Skip to main content
June 17, 2000
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 443
Serbia in a Broken Mirror

Entering the Race

by Milan Milosevic

In May of year 2000, the Serbian regime dealt the hardest blow to the Serbian opposition since the disintegration of Coalition Zajedno by forcing a rift between Vuk Draskovic, the SPO and their opposition partners and competitors, and by forcing the municipal government of Belgrade into a corner with the closing down of Studio B.  Following this the government stopped all university classes in order to prevent the possibility of student protests.  There was no serious resistance to these measures, probably because the autonomy of the university was taken away by the regime in 1998, with the ultimate result of forcing about 180 university professors to leave their jobs (Zaga Golubovic, Press Club, two weeks ago).  The police has been arresting and hearing the members of the student movement Otpor so systematically that Serbian political life has become nothing less than oppressive.  It is a question what the effect of all this will be.

The student movement Otpor, whose popularity has increased beyond its organizational capacities, has forced the disoriented opposition to form networks for battling repression, so that every arrest in every city, town and village is made into a political incident.  Perhaps the sycophant and inaccurate promoters of the regime enjoy the statistical effects of such repression, or maybe this effect is being used as an alibi by the confused opposition, but be that as it may, the whole campaign of oppression can hardly yield positive results for the government.

Citizens do not take kindly to having their sons and daughters arrested.  The opposition has been holding their rallies under the slogan "Stop the terror!"  The opposition's constant emphasis is on the criminalization of the Yugoslav state, while the regime is conducting its "battle against terrorism" against an organization which is pacifist in its foundations (without any significant popular power, as the events at Belgrade's university demonstrated).  However, this "battle against terrorism" is not waning and its commanders are unable to extricate themselves even from the initial fiasco in Pozarevac which systematically undermined the credibility of our legal system (resignations of judges, prosecutors, and then the withdrawal of the defenders from the court case, indications of family ties between judges and certain political figureheads, etc.).  It took one month in order to hold a hearing for someone who is known by everyone in Pozarevac as Zoki Rollex.

Given that there are no indications thus far that any of the spectacular murders and assassinations which took place recently were actually carried out by the opposition (in the case of the murder of Bosko Perosevic, psychiatric motives are far more convincing than any of the "fabrications" put forth by the regime), the whole political campaign against terrorism which is being waged by the regime is proving to be a farce.

VICTORY OVER ONESELF:  Thus in the midst of "the battle against terrorism", the political scene in Belgrade greeted the developments of the elections in Podgorica and Herceg Novi.  The result of these elections reveals a significant fact for Serbia: that is to say that both political players (Djukanovic and Bulatovic) managed to carry a victory over their own selves, because they managed to end a heated political conflict with a peaceful election outcome, and demonstrated how false and unconvincing all rumors of an upcoming civil war in Montenegro are.  This could have long-range effects in Serbia, where the majority of citizens is interested in resolving the crisis in Serbia peacefully and by avoiding the war.  Judging by the recent developments in Belgrade, the Serbian public is also against creating customary conflicts with the police.

Even though Podgorica and Herceg Novi are specific cases which can hardly be applied to the rest of Montenegro (Ljiljana Bacevic, Press Club, Monday, June 12), observers can still see that the developments in Montenegro can be of relevance in Serbia.  First, the case of Podgorica indicates that the black-red coalition is demonstrating the effects of synergy.  Ljiljana Bacevic notes that all parties got the same number of votes that election polls indicated they would get, and in some cases they even faired better.  This was not enough for a political turnaround in Montenegro, but will it be sufficient for saving the Serbian regime whose popularity is not sufficient for an election victory?

DISSATISFACTION:  In Djukanovic's case, social dissatisfaction has been largely neutralized by anti-Milosevic's sentiments, while in Serbia this dissatisfaction could have the opposite effect - in favor of the democratic reform powers.

The Political Team 2000 notes that in all of their opinion polls there is not a single are in which voters satisfied in any appreciable numbers: dissatisfaction with the economic situation is expressed by 90 percent of citizens of Serbia; with the international status of Serbia - 86 percent; with the living standard - 84 percent; with the Serbian Government - 71 percent; with the privatization of state property - 65 percent; etc.  A little over than a half of those who are dissatisfied expect an improvement from the change of the present government and from the coming to power of the opposition.

In this atmosphere the opposition must show responsibility, which is its weak spot.  Djukanovic is in a better position than the Serbian opposition because he has "a first name and a last name", while the Serbian opposition lacks this kind of identification mark; Djukanovic has power and authority which he knows how to make use of, while the Serbian opposition lack this; even the little power that it managed to acquire in 1997, it does not know how to use in its own self-defense, judging by developments in May of this year.  The old war-horse, Desimir Tosic would say that all that's lacking for change are ideas, organization and the masses.

ARMY:  In the case of Herceg Novi which is probably more indicative of the situation in Serbia, the election issue of Yugoslavia proved important, and the issue of Yugoslavia will most probably be central to the upcoming election next fall.  The fate of the federal state within Serbia itself is an issue that has not been dramatized greatly, with the question of whether Montenegro will go or stay being met with surprising indifference in Serbia.  However, this issue should not be undermined because Serbian voters have proven to be susceptible to manipulation in the past with regard to fear of losing their state.

The case of Podgorica shows that the issues of war as an election issue is not of such great importance, even though this issue is central to the Serbian regime's rhetoric.  This week the regime used the anniversary of the NATO aggression against Yugoslavia in order to jog everyone's memories (lighting the eternal fire in Usce and celebrating with the Army).  The regime's heads are desperately holding onto the Army which enjoys a very high reputation in Serbia itself, a reputation which only increased after a difficult war with an enemy that is many times stronger.  For 60 percent of voters in Serbia today, the central issue is patriotism, while the Army enjoys the trust of over two thirds of the population.  The Army is the one state institution which enjoys the highest reputation by a margin of 19 percent.  The regime will continue to celebrate the army, the Army's echelons will continue to express their considerable loyalty to the regime, and this will be an important advantage that the regime will enjoy.  The opposition has to pacify the army in the elections, and to show better than before that the Army is made up of the opposition's younger voters.  This should not be such a difficult task, given that the participants in the war did not wait for the state of war to end before they began expressing dissatisfaction and given that the defenders of the state in general do not like to have their praises composed by the wife of their supreme commander.

FINAL DEAL:  Nothing is final, the race has not even began, and the opposition is not even in a position to dictate when and how it will begin.  After the test trial in Montenegro, what is of utmost importance is not only whether the Serbian opposition will manage to consolidate its relations, but whether it finally begin to campaign, and whether it will prove itself trustworthy; if it wants to, it can and knows how to, and it can try to make a deal with Djukanovic for participation in the federal elections.  Nebojsa Covic with the Democratic Alternative believes that such a possibility exists.  Political scientist Ilija Vujacic (Press Club, June 12), stated that Djukanovic's decision will depend on his assessment of the potentials of the Serbian opposition which at this moment is without a game plan, does not appear trustworthy, decisive and collected.

The regime has the right to call the election whenever it pleases.  Judging by the state of affairs thus far, it is clear that the opposition is unable to get any better election conditions from the one it has been offered thus far, even if the SPO were to spring from its agonizing lethargy.  The date for the holding of the general election according to regular mandates is drawing near with such speed that it is a big question if an eventual normalization of the situation can at all be achieved by the regime in time to call the regularly scheduled general election.  Therefore, the opposition must enter a battle that is more difficult than any if faced earlier.  The only advantage it enjoy is that the anti-regime sentiment which has been polled over ten times already is very high, but sentiments are beginning to turn against the opposition also.

After the rift of this unified opposition, the SPO is holding a session of its Head Council after which an announcement is issued to the effect that it is not possible to hold an election under conditions such as these.  But the SPO did not say that it will not take part in the election and all suspicions of collaboration between the SPO and the regime are merely ill spirited.  The rest of the opposition is now sincerely working on finding common language about a single election list.  It is drawing up criteria for electing members of parliament and councilmen and is adopting decisions on sending out activists to campaign for the opposition.  The start of the election campaign is being posponed by another fifteen days.  A change of hart in the SPO is being awaited.  Djindjic and the Alliance for Changes is organizing work at outdoor markets with the masses (dealing out pamphlets), while the police is preventing even such rallies in smaller settlements...

The sudden withdrawal by the opposition, its bickering and its lack of engagement have resulted in a drop in voter confidence in the opposition's abilities to change the government.  This indecisiveness is creating space for the regime to portray the opposition as incapable, corrupt, morally loose and lethargic.  A drop in enthusiasm for the opposition cause can even be seen in the independent media.

The only positive factor is that the entire regime is skipping in one spot, like a heavyweight boxer showing his forehead.  This means that the hysterical campaign organized by JUL and the Radicals does not promise a positive election result and that the man behind the campaign for rebuilding the countries destroyed bridges and other complexes, Mr. Mrkonjic, will again need to be called in by the SPS in order to boost support...  In spite of their success in rebuilding 4.5 percent of what NATO destroyed, the regime cannot achieve the political effects it did last year when the rebuilding of destroyed bridges brought satisfying optimism.  G. Labus with the G17 group of economists noted that this country needs twenty years to rebuild everything that it lost in two months of the NATO bombing.  The majority of citizens are realizing that they do not have that much time.  This sentiment is rounding off the mandate of this regime, and the exuberant euphoria of the regime and the lethargy of the opposition can have little effect on this.  Citizens are waiting for someone who will take the first step.

© Copyright VREME NDA (1991-2001), all rights reserved.