Pre-election Serbia

Campaign with sticks, abductions and insults

Aleksandar Ciric

MON, 18 SEP 2000

Belgrade, September 12, 2000 - The Army and the police have their hands full in the campaign for presidential and federal elections in FR Yugoslavia, and local elections in Serbia, scheduled for September 24. While generals routinely keep repeating that no politisation of the Army will be allowed, Chief of General Staff of the Yugoslav Army (YA) Nebojsa Pavkovic has been mentioning Slobodan Milosevic with increased frequency, referring to him as the supreme commander - the title which doesn't exist in the FRY Constitution and announcing the return of the Army of Yugoslavia to Kosovo. A week ago he presented a flag to the combined military-police special detachment, formed for that purpose. However, since prospects for the eventual return to Kosovo are more than dubious, the public is anxiously wondering how could the mentioned and other similar existing special detachments be used outside Kosovo. In view of the recently publicised existence of the new YA defence doctrine - again announced and unpublished - in which the struggle against "internal crises" figures prominently, that question and fear are quite appropriate.

For its part, the police is routinely carrying out its task of bringing in, illegally arresting, beating up, searching, seizing property and carrying out similar "actions", which are openly directed at intimidating the citizens. The range of applied police methods increasingly resembles the habits of one-time Latin American dictatorships. Last week policemen brought in four activists of the movement "Otpor" (Resistance), who were sticking posters in Vladicin Han, a small town in the south of Serbia, hanged them by their feet and then beat them on their soles, genitals and in the stomach. Frequently, while "introducing order" in towns in the country, where the opposition gathers, in facilities of unsuitable owners and even refugee centres whose inhabitants complain of living conditions, theft, sale and re-selling of humanitarian aid, the policemen who neither introduce themselves nor show their official documents - are wearing masks.

PATRIOTIC BLOC: On the other hand, for two weeks now that same police "neither knows" nor gives any information on the abduction of Ivan Stambolic, former President of Serbia and victim of the internal party political showdown by means of which Slobodan Milosevic took over the power in 1987. Because of the timing of the "disappearance" and the wall of silence surrounding it - which even a direct phone call from Kiro Gligorov to Slobodan Milosevic did not manage to break through political analysts and Serbian opposition are unanimous in their opinion that the abduction is a message of warning to all those who were ever political opponents of the regime and its leader.

As before, in its pre-electoral campaign the regime relies on the state media which, incidentally, "have not noticed" Ivan Stambolic's abduction for a whole week, after which Federal Telecommunication Minister (and high official of JUL) Ivan Markovic publicly asked how could "we" know Stambolic's whereabouts, if his wife didn't. In short, methods of political struggle, public manners of the regime's officials and the language with which they address the voters, have surpassed even the forecasts of the worst pessimists. This picture gets no brighter with quasi-scientific analyses of Dr Mirjana Markovic, Slobodan Milosevic's wife and a candidate for the Chamber of Citizens of the FRY Assembly - and, if rumours are true, with the ambition of taking the position of the President of the Chamber - who said in Petrovac on the Mlava that the world will become human once the left grows into a world movement. She called the local united opposition demented NATO servants. At the promotion of the Belgrade Left, her party colleague and Federal Minister of Information Goran Matic, claimed that "over 150 countries of the world" were supporting Yugoslavia and that it served as an example to all others in the struggle for freedom.

As expected, Vojislav Seselj's Serbian Radical Party (SRS) "distanced" itself from the regime - with which it is sharing the power - in order start its own campaign by complaining, on the one hand, of not having access to the state media and, on the other, by accusing the opposition of treason, mercenarism and of running in the elections as "NATO's infantry".

SLOBO "DA" (a pun with the word "Sloboda" which means freedom, while its first part - Slobo is also shortened form of Milosevic's first name, and the ending "da", means - yes): There are two basic reasons for the electoral separation of coalition partners, which call themselves the Government of national unity. One is that by running in the election separately they get several percentages of votes more, and the other, no less important, that - depending on what they expect from the coming elections - they count on extorting a greater share of power in this way.

It seems that Vuk Draskovic, leader of the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO), has joined this game. Long reluctance in joining, followed by a failure to force himself on the united opposition of Serbia as a leader of the "strongest" opposition party and finally the attempt on his life which forced him to place himself under the protection of Montenegrin police in Budva, have led up to a paradoxical outcome that after months of refusing to join the opposition, SPO will be running in the elections alone and, same as the Radicals, with an image of a greater adversary of the opposition than the regime itself. Also, both the Radicals and SPO have nominated as their candidates for the FRY President, men whose rating in the public opinion has not exceeded 7 percent (Vojislav Mihailovic, Draza Mihailovic's grandson and Mayor of Belgrade who holds that function thanks to the support of Socialists and the Left) and 10 percent (Tomislav Nikolic, Vice-President of SRS), respectively.

It is obvious that in both cases a transparent tactics has been used, the essence of which will be formally disclosed by their last move, by their call to voters in the expected second round of presidential elections, to give their vote to...The Radicals have no doubt that the "real" President is Slobodan Milosevic, although some analysts do not rule out a possibility of last minute's political change of heart. As far as Draskovic is concerned, calculating policy pursued by SPO in the last year, failed attempt at breaking up the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) by accusing it of running in the elections under the most unfavourable terms in the last ten years, followed by a failure to prevent the loss of power on the local level by insisting on the creation of joint lists under some third name, have brought SPO into probably the worst position since its founding. A disastrous fall of the party's rating according to public opinion polls (from around 18 to 8 percent), is a price it had to pay not so much for cooperating with the regime during last year's NATO attacks, as for illogical moves which the leadership of Draskovic's party had made at the time of trying, long-lasting and, as it turned out, successful formation of DOS, as perhaps the last alternative to the total ruin.

THE KOSTUNICA PHENOMENON: Vojislav Kostunica, leader of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), professor of law who was expelled from University for opposing Constitutional amendments back in 1974, was known in public as a rather reserved, excessively serious and inflexible politician. His national convictions earned him the name of "Seselj in a tuxedo" and, on the other side, "Milosevic with gloves". Leaders of "large" opposition parties, equally preoccupied with high politics and petty trade deals with the regime, did not consider him much of competition, failing to see how public support for Vojislav Kostunica kept growing in the past couple of years, from below one to over four percent. However, much greater omission was made by the disregard of the fact that circumstances were changing to the benefit of a politician who all the time kept to his stand - Sometimes at the expense of direct benefits - "Neither the White House, nor the White Palace".

Since end last year, increasingly frequent public opinion polls confirm - naturally, not to the last decimal point and identical percentages the increased support for DOS and, especially, Vojislav Kostunica, as a presidential candidate. A representative survey of the Strategic Marketing agency, published this week, was carried out on a sample of 2,052 interviewees (excluding Kosovo and Metohija) and showed that about 83.7 percent of the electorate will turn out for the elections (around 5 million voters, excluding Kosovo and Metohija) and that 45.1 percent (38.3 percent for Slobodan Milosevic; 10 percent for Tomislav Nikolic; and 6.6 percent for Vojislav Mihailovic) of pollees are for Vojislav Kostunica. According to that same survey, Kostunica will win in the second round of the elections with 56.6 percent of votes as opposed to 43.3 percent.

THE YEAR OF DENOUEMENT? However, many non-statistical arguments can be offered against DOS optimism. Apart from state and para-statal institutions, party infrastructure, army, police and the controlled media, Milosevic has "electoral geometry", Montenegrin ruling coalition headed by Milo Djukanovic and the international community working for him. By gerrymandering, on the basis of million votes of the Kosovo Albanians (who have now been "attached" to the electoral units of Vranje and Prokuplje), the regime will from the very start register 12 - 13 delegate places in the Federal Assembly. The refusal of the ruling Montenegrin coalition to participate in the federal elections will bring Milosevic at least another twenty delegates, so that on the day of the elections, his regime will be starting the electoral race with already one fourth or even one third of delegate places taken in the FRY Assembly. The rejection of the international community to send to the elections observers from countries which did not participate in last year's NATO aggression, leaves open the possibility for the non-recognition of electoral results, no matter how they turn out.

Apart from the problem of international interests - and how much a truly democratic government in Serbia would at this moment suit the leading world power - Milosevic has several possibilities at his disposal, including also the worst one, especially having in mind the fact that his name is on the list of the Hague Tribunals' indictments. Mathematical analyses show that high turnout of voters on September 24, significantly narrows the room for the regime's "manipulations" with votes. It should be, therefore, expected that the latest wave of police violence - primarily directed against "Otpor", non-governmental and non-party organisations, which encourage citizens to turn out for the elections - will not subside.

Quite the opposite. On the other hand, for the time being, the police truncheons are overpowered by the need for real changes. The regime is quite aware of this mood and, perhaps, of its own error in assessing the opposition's readiness to unite and, what was even less expected, its ability to preserve the minimum of that unity for the sake of achieving the electoral victory. It would be unrewarding to predict what could be the outcome in two weeks time.

Original article