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Yugoslavia: Milosevic Retains Hold On Power

Prague, 28 June 1999 (RFE/RL) -- In the nine years since Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic began the first of four wars -- in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Kosovo -- many analysts have predicted his political demise. Some have said it might take as long as several years, but most agreed his departure would be a violent one.

But since Milosevic's capitulation to NATO this month, estimates of his political longevity have been reduced to a matter of months. As calls for his resignation echo in Belgrade, the international community is repeatedly warning that there will be no reconstruction aid as long as Milosevic remains in power.

Belgrade economist Mladen Dinkic said Thursday (June 24) that without financial aid from abroad, Serbia will need 15 years to reach the level it was at just one year ago, and 40 years to return to the level it was at in 1989.

In a telephone interview with RFE/RL this week, Belgrade political commentator Aleksa Djilas -- the son of the late Communist-era dissident Milovan Djilas -- predicted: "Now is the beginning of the end for Slobodan Milosevic. He will be gone in six months, maximum a year." Djilas said there will be growing discontent in Serbia that nothing was gained in the NATO-Yugoslav war.

But others have made similar predictions in the past. In late 1991, after Milosevic gave up Slovenia following a weeklong fight and amid his bloody sieges of the Croatian cities of Vukovar, Osijek, and Dubrovnik, Belgrade-based diplomats predicted Serbs would eventually turn on him and his wife Mira Markovic.

Similar predictions were repeated the following year as Milosevic sent his air force to bomb Sarajevo in broad daylight on the May Day weekend 1992. They were made yet again when hundreds of thousands of Krajina Serbs fled Croatia to Bosnia and Serbia in the late summer of 1995 ahead of advancing Croatian forces.

Many of the more recent prognostications of Milosevic's demise make note of his indictment on war crimes charges by the international tribunal for the former Yugoslavia at The Hague.

On a visit to Kosovo on Thursday, the U.S. special ambassador for war crimes, David Scheffer, predicted that Milosevic will stand trial before the tribunal. Echoing the words of U.S. President Bill Clinton in Paris last week, Scheffer said Milosevic may not be brought to justice soon but, he emphasized, "it will happen."

Scheffer arrived in Kosovo together with a 50-member team of forensic experts from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which is investigating war crimes on the scene. The FBI team is one of more than a dozen forensic teams in Kosovo.

Hague tribunal Deputy Prosecutor Graham Blewitt, speaking last week with RFE/RL, made clear that prosecutors hold Milosevic responsible for what has happened in Kosovo.

"The investigations that we are doing in the field at the moment are not related directly to the activities of President Milosevic and the other accused who were indicted in the sense that they themselves were participating in these crimes. Rather the crimes were committed by people under their control: people in the army, people in the police and in the paramilitaries. And President Milosevic and the others were responsible in the sense that they ordered the people under their command to commit these crimes or at the very least they failed to take actions to stop them from committing these crimes which have occurred on a very widespread and systematic basis."

U.S. presidential envoy Richard Holbrooke said on Thursday that Milosevic should face trial now that he has been formally charged with war crimes. Holbrooke says the years of bloodshed in the Balkans were the fault of "the Serb leadership -- and that Serb leadership meant Slobodan Milosevic."

The list of those calling for Milosevic's removal from power is impressive. In the two weeks since agreeing to withdraw his forces from Kosovo, Milosevic has faced demands for his resignation from British Prime Minister Tony Blair, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Czech President Vaclav Havel, Slovenian President Milan Kucan, and Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic. Former Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Vuk Draskovic and other Serbian opposition leaders have also called publicly for his resignation. Last week, the Serbian Orthodox Church Holy Synod demanded Milosevic step down "for the sake of the people's salvation."

On Thursday, former Yugoslav President and Serbian nationalist writer Dobrica Cosic called for a change in Serbia's political system as well as in state and national policy. He said the nation is being "led by the despotism of Slobodan Milosevic."

U.S. Balkans representative Richard Gelbard reportedly told several Serb opposition leaders at a meeting in Montenegro two weeks ago that the overthrow of Milosevic is a matter for his people and not for the U.S. government. Montenegrin Deputy Prime Minister Novak Kilibarda, who also met with Gelbard, says the U.S. envoy's message was that "the United States will encourage democratic processes in Serbia on condition that the opposition shows cohesion."

But the Serbian opposition remains deeply divided. Moreover, the country's middle class and intellectuals have experienced repeated waves of emigration during the 1990s and do not today represent a viable political force.

Few Serbs are likely to believe Milosevic's claims that they won the war in Kosovo. But it is still unlikely that, if a new conflict erupts soon -- for example, in Montenegro or in the heavily Muslim Sandzak region of southeastern Serbia -- Milosevic would face any serious dissent in Belgrade. Despite heavy NATO bombing, his army appears to be still largely intact.

The Serbian government is also standing firm against calls to resign. Serbian President Milan Milutinovic has issued a decree stating that all government members will remain in office, in his words, "due to the importance of the continued unhindered functioning of the government."