Serbia-opposition in Wonderland

Aleksandar Ciric

MON, 03 APR 2000

Belgrade - Milosevic's regime - faster than NATO bombs last year destroyed it, according to the words of president of FR Yugoslavia - is reconstructing the country, building bridges, providing new homes for those whose houses were demolished, reviving the economy, advancing agriculture, establishing and heading the global movement against the new world order, threatening with return to Kosovo and accelerated raising of the standard of living of the population. On the eve of the first anniversary of the beginning of NATO bombing, Slobodan Milosevic, in the capacity of the president of Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), at its fourth convention, noted that there was no opposition in Serbia, and threatened the renegades and traitors who presented themselves as the opposition that soon they would be no more. In one way or another, Serbia will always be controlled by left and patriotic forces supported by progressive part of civilisation. Judging by guests who visited high officials of Milosevic's regime in the past year, this part of the world consists of North Korea, Maimar, Iraq, Libya and China, of course.

On the other extreme, the opposition in Serbia is entering the tenth year of multipartism in Serbia with inglorious reputation of the least successful one in former Eastern Europe. This is the characteristic which is even more stressed by its latest among numerous attempts to appear in front of its sympathisers and voters as united at least concerning the main aim: change of the regime.

The opposition does not even deserve the merit for the first serious protests against catastrophic consequences of Milosevic's policy expressed during last year's NATO bombing when inside Serbia the citizens rose against the war, against killing, because of selective call-up, and when, after some time, members of the reserve forces of the Army of Yugoslavia demanded that their daily allowances be paid to them for yet another in the series of wars in which Milosevic had "not participated".

Catastrophic consequences of the bombing and the sanctions were also the direct cause for the attempt of Group 17 (of economists) to offer to the citizens of Serbia a way out by offering a program which proposed formation of a transitional government of experts, elections for constitutional assembly and preparations of new free multiparty and fair elections. Similar were the ideas of the League for Changes (SZP), a coalition of several parties the largest of which was the Democratic Party (DS) of Zoran Djindjic. In September last year, by promoting Dragoslav Avramovic, former governor of the National Bank of Yugoslavia, as the head of their program - relying on his popularity as the man who had curbed the hyper-inflation in 1993 - SZP initiated a new series of protests in Belgrade. The idea of successful repetition of three-month demonstrations that took place in 1996/97 when the regime was forced to recognise results of local elections in favour of the opposition, went up in smoke in less than a week.

Majority of the rest of the opposition reproached the organisers of the protest for the irrational idea that the regime would voluntarily withdraw and give up the power to experts, all for the sake of the people. Others believed that the platform of SZP left too many questions open "for later" to the "experts" and perfectly vague "transitional" solutions. From the first day, the response of Belgraders was obviously poor. The regime was concerned only about preventing the protesters - varying from several thousand during the first few days to a few hundred in the days that followed - from walking in the streets. They were allowed to stay on the square of the Republic for as long as they liked, but when they attempted to go for a walk down streets of Belgrade - they were beaten up.

That is how the attempt failed of the SZP to stir up the citizens against the regime, despite few persistent "walkers", about three hundred of them at this moment, and the protest of a few days ago under the slogan "Changes!". However, it would be wrong to conclude on this basis that the public is inclined towards the regime. Like in the past ten years - even if the influence of state propaganda is disregarded - the citizens are suspicious about actual readiness of the opposition parties to agree even about their raison d'etre - a simple program of action in order to change the regime. As the leader of the Serb Revival Movement (SPO), one of the most powerful opposition parties and member of the federal government during NATO bombing, Vuk Draskovic was too "loudly silent" at the time of activities of SZP. Contrary to him, leader of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) Vojislav Kostunica, sharply criticised the idea of the "transitional government" and as an expert on constitutional law, the manner in which the regime could be changed without elections. Finally, it seems that even among experts not only professional but even personal differences have arisen concerning the merit for preparation of cooking the hare which had not been caught yet. In this sense, there is plenty of truth in the assessment of some analysts that by his popularity, foreign connections and clear stands, all taken as a fault, Dragoslav Avramovic united leaders of the opposition - against himself. And by doing this he indirectly forced the opposition parties to finally tackle what is their own job in the first place.

Much before world media - which have just recently started opening the questions of its sense, purpose and effects - leaders of the West seem to have become aware of the magnitude of the failure of last year's NATO intervention in Yugoslavia. The failure, of course, does not refer to the number of victims, the success of the "humanitarian war", nor the scope of destruction, but to duration of the regime of Slobodan Milosevic who survives in power regardless of whether the West sees him as the "Balkan butcher" or the "factor of peace and stability" in the Balkans.

Not less clumsily, the same western countries which last year carried out the "humanitarian" bombing of Yugoslavia, are now trying to unite the opposition in Serbia with the regime of Milo Djukanovic in Montenegro. At trilateral (USA-OSCE-YU opposition) meetings, as representatives of the West appear the most unpopular figures in Serbian milieu - Madeleine Albright or Javier Solana - as the most concerned for the future of the citizens of Serbia and Yugoslavia. Their undoubtedly personal attitude to Slobodan Milosevic and his regime, additionally increases the challenge the opposition in Serbia is faced with. But not Milosevic. His propaganda, primitively - and efficiently - presents contacts of the opposition with the world as treason and mercenariness, without even bothering to attribute obvious achievements of the opposition, such as the last week's suspension of the ban of international flights, to itself. That is why there is reason to believe that western support to the opposition in Serbia is insincere (not just symbolic and having carried too late), because Milosevic in power is a universal pretext for implementation of all thinkable methods of external pressure, from sanctions to threat with occupation. In a hypothetical image of existence of democratic Serbia, even American analysts agree, application of force or threat with force could hardly be linked to the adjective "humanitarian".

Vojislav Kostunica, leader of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), consistently advocates the stand "neither the White Court (residence of Yugoslav president), nor the White House", which is the slogan which illustrates the wish and/or political platform which is neither the result of Milosevic's dictate nor that of Washington. For years already DSS is registering a slow but constant rise of popularity which only statistically does not appear to be significant (from about three to almost seven per cent of support in the latest public opinion polls). Despite a reputation of a party which most reluctantly joins any coalition, DSS supported not only the initiative for convening a round table of the regime and the opposition in October 1999, but also - after the initiative had been rejected by the regime - the formal gathering of opposition parties in the beginning of January this year. According to Kostunica's interpretation, this outcome is the result of internal -discontent of the citizens and consequences of the policy of the ruling parties - and not of external pressure.

Draskovic's SPO took the longest time to make up its mind about uniting of the opposition. Interpretations of such an attitude were at first based on the assumption that SPO was reflecting on the idea of cooperation with Milosevic's regime in order to take over the position and the role of Seselj's Radicals as "patriots" in the left coalition, then there were explanations about blackmailing of the rest of the opposition by conviction that "only Vuk can bring the people out into the streets", to the tragically clear message the regime sent in October 1999 through the unsuccessful attempt on Draskovic's life which four men paid for by losing their lives in a "traffic accident".

Whatever the messages of the bombing may have meant, with the Hague indictment and the recent warrant for the arrest issued by State Department, Milosevic interpreted them as a permit for a showdown with his opponents. In the year of local, republican and federal elections - not counting the ones planned by the international community in Kosovo - Milosevic has decided, once more, to strike by force. In the first week of March, inspectors of the federal ministry of telecommunications prevented broadcasting and "unknown perpetrators" took away and destroyed - and in case of Belgrade Studio B, beat up the guards - the broadcasting equipment of several local radio and television stations. By rigid implementation of the Law on public information, in the past year, survival has been brought into question of all media which do not depend on support of the regime, and when almost three million marks charged by express implementation of the law did not prove to be efficient enough, the state nationalised overnight Vecernje novosti, the Yugoslav daily with the highest circulation. All the others, through coordinated action of ministers in charges, state television and "patriotic" forces, were accused of being traitors and mercenaries.

Citizens of Pirot, Pozega and Kraljevo reacted to confiscation of the media by the state with mass protests, and opposition parties - with statements for the public. Belgrade TV station Studio B suddenly remembered that the opposition consists of other parties and not just SPO which is in power in Belgrade. Owners, editors and journalists of independent media, having suddenly been given the opportunity to publicly state their views of the latest attack against their profession, mostly pleaded that the opposition refrain from defending them. Not so discreetly they warned that the job of the opposition is overthrowing of the regime and not issuing statements due to publication of which media which carry them suffer.

The opposition, united once again, however, still has not conveyed a clear message to the voters despite the forthcoming elections. Judging by the fact that it is appointing its most forceful activists to the posts of municipal leaders, the regime will first test the power of the opposition on the local level. In forty odd biggest cities of Serbia the teams in power are still members of the long dissolved Together coalition (SPO, DS, Civil Alliance of Serbia). This fact testifies that intolerance among the leaders need not necessarily affect the persons who can remain in power only if they cooperate. It is possible to observe this optimistically - as hope that the voters are wiser than their political "leaders", and pessimistically - as another chance for the forthcoming proving of the corruptive power of the regime "in the interest of the people and the state".

The latest investigations of the public opinion in Serbia published last week show that the opposition as a whole enjoys greater support than the ruling parties. Statistical combinations concerning possible coalitions are variegated, but they all depend on the predominant majority (40-60 per cent) of those who either will not or still do not know who they will vote for. At first agreed at numerous meetings of opposition leaders, the demand for free, honest and fair elections on all levels is brought into question by impossibility to carry out republican elections (Kosovo), Montenegrin refusal of federal elections, but also by inconsistent statements of certain members of the newly united opposition. In such a situation produced if not by joint, certainly by simultaneously actions of the regime and the international community, well-meaning recommendations to the opposition to appear in the elections with a single list of candidates and to avoid haggling about the order of names on it have the same weight as the sigh of a large number of those who are professionally forced to deal with Serbian opposition: "We wish you will finally win so we do not have to support you any more!"

Original article