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OMRI: Pursuing Balkan Peace, Vol. 2, No. 1, 97-01-07

Open Media Research Institute: Pursuing Balkan Peace Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: Open Media Research Institute <>

Vol. 2, No. 1, 7 January 1997


  • [01] Milosevic Increasingly Isolated At Home And Abroad
  • [02] A Balance Sheet On The Kosovo Imbroglio
  • [03] Bulgaria's Videnov Resigns But Problems Remain

  • [01] Milosevic Increasingly Isolated At Home And Abroad

    by Patrick Moore

    Developments in the first week of 1997 indicate that Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic is in ever bigger trouble. The opposition has kept up the pressure with increasingly varied forms of protests, while the Church, the writers, and the army have made it clear where they stand.

    First, at least 200,000 people braved the bitter cold and attended a gala open-air New Year's Eve party in central Belgrade, international media reported on 1 January. Leaders of the Zajedno (Together) movement congratulated their followers and predicted victory over Milosevic, whom they accuse of having stolen the 17 November local elections. The crowds were entertained by some of the country's leading rock groups, and the usually ubiquitous riot police were nowhere to be seen. The next day, demonstration organizers urged their followers to stay home and make as much noise as possible with pans, drums, etc. during Serbian television's main evening newscast at 7:30 pm to protest its biased coverage. On the balance, the protests showed no sign of losing momentum, and the Zajedno leadership displayed a new flexibility in tactics in order to sustain interest. following the ban on protest marches after a clash between opponents and supporters of Milosevic on 24 December.

    On the first days of January the protesters thus made much noise during the newscast. On 5 January they staged a "protest by traffic jam," in which drivers of all sorts of vehicles blocked Belgrade streets amid a carnival atmosphere, international media reported. Protesters said they would extend the traffic jam tactic throughout Serbia should the government fail to recognize the results of the local elections within a few days.

    In fact, Zajedno rejected the authorities' latest offer to accept part but not all of those election returns, CNN reported on 4 January. This time the government proposed to acknowledge opposition victories in Belgrade and two smaller towns but called for a new vote in Nis. Zajedno said it will keep up its protests until the government unconditionally respects the 17 November results, even though it is far from clear how long Milosevic will hold out.

    Then, on 6 January, a crowd of at least 200,000 people walked through the Serbian capital to St. Sava's cathedral to mark Orthodox Christmas Eve. The protest was typically good-natured and peaceful, except for a reported small explosion at the headquarters of JUL, the tiny left-wing party led by Mirjana Markovic, Milosevic's wife, AFP noted on 7 January. Patriarch Pavle said mass at the cathedral, following which opposition leaders made speeches outside and presented 5,000 gift boxes for the children of their supporters. The usually uncommunicative police had earlier assured the demonstrators that they would not interfere with Christmas processions.

    The students had, in fact, appealed to the police not to block their marches, AFP reported on 6 January. One of their leaders said: "We appeal to those installing police cordons to withdraw them before January 9, so we don't have to do it for them." On a more diplomatic note, Zajedno issued a proclamation to the police as "dear friends," Nasa Borba wrote. The text stated: "Do not let yourselves be abused by the [Socialist Party of Serbia] thieves and do not allow yourselves to be pushed into a conflict with the people, whose lives are as difficult as yours. Think hard before obeying the orders of the thieves." But the police are one of Milosevic's main pillars of support and refused to discuss the opposition's appeals.

    One of the reasons the Serbian leader has relied on the up to 120,000- strong police is that his relations with the army (JNA) have never been particularly good. On 6 January, Chief of Staff Gen. Momcilo Perisic told a delegation of students that the JNA will not oppose them, AFP reported. A student spokesman later told reporters: "We expressed hope and our commitment that the demonstrations would remain peaceful and that what happened in 1991 would not be replayed. We were given firm assurances that this would be the case. We are very satisfied with the outcome." Following those discussions, the army issued a letter saying the military will not allow themselves to be used in a crackdown against peaceful protesters. The text stated that problems must be solved by peaceful and constitutional means, Nasa Borba wrote on 7 January.

    This effectively rules out the possibility that Milosevic could rely on the army to crush dissent as he did in March 1991. Army support had been crucial to him then, during the most direct challenge from the streets to his rule prior to the current unrest. Perisic last month made noncommittal statements, in which he simply said that the JNA would "ensure the stability" of the country. He also rebuffed officers from the Nis-based 63d Parachute Brigade and other units, who had reportedly issued an open letter to the Serbian president and to Perisic expressing their support for the students. (Nasa Borba printed the text of the purported letter on 30 December.) But now some officers seem ready to go even farther. The London daily The Independent reported on 7 January that at least some units may be ready to turn on Milosevic if he tries to declare a state of emergency, AFP wrote. One major said that if Milosevic "tries to use the army, the army will be used against him."

    And even more so than the army, the bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church have come out against the Socialist-led government. The Holy Synod on 2 January issued a declaration blasting Milosevic for "pitting Serb against Serb." The text added: "Force has been used by the regime with the intention of stifling the freely expressed will of the people. The blood of the innocent [had flowed because the regime was] trying to sow discord and provoke bloodshed just so it can hang on to power. The Holy Synod condemns the authorities who have not only ignored the wishes of the electorate, but... have crushed underfoot our glorious and painful history... [and] national and moral values. Only the respect of democratic principles and human rights, the recognition of the 17 November elections, can bring hope of a better future" to Serbia," AFP and Nasa Borba reported. The bishops also accused him of betraying the cause of the Krajina and Bosnian Serbs.

    The Church has, in fact, openly embraced Serbian nationalism following the disintegration of the communist system, but many believers and some of the clergy feel it has been too close to the political authorities both under the communists and under the ex-communist Milosevic. Such persons identify more readily with the Bosnian Serb leadership under Radovan Karadzic, who does not have a communist past. In any event, the Church has now unambiguously allied itself with Milosevic's opponents, a point Pavle repeated in a radio broadcast, the BBC noted on 4 January. His appearance with the demonstrators at the Christmas Eve mass only served to underscore the point.

    And yet another prestigious body, the Serbian Writers' Union, has slammed the president. Reflecting the same themes as the Synod, the writers told Milosevic in an open letter that: "By senseless vote stealing, your party has struck a blow against the state, the constitution and the law, and by your incomprehensible decisions you have led Serbia to the verge of civil war. You have deliberately provoked battles in the streets of Belgrade between peaceful demonstrators and people whom you led astray and brought here" on 24 December, AFP reported on 3 January. It is difficult to underestimate the political importance of writers in the Balkans, where organizations such as the respective Writers Unions and PEN Clubs enjoy immense prestige.

    Still another blow to Milosevic's grip on power came from Montenegro. That rugged republic's President Momir Bulatovic and the others in power there are his nominal junior partners, but they know they cannot ignore the feelings of their voters and have consequently moved to distance themselves from the increasingly unpopular man in Belgrade. Bulatovic himself called on Milosevic to explain his position in public, Nasa Borba wrote on 30 December. Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic and Parliament Speaker Svetozar Marovic, for their parts, have expressed sympathy for the protesters. On 1 January, Marovic urged Serbian authorities to accept the OSCE report released on 27 December by former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez. That document that backs the opposition's position that the governing Socialists stole the local elections in Belgrade and 13 other places.

    The Montenegrin parliament, for its part, passed a resolution expressing concern over the continuing tensions in Serbia, AFP reported on 30 December. The text is weaker than an original opposition proposal but still reflects the interest of the small republic -- which depends heavily on shipping and tourism -- in seeing the full return of federal Yugoslavia to international political and economic life. Zajedno leader Vuk Draskovic, however, called on Montenegro to go beyond words: "We don't care about your telegrams and letters. If you want to help us, withdraw your deputies from the Yugoslav parliament until the recognition of the results of the November 17 municipal elections, withdraw your representatives from the Yugoslav government, show that you are for a democratic Serbia."

    And the Bosnian Serb leadership was even more explicit than the Montenegrin in its criticism of Milosevic. Aleksa Buha, who succeeded Karadzic as head of the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), issued a Christmas message on 6 January in which called on Milosevic to avoid bloodshed and respect the election results. Buha added: "It is stupid to stubbornly refuse to recognize what the laws of civilization dictate," AFP and Nasa Borba reported. Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic repeated her earlier declaration of support for the students, saying that what is taking place on the streets of Belgrade now will determine the future democratic course of Serbia. There has long been little love lost between Milosevic and the Pale leadership, which feels that the Serbian president has repeatedly betrayed vital Bosnian Serb interests for his own political purposes. Milosevic backed opponents of the SDS in last September's Bosnian elections, and there may well be no small joy in Pale now at the prospect of settling old political scores.

    Meanwhile in Belgrade, the opposition has been encouraged by the Gonzalez report, despite the reluctance to the authorities to accept it. Federal Yugoslav Foreign Minister Milan Milutinovic called the OSCE statement "balanced" but stressed it was not binding on the Serbian government. The U.S. has urged the OSCE to condemn the regime if it continues to drag its feet on accepting the report, Nasa Borba wrote on 6 January. Veteran Belgrade journalist Hari Stajner told the BBC on 4 January that Milosevic is becoming increasingly isolated at home and abroad, and that the only possible foreign source of support for him is Russia.

    [02] A Balance Sheet On The Kosovo Imbroglio

    by Fabian Schmidt

    Meanwhile in Serbia's Kosovo province, human rights violations continued throughout 1996. According to the Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms [KMDLNJ], 14 people died as a result of police violence by the year's end. Also, police raids on homes, arrests and torture did not diminish. While arbitrary police violence was a daily occurrence in Kosovo from the abolition of the region's autonomy in 1989, an increase this year followed the appearance of a shadowy terrorist group calling itself the "Liberation Army of Kosovo [UCK]." Since 11 February it is believed to have been responsible for the deaths of at least nine people. It has also caused injury to many more. The group has so far aimed its attacks primarily at smaller police stations, police cars or individuals, namely ethnic Serbs. It has not attacked prominent or well-protected representatives or institutions of the Serbian administration, which suggests that it is avoiding waging highly sophisticated terrorist operations. It is not known when the UCK was set up, how many members it has, who funds it, or who its leaders are. The leading Albanian party, the Democratic League of Kosovo [LDK}, has even denied the existence of the group and laid blame for the attacks on Serbian agents provocateurs.

    In October, police arrested 15 suspected members of the group, and after another attack 30 more. Nonetheless, it is highly doubtful whether the police actually arrested the real culprits. The UCK's strategy seems to be to create a climate of fear, to prevent reconciliation between Albanians and Serbs, to aggravate tensions, and finally to jeopardize the shadow- state's policy of peaceful protest.

    The UCK may nonetheless prove successful given the background of a continuing constitutional crisis of the Kosovar Albanian shadow-state. In the four years since it was elected, the shadow state's parliament has failed to hold its opening session. When its mandate ran out in May, President Ibrahim Rugova simply prolonged it by a year. Legislators hold irregular meetings in working groups in which they keep some contact with local government bodies, but the legislature suffers from an acute lack of authority under present strained circumstances. Prominent Kosovars are increasingly calling for an end to the paralysis of the shadow-state's democratic institutions and are also demanding a more aggressive policy. In late October, 31 out of 100 legislators sent a letter to Rugova demanding a constituent meeting of parliament. Elsewhere, exile Prime Minister Bujar Bukoshi had charged Rugova with sidelining the government and incrementally abandoning the policy aimed at gaining independence.

    Bukoshi said Rugova did not consult its education minister during negotiations about a 1 September education agreement with Milosevic. The agreement foresees the return of Albanian pupils and students to school and university premises, but an education commission made up of three Albanians and three Serbs has yet to work out any details. The torturing to death of a teacher by police in December was the latest proof that the approach of the Serbian authorities towards Albanian-language education has not fundamentally changed.

    Rugova, meanwhile, continued his policy of seeking the diplomatic "internationalization" of the conflict, but has been unable to adjust his strategy to the dramatic developments in Serbia. The Kosovars, as in previous years, boycotted the Yugoslav and Serbian elections, underscoring their position that they are an independent state. Also, they failed to quickly address the growing opposition protests against Milosevic's regime. The only official reaction came on 12 December, almost three weeks after the beginning of the protests. The shadow-state government then issued a statement which in principle welcomed the demonstrations, but at the same time stated that they were an internal Serbian affair.

    Thus the Kosovars made clear that a common animosity towards Milosevic was not sufficient to reconcile the Serbian opposition and the Albanians. Instead the shadow state said that much of the Serbian opposition actually was "anti-Albanian" and that the Kosovars would only support those Serbs, who "are ready to accept... that the Albanians will refuse to remain under Serbian jurisdiction."

    While the shadow state establishment thus looked the other way, some Kosovar politicians realized that the events provided them with an opportunity. The head of the KMDLNJ, Adem Demaci, joined the Parliamentary Party of Kosovo and was elected its chairman on the first weekend of 1997. He had earlier said he would run for President after Rugova's term runs out in May. Demaci had on the one hand called for open but peaceful protests and demonstrations against the Serbian regime, similar to those in Belgrade; and on the other, he indicated that a solution may be found through a new federal Yugoslav constitution which would give Kosovo and probably Sandzak and Vojvodina -- with their large non-Serbian populations - - an equal constitutional status to that of Serbia and Montenegro. Whether new presidential and parliamentary elections of the shadow state will take place remains, however, in doubt.

    [03] Bulgaria's Videnov Resigns But Problems Remain

    by Stefan Krause

    And in Bulgaria, too, the holiday season provided little respite from politics. President Zhelyu Zhelev on 30 December asked the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) to form a new government to succeed that of Zhan Videnov, who resigned as premier and party leader the previous week. While it is certain that the BSP will be able to form a new cabinet by mid- January, it is clear that the recent BSP congress and Videnov's resignation have not solved the party's and the country's basic problems.

    Videnov resigned on 21 December, at the beginning of a three-day extraordinary party congress. Parliament dismissed his government on 28 December by a near unanimous vote. Announcing his resignation, Videnov cited a lack of trust within the BSP and within society as a whole as the main reason. He said he will not again seek any top post in the government, the party, or in parliament. Videnov's decision came as a surprise to both his allies and his critics, since he had repeatedly said that he would not give up power voluntarily and because many delegates to the congress were known to be on his side. Obviously, pressure from within the party had become unbearable for Videnov, especially after 19 top BSP politicians representing all factions from orthodox Marxists to social-democratic reformers had called in early November for his ouster.

    The BSP congress elected Georgi Parvanov as Videnov's successor at the party's helm. Parvanov, a 39-year-old historian, had been one of Videnov's deputies. He handily defeated three other candidates, including former Foreign Minister Georgi Pirinski and former BSP Deputy Chairman Yanaki Stoilov, both of whom belong to the party's reformist wing. Parvanov's election is seen as a compromise between the hard-liners and reformers. In another compromise, both Videnov supporters and reformers alike were elected to the new Supreme Council.

    Parvanov's election for the time being muted the crisis within the party, but the BSP's woes are hardly over. One can argue that Parvanov's choice is a compromise that did not solve but only postponed a solution to the BSP's problems. Although the congress was scheduled to discuss and decide on basic policy changes, it dealt mostly with leadership issues. Once again, the decision was put off as to whether the BSP wants to be a reformist party in the social democratic tradition, an orthodox leftist party, or a conglomerate of diverse groups and platforms.

    The reformists, moreover, were dealt several blows. Not only did Pirinski and Stoilov fare badly in the vote for party leader; the delegates also voted against several reformist proposals. And there was yet another incident implying that democracy has yet to take root in the BSP. On 22 December, a package of seven resolutions proposed by reformists was at first adopted by the congress. But when Videnov -- who at that point had already resigned -- insisted that the congress vote on them again, the delegates followed him in voting against them.

    If the reformists fared badly at the congress, then worse was still to come. On 3 January, the BSP Supreme Council gathered to elect a new Executive Bureau, the highest decision-making body between party congresses. Parvanov had originally proposed that it comprise 20 members in order to accommodate representatives of all factions, but the Supreme Council voted to opt for 15 members instead. Parvanov proposed a list of candidates, of whom five failed to get elected. They include Pirinski, Stoilov, and the head of the parliamentary foreign relations commission, Nikolay Kamov. Observers saw the vote not only as a crushing defeat for the reformists: it also was a defeat for Parvanov less than two weeks after his election. By the same token, the vote was a victory for Videnov since his most prominent opponents failed to get elected. Videnov himself refused to run for the Executive Bureau, saying former party leaders should not be on it. But the vote seems to underscore than even without holding formal office, Videnov continues to play an important role within the BSP.

    On 7 January, the newly-elected BSP Executive Bureau nominated Interior Minister Nikolay Dobrev as prime minister. Dobrev was at first unwilling to take on that responsibility, but on 6 January agreed. Other names originally aired included Pirinski and parliamentary speaker Blagovest Sendov. Parvanov said he would not seek the premiership himself, saying he will concentrate "on the party alone." Dobrev, who emerged as an outspoken Videnov critic at the recent BSP congress, has support within the party but also within the population for his fight against corruption and organized crime, but critics of his nomination pointed out that he lacks experience in economics or finance. In any event, the new government's scope of action will be limited by outside factors such as the need to comply with IMF recommendations. The new cabinet will not have much leeway in solving the country's problems.

    Thus, in addition to the myriad structural problems facing the country, the BSP might prove to be another obstacle to much-needed change. If Parvanov does not get the BSP onto a new track, Videnov's replacement might well go unnoticed in terms of real -- rather than symbolic -- politics. The elections to the Executive Bureau cast doubts on Parvanov's ability to control the party apparatus.


    The Serbian president, for his part, made a New Year's speech on television but did not directly refer to the protests, VOA noted. Instead, he made a passing remark about internal and external attempts to destabilize the country. He also promised a new economic program that would "change the face of Serbia." Such grandiose rhetoric has long been typical of his political style, but it is doubtful whether his promises will meet with the eager popular approval they did in the late 1980s. His regime is increasingly regarded as corrupt, as responsible for continuing and widespread poverty, and as interested only in power. -- Patrick Moore


    Meanwhile in Bucharest, the fast-moving Serbian developments have provided the newly elected authorities with an additional opportunity to show how their policies differ from those of their predecessors. A statement released by the government on 25 December "condemns the violence" of the authorities in Belgrade, adding that the Romanian executive "deplores the situation" and hopes a fast settlement using "democratic means" will be found, Radio Bucharest reported. In a separate statement, President Emil Constantinescu said he had "learned with consternation" about the conflict between the Serbian government and the opposition, "which now has reached a dangerous phase." He called on the authorities in Belgrade to "show wisdom and not resort to force."

    Then in a statement released on 30 December, the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the present crisis in "the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia" represents a "threat to stability" in the region and expressed "concern" in view of the "increasing confrontation." The statement said the Gonzalez report "may considerably contribute to solving the crisis" and expressed hope that the government in Belgrade will implement the OSCE's recommendations. The Romanian declaration added that "using force against peaceful demonstrators can only lead to isolation", whereas peacefully solving the crisis via dialogue will contribute to "Yugoslavia's reintegration into the international community." -- Michael Shafir


    Back in Bosnia, the Republika Srpska parliament on 28 December approved a bill on the creation of a professional army, international agencies reported, citing Pale radio. Under the new law, "the professional armed forces are responsible for defending the territorial integrity and constitutional order of the Republika Srpska," AFP reported. There is also a clause aimed at Serbs in Serbia-Montenegro that stipulates that people without Republika Srpska citizenship can volunteer to join the army in case of conflict. -- Daria Sito Sucic


    Meanwhile, President Alija Izetbegovic's Party of Democratic Action (SDA) has confirmed that it received $500,000 from Iran in mid-1996, Oslobodjenje reported on 4 January. It added, however, that the money was used for scholarships and not for the party's election campaign. The Los Angeles Times had reported that Iran gave Izetbegovic that sum for use in the run-up to the September elections. The newspaper said the story was based on classified documents it had obtained. Meanwhile, the CIA has provided congressional committees with a classified report on Iranian activities in Bosnia. An unclassified version is expected to follow soon. State Department spokesman John Dinger said Izetbegovic recognizes that his relationship with the U.S. is more important than that with Iran. As a result, the U.S. will go ahead with a plan to train and equip the Bosnian Federation forces with military gear, Dinger added. -- Daria Sito Sucic


    But SFOR said on 2 January it will confiscate tank ammunition donated to the Bosnian army through that program because the munitions were not properly registered, Reuters reported. NATO spokesman Maj. Tony White said SFOR strictly insists on rules requiring armies to fully document all weapons or ammunition stored at designated depots. SFOR troops have now confiscated 474 unregistered tank rounds out of a total of 11,000 shipped to the Bosnian federation under the aid program. In other news, NATO announced the same day that at least a dozen houses formerly inhabited by Bosnian Muslims and Serbs were destroyed over the past week in a Croat-held area near Mostar. The attacks are aimed at discouraging non-Croatian refugees from returning to the region, Reuters reported. -- Daria Sito Sucic


    And on the purely civilian front, Bosnia's new government convened for the first time on 3 January in Serb-held Lukavica, near Sarajevo, international media reported. Earlier the same day, deputies in the lower house of the Bosnian parliament approved the government and the nomination of the two joint prime ministers: Boro Bosic, a Serb, and Haris Silajdzic, a Muslim. Silajdzic said the cabinet discussed who should take part in the delegation to a conference in Brussels on 9-10 January aimed at raising funds for the reconstruction of Bosnia. Meanwhile, Momcilo Krajisnik, the Serbian member of Bosnia's three-man presidency, said he wants to see "the reconciliation and acceptance of the characteristics of all the peoples" in Bosnia, AFP reported. -- Daria Sito Sucic


    But that road will obviously be long and rocky. The European Union's mandate in Mostar expired on 31 December, but the city remained as divided as it was 17 months ago when the EU arrived. Mostar is still split between Muslims in the eastern half and Croats in the west. EU spokesman Dragan Gasic, striking an optimistic note, said that a lot has been done toward reconstruction and that peace has been politically restored. Croats, however, continued throughout 1996 to expel Muslims from their part of the city. But Mostar Mayor Ivan Prskalo, a Croat, criticized only Muslim "terrorist acts" following an incident on 29 December in which two Croats were robbed, stripped naked, and beaten up in the Muslim half of the city. The EU administration in Mostar will be replaced by the Office of the High Representative Carl Bildt. Former EU envoy Sir Martin Garrod will stay on in Mostar to head the mission. He knows the area well and speaks Serbo- Croatian. -- Daria Sito Sucic

    Edited by Patrick Moore

    This material was reprinted with permission of the Open Media Research Institute, a nonprofit organization with research offices in Prague, Czech Republic.
    For more information on OMRI publications please write to

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