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October 3, 1994
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 158
Federal Elections in Sight

A Radical Behind Bars

by Milan Milosevic

The work of the Serbian and Federal assemblies has been blocked following events linked to Serbian Radical Party (SRS) leader Vojislav Seselj's arrest. The Socialists (Socialist Party of Serbia---SPS) find this convenient because it will allow them to wrap up their business with Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic in peace.

The Chamber of Citizens (Federal Assembly) session began last Tuesday with the Radicals using obstructive tactics in order to lead the Assembly to debate the Drina River blockade, foreign policy and the law on foreign currency. Speaker Radoman Bozovic persisted in citing the new standing orders, cutting off SRS speakers one after another, with the same malicious systematic approach with which he had once indulged Seselj when the latter had wrought havoc with parliamentary procedures and insulted government critics into silence---with the Socialists applauding in the background. When SRS deputy and outgoing vice-president of the Chamber of Citizens, Maja Gojkovic, proposed a debate on this past summer's expulsion of Seselj from Montenegro, Bozovic told her that her time was up after calling her to order a few times, but she refused to leave the platform. Bozovic then announced an intermission and called all the heads of parliamentary groups to a meeting during which a quarrel broke out between him and Seselj over whether or not he had the right to stop Maja Gojkovic from speaking. Seselj later admitted to having spat at Bozovic twice during the meeting. True to his image, Seselj bragged that he had cussed (saying that Bozovic's mother was to blame for having brought such a criminal into the world), because the latter had called the Radicals boors. Seselj claimed that he hadn't attacked Bozovic and that he hadn't laid a finger on him or the deputies who jumped up protect Bozovic. Witnesses agree that there was a lot of swearing during the quarrel, that the table was moved in the melee, but they are not unanimous in describing the rumpus as a physical attack. It seems that the whole event was farcical rather than tragic.

Bozovic immediately demanded that Seselj's immunity be lifted so that he could be tried in court. The Chamber of Citizens' committee for mandate/immunity questions sat behind closed doors and the meeting was attended by deputies of the ruling parties in Serbia and Montenegro and the Democratic Party (DS). In response to a formal request by the Speaker, they voted to lift Seselj's immunity. DS deputy Desimir Tosic said that Bozovic demanded that Seselj be tried in court because of his attempted attack on Bozovic. Seselj claimed that the lifting of his immunity was illegal, and cited Article 87, item 3 of the Federal Constitution which says that: ``Criminal or any other proceedings which entail a jail sentence cannot be launched against a Federal deputy who calls on deputy immunity without the approval of the Chamber of the Federal Assembly of which he is a member.'' Seselj insists that the Committee for immunity questions does not have the competency to annul mandates. It is not clear if criminal proceedings will follow. One thing is certain---autumn will bring us more scandals and the blockade of the Assembly will continue.

The Radicals called on immunity on May 18 in the Federal Assembly, several hours after Assembly security threw out SRS deputy Drasko Markovic who had emptied a glass of water in Speaker Radoman Bozovic's direction, after the latter had interrupted him. Markovic had been speaking of Bozovic's involvement in the so-called ``ministerial affair.'' Bozovic then received permission from the Chamber to throw Markovic out of the hall.

After this incident, Seselj and four SRS federal deputies received suspended sentences on September 19 for preventing an official from carrying out his duty: Vojislav Seselj and Drasko Markovic were given eight-month jail sentences, conditional for a period of three years. Filip Stojanovic and Milorad Jevric were given four months in jail, conditional for two years, while Slobodan Petricevic received six months, conditional for two years.

The Radicals didn't call on immunity at the time because they wanted to force the authorities into staging a ``political trial'' which they would then use to their advantage. During the trial Seselj kept repeating that ``Slobodan Milosevic is the greatest traitor in the history of the Serbian people.'' Seselj then proposed that Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and his wife Mirjana Markovic be brought in as witnesses. He also mentioned Borka Vucic as a witness, claiming that she was Milosevic's ``personal representative in Cyprus'' and that Milosevic had ``syphoned several billion dollars out of the country'' through her. After hearing the sentence, Seselj called Milosevic a ``coward,'' because he didn't have the courage ``to put the Radicals into jail.''

The regime burnt its fingers last year with the arrest and beating of Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) leader Vuk Draskovic, and showed a certain tactical reserve in its dealings with Seselj, who, compared to Draskovic, does not enjoy international support; on the contrary, some international reports demand that he be proclaimed a war criminal.

Since January Draskovic has been trying to prove that the SRS-SPS majority in the Assembly had shortchanged him because they had refused to allow the SPO, i.e. the new DEPOS (Democratic Movement of Serbia), to change 11 deputy places which belong to Rakitic's dissident group. Much has changed in the meantime and the Socialists have shown publicly that they wish to ``return'' the mandates to the SPO, probably because the SPO supports the SPS's turnabout to peace and Rakitic is now closer to Karadzic; or perhaps there is another reason.

Draskovic then announced that he would win the mandates back in court. The DEPOS deputy group (led by Rakitic) retaliated with threats that it would sue Draskovic for the ``unauthorized use of the name DEPOS, the forging of DEPOS's founding act, and for deceiving and confusing the citizens of Serbia.''

The whole affair boils down to: whether the Socialists will reach some kind of an understanding with the SPO or if elections will be scheduled soon. Assembly chronicles have been full of procedural slips for weeks and there has been guesswork over the regrouping of political forces which will change the political scene in Serbia.

There has been talk of new elections since May and there was more talk about this during September after Milosevic's break with Karadzic. Looked at from outside, it can be concluded that the Socialists have already started the campaign. President Milosevic held a typical pre-election speech when he visited the southern Serbian industrial center of Vranje and bombastically announced that preparations had started for the adoption of a Program of economic recovery for the 1995-1997 period, and the setting up of working bodies which would deal with wages, pensions, taxes and a reform of the finance system.

Parties which support Karadzic are more vociferous about elections than the so-called peace coalition, in the hope that voters will abandon the SPS because of its turnabout to peace. Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) leader Vojislav Kostunica has reached the conclusion that the SPS always call elections when they feel that they need them to stay in power, and said that last year the SPS hadn't made a ``good assessment'' (because they now have to rule with the help of a coalition), and that this year ``could prove worse.'' Kostunica claims to be ready for elections, but adds that he has tasks of greater national importance to complete.

Seselj was the first to announce in early September that President Milosevic had ``started the campaign'' in Vranje and that the ``Socialists would schedule elections for the Federal Assembly during the next few months.'' He claimed that ``it would be better for the opposition and the SRS in particular if elections came sooner,'' adding that the regime could fall if 100,000 well-organized men got together (during his honeymoon period with the Socialists, Seselj was greatly opposed to taking to the streets).

Democratic Party (DS) leader Zoran Djindjic said in mid-September that ``federal elections were a necessity'' and that the Federal Assembly ``could not continue work with the present balance of power---when the coalition of Serb and Montenegrin Socialists didn't have a majority, while those who had a majority on paper weren't organized enough to conduct the country's policies.''

The SPO has been shaken by crises and is occupied with measuring the distance between themselves and the SPS, and they speak of elections with more restraint. There were several denials that Draskovic had recently met with President Milosevic and it has been said at various levels that the SPS and the SPO are not negotiating. It would be hard to assume that the Socialists were prepared to give the SPO as much as they would demand in the event of entering a coalition. And if any negotiations are afoot, then they are probably very insincere. SPO top official Milan Komnenic said that the SPO did not support the dissolution of the Federal Assembly and believed that all political forces should be directed towards resolving the war in Bosnia. However, he also said that, ``if there is no other way, i.e. if the Assembly cannot function, then elections will be inevitable.'' Naturally, this does not depend on SPS-SPO negotiations, because according to Komnenic they ``are not being conducted.''

The SRS deputy group in the Chamber of Citizens has submitted a demand for a vote of confidence in the Federal government because of its decision of August 4 to break off relations with the Bosnian Serb Republic, which had, according to Vojislav Seselj, ``endangered the vital interests of the Serbian people and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia's existential interests.'' This means that Seselj really hadn't wanted elections, because a government against which a vote of confidence has been called cannot dissolve the Assembly.

On the other hand, Federal Prime Minister Radoje Kontic made an attempt at saving the government with a reshuffle---he announced the names of his new ``downsized'' Cabinet, in which the only change was a new Interior Minister. In the meantime, because of the scandal over Seselj, and in keeping with his habit of ruling in half-destroyed institutions, Kontic held his speech only before the Chamber of Republics. Even though they would find it hard to ensure a majority on important decisions in the Federal Assembly, the Socialists could continue ruling with ease if they continued with this technique---without scheduling elections, since the federal structure serves as a political facade. They have made inroads into all opposition parties (and those that are now closer to them have suffered most). A third war winter in Bosnia is approaching. Thanks to Washington's latest decisions, the SPS has gained a four-month respite in which to bring pressure on Karadzic and has been given a psychological lift with permission for international flights from Belgrade's Surcin Airport. They could now enter a campaign and deal with the ``pro-Karadzic opposition'' (SRS,DSS,DS) without much difficulty before National Bank of Yugoslavia Governor Dragoslav Avramovic's new dinar melted away. The Socialists know that Kostunica (DSS) is the weakest link in the pro-Karadzic team and that Djindjic's Democrats (DS) have never fought for anything, and that in a confrontation, Seselj is the most arrogant of the lot. They are a bit tired of clashing with Seselj because the results after a year of sparring with him are not very satisfactory, and this is having a detrimental effect on the authorities' image of uncompromising efficiency. The Socialists needed Seselj's arrest, and by arresting him under the most benign of charges with the possibility of a long sentence (the law on misdemeanors which foresees long sentences for obstructing an official in his line of duty, and had been directed at the SPO), they are flexing their muscles and showing themselves to be a force of order. However, it is a mystery why Seselj decided that he needed to be arrested, having previously challenged the Socialists with a series of scandals.

Can someone who gained by bullying now win points by playing the victim? It is difficult to believe that he will enjoy widespread support among the democratic public. It is very unlikely that those parties which wish to pick him apart will invest much effort in defending him (DS, DSS). Initial reactions (Draskovic for the SPO and Gavrilovic for the DS) recall that Seselj and Bozovic are equally responsible for the destruction of parliamentary structures in the FRY. New Democracy did not even wish to comment on the arrest without official information. All the parties (SPO, DS, DSS, ND) raised questions on the legality and regularity of procedure during the lifting of immunity. Kostunica pointed out that Seselj's arrest would avert public attention in Serbia from a much more important question---the official recognition of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Without Seselj, the Radicals will find it difficult to be efficient; but because Seselj has lost only his immunity and not his mandate, they can count on the fact that he could soon be back in the game if he is let out of pre-trial detention and that this could all happen in a very tense atmosphere.

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