surrendered to him everything would have seemed different. As it is, Serbia’s Prime Minister has approached the moment when he will be the most popular politician, the moment which will announce new re-examination of the reasons for the existence of DOS.

Why Kostunica does not need Djindjic is as clear as day: beside him does not look good, but inefficient. Why Djindjic still needs Kostunica is also clear: beside him he looks better, somehow more moderate. After all, the latest results of public opinion polls before Milosevic’s arrest say that the federal President enjoys the support of 27 per cent of the voters, and Serbia’s Prime Minister 18. Djindjic who has the reputation of a politician who takes care of these things, certainly will not choose to abandon Kostunica until he gains advantage, perhaps not even then. The task of DOS, what the citizens had given it the mandate to do, is to carry out profound political reforms, and it is difficult to do that without at least formal togetherness. The experience of Croatia where the winning coalition is about ten months older testifies that despite big differences, links in the government are very strong.

However, it all depends on the circumstances. There are various sparks flying inside DOS: because of the choice of the minister of health, the president of the management board of Telekom, the director of the Health Insurance Fund, the mayor of Belgrade, etc. And there are the more serious ones: about the status of Voivodina, relations between Serbia and Montenegro, relations with Republika Srpska, etc. Some factions look forward to the split of DOS. The open conflict when it comes does not necessarily have to be centred on some essential political issue. A conflict breaks out very often over some marginal issue about which one of the conflicting parties estimates it can start a battle.

Bojan al Pinto-Brkic