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Serbia Faces Fresh Political Turmoil - 2003-10-27

Ten months after the assassination of reformist Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, Serbia is facing fresh political turmoil. The coalition government is under increasing pressure from an unruly parliament, and voter apathy could again undermine a presidential election next month if turnout does not surpass 50 percent, as required by law.

Daniel Serwer, a Balkans specialist at the U.S. Institute for Peace, says work on a new constitution is behind schedule, and the current charter, adopted under former President Slobodan Milosevic, will still be in place for a November 16 election, the third attempt in 14 months to choose a Serbian president.

Previous candidates Vojislav Kostunica and Miroljub Labus refused to contest this latest election, because parliament refused to amend the law that requires a 50 percent voter turnout for the result to be valid.

Mr. Serwer said significant democratic reforms have occurred in the three years since a popular uprising overthrew Slobodan Milosevic, who is now on trial for war crimes in The Hague. But Mr. Serwer says much more needs to be done. "There are large parts of the Milosevic regime still in place. The security forces, the justice system are largely unreformed. And that is a serious problem," he said.

Mr. Serwer, a former U.S. diplomat with extensive service in the Balkans, rejects suggestions that the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague has been pushing Belgrade too hard to hand over people indicted by the court who are believed to be in Serbia. "I don't think they've been pushing too hard. I think Belgrade is resisting too hard. The simple fact is that there are still large numbers of indictees who are thought to be in Serbia. And now [since more indictments were unsealed last week] there are four more, including a police chief," he said.

Mr. Serwer applauds the beginnings of dialogue between Belgrade and Kosovo, the Albanian-dominated U.N.-administered southern Serbian territory. He is not optimistic that Serbia and Montengro will remain linked in a single state, noting that they were united as an administrative measure to restore stability after the Balkan wars that led to independence for the four other former Yugoslav republics. "But my question would be, so what? The point is that the [Javier] Solana agreement stabilized the situation for three years. And even after just a year of those three years, it is clear to everyone that whatever happens will not be a violent break up," he said.

On balance, Mr. Serwer detects considerable progress toward stability in the Balkan region. He would not be surprised if U.S. troops withdraw from Bosnia-Herzegovina within a year or so. But he believes they will remain in Kosovo for at least the next two years.