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Balkan Report: October 10, 2000

10 October 2000, Volume 4, Number 75

Iserbia's Swift Revolution. People power has triumphed in Belgrade. Opposition leader Vojislav Kostunica has been inaugurated as Yugoslav president, and Serbia's new leaders are turning their attention to the business of governing.

Some half a million people amassed in Belgrade on 5 October to end the 13 year-long rule of Slobodan Milosevic. Tens of thousands of Serbs arrived in the capital from the provinces, where many citizens had begun to lose their fear of the regime and its police in recent days. Perhaps the decisive moment came on 4 October, when the miners at Kolubara and thousands of their local supporters refused to yield to police intimidation and prompted the police to withdraw.

The protesters in Belgrade and elsewhere in Serbia demanded that Milosevic recognize Kostunica's victory in the 24 September elections and step down. The Constitutional Court's 5 October decision to annul parts of the election provided the spark that set off the crowds' anger, which in turn saw the revolt through to its successful conclusion.

The fact that the demonstrators brought down the regime in less than a day shows how bankrupt Milosevic's rule had become. In any event, the 24 September ballot cost him whatever legitimacy he once had in the eyes of the public at large. Then, on 6 October, the Constitutional Court announced that Kostunica had been duly elected after all. Milosevic quit office after a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov.

Milosevic plans a political comeback, but it is difficult to see where he could muster sufficient support for such a move, at least for the foreseeable future. His nationalist supporters have disowned him, and the new government will be under pressure from abroad to bring him to justice. Meanwhile, there are many powerful and dangerous people in business, politics, and the criminal underworld who believe they have old scores to settle with the man who was all-powerful in Serbia for 13 years.

Institutionally, what were once his main sources of backing have gone over to the opposition, been taken over by the opposition, or chosen to remain silent. The state-run media have switched sides, as have many of the police. On 6 October, Munich's "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" published a photo of a riot policeman in full gear--sporting an opposition anti-Milosevic "He's finished!" sticker on his shield. The largely conscript army, for its part, remained in its barracks. Kostunica has already begun to depoliticize its leadership (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 October 2000).

There are two immediate reasons why last week's protest succeeded whereas numerous Belgrade demonstrations in recent years had failed. First was the arrival of a critical mass of citizens from the provinces. They were angry at being cheated out of their vote and intended to put an end to the regime then and there. The people from outside Belgrade gave the democratic movement a broad base that went beyond the world of the Belgrade intellectuals, politicians, and middle class. Illustrative of this was the determined crowd's total disregard of pleas by newly elected Mayor Milan Protic--a U.S.-educated expert on Balkan history--to refrain from violence.

The second reason for the revolution's success was that the army and police did not intervene in any serious fashion. Police were present and used tear gas on more than one occasion. But they soon withdrew or joined the protesters. Opposition leader Zoran Djindjic has since said that the police were under orders to "destabilize the country" but ignored those commands. It appears that, in any event, they realized that Milosevic was finished--and that Kostunica would soon be their new boss.

Now that the Serbian people have retaken control of their country, its future is entirely in their hands. The government's work must soon begin in earnest.

It has a host of tasks ahead of it in both the domestic and external fields. Its first job at home will be to preserve the unity that saw it to victory on 24 September and 5 October. If the former opposition reverts to its previous in-fighting, then it will soon prove itself unequal to its tasks. That may give a political opening to forces that are now marginalized, such as the backers of Milosevic, the Radicals' Vojislav Seselj, or the Serbian Renewal Movement's Vuk Draskovic.

The new government's second domestic priority will be to carry out its election program, the Contract with Serbia. Some tasks may well prove fairly quick to handle, such as depoliticizing the media, military, police, and judiciary. Kostunica is helped by the Serbian government's decision on 9 October to yield to the will of the voters and resign, with new elections slated for 19 December.

The real difficulty will be implementing deeper political and economic reforms. These will involve taking on solidly entrenched political and economic structures that often date from pre-Milosevic times and frequently have links to organized crime.

But Kostunica currently lacks a legislative majority to approve his government and its programs. In any event, the politicians in his Democratic Opposition (DOS) are likely to be taken up in coming days with cajoling, co-opting, and getting used to cohabitating.

The result could be a redrawing of the political landscape. Indeed, things are moving so quickly that it seems that at least some politicians decided on their long-term options some time ago. Independent economist Mladjan Dinkic--who may well be the next head of the National Bank--says that changes could be complete in as soon as 30 days.

The third internal issue will be renegotiating the constitutional relationship between Serbia and Montenegro. Both republics now have democratic governments, but the relations between them are frosty. It will take much effort and tact on both sides to reconstruct a mutually beneficial relationship.

Initial signs are not promising. Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic has promised to continue his boycott of all federal institutions--including the Kostunica presidency--which he regards as illegal. The DOS, for its part, has indicated that it will turn for support to Djukanovic's Montenegrin rivals in the hitherto pro-Milosevic Socialist People's Party.

Turning to external issues, the most important set involves the other former Yugoslav republics, as well as Kosova. Kostunica will be hard pressed to square the circle between his desire to keep Kosova a part of Serbia with the determination of the Kosovars to become independent. Several of their leaders have made it clear in recent days that they regard Kostunica as just as much a Serbian nationalist as Milosevic. And they have warned him that he will be defeated like Milosevic if he tries to re-establish control over Kosova.

As to relations with the other former republics, the new government will need to address Slovenian, Croatian, Bosnian, and Macedonian demands for a fair division of the former Yugoslavia's assets and properties. Kostunica in particular will have to deal with suspicious leaderships in Zagreb and Sarajevo that regard him as a die-hard nationalist and remember his opposition to the 1995 Dayton agreement. (He has meanwhile received a personal emissary of Croatian Prime Minister Ivica Racan.) And if the new Belgrade government wants good relations with the former Yugoslav republics and with the international community, it will sooner or later have to address the question of cooperating with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal.

The international community seems eager to welcome a democratic Serbia back to its ranks with open arms. The new government will need to take advantage of this abundance of good will and show quickly that Serbia has indeed entered a new era. (Patrick Moore)

Russian Duma Deputies Slam Kostunica's Initial 'Coup.' State Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev (Communist), in televised comments on 6 October, lamented the fact that "Yugoslav society is now split as a result of a coup" enacted by Kostunica. Seleznev also expressed his fear that Kostunica will not be able to control the "chaos" on Belgrade's streets.

Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov was quoted by Interfax as saying the events in the Yugoslav capital do not constitute democracy. Rather, he said, "it reeks of marijuana, vodka, and dollars." NATO has achieved through Kostunica what it failed to do in last year's air raid campaign in Yugoslavia, Zyuganov added.

Also on 6 October, deputies rejected a motion proposed by the Union of Rightist Forces to send the house's greetings to Kostunica as the new Yugoslav president. But later that same day, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov greeted Kostunica in person as president of Yugoslavia. (Jan Cleave)

Russia Reacts To Kostunica's Eventual Victory. In his message to then opposition leader Kostunica, which was released by the Kremlin late on 6 October, Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged to continue to "unswervingly and firmly stand for the unconditional preservation of the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Yugoslavia." "The Yugoslav people," Putin added, "can continue to rely on our support in this and other issues [related to] guaranteeing stability, peace, and security in Yugoslavia and the Balkans as a whole." He also told Kostunica, who was sworn in the next day, that he is convinced that Kostunica and his supporters, "as advocates of democratic values, will do everything necessary for developments to unfold within a legal framework," Interfax reported.

Speaking to journalists during a visit to Algiers on 8 October, Foreign Minister Ivanov denied that Russia had dragged its feet on recognizing Kostunica's victory in the 24 September elections. "Russia was the first to recognize Mr. Kostunica's election victory after such a decision was made by the country's Constitutional Court," Interfax quoted him as saying. "I personally congratulated Kostunica on his victory, and he thanked me."

The previous day in Moscow, Ivanov told Russian Television that during his meeting with Milosevic on 6 October, there was no discussion of guarantees for Milosevic or his family or political party. "We spoke not about the fate of a concrete person or party, but about the fate of Yugoslavia," he remarked.

But an unhappy Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii told journalists in Moscow on 6 October that Ivanov's decision to recognize Kostunica as winner of the presidential elections is Russia's "disgrace," recalling how Russians "had drunk champagne with Ribbentrop and two years later German soldiers had bombed our cities." Interfax quoted Zhirinovskii as calling Kostunica "a purely Yugoslav Yavlinksii" and accusing the West of spending millions of dollars to support the Yugoslav politician during the elections. As for Russia, Zhirinovskii continued, the recognition of Kostunica as president means that Moscow has "lost the Balkans for approximately 50 years." (Jan Cleave)

The Unkindest Cuts Of All. Cypriot authorities have ordered that Milosevic be arrested if he flees to Cyprus, Reuters reported from Nicosia on 6 October. Spyros Stavrinakis of the Central Bank of Cyprus added: "We have given instructions to all banks to closely monitor all transactions which are directly or indirectly connected with Yugoslav entities." Cyprus is well known as a haven for Yugoslav bank deposits and companies.

In Athens, government spokesman Dimitris Reppas said that "Greece will not welcome persons seeking political asylum. Greece does not offer its territory, its airports for visits by elements in Mr. Milosevic's government." An unnamed "senior government official" was even more blunt: "If he arrives in Greece, he will be arrested and handed over [to the Hague-based tribunal] for trial."

And finally (at least as of 9 October), Chinese officials at Beijing airport barred entry to Marko Milosevic and put him back on a return flight to Moscow, from whence he came. (Patrick Moore)

OSCE: Kosova Registration A Success. OSCE Spokesman Roland Bless told "Koha Ditore" of 6 October that OSCE officials have prepared the final voters' lists for Kosova's local elections on 28 October. He dismissed suggestions that the registration process has to be repeated (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 29 September 2000). "Koha Jone" had reported previously that the entire registration process may have to be repeated due to technical problems, including the disappearance of computer disks in the mail.

Bless said that 901,000 people have registered to vote, 863,000 of whom are inside the province and 38,000 outside. He acknowledged that checks of the voters' lists indicate that only between three to four percent of the voters are not registered correctly. This could include cases such as misspellings of names or people having changed their place of residence.

The daily quoted other OSCE officials as saying that up to 15 percent of the names were initially misspelled and that officials have corrected most of them. OSCE Chief of Mission Daan Everts stressed that "when we consider that in Kosova we started from zero, I think that these results are acceptable."

He added that possible mistakes on the voters' lists will not exclude anybody from voting. Voters who are not registered will have a "conditional" right to vote, which means that their ballots will be counted after it has been confirmed that they are indeed entitled to vote. Starting 9 October, the voters' lists will be made public. Every potential voter will have the right to make changes in the registration if he or she finds mistakes. The use of invisible ink at the polling stations to designate voters who have already cast their ballot will prevent double voting.

Meanwhile, the sub-commission for the elections ordered the Democratic Party of Kosova (PDK) to pay a fine of about $2,500 and to withdraw one of their top ten candidates from the local election list in Lipjan as a penalty for violations of the electoral code. The sub-commission ruled that the PDK official to be taken from the list must not be a woman. The punishment came after OSCE officials charged PDK activists with having threatened Democratic League of Kosova (LDK) supporters during an election rally there. In addition, PDK officials recently disregarded an OSCE ban on a demonstration in Fushe Kosova.

The sub-commission also fined the LDK about $500. LDK supporters had prevented PDK supporters in Suhareka from holding a rally there. In earlier incidents the sub-commission had fined the PDK and the Alternative for the Future of Kosova (AAK) about $1,000 each for different violations. The money collected from the penalties will go into a common fund for party campaign financing. "Koha Ditore" noted, however, that apart from such minor incidents, the Kosova election campaign has proceeded fairly peacefully.

In Prishtina, the Transitional Advisory Council for Kosova on 5 October discussed possible limitations on party activities during the election campaign. Some Albanian parties had demanded that stricter rules be applied after school children participated in LDK election rallies during school hours. LDK leader Ibrahim Rugova defended the right of the children, however, to attend public demonstrations.

But he strongly dismissed suggestions that the LDK is campaigning inside schools, universities, or other public institutions. Both Rugova and Fatmir Lima from the PDK acknowledged that the security situation in Kosova has remained stabile since the beginning of the election campaign. Lima said that "in general the security situation now is much better than some weeks ago and is still improving, despite all the problems that we had." (Fabian Schmidt)

School Daze In Kosova. The Transitional Council also discussed the state of education in Kosova. Jonuz Salihaj, head of the commission on education, described the overall situation as "catastrophic." He stressed that "we cannot tolerate a situation in which�3,000 [teachers] remain jobless�and the schools have no counseling services although a large number of students have been traumatized. We cannot tolerate a situation in which we have no libraries." Salihaj acknowledged the international support given to the educational system in Kosova but criticized the slow work of the Department for Education and Science. (Fabian Schmidt)

Power Cuts In Albania. Albania's electricity company (KESH) announced that it will increase the number of power cuts in the coming days and weeks, "Albanian Daily News" reported on 6 October. Albania's hydroelectric power plants had to reduce their production because of a lack of rain in recent weeks. KESH shut down electricity for up to four hours in most of Tirana on 5 October. Power plants along Albania's northern Drin River generate about 80 percent of the country's electricity. KESH has introduced an Italian management to improve services and the collection of payments (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 3 October 2000). (Fabian Schmidt)

Quotations Of The Week. "I'm fed up with this. After this, I'm throwing my hat away and going home. The police in Serbia are more democratic than you think." -- An unnamed "police commander" at the Kolubara mine. Quoted in "The New York Times" on 5 October.

"I am worried about what is happening in Serbia. It is obvious that the people of Serbia want a change." -- leader of Montenegro's Socialist People's Party and former Milosevic ally Predrag Bulatovic. Quoted by Reuters in Podgorica on 4 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 October 2000).

"Russia has great influence in the Balkans, but it should state its position [on the Yugoslav elections] more clearly." -- Kostunica to the Russian television station ORT, on 4 October.

"I think the crisis and arguments about our election results were unnecessary and I am deeply convinced that this is the last time that representatives of the international community and friendly countries like the Russian Federation try to resolve our internal disputes." -- Kostunica after meeting with Ivanov on 6 October. Quoted by Reuters.

"This is a purely political question, but if the Kremlin decides to renew the supply of gas to Yugoslavia, Gazprom will still have to be paid for it by someone and the debt would have to be restructured." -- Ivanov, in the "Financial Times" of 5 October. Gazprom recently disclosed that it cut off gas supplies to Yugoslavia "some time before the election as Belgrade's debts reached nearly $400 million."

"Ultimately I think the Serbian people will understand that the actions of the United States and Western Europe [in bombing Serbia in 1999] were in order to free them from Slobodan Milosevic." -- U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, in London on 6 October. Quoted by Reuters.