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Post-Milosevic Belgrade Government Divided, Unstable

(Washington, DC--April 9, 2001) The recent arrest of former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosovic has highlighted a lack of consensus within the Serbian coalition government on how to conduct domestic reforms and on how to deal with the international community, according to a leading French scholar on the Balkans.

Even though the new government passed its first political test in arresting Milosevic, Jacques Rupnik told an RFE/RL briefing last week, it is going to need from the West both "financial incentives" and "a credible political goal" to overcome the "criminalized state" machinery inherited from the Milosevic period.

Rupnik, who is research director at the Fondation Nationale des Sciences Politiques in Paris, called attention to the enormous domestic difficulties the new government must deal with: 40 percent unemployment, a $12 billion debt, and a shrinking GDP. He noted that the European Union has promised 240 million euros and the United States $50 million but stressed that the "window of opportunity" for effective change may be very narrow.

Indeed, Rupnik suggested, the current situation resembles that of a decade ago, when post-communist countries faced massive problems but were divided between those supporting sudden reform and those pushing for a gradual transition. Rupnik stressed that now the West must enter the scene to make sure that a real transition takes place.

Such considerations, Rupnik said, must balance desires by Western leaders to punish the Serbs as a people. Unless that happens, he said, the situation in Belgrade could deteriorate even more and push the region into even greater instability.