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Analysis: New Serb Government Marks A Turning Point For DOS

  • Ron Synovitz

Serbia's parliament yesterday formally approved a new government, with former opposition leader Zoran Djindjic of the Democratic Party taking the helm as Serbian prime minister. The government includes many other leading members of the 18-party Democratic Opposition of Serbia -- the coalition that worked together to oust former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic from power. This analysis examines the challenges facing Djindjic's government as DOS transforms itself from an opposition alliance into a ruling coalition.

Prague, 26 January 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The approval of Zoran Djindjic as Serbian prime minister late last night by the Serbian parliament marks a critical turning point for the Democratic Opposition of Serbia, or DOS.

To date, the 18 parties in the alliance have had the common goal of ousting former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and his allies from power. That goal is still far from being achieved. Milosevic's allies remain in control of the Yugoslav army's general staff, the Serbian presidency and key posts in the interim government for federal Yugoslavia.

But DOS -- backed by a powerful two-thirds parliamentary majority -- is now entering uncharted territory as a governing coalition for Serbia.

Already, some differences are apparent within DOS on how to handle critical issues. They include future relations with Montenegro, Serbia's junior partner in the Yugoslav federation, and international demands for the extradition of Milosevic to the UN war crimes tribunal at The Hague.

The DOS reformers have said they will cooperate with the UN tribunal. But they differ on the extent of cooperation -- especially whether indicted war crimes suspects should be turned over to the court.

Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica has ruled out Milosevic's extradition. He says such a move would destabilize the country, and that it is more important to resolve critical economic problems. A majority of the DOS alliance, including Prime Minister Djindjic, have publicly expressed their agreement with Kostunica's position.

But some DOS members say that Serbia's economic stabilization is not possible without Milosevic's extradition and the severing of his remaining control over key Serbian and Yugoslav institutions.

Serbia's new interior minister, Dusan Mihajlovic, says that one of his first tasks will be to put Milosevic under 24-hour surveillance.

Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic says Milosevic could be tried in Belgrade on the basis of international indictments from The Hague court. Djindjic told the parliament yesterday that all Serbs who have committed war crimes should answer before Serbian courts. He said:

"We do not want to take collective responsibility [for any war crimes], even though we are willing to admit individual responsibility. We feel that all of these individual cases will be tried in our courts."

But the chief prosecutor of the UN tribunal, Carla Del Ponte, yesterday flatly rejected proposals to try Milosevic in Yugoslavia. She said that the UN Security Council has given The Hague court jurisdiction in all cases of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in the Balkans. For these crimes, Del Ponte said, Milosevic must go to The Hague and be tried there. Del Ponte made her remarks to reporters at the end of a three-day visit to Belgrade.

Djindjic told parliament yesterday that economic reconstruction and legal reforms are the most critical tasks the new government will face. He said the problems will be approached differently from the policies of the Milosevic regime. He also accused Milosevic and his allies of polarizing Serbian society into a large, poverty-stricken majority and a small "overfed" minority of nomenklatura elites. He said:

"This polarization undermines the stability of our nation and our state. The institutions are not trusted because under the former regime they served as an instrument of the ultra-privileged and rich."

While Djindjic heads the Democratic Party, the largest group in DOS, Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica is the leader of a far smaller party in the alliance, the Democratic Party of Serbia.

Differences also are emerging within DOS on how to resolve a dispute with Montenegro over the smaller republic's future status within the Yugoslav federation.

Montenegro's President Milo Djukanovic wants to break away from the Yugoslav federation and then immediately create a much looser bond with Serbia.

Kostunica is opposed to the idea of a formal split followed by an immediate reunification. Although Kostunica says he won't block the move if it is conducted according to the Yugoslav Constitution, he says he would prefer that the federation is changed without a formal split.

Djindjic says the existing Yugoslav federation should be given a three-year trial period. He says Serbia and Montenegro should separate only if they cannot resolve their relationship within that time frame.

More differences are expected to emerge within DOS as the reformist government moves forward on rebuilding a post-Milosevic Serbia.

But it is clear that economic problems are the most pressing issues for the government. The new leadership has pledged to introduce speedy economic reforms. But it also says it needs international aid to be successful.

Hugues Mingarelli, the Balkan-based director of the European Union's Agency for Reconstruction, says it is critical for Djindjic's government to reform public administration and utilities.

Mingarelli says Serbia's basic infrastructure also has to be modernized and that conditions must be created that allow private firms to develop and prosper.

The UN special enjoy to the Balkans, Carl Bildt, this week described Serbia's state economic institutions as "a strange mixture of Mafia and nomenklatura."

Bildt says Djindjic must undertake fundamental structural and economic reforms to reshape those institutions.

Bildt also warns that international help will be necessary to help Belgrade deal with 700,000 mostly Serb refugees who have flooded the country to escape the wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo.

Bildt says Serbia's refugee population could easily become a support block for future foreign policies aimed at establishing Serb control over territories that large number of ethnic Serbs have fled. He says international support is needed to help the Serbs refugees return to their homes in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo.

Other major issues confronting the new Serbian government include the future status of Kosovo and an insurgency by ethnic Albanian militants in the Presevo Valley -- the region of Serbia proper that is to the east of UN-administered Kosovo.

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