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Serbian Politics Undergoes Major Realignment - 2003-03-05


As the parliament of the new nation of Serbia and Montenegro this week holds its first session, former Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica is out of a job and power is shifting to his rival, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic.

Twice in the final four months of 2002 Vojislav Kostunica was the biggest vote-getter in elections to be president of Serbia. But those elections were nullified because voter turnout failed to reach the 50 percent level prescribed by the Milosevic era constitution. Now as Yugoslavia is eclipsed by the new looser federation of Serbia and Montenegro, Mr. Kostunica is in the political wilderness, holding no public office.

"For the time being, Kostunica is out of the political game. But that doesn't mean he won't come back later on. Because he represents a bloc which, to put it bluntly, is against reform and this is a bloc that symbolizes Serbian nationalism. But unfortunately, only a few days after it was clear he was out a job, Djindjic has taken on the same rhetoric," explains Sonja Biserko, a Belgrade political analyst and human rights advocate.

Mr. Djindjic has recently been promoting nationalist positions on Kosovo and Republika Srpska in Bosnia, previously associated with Mr. Kostunica. Ms. Biserko disapproves of such policies and says Mr. Djindjic's apparent embrace of partition in Kosovo and closer links with Republika Srpska inflame political discourse throughout the region.

Belgrade journalist and military analyst Daniel Sunter says the collapse of Yugoslavia and the exit of Mr. Kostunica presents the unrestructured Yugoslav army with its most significant challenge. Even though the army shifted its loyalty from Mr. Milosevic to Mr. Kostunica during the October 2000 revolution, the military has successfully turned aside suggestions that it be reduced in size and brought firmly under civilian control. Nonetheless Mr. Sunter believes the army will be restructured.

"I think the Yugoslav army at this moment understands that their future is inside the security institutions of Europe, security institutions like NATO, and they understand that very well," he said.

The problem, Mr. Sunter went on to say, is that some commanders, still furious that Mr. Djindjic sent Slobodan Milosevic to the Hague tribunal, continue to resist reform.

For Sonja Biserko, by taking more nationalistic positions and embracing the orthodox church, Mr. Djindjic is actively currying support from the military, an institution widely admired by the public and regarded as a pillar of Serbian society.

With parliamentary elections possibly 12 months away, Mr. Sunter says Mr. Djindjic has the challenge of not just implementing delayed reforms of the judiciary and the military, he must also push harder against organized crime.

"A basic problem in Serbia is that we have organized crime that is connected to all kinds of institutions," said Mr. Sunter. "This tradition was lasting for more than ten years. And because of that these kinds of connections are probably still alive in some [government] institutions. We have to remember that on October 5, 2000, when Milosevic was removed, organized crime helped the Democratic Opposition of Serbia to remove Milosevic. And because of that we're not sure whether politicians are being honest when they say they want to clean up this problematic part of Serbian society."

Mr. Djindjic himself may be in the cross hairs of organized crime. On February 21 near Belgrade's airport a large truck, perhaps in an assassination attempt, swerved into his motorcade and an accident was only narrowly averted. Cloaked in controversy, an investigation is underway.