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Yugoslavia: Serbia's DOS Threatened With Disintegration Yet Again

Serbia's ruling 18-party coalition -- still somewhat anachronistically known as the Democratic Opposition of Serbia -- is once again perilously close to disintegration. And as before, the catalyst is dissension by Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia.

Prague, 11 March 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic says the decision by Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia to boycott meetings of the presidency of the ruling Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition, of which they are both members, raises questions about DOS's continued existence.

"I can tell you that the presidency of DOS is DOS's only organ, and a decision not to participate in the presidency represents a decision not to work in DOS. De facto this decision means DOS won't exist anymore. Other members of DOS should define their relation to this decision."

Djindjic, who is chairman of the Democratic Party, made the remarks in an interview with RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service while in the southern Serbian town of Vranje last weekend. He says the boycott declaration opens the question of whether to freeze the mandates of the Democratic Party of Serbia's deputies.

The DSS has 45 of 250 seats in the Serbian parliament (the rest of DOS has 130 seats), and nine of the 170 seats in the bicameral federal parliament. But despite its numerical weakness, the DSS is a force to be reckoned with. According to a newly released public opinion poll published in Belgrade newspapers today, Kostunica is still the most popular politician in rump Yugoslavia.

The leaders of at least three DOS member parties have publicly called for excluding the DSS from the DOS (the Vojvodina League of Social Democrats, the League for Sumadija, and the Democratic Center).

Djindjic says the situation is unresolved, and the leaders of the other member parties should meet soon to decide what to do.

A member of the DSS leadership, Nebojsa Bakarac, insists that the DOS remains in the ruling coalition.

"We are not quitting DOS. We created DOS. We will remain in it. We are a DOS party, a government party. Moreover, we are providing DOS with the best name -- Dr. Vojislav Kostunica."

DSS says it is refusing to attend sessions of DOS's presidency because it says cooperation is no longer possible with other member parties. The DSS issued a statement on 8 March explaining its boycott as being called to protest what it termed a constantly deepening crisis and of the continued violation of coalition agreements at all levels. It said it "no longer has any intention of giving a semblance of legitimacy to decisions made by [the] DOS," and it accused the other 17 parties in the DOS of "failing to take into account national and state interests."

Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic is chairman of the Christian Democratic Party of Serbia. He accuses DSS of acting rashly, regardless of the possible response.

"I wouldn't like to prejudge the decision that will be made by [the] DOS's presidency, specifically concerning that part of the coalition for which [the] DSS is only a burden and a brake."

A key obstacle to better relations between the DSS and the rest of the party is the issue of cooperation with the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague. Kostunica's party has repeatedly refused to approve a bill on cooperation with the tribunal. Its refusal last year to cooperate with the tribunal resulted in the collapse of the federal government. The DSS opposes transferring accused war criminals to The Hague.

The latest dispute surfaced one day after the DSS refused to back a bill on cooperation with the tribunal. A meeting of the DOS presidency on 7 March ended with a majority of votes in favor of the federal bill on cooperating with the tribunal. The DSS's representative at the meeting, deputy chairman Dragan Marsicanin, says he abstained from the vote. He says the bill does not contain elements for protecting human rights and is legally and technically unacceptable.

The bill allows the republics -- Serbia and Montenegro -- to extradite indicted war criminals who are Yugoslav citizens to stand trial in The Hague. In contrast to several citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia, no Yugoslav citizen is known to have voluntarily turned himself in to the tribunal. Serbian authorities transferred former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to The Hague last June over Kostunica's protests.

The head of the Serbian Social Democratic Party, Zarko Korac, says instead of intensifying cooperation with the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague, the DSS is trying to attract "patriotic votes at the cost of harming the country's international image through non-compliance with the tribunal." But Korac says he doubts the DSS will have any success.

Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic, who heads the Democratic Alternative, another of the 18 former opposition parties in the ruling coalition in Serbia, says DOS has ceased to exist.

Covic made the remarks in an interview published today in the Belgrade daily "Blic." He notes that the DOS presidency, consisting of the leaders of all 18 member parties, had already agreed to redefine relations within the coalition. However, he says the whole situation has now changed as a result of Kostunica's DSS having announced on 8 March that it would henceforth boycott sessions of the DOS presidency. "Of course, this means that [the] DOS does not exist any longer, because [it] exists only if all those who formed it are in it."

Another Deputy Serbian prime minister, Momcilo Persisic, who is the leader of the Movement for a Democratic Serbia, says such behavior by the DSS, if repeated, must be dealt with strictly.

This marks the third time the DSS has boycotted DOS activities. Previous disputes lasted several months and were eventually overcome.