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South Slavic: April 19, 2001

19 April 2001, Volume 3, Number 14


A discussion led by Srdjan Kusovac of RFE/RL's South Slavic Service.

RFE/RL: Evidence continues to pile up of seemingly irreconcilable policy differences between Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica of the Democratic Party of Serbia, and Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic of the Democratic Party. Points of contention include: the arrest of indicted war criminals, policy toward Montenegro, attitudes toward possible elections in Kosovo, policies toward key army and police appointees of the Milosevic regime, and attitudes toward the U.S.

Kostunica and Djindjic are the key individuals in the governing coalition -- the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) -- which could soon split apart because of the differences between the two men.

Perhaps most importantly, additional conflicts seem inevitable because neither man has managed to gain clear control over any one of three important instruments of power: the security forces, media, or finances.

"The federal president currently commands the army without...regular consultations with the Supreme Defense Council, which also includes the presidents of Serbia and Montenegro," says Dragan Vuksic. He is a retired colonel of the Yugoslav Army, the former head of the army's Directorate for International Military Cooperation, and now an official of the Movement for Democratic Serbia.

Vuksic: The Yugoslav Army is, in war and in peace, commanded by the president of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, in accordance with the decisions of the Supreme Defense Council. But the Supreme Defense Council does not operate at present.

Milan Milutinovic is still president of Serbia in name but not in fact [because he is a carryover from the last regime]. He is not interested in the functioning of the Supreme Defense Council and the behavior of the army.

Ever since the leadership of the Second Army was replaced and the leadership of the Navy retired [following the ouster of Milosevic], Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic stopped caring about the [army and its politics]. The only thing he cares about is that the Yugoslav Army does not intervene should Montenegro secede, which is more than certain [to happen].

One can safely conclude that the federal president is the only one who in fact exercises military and political control over the Yugoslav Army.

RFE/RL: One should add that Kostunica has been holding frequent meetings with a body that is officially called a Collegium of the General Staff. Some experts find the legal basis for and the self-assigned responsibilities of that body questionable.

And one should also mention the Serbian police, which Milosevic -- during a period when he had no trust in the army -- transformed into a paramilitary organization, equipped with cannons, mortars, and antitank helicopters.

Vuksic: In peacetime, the police force has, of course, a separate sphere of activities, and it is commanded by the interior minister. In wartime, the police become part of the army -- or really the armed forces, although that term does not exists in the constitution. Well, then, who commands the police? Of course, it is Mr. [Dusan] Mihajlovic as [Serbian] interior minister.

RFE/RL: The situation in southern Serbia reflects the contest for power between the two chief protagonists.

Vuksic: In southern Serbia we have joint units of army and police troops, whose activities are coordinated -- and one should add politically controlled and commanded -- by Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic. Therefore, he is responsible for the [overall] political situation there.

However, one should also note that the normal chain of command is not operative. This chain of command is supposed to be: President Kostunica -- the Supreme Defense Council -- the General Staff -- and last, any unit on the ground.

But if that chain of command had functioned, President Kostunica and the Supreme Defense Council would have been informed about the situation [in the Presevo region] by General [Nebojsa] Pavkovic, [the chief of the General Staff], and he would have had to present his proposals [instead of Covic]. The Supreme Defense Council would have to decide about Pavkovic's proposals. It is well known that Pavkovic's [strategic] concept is completely different from that of Mr. Covic, who [recently] called [Pavkovic and a few other veteran army commanders] "dogs of war."

RFE/RL: The situation with the media is even more complex than with the security forces. "According to some serious opinion polls, none of the media openly favors one or another political current at present," says Darko Brocic from Strategic Marketing, the leading agency in Serbia for public opinion research. However, he adds that there are some nuances [in the media] regarding inclinations toward one or another political current.

Brocic: We cannot say that some media favor President Kostunica and others Prime Minister Djindjic. However, there are some nuances that one can detect, although there is no clear-cut division between them. The nuances nonetheless suggest that some media give more space to Kostunica, while others give more space or better time to Djindjic.

RFE/RL: Brocic says that television is the most influential medium, due to poverty and the habits of the population. As far as news is concerned, state-run television (RTS) remains the most powerful medium. Its key news programs have a greater audience than the news programs of all the competing stations taken together.

Brocic: Every night some 2 million people watch the main news program of state-run television. That is a third of the population. BK Television has a news program called "Telefakt" a half an hour before, at 18:55. A little less than 350,000 people watch it every night. Slightly less than 300,000 watch the main news program of Studio B Television.

RFE/RL: The antagonism between the different political currents within the DOS became visible when, on 25 March, an entire speech of the federal president at a meeting of his party leadership was announced and then broadcast during prime time. Here is what Milan Vucetic, the vice president of the Nezavisnost (Independence) Trade Union of RTS has to say about that:

Vucetic: We think that [such a broadcast] belongs in the commercial program. According to Article 13 of the Law on Public Information, such a program must be clearly and distinctively separated from the regular broadcast. It is not permitted to advertise tobacco, alcohol, medicine, or political or religious messages in this type of program. Since this was [the meeting of] a steering committee of just one party within the DOS, we consider it an advertisement for that party.

RFE/RL: State-run TV has a huge audience for its main news program but it ekes out a bare existence in advertising revenues while it waits for the new government to make a strategic decision about its future. Meanwhile, other commercial and private stations are getting stronger. They are finding new political patrons and introducing short hourly news programs [in addition to their usual fare of entertainment].

Some audience-research surveys made for some big marketing agencies show that the most influential station is Pink TV, which broadcasts some 60 percent of all the commercials in Serbia. The fact that commercials are what brings in money makes it clear why Pink is currently the most powerful broadcaster in Serbia.

Besides the introduction of the news program, what is new in that station -- previously known for lacking good taste -- is that its owner, a former member of the leadership of the United Yugoslav Left [of Milosevic's wife Mira Markovic], now favors Djindjic.

As a counterbalance, there is the Karic brothers' BK Television, which is owned by the company of the same name and is very close to the federal president. Several persons from the Karics' payroll cooperate with the federal president, and some of them are even employed as his advisors.

But the balance on the media scene was upset recently when YU info TV, which was created as Milosevic's main instrument of propaganda for Montenegro, started to openly publicize the views of the new federal president.

Federal Telecommunications Minister Boris Tadic, who imposed a moratorium on assigning new radio and TV frequencies, allowed the daily "Blic" to take over the Kosava TV station, which used to belong to Milosevic's daughter. Tadic is a member of [Djindjic's] Democratic Party, and some of the shareholders of the new station are at the same time majority owners of Pink. By contrast, Radio B-92, although the most popular and certainly the most professional and really independent broadcaster in Serbia, has not yet managed to get a license for a television frequency.

There is a standoff among daily newspapers, too. The papers with the biggest circulation are "Blic" and "Vecernje Novosti." It seems that the first one is somewhat closer to the prime minister of Serbia, and the other to the federal president.

Brocic: "Blic" is the most widely-read newspaper, which does not mean that it has the most printed copies. After "Blic" comes "Vecernje Novosti," then there [is a sharp drop], and then there are "Politika" and "Glas Javnosti," each with a similar number of readers. Then, once again, there [is a gap], and then there is the daily "Danas."

RFE/RL: Along with the military and the media, the question of finances plays a key role in the ongoing power game. There is no money in Serbia, and this is why much power lies with whoever controls foreign assistance money. Our Belgrade correspondent Biljana Stepanovic says that one cannot even say how much money has arrived in Serbia since the government was replaced:

Stepanovic: According to the official information published on the Internet site of the Serbian Ministry for Relations with International and Financial Institutions, some $685 million worth of foreign aid for Yugoslavia has been announced, planned, and partly or completely delivered. The only missing information is how much of that sum has arrived so far. According to the Institute of Economics in Belgrade, Yugoslavia has received some $250 million in foreign aid, which is far from enough. The country needs $1 billion more to survive this year.

RFE/RL: Since there is no single channel for receiving and distributing foreign aid, there is a visible dualism in this area, too. Both the government of Serbia and the federal one have contacts with the West. Both of them negotiate donations, both of them seek money, and both receive it.

Djindjic has managed to gather experts with an international reputation. The economic sector of the federal government, which suffers chronically from a lack of identity, has been entrusted entirely to Miroljub Labus, the only federal official in whose competence and intentions even official Podgorica has confidence.

Stepanovic: Besides the Red Cross, which distributes aid to the most needy, the main distributor is the government of Serbia, followed by the federal government. The European Commission has announced some 240 million euros in aid. A big donors' conference to promote the reconstruction and transition of the Yugoslav economy is to be held in Brussels this summer. In the meantime, it has been announced that, because of some doubts about the way that aid has been used to date, in the future donors will send aid for food, medicine, and energy according to a strict plan. That plan is slated to be drawn up by the government of Serbia and the federal government.