Accessibility links

Breaking News

Balkan Report: October 24, 2000

24 October 2000, Volume 4, Number 79

Kosova's Surroi Sees Rough Road Ahead. Veton Surroi is the founder and publisher of "Koha Ditore" (Daily Times), the leading Albanian-language daily in Kosova, and a long-time political activist in the province. Surroi was one of two independent members of the Kosova Albanian negotiating team at Rambouillet, in France, at the start of 1999. Belgrade's unwillingness to agree to a negotiated settlement at the Rambouillet talks led to NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia, which began in March of that year. As the bombs rained down, Surroi remained in Kosova's capital Prishtina -- determined, he says, to be with his people.

An RFE/RL correspondent spoke with Surroi this week on the sidelines of the Forum 2000 conference in Prague.

Veton Surroi was first asked how the recent change in leadership in Belgrade, and particularly the apparent surrender of power by former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, is likely to affect Kosova: "I think it's still not Milosevic's exit from the scene. Milosevic can exit from the scene only when he gets to The Hague or otherwise is out physically from the region. But in any case, I think it is very important as a movement -- the deposing of Milosevic -- because it is a first step toward democracy in Serbia.

"That in itself will create plenty of opportunities for the Serb opposition. There will be tests of its will, and some of them will emerge immediately. For example, the release of Albanian prisoners who are in Serb jails, or dealing with questions of the past, or dealing with questions of constitutional relations with Montenegro."

Some commentators have noted that Milosevic's ouster may, paradoxically, hurt the interests of independence-minded Kosovars. According to their logic, as long as Milosevic remained in power as Europe's bogeyman, Kosovars could be sure of Western attention and protection. With democratic rule in Belgrade, the West may seek to reduce its commitment to Kosova and push for the province's reintegration into Serbia.

Surroi was asked for his view: "I think it would be short-sighted for the Kosovars to think that their future can depend on the life of Milosevic -- that would mean a totally unnatural relationship with the man who is responsible for the death of 10,000 Kosovars and of many other people all over the former Yugoslavia. So in that sense, I think the Kosovars are more realistic. They have assumed there would be a change. This now of course is a serious test for the Kosovars to move forward in their own democracy."

Surroi nonetheless said he does not foresee a time when Serb forces could return to Kosova: "No, I think that process is irreversibly dead. I don't see anyone accepting Serb forces in Kosova, any Kosovar accepting Serb forces in Kosova."

Surroi noted that United Nations Resolution 1244, adopted by the Security Council in June 1999, draws no link between democratization. in Serbia and a return of Serb forces in Kosova. Instead, the resolution gives the UN a mandate to create democratic, autonomous institutions in the province. He said this is what the UN must continue to do, regardless of developments in Belgrade: "Resolution 1244 has created an engagement that is rather independent from developments in Serbia. So what needs to be done is to strengthen self-rule in Kosova, deepen democracy, create better economic conditions -- move in a fast-forward mode to fulfill resolution 1244."

Surroi was also asked to evaluate the performance of the UN civil administrator in Kosova, Bernard Kouchner: "Dr. Kouchner has no doubt had his heart in the right place. The question is always whether a UN administration can replace an authentic government -- and it can't."

That problem will be partially solved after 28 October, when Kosova is due to hold its first local elections since the start of UN administration. Surroi said he is satisfied with the progress of the electoral campaign so far. "There will be local elections. Despite my initial fears, I think there has been considerable progress on the part of the parties, their responsibility towards the elections and towards maintaining them as non-violent as possible."

RFE/RL asked him whether the changes in Belgrade, as some commentators have suggested, may drive more of the Kosova electorate toward nationalist parties out of fear the province may be pushed toward reintegration with Serbia. Surroi said he does not believe this to be true. In any case, he noted, all political parties representing ethnic Albanians in Kosova advocate independence for the province -- a goal supported by the overwhelming majority of the province's population.

Independence, Surroi summed up, is not the position of one political party or another in Kosova. It is, he said, "a consensual position of all the people." (Jeremy Bransten)

The Undoing Of Milosevic. The following is a program prepared for use by RFE/RL broadcasters based on a "Washington Post" article entitled "How Milosevic Lost His Grip," which appeared on 14 October.

The collapse of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's government was long in coming but sudden in the end. What caused his 13-year presidency to finally fall? Reporters R. Jeffrey Smith and Peter Finn of the "Washington Post" talked to more than 30 well-placed people in the opposition and former government. They concluded it was a combination of factors, rather than any single event, that brought Milosevic down. The two journalists argue that Milosevic's undoing was not simply a result of a "spontaneous revolt of an inflamed people." They pinpoint other factors that they say ultimately left Milosevic isolated and his power broken.

The reporters paint a picture of Milosevic as a man who imagined himself invincible and infallible. When confronted with negatives about his rule, he denied facts and blamed others.

Zoran Lilic, a former vice president of Milosevic's Socialist Party, warned Milosevic in July that his position was "very bad" and that an election would be risky. Milosevic is said to have replied that those fears were not supported by any argument. Lilic resigned from the party out of frustration.

Lilic's warning proved prophetic. Milosevic was soundly defeated by challenger Vojislav Kostunica in the presidential vote on September 24. It was an election Milosevic himself had called.

Smith and Finn also write that Milosevic demanded blind loyalty. Anyone with news he did not like or did not want to hear was unwelcome.

Radoman Bozovic, a former head of one of the country's biggest companies, said he went to see Milosevic in May and that everyone was telling the former president that the country had enough oil and other essential commodities. After Bozovic told Milosevic this was not true, Bozovic was not invited back for more discussions.

Ahead of the election, opinion polls showed that Kostunica was far ahead. But advisers told Milosevic the polls were "Western-financed distortions." They instead painted a rosy picture of Yugoslavia's economic recovery and reconstruction of roads, bridges and factories damaged by NATO bombings last year.

In a 12 September campaign speech, Milosevic opened a new power plant at the Iron Gates as if it were a symbol of victory itself: "[This plant] represents an answer to violence and injustice, represents a manifestation of the civilization and superiority of one nation that does not allow itself to be defeated."

Milosevic refused to see the progress of his opponents or the decline in his own status. He thought the election would solidify his power -- and that if he did not win, he could steal victory. Barring that, he thought the police and army would use force to keep him in power.

Smith and Finn write that he was wrong on all counts.

In a speech just one day ahead of the election, Milosevic -- ironically, in hindsight -- said the vote would "clarify" the political situation: "I am expecting this election will bring good to our country and our people. I'm expecting the political scene will be clarified. It will prepare the ground for long-term stability and even faster economic development."

But it wasn't just Milosevic's own blindness. Smith and Finn say Serbia's traditionally fractured opposition can take credit for finally coming together behind Kostunica. Part of that credit goes to the Otpor (Resistance) student movement. Otpor activist Ivan Marovic, earlier this year, said his group's role was to focus the opposition's attention on challenging Milosevic -- not each other: "In the course of the last 10 years, [the opposition] proved to be very inefficient, partly because [there] was not [a good] atmosphere for political parties but also because they were quarrelling among themselves. They were making their internal problems a priority, and the disputes that exist between the political parties were more important to them than disputes they [had] with Milosevic. So this brought much disappointment, and that's why people probably supported resistance movements more than opposition parties."

The opposition's superior organization paid off when, after the vote, the election commission falsely declared Kostunica had not won an outright victory and that a run-off would be held.

The Democratic Opposition of Serbia quickly organized protests and strikes that grew to involve the entire country. They also organized their own secret force of 1,000 armed military veterans to use if necessary. Amateur boxers were recruited to push aside police roadblocks. Student activists observed military barracks and monitored police radio transmissions.

Smith and Finn quote Democratic Party leader Zoran Djindjic as saying the protests and strikes were aimed not at Milosevic but at convincing the police and the army that the people were united behind Kostunica. For days before the rally, Djindjic says, opposition leaders urged the army and police not to use force.

On 5 October, hundreds of thousands of people converged on Belgrade, and thousands more protested throughout the country. In almost every case, the police stood aside and offered no real resistance.

The shouts and heckles of the protesters in Belgrade were aimed squarely at winning over police on the street: "You are protecting [Milosevic]! Shame on you! Let's go, brothers -- come here, come [police] commander, come commander. Nobody will hurt you."

Kostunica addressed the crowd that evening. It was clear to everyone the people were united: "Belgrade is Serbia today! [Crowd sings Kostunica's name]. Our big beautiful Serbia arose in order that one man, Slobodan Milosevic, should leave! [Crowd roars.]"

Smith and Finn say it was ultimately the decision of the army and police not to intervene that proved Milosevic's final undoing.

Momcilo Perisic, an opposition leader and former army chief of staff, says Milosevic eventually demanded that the police and army shoot protesters who stormed key buildings. Milosevic was also ready to use rockets and bombs.

But each time Milosevic ordered the police to put tanks on the street, or to use tear gas or seize broadcast centers, they refused. When a mob attacked Milosevic's party headquarters in Belgrade, police did not respond, and those inside had to leave by a back door.

Perisic says this is the first time Milosevic realized how long he had been "living an illusion." Perisic says Milosevic "was in shock" when his orders were refused. Then on 6 October, Kostunica agreed to a secret meeting with Milosevic at one of the former president's villas. It was a fearful occasion and not clear what Milosevic would do. But when General Nebojsa Pavkovic, a long-time ally of Milosevic, came to fetch Kostunica to take him to the meeting, the general brought with him a powerful document: a written statement that the army recognized Kostunica's victory. Kostunica formally had the army's backing.

Smith and Finn write that, nevertheless, getting Milosevic to admit defeat was difficult. Milosevic was defiant at the start of the discussion, saying Kostunica had still not won more than half of the presidential vote.

Kostunica then informed Milosevic that the constitutional court had earlier that day reversed itself and certified Kostunica as the winner of the September election.

Milosevic replied: "I have not received that information" -- and then quickly conceded. (Wendy Schwartz)

Will Of The People. General Pavkovic met with Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Pavle in Belgrade on 18 October. Each man congratulated the other on his calming role during the recent transfer of power in Serbia. Pavkovic told the patriarch: "I personally, like my colleagues, knew what the will of the people was. We did not hesitate even for a moment in respecting the popular will. This was a matter of the fate of the nation, state, and army," "Vesti" reported on 19 October. (Patrick Moore)

No Return To The Barracks. Former General Vuk Obradovic -- who, like Momcilo Perisic, left the army and went into opposition politics -- said that he has left military life for good. He added, however, that he did recommend to Kostunica recently that all of the politically-motivated charges brought by the Milosevic-era military against opposition army personnel be declared null and void, "Vesti" reported on 19 October. Obradovic nonetheless denied that he had any vested interest in resurrecting his own career by making the suggestion. His own life in the military ended on 20 May 1992, he added. (Patrick Moore)

Montenegro, Serbia Air Each Other's News Programs. Montenegrin Television began on 19 October to rebroadcast on its second channel the news program of state-run Serbian television for the first time since 1998, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Serbian television began retransmitting Montenegrin newscasts on its second channel the previous day. (Patrick Moore)

Quotations Of The Week. "It is too early to say that [Kostunica's victory] is a vote for democracy. But it is a vote that opens the way to these processes through other elections. Some concrete steps should be taken and the most indispensable one would be to release the political prisoners in Serbia. Another step would be an explicit declaration condemning that sinister policy that gave rise to genocide and ethnic cleansing." -- Albanian President Rexhep Meidani, quoted by Reuters on 20 October.

"Our main task is to give support to President Kostunica, because the elections alone cannot solve the problems confronting Yugoslavia." -- Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, quoted by Reuters in Bucharest on 20 October.