Hope on the Balkans Kosov@ Crisis 1999
Is Serbia threatened by civil war?
The summer of our discontent
While the regime which is in a critical situation on the one hand and the opposition which is in a turmoil on the other are feeling each other's pulse in order to see through each other's force and intentions, a spectre of spontaneous civil discontent uncontrolled by the current political protagonists is circling around Serbia
A tide of demonstrations is sweeping across Serbia. Reservists of the Army of Yugoslavia /VJ) are blocking the roads, after the call of television technician Ivan Novkovic more than ten thousand people gathered at the central square in Leskovac, opposition coalition League for Changes is organising one rally after another inside Serbia... Former soldiers demand to be paid their war daily allowances, citizens of Leskovac demand removal of the head of Jablanica district Zivojin Stefanovic, and opposition non-parliamentary parties demand resignation of the president of FR Yugoslavia Slobodan Milosevic, a transitional government of experts and early elections. So far the results are as follows: after a few days of protests the reservists got paid; Novkovic was sentenced to a month in prison but won nation-wide reputation for citizen's courage; leaders of the League for Changes deserved to be torn to pieces by state media - for treason, being fifth columnists, for immorality, foul dealings...
On the other hand, the campaign of "restoration and reconstruction" continues. The army is constructing the access to the pontoon bridge opened on 21 June by general of the army Dragoljub Ojdanic, time has finally come for chairman of the assembly of Serbia Dragan Tomic to lay a corner stone (in Valjevo, on 9 July), and at the festive but closed opening of "Bambi park" in Pozarevac on 4 July, Marko Milosevic caught special attention whose discotheque Madona played the main executive and supervisory role in the project... The regime is, therefore, not trembling either with nervousness or panic.
How will it all end?
The current crisis is not the first the regime has faced. Since 1991 there has been no lack of anti-regime demonstrations, elections, petitions, opposition unions, and what not. Milosevic has always - out of moments critical for his power - managed to come as a winner. The winning combination always consisted of measured repression, absolute control of "all his men" in politics and the economy, media manipulation, political clumsiness vanity and lack of vision of the opposition leaders, constantly opened national issue, and silent support of the international community he was given as "the only man" in Serbia deals could be made with. If the last mentioned item is eliminated, Milosevic still has all the tested trump cards in his hands: the police and the army are loyal to him, there are no signs of a serious split in the ruling establishment, the media picture - with the exception of the one during the past war - has never been worse, the opposition does not make the impression that it has drawn a lesson from the previous defeats, and there is the question of Montenegro which can be opened like once the question of the Serbs in Croatia, Bosnia or Kosovo used to be. Replacement of the post of the "factor of peace and stability" with that on the indictment of the Hague Tribunal, it is assessed at the moment in Serbia, does not affect much the personal power of the president of FR Yugoslavia - memories of NATO bombing are exceptionally fresh.
Nevertheless, postwar Serbia has been seized by great uncertainty. The Hague indictments against Milosevic, Milan Milutinovic (president of Serbia), general Ojdanic (head of the General Staff), Vlajko Stojiljkovic (Republican minister of internal affairs) and Nikola Sainovic (federal deputy prime minister in charge of Kosovo), and passport restrictions for almost the entire ruling establishment, produced what one could call operational incapability of the regime. Or to put it simply - the current authorities are not able to represent the country and its interests. In a short term, this problem can be bridged by introducing new persons from the second or the third echelon, and by finding a foreign tutor, like Russia or China. But, it can easily be concluded that such a solution could cause a deep crisis of legitimacy of power. This operational incapability, although at the moment evident only on the foreign political level, will soon have to be manifested on the internal, too. Men from the second echelon expected to discharge duties of those who due to the stated restrictions are not able to do it will be put in a completely unsustainable situation: if they do not act as the international community expects them to they will end up in the same position as their predecessors; if they act according to foreign requirements, they will not meet the demands of those who have brought them to the posts. And nobody can say that after deployment of KFOR in Kosovo the role of the international community is of minor importance in Serbia. On the contrary, in the context of everything that was happening in the past months and what is planned in the future, its significance can hardly be underestimated.
Indictments of the Tribunal and ban of travelling abroad are, of course, just the tip of an iceberg. Under the surface are frustration because of lost wars in the past decade, catastrophic situation in the economy, impossibility of reconstruction of the country without foreign aid, destruction of institutions on all levels with merely their empty shells left. In this context, except for self-preservation, the regime has no other function, which inevitably narrows the manoeuvring political space to the maximum and opens the most radical options.
Does this corroborate the declaration of president of the Democratic Party Zoran Djindjic that the League for Changes is not fighting a political struggle against the regime but just directs enormous discontent of the nation with the policy of Slobodan Milosevic? It is certain that hardly anybody in Serbia is content with the way they live, but it is also certain that except for the standard and verbal appeal on democratic values, opposition leaders do not offer a specific vision of a way out of the national Calvary. All these people - those in the opposition and those in power - are for more than ten years together on the political scene, so it is impossible to take them at their word and their actions without reservation. If for no other reason, because of the missed opportunities in the past.
Actions of the non-parliamentary opposition are assessed as counter-productive by some people. They say that should the regime estimate that it is driven into a corner by massive demonstrations, it will not shrink from anything. At the same time, radical rhetoric increases fear of voters who used to support the regime, it increases their wavering and prevents them from crossing to the other side. In such a situation, such people turn to those who they believe are capable of protecting them and introducing "order and peace". As an argument in favour of this thesis it is stated that the Serb Radical Party of Vojislav Seselj directly profiteered after the 1996/97 citizens' protests. At the time, Seselj kept repeating that "no mob waves foreign flags in Zemun (where he has the local power)" and that over there all the workers and children arrive in time where they had intended to because there were no legendary "walks" of the protesters in Zemun. The fact that his words did not coincide with reality did not affect his attractiveness for the public they were addressed to.
There are opinions that even the regime is aware of its operational incapability, or incapability to resolve it. Those who advocate this thesis claim that in the foreseeable future the regime might become ready to share a significant part of its power with political groups with which it is linked in one way or another, but gradually, with no radical cuts, and with certain guarantees that its most significant foundations will not be dismantled. In this context they see the announced negotiations of former allies and nowadays severe opponents, the Socialist Party of Serbia and the Democratic Party of Socialists of Montenegro, and this greatly explains the policy of the Serb Revival Movement. This party combines the hardcore verbal criticism of the regime with a compromising actions through what is called here the institutions and extremely negative attitude towards the League for Changes. It need not be stressed that Seselj's Radicals, always ready for breakneck turns if they estimate that they would work in their interest, are with extreme zeal watching and waiting for their part of the loot.
In any case, the summer season of discontent has begun in Serbia, in a specific anarchic atmosphere. The regime is in a crisis, the opposition is in a turmoil and still searching; they all know what and with whom they do not want to go, but hardly anybody knows what and with whom they do want to be; they are criticising and making promises and combinations and waiting; culprits are counted and the deserving are decorated... And the recipe from Leskovac - demonstrations outside structures of all current political protagonists, are like a spectre circling around Serbia.
AIM Podgorica, 14 July, 1999 (By AIM correspondent in Belgrade)
(Alternativna Informativna Mreza /Alternative Information Network in former Yugoslavia)
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