Last week, Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia said that it would withdraw its representatives from the Serbian government. It alleges that the government of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic has failed to live up to its promises to deal with organized crime. The rift between Kostunica and Djindjic appears to be widening into a potentially unbridgeable gulf.
Prague, 21 August 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, who heads the Democratic Party, and his allies from other parties say they want to preserve the current government through a reshuffle of several ministers.
But allies of Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica appear to favor early elections. They are banking on Kostunica's broad popularity and a public perception that Djindjic is somehow linked to organized crime.
All of the politicians and parties in this dispute are members of the ruling coalition of 18 former opposition parties known as the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS).
The dispute comes at a convenient time for Kostunica, who may soon be out of a job as president if the federation between Serbia and Montenegro collapses. He has said a break-up of Yugoslavia would require early parliamentary elections in Serbia, since last September's republic parliamentary elections were held in a constituent state rather than a sovereign one.
Each side in the current dispute is accusing the other of corruption and connections to organized crime, in particular following the murder two weeks ago (August 3) of a former senior secret police officer, Momir Gavrilovic. Gavrilovic was killed hours after making his third visit to Kostunica's office, reportedly to discuss corruption.
Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Zarko Korac of the Social Democratic Union, a member of the DOS, says corruption accusations against partners in the ruling coalition over the past month are influencing public opinion against the coalition:
"If one says the government is drenched in corruption, people will stop trusting you [the government]. That's the way it is regardless of what you do, regardless of public opinion ratings or the credibility of your words. Kostunica and those around him have launched a pre-election campaign with the direct goal of dissolving the Serbian government by thoroughly discrediting it."
Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic, who heads the Christian Democratic Party of Serbia -- likewise a DOS member -- rejects the accusations of corruption and connections to organized crime:
"If they -- the ones who spread the untruths -- have no proof, they have to be held accountable."
The chairman of DOS member Civic Alliance of Serbia, Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic, says every sign of instability works against the country's interests, stability, and integrity.
Belgrade analysts also warn of the impact the dispute may have on the country's foreign relations, particularly on aid from abroad. Milan Kovacevic is a foreign investment consultant in Belgrade. He cautions that the crisis both within the DOS and involving the still-unresolved status of the Yugoslav federation could have a negative impact among foreign investors:
"What is going on here could have very negative results because one of the serious conditions that is expected [by the international community] is that we stabilize the country, that we stabilize our move toward democracy and that we undertake [economic] transition in a stabilized atmosphere." Bosko Zivkovic, a professor at BK University in Belgrade, says the question facing the country's leaders at present is whether Serbia should open itself up to the world or remain closed off amid ongoing domestic disputes.
Bridging the differences between Kostunica and Djindjic won't be easy, judging from the words of Kostunica's party spokesman, Milorad Jovanovic:
"It is not just a question of personnel changes and dissatisfaction with the work of several ministries, but rather the very concept of the government is in dispute. In various sectors, [post-Milosevic] changes have not been concluded. And when we reach [the issues of] crime and corruption, without a doubt reforms certainly cannot be completed without uprooting crime and corruption."
Speaking for Kostunica, who has been keeping a low profile while on vacation the past two weeks, Jovanovic says early Serbian parliamentary elections are the answer.
Dragan Marsicanin is the deputy chairman of Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia and chairman of the republic's parliament. Marsicanin rules out a small cabinet reconstruction. He calls for "radical changes in the government and its methods." He rejects accusations that Kostunica and his party are "anti-reform."
"In Serbia, there are no greater anti-reform forces than those which have unleashed this dispute before the public. Anti-reform forces cannot be those who favor reforms."
The dispute is far more than between a federal president and a republic's prime minister or between the ruling coalition and a dissenting party. As RFE/RL's Belgrade bureau chief, Milica Lucic-Cavic, puts it, "If there hadn't been a killing, something else would have unleashed the enmity and power struggle between Kostunica and Djindjic.
"The split within DOS is more than that. It is two visions of Serbia's path through the contemporary world, a struggle between conservatives and modernists, between brakemen and reformers, between a Serbia in Europe and Serbia subordinated to sweet orthodoxy and national [political] romanticism typical of the second half of the 19th century."
Lucic-Cavic says that, in this struggle, Kostunica represents an anachronistic Serbia, while Djindjic represents the modern state.