Date: Mon, 19 Jul 1999 22:27:20 -0500 (CDT)
From: Greek Helsinki Monitor <>
Subject: [balkanhr] BETAWEEK: Political Crisis in Serbia
Article: 70303
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Political Crisis in Serbia: Movements from the South

BETAweek, E1, 8 July 1999

Serbia's political crisis strongly accelerated at the beginning of this week, and, to all appearances, the momentum it gained could weaken further the positions of the ruling left and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. A well informed official of the Socialist Party of Serbia told BETA that the party leadership had failed to produce an elaborated, transparent and effective concept to overcome the crisis, and that all decisions were made on a daily basis. It is very difficult to plan moves to be taken in the next ten days, let alone in the long run, he said.

The Socialist and the Yugoslav Left seek to keep major parliamentary parties in their orbits, so that they could successfully counter the growing influence by non-parliamentary parties, grouped in the Alliance for Changes, which enjoy the West's open support and demand the dismissal of the authorities and fresh elections. Having in mind a cabinet reshuffle, Yugoslav Prime Minister Momir Bulatovic held consultations with parties that have more than five seats in the Yugoslav parliament. However, the July 1 meeting has failed to produce the desired results. The Left's only reliable ally, the Serb Radical Party, accepted to take part in the Yugoslav government, but the strongest parliamentary opposition party, the Serbian Renewal Movement, refused the proposal after initial hesitation.

Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's idea was to create a new diverse parliamentary bloc, which would be presented to the local public as an expression of national unity. The bloc was supposed to be a barrier to mounting pressure from the West and democratic opposition, which became increasingly loud in their demands for early elections and the establishment of an interim government, or a government of national salvation for that purpose.

The Socialists are rather hesitant when it comes to fresh elections, since they know only full well that the collapse of their policy in Kosovo has seriously lowered their rating among voters. They fear that certain parliamentary parties may accept and support the elections as a democratic way out of the crisis, thereby adding weight to the idea. Also, this is yet another reason why the Socialists have tried to draw into a coalition all large parties, the Renewal Movement and the Radicals first of all. That kind of link would make the Socialists sure that at least they would not demand a new vote.

A new coalition government was supposed to be strong leverage in the struggle against Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic, who has been denying the federal authorities' legitimacy ever since May 1998, when Milosevic prevented the Montenegrin Democratic Party of Socialists from exercising its constitutional right to appoint the Yugoslav prime minister.

The Renewal Movement's refusal to enter the government made such an idea impossible. It is likely that Bulatovic's cabinet will be reconstructed, and that the Radicals will be a part of it. Through the state-run media, Milosevic will present it as the reflection of unity among patriotic forces in the country, but it is crystal clear that such a concept cannot possibly work without the Renewal Movement, and that other ways are being sought for a showdown with the opposition and Djukanovic.

Serbian Renewal Movement

The leader of the Serbian Renewal Movement, Vuk Draskovic, announced his final decision to refuse Milosevic's offer on July 6, after full five days of hesitation. Draskovic said that his party would not enter Bulatovic's government under any condition. The Renewal Movement does not want a reshuffle of Bulatovic's cabinet, which the left bloc's offer implies, but rather the establishment of an interim government to be headed by a representative of the Democratic Party of Socialists. Draskovic demanded that the interim government should agree on a new constitutional framework for the federal state. Thereby, the movement practically supports the Montenegrin leadership, which demands that relations between Serbia and Montenegro be redefined, and that Montenegro should enjoy a higher level of independence in relation with the federation. At the same time, Draskovic protected Milosevic's position by terming the Renewal Movement as a legalistic party. Commenting on possible early parliamentary elections, Draskovic said that they should be based on OSCE principles, while the opposition parties of the Alliance for Changes demand an internationally controlled vote. Therefore, the motives of Draskovic's refusal to enter Bulatovic's cabinet are not very clear, and may be multi-layered.

Diplomatic sources in Belgrade told BETA that Draskovic's statement was preceded by strong pressure from western circles and certain Serbian intellectuals he trusted. The same sources say that he was advised to join the opposition bloc rallying around the Alliance for Changes, but that he could forget his aspirations to lead positions. It was made perfectly clear to him that his personal political future was at stake, and that the major goal was that conditions be created for toppling the regime.

However, the Socialist officials say that the party also counts on Draskovic, who, unofficial sources claim, should be given the task of disuniting the opposition bloc. In other words, the Socialists rely on the movement's and Draskovic's ambition to assume leadership, and rightfully believe that Draskovic views the Alliance for Changes as a political rival that can thwart his attempts to take power. Besides, the Socialists have a strong means of pressure on Draskovic at their disposal—the Renewal Movement's power in Belgrade, which depends on the balance of power in the city assembly, where the Socialists and the Radicals can easily change their ally, and make an arrangement with the Democrats instead of the Renewal Movement. BETA has learned that the Renewal Movement was discreetly informed about such a possibility.

In a bid to impose itself on the political scene, the Renewal Movement is trying to find allies among both the Socialists and the Alliance for Changes, and form its own, powerful bloc. The party keeps insisting on the position that both the Socialists and the Yugoslav Left have a pro-reform and pro-democratic majority that supports changes. The Renewal Movement spares no effort to maintain its connections with a member of the Socialist top leadership, former Yugoslav president Zoran Lilic, whom the party considers a key figure in the Socialists' liberally-oriented faction. At the same time, the Renewal Movement seeks to persuade part of the leadership of one of the major parties in the Alliance of Change, the Democratic Party, to dismiss its leader, Zoran Djindjic. We have sent them a clear message to dismiss Djindjic, so that we can make a deal, a high-ranking official in the Renewal Movement told BETA. Draskovic's party is trying to establish cooperation with the Democrats' former vice president, Miodrag Perisic, who has strongly opposed Djindjic. However, Perisic's attempts to dismiss Djindjic have failed.


Diplomatic sources said that the West asked both the Serbian Renewal Movement and the Alliance for change to rally around three major goals—Milosevic's resignation, the establishment of a transitional government and scheduling of new, OSCE-monitored elections.

More pragmatic opposition leaders believe that it is impossible to achieve unity based on the three goals. Vice president of the Democratic party Slobodan Vuksanovic said on June 6 that democratic forces should harmonize their positions, and suggested that the problem of joint lists of candidates in a possible vote should be resolved by compiling two lists of opposition candidates. Vuksanovic did not say it explicitly, but it was clear that he was thinking of the lists to be formed by the Alliance for Change and the Renewal Movement. However, sources in the Democratic party said that it was only an idea, and that no concrete steps were made towards closer links between the movement and the alliance.

The goals proclaimed by the Alliance for Changes and the Renewal Movement are in fact rather close. Both parties are demanding the establishment of a transitional government and new elections. However, they have taken different approaches to possible solutions. The Renewal Movement sees itself as a political pillar that may attract democratic forces from all social layers and political positions, and it has already started a search for possibilities of tearing apart both the Left and the Alliance for Changes from within. The latter is a relatively loose alliance of small non-parliamentary parties that have clearly expressed their opposition to the regime, and unambiguously sought changes, but which is not strong enough to effect them by itself.

Milosevic and his associates, of course, maintain a firm grip on the developments in the ruling party, and, if need be, have means at their disposal to deal with disloyal officials plotting with other parties. Draskovic's refusal to share the federal government with the left bloc and the Radicals has linked him with the Alliance for Changes, although any contacts or genuine cooperation have been established between the two. y In fact, there are two blocs emerging on the Serbian opposition scene at the moment. One includes the Renewal Movement and the New Democracy, a small parliamentary party politically close to the Renewal Movement, while the Alliance for Changes forms the other one. It is hard to expect that the two blocs will make any tangible links in the foreseeable future, but it is certain that their disagreements have been considerably reduced over the past ten days.


The Alliance for Changes draws its strength from the growing popular discontent with the political and economic situation, and increasingly obvious sympathy and support from the international community, which wishes to see the regime in Belgrade replaced as soon as possible.

Pleased with the success of the first in a series of rallies, held in Cacak, on June 29, which attracted 10,000 people, the coalition continued its protests with a rally in Uzice, on July 6. Some 6,000 people gathered in Uzice, far less than in Cacak, but the demonstrations can be considered a success nevertheless. After several months of absence, Democrat leader Zoran Djindjic appeared at the Uzice rally. His lawyers say that the military authorities pressed charges against Djindjic, because he had not responded to a call-up. During the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, Djindjic was in Montenegro and abroad, where he maintained contacts with western governments. The Serbian state-run media declared him a traitor, but he was not arrested.

The next alliance rally is scheduled to be held in the southern Serbian town of Prokuplje, on July 8. In a bid to curb the spreading of an opposition rebellion, the authorities opted for an extremely risky move, and decided to gather their supporters at the same place and at the same time.

Such a recipe has already been used during the massive opposition protests in Serbia, in 1996/97. On Dec. 24, 1996, opposition and regime backers clashed in downtown Belgrade, since Milosevic, risking such a conflict or wishing to provoke it, scheduled a rally at the same time and at the same place, where the opposition was gathering its supporters every day. For that purpose, those backing the authorities in Serbia's interior, mainly misinformed people who were told that they should protest against a handful of traitors in Belgrade, were bussed to the capital. A man was killed, another one received a serious bullet wound, and some twenty people were injured.

The authorities are likely to count on the possibility that strong police squads can keep the situation under control in a small town like Prokuplje, and that they can easily disband opposition supporters if necessary. At the same time, that could serve as a warning to other towns in the south of the country, where the pro-opposition atmosphere is being created at a steady pace. However, the fact that there is a large number of angry reservists (some of them are armed, perhaps), as well as a large number of refugees from Kosovo, can make the situation unpredictable. Those areas are close to Kosovo, and people there know exactly what is and was going on in the province. They are not likely to believe every word said at the state television, which claims that the authorities' policy of resistance to NATO won.


The Alliance for Changes announced that it would hold almost daily rallies throughout Serbia in the coming weeks. The alliance was probably encouraged by the fact that as many as 20,000 people gathered at a rally in the southern Serbian city of Leskovac, although it was scheduled under extremely unusual circumstances. The July 5 rally was scheduled by one single man, a program organizer in a local television station, Ivan Novkovic, who had never before dealt with politics. At the end of last week, during the half-time intermission of the Yugoslavia-Germany basketball game, Novkovic transmitted his recorded speech, in which he demanded the dismissal of the head of Jablanica district, Zivojin Stefanovic, and called on his fellow citizens to gather in the center of the city on July 5, at 6 p.m.

Even though he knew how much he risked when he called for an anti-regime protest, Novkovic turned up in the center at the scheduled time and held a short speech. He was arrested the next day, when more than 2,000 people gathered in Leskovac, demanding his release. On the evening of June 6, a series of brief clashes took place between the protesters and the police. Angry demonstrators broke the windows on Zivkovic's house, and disbanded late that night. Novkovic was sentenced to 30 days in jail for convening the rally.

The fact that a single call attracted such a huge number of people without any organization or media campaign, proves that a strong anti-regime mood prevails in the population, and that it only has to be properly articulated. At the same time, the massive response to the call of a practically anonymous program organizer showed that the electorate longed for a new, reliable and uncompromised figures in the opposition bloc. The Alliance for Changes proceeded from the point that it was the force that could articulate the popular discontent and transform it into organized resistance to the authorities.

Obviously, the Renewal Movement does not share that opinion. After two days of monitoring the events in Leskovac and its verbal support to the first civic gathering, the movement decided to place itself at the helm of the protests in Leskovac on July 7. As this bulletin is about to come out, it is still unknown what kinds of effects the decision may have, that is if the protests will continue or, perhaps, spread in Leskovac and its vicinity.

The Renewal Movement's decision has also unveiled the party leadership's concern over the alliance's growing ambitions, expressed in its call to the citizens to be ready to protest throughout Serbia every day, like they did three years ago. If it succeeds in taking over the protest in Leskovac, the Renewal Movement could inflict damage on the announced Alliance for Changes rally in Prokuplje, because its proximity to Leskovac made the alliance hope that the rally would also attract people from the entire region.

Novi Sad

Developments in Novi Sad are certainly encouraging for the democratic opposition. The city assembly, controlled by the opposition, managed to adopt a resolution on July 6, demanding Milosevic's resignation. The Novi Sad assembly is the first local parliament that managed such a feat. The assembly session was preceded by demonstrations in Novi Sad on July 2, when close to 10,000 people gathered, and demanded that the authorities be replaced. The protest was organized by the League of Vojvodina Socialist Democrats and the Reform Democratic Party, advocating a higher level of autonomy for Vojvodina.

The Alliance for Changes leaders are of the opinion that demonstrations are worth every effort. On July 7, Djindjic told the Voice of America that the only way to force the authorities to step down peacefully is for millions of people to start protesting throughout Serbia, like they did two and a half years ago. It is likely that the alliance will manage to hold relatively successful protests across Serbia, but it is not strong enough to be a serious threat to Milosevic. Such a force could only stem from a possible joint action by all pro-democratic opposition forces in Serbia. In that sense, contacts have already been established between the Alliance for Changes and the Union of Democratic Parties, comprising the Reform Democratic Party of Vojvodina, the League of Vojvodina Socialist Democrats, the Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians, the Socialist Democratic Union, the Sumadija Coalition and the Sandzak Coalition.