Heavy Burden

After winning a landslide victory in the December parliamentary elections, Serbia’s reformist coalition—still called the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) despite the fact that the party and its leader, Vojislav Kostunica, won the Yugoslav elections in September—faces some formidable challenges. The overthrow of the Milosevic regime was just the first step in an extremely tough job of bringing the country back to life after a decade of lost wars, isolation, and international sanctions.

“Although they took place in the midst of deep social ferment, it can be said that elections went peacefully for the first time in 10 years,” political analyst Milan Milosevic wrote in the prominent independent weekly Vreme (Dec. 28). He alluded to the era of Slobodan Milosevic, when elections were routinely followed by opposition-run street protests and accusations of electoral fraud.

DOS took 176 seats in the 250-seat Serbian parliament, decisively sweeping the regime of authoritarian ruler Milosevic from power. Milosevic’s Socialist Party held on to a mere 37 seats. “The momentum of the big [October] event [the popular uprising that forced Milosevic to concede the election to Kostunica] has led [in the December poll] to verification of the important decisions about the future that the Serbian people face after 10 years of bloody history,” Vreme said.

Milosevic has left his successors a highly corrupt, economically devastated, and lawless country. “All political actors will have their hands tied with enormous problems to solve,” an editorial in the independent weekly NIN predicted (Dec. 28). Using a sports metaphor, NIN’s editorialist said, “Launching reforms will require sweating, running, and scoring in a game against a formidable team [of problems]: crime, corruption, incompetence, and poverty.” Apparently, that would be just a start.

“The Serbian people expect the new Serbian leadership at the outset to revive the economy, solve unemployment, and improve their standard of living,” the privately owned daily Blic reported (Dec. 30), following a survey it conducted among more than a hundred people.

The list of Serbians’ expectations goes on. Milosevic—along with his four allies, incumbent Serbian President Milan Milutinovic, former Serbian Interior Minister Vlajko Stojiljkovic, former Yugoslav Defense Minister Dragoljub Ojdanic, and former Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Nikola Sainovic—has been indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia for his actions in Kosovo.

The fate of Milosevic has already become a headache for DOS leaders. While there is growing pressure from the international community to hand over the former president to The Hague court, there is strong sentiment in Serbia to prosecute him before a domestic court.

It appears that almost everybody in the reformist leadership is in favor of trying Milosevic in Belgrade.

“As far as Milosevic is concerned, regardless of what happens with The Hague [indictment], he will have to be held responsible here, because nobody in Serbia could be completely free as long as he is at large,” Vladan Batic, Serbia’s justice minister, told Blic (Jan. 6).

Cooperation between Serbia and Montenegro—Serbia’s smaller partner in the Yugoslav federation—continues to be a sticking point for the new government. “Any optimism of DOS leaders and Montenegrin officials [about their relationship]...evaporates with each passing day, and is replaced with confrontation,” wrote Ivan Torov in the independent Danas (Jan. 6-8).

“Dialogue between Serbia and Montenegro feels more like head-butting than like a discussion among former allies and fellow-sufferers in the struggle against Milosevic’s regime,” Torov said. Relations between the two republics have worsened since pro-Western Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic publicly broke with Milosevic in 1997, and the tiny republic has expressed its preference for independence ever since. However, the new administration in Belgrade has been trying to heal the breach and maintain Yugoslavia’s current borders. “Kostunica risks the possibility of becoming a president without a country, our version of Mikhail Gorbachev, if Montenegro breaks away from Serbia,” a Dec. 28 analysis in NIN said.

Torov, in his Jan. 6-8 Danas column, focused on another aspect of DOS’s effort to keep the federation in one piece: “The strong reaction of the federal leadership and the DOS stems from an understandable fear that splitting up may be fatal for the future of the [U.N.-administered] province of Kosovo. Ethnic Albanians would organize their own referendum and proclaim independence, considering the fact that U.N. Resolution 1244 treats it as a part of Yugoslavia, not of Serbia,” Torov said.

The issues with which the new government must contend now include an Albanian rebel insurgency in southern Serbia on Kosovo’s eastern border, seeking to annex the area to Kosovo.

Rebel activity has rekindled ultranationalist sentiment among some Serbs: The new parliament will have 23 MPs from ultranationalist Vojislav Seselj’s Radical Party, and 14 from the Party of Serbian Unity, founded by the slain warlord Zeljko Raz natovic, known as Arkan.

The fact that the ultranationalist parties won as much as 15 percent in the parliamentary elections “is a sign that our society is still far from a stable democracy,” the privately owned weekly Blic News said (Dec. 27).

The ultranationalists’ surprising showing prompted the weekly Reporter (Dec. 27) to quote Adrian Severin, chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly, as saying that “the forces of extreme nationalism are still alive. The danger they represent should neither be forgiven nor be underestimated.”

DOS leaders have been warned that they must face these issues promptly. “DOS has to know that the people will not tolerate another 13 years, the length of time Slobodan Milosevic enjoyed credit,” an editorial in the Dec. 26 Politika said. “They will be patient...but that patience will not be endless,” the editorial said.

However, as the Dec. 27 Blic News analysis pointed out, “Serbia has finally freed itself of the distinction of being the last communist bastion in Europe. It seized the last week of the 20th century to get rid of a dictatorial regime and jump in the last car for the third millennium and the democratic world.”