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Yugoslavia: Djindjic Speaks Of Hard Lessons Learned, Yugoslavia's Future

Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic today concludes a two-day visit to the Czech Republic, during which he has discussed political and economic cooperation. During his visit to Prague, Djindjic spoke at RFE/RL headquarters and discussed, among other topics, what opposition movements must do to successfully oust authoritarian regimes, such as that of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

Prague, 21 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- In addition to meetings with Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman and President Vaclav Havel, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic held a news conference today at RFE/RL's headquarters.

Djindjic discussed a variety of topics, including ways for opposition movements to successfully fight against authoritarian regimes, his views on the future of the Yugoslav federation, the role of Yugoslav security forces in last year's ouster of President Slobodan Milosevic, and the current economic situation in Serbia.

Djindjic said that in Serbia, after failed attempts that lasted almost a decade, the goal of ousting the Milosevic regime was finally achieved only after the Serbian opposition movement instituted several changes in its strategy, universal approaches that could be used in similar circumstances elsewhere, such as, perhaps, in Belarus.

The first was to unite the opposition within the Democratic Opposition of Serbia, or DOS, coalition. Djindjic said that as long as opposition forces are unable to unite, they are part of the problem rather than the solution. Dictatorships, he said, rely not on their own strength but on the opposition's weakness.

Djindjic added that an opposition needs to offer people a clear choice between good and evil, and that this can be achieved by presenting the situation in a country in simple "black-and-white" terms.

Authoritarian regimes, Djindjic said, always present themselves before their people as the guarantors of the country's independence and sovereignty, often in the face of an imaginary international conspiracy. People are told "stories" that they have to put up with hardships because the "rest of the world" is allegedly against them.

Djindjic said opposition forces must be prepared to come up with what he called their own credible "stories" to counter-balance a regime's propaganda:

"The opposition must have a story about how the world is perfect and that we are in a prison, and it is not a fight for independence. It is corrupt people who are protecting their interests."

Djindjic went on to say that a second change in the opposition's strategy was to switch public discussion from politics to issues of greater concern to ordinary people, such as the economy and personal living standards. He admitted that this is a difficult task since, in most cases, members of the opposition are not directly involved in the running of a country's economy. But Djindjic said people must be convinced that a win for the opposition is, in the end, a victory for them, too:

"It is not the question why it is good that I [the opposition candidate] win against the government. It is important why it is good for you [the voter] that I win against the government."

A third change, Djindjic said, was to attract to the opposition movement groups and individuals with credibility in the society, such as the church, non-governmental organizations, and independent personalities.

Lastly, Djindjic said opposition forces must clearly show they are ready to use violence to fight back in case of repression. He said that winning democratic elections sometimes is not enough to take power -- as happened in Serbia after the DOS opposition alliance won the September 2000 elections. He said security forces must realize they can not resort to violence without risks.

As for the future of Yugoslavia, Djindjic said the federation in its current components -- Serbia and the much smaller republic of Montenegro -- must undergo radical reforms in order to survive as a state:

"I think that Yugoslavia does have a future -- not [as] this kind of country, [but as a] very, very reformed [one]."

Djindjic said Yugoslavia should be represented as a single state in international relations but for its own purposes become a loose confederation of two individual states, each with a large degree of autonomy.

However, Djindjic said the future of the Yugoslav Federation is not one of the Serbian people's top priorities. He said Serbs are currently more concerned about economic troubles and criminality, and that they will accept any decision Montenegrins might make about their independence. He said Serbia is ready to reform the Yugoslav state, and that it is willing to wait two or three more months for Montenegro's decision.

Commenting on allegations in the Western media that paramilitary units from Kosovo and other parts of the former Yugoslavia were involved in the overthrow of Milosevic's regime last October, Djindjic said such paramilitary groups did not play a "very active" role in the popular uprising that led to the collapse of the regime. He said it was of critical importance that the 800-strong special security forces decided not to intervene in Milosevic's favor.

He admitted that a security official accused of involvement in the repression of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo in 1999, General Sreten Lukic, is now holding a senior position in the Interior Ministry. But Djindjic said Lukic was promoted only after it was proven that he had not been involved in repressive acts against Kosovar Albanians.

Djindjic said that under the new democratic leadership, Serbian security forces are behaving differently in crisis areas, such as in the buffer zone in southern Serbia, which they were allowed to re-enter in May of this year.

"It was proved that under democratic conditions, with clear goals, with clear responsibility and hierarchy, this police can be used as a normal tool to conduct peace and order."

Djindjic also said the current international economic situation -- in the wake of the 11 September terrorist attacks on New York and Washington and amid signs of a global economic recession -- does not look favorable for Serbia, which badly needs foreign investment to patch up an economy largely destroyed by a decade of civil war and an infrastructure damaged by NATO's 1999 air strikes.

Djindjic said that, because of war and Milosevic's dictatorship, Yugoslavia has missed favorable opportunities to attract foreign investment. He pointed out that despite the democratic changes, Yugoslavia over the last 10 months has not benefited from substantial economic support from the international community. He said he expects future levels of foreign investment in Yugoslavia to be rather modest -- no more than $3 billion over the next three years.