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South Slavic: May 25, 2000

25 May 2000, Volume 2, Number 20

Can The Serbian Opposition Topple Milosevic?

In today's Radio-Most (Bridge) we are going to discuss whether the chances are greater now for Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's regime to be overthrown by the Serbian opposition. Our participants are two political analysts: Cedomir Cupic, a professor of the Belgrade Faculty of Political Science, and Slobodan Vucetic, a former judge of the Constitutional Court of Serbia. Part II will appear on 1 June.

Omer Karabeg: Since the April rallies, the opposition in Serbia has been demonstrating a growing unity. Opposition leaders now appear in public together, avoiding quarrels, and generally, they seem to have forgotten their previous conflicts and disagreements that used to be a burden for their mutual relations in the years that followed the breakup of the Zajedno (Together) coalition. Do you find this unity a contrived one, or has something really changed in the relations between the opposition leaders? Mr. Cupic?

Cedomir Cupic: I do not know whether something has changed in the relations between the opposition leaders, but one thing is certain--the political scene in Serbia has changed. The responsibility of the leading opposition people is now immense; therefore, I assume that their egos and hostilities are now pushed into the background. It seems to me that the prerequisites for what is called a "social intelligence" are appearing. It means that differences, hostilities, and egos ought to be suppressed for the sake of a more important task that has to be completed.

Omer Karabeg: Do you think, Mr. Vucetic, that the opposition leaders are aware of their new responsibility?

Slobodan Vucetic: It is hard to tell, but I find them now more aware of their responsibility than they were, for example, one year ago. At that time there was a very deep crisis of mutual trust, especially between the two main opposition leaders [Zoran Djindjic and Vuk Draskovic-ed.].

I do not believe that the crisis has been overcome, but I find them increasingly aware that there is something far more important then their personal hostilities and selfish party interests--and that is a victory over the regime.

There is no other way to achieve this unless the opposition gets united. I am not talking about the opposition parties only but about the entire democratic alternative comprising independent trade unions, the Otpor (Resistance) student movement, as well as non-governmental organizations.

Omer Karabeg: Nevertheless, there is one more thing that indicates that this unity of the opposition is built on sand. All public opinion polls show that the opposition would almost certainly win the elections--of course if there were elections--only if the opposition participates united and with a single electoral list. However, some among the main opposition leaders have strong reservations about the single list. They want to make it clear what belongs to whom from the very beginning. Do you think, Mr. Cupic, that such an approach reflects political immaturity or--as some would call it-- sound political pragmatism?

Cedomir Cupic: I would call it deep political immaturity, and more than that--political mischief-making. If it happens, the agony of this state and this society will go on, but it will also show that the opposition leaders are no better than the ruling leadership. [Furthermore, it will sooner or later come to light whether any of the ostensibly opposition politicians have been quietly collaborating with the regime over time.]....

Slobodan Vucetic: I think that the "political public" of Serbia is right to be discontent with the very pronounced slowness of the opposition leaders to reach a common strategy. That casts doubt on the sincerity of their joint efforts and feeds fears that the famous 1996-1997 split might happen again.

Misunderstandings concerning the single list and criteria for the creation of that list only increase this fear. It all comes down to the distribution of future legislative mandates. On one side, there is a demand by the small parties that every party receives an equal number of parliamentary seats, no matter what its real size. On the other hand, the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) wants to distribute the seats according to the results of the last general elections--which is, of course, absurd, since the Serbian Renewal Movement was practically the only opposition party that participated in those elections.

Therefore, an objective solution needs to be found, based on a measurable criterion. The only such criterion would be the results of the 1996 local elections--the very last time when the opposition was united.

There is no doubt--as all competent analysis shows--that the opposition should not dare to participate in a new election other than with a single list and with joint candidates, especially in the local elections. The law on local self-government has introduced a one-round plurality system, which gives a chance only to a united opposition. If the opposition took part in local elections united, it would be a pity--and an act of political stupidity--not to do the same in the federal elections. That is because the electoral system we have now with 29 electoral districts favors the strongest party or group.

Omer Karabeg: It seems to me that a most dangerous thing is going on right now, namely indulging in calculations about the distribution of power that has not yet been won. But Goran Svilanovic, president of the Civic Alliance of Serbia, recently said: "The most important thing now is to replace this regime. Who will rule after them is less important." That motto brought together very heterogeneous parties in Slovakia and helped them to overthrow [former Prime Minister Vladimir] Meciar. This pattern does not seem to be applicable in Serbia, however.

Cedomir Cupic: As I have just said, it would be a shame and very stupid not to apply this model.... The important thing now to create a civic movement. We have already seen it in other East European countries where the opposition parties did create a united movement in order to remove those in power and create conditions to change the system.

They turned out to be very successful. If someone cannot grasp that, then it shows that they lack [some very essential qualities for survival in politics.].... No one has the right to make a mistake in politics. The moment you do make a mistake, you must either resign or to be held legally responsible, if the mistake was a major one.

Omer Karabeg: Mr. Cupic says that no one has the right to make a mistake in politics. However, the present opposition leaders have been losing elections for 10 years now, and still they never resign. Instead, they stay at the helm of their parties. What would be your comment, Mr. Vucetic?

Slobodan Vucetic: Everywhere in the world--and we have seen examples in Germany, England, and elsewhere--an electoral defeat brings about the resignation of the party leader. Some of our party leaders have already lost seven or nine elections in these 10 years--either local, general or federal--and, as far as I know, none of them has ever resigned.

I think that it would be good for the political scene in Serbia if new politicians were given a chance, the way it was done in the Civic Alliance of Serbia or when Mr. Slavko Perovic resigned after a severe electoral defeat of his Liberal Alliance in Montenegro.

Those are not only gestures of personal honesty, but also moves showing a responsible approach towards the voters. I think that some opposition leaders, for that matter, imitate those in power because... they show no signs of readiness to drop the reins.

Omer Karabeg: Mr. Cupic, do you find the present opposition leaders used-up?

Cedomir Cupic: That remains to be seen. As far as their achievements so far are concerned, they are indeed used-up. On the other hand, their behavior is a consequence of the way the opposition in Serbia was created. Those parties emerged from a populist movement launched by the communist party, which was then in power. All those parties are prisoners of that populism. Those are all so-called "Fuehrer parties," whose leaders and a few of the leaders' personal devotees make all the decisions, while all the others simply follow them.

With democratic changes in Serbia, life within the parties will probably change as well. Instead of an irreplaceable leader, parties will have a leadership whose members will be able to replace the leader at any moment. This is the way it is in all democratic countries. [Former Chancellor Helmut] Kohl did unite the Germans, and he is probably one of the greatest German politicians of the century. But he still had to resign when he made a mistake. You have the case of [former Prime Minister Constantine] Mitsotakis in Greece, etc.

Omer Karabeg: The Serbian Orthodox Church and the heir to the throne Aleksandar Karadjordjevic have a growing role as unifying factors of the opposition. The [recent] meeting of the opposition leaders in Athens was quite indicative of that. For once, none of the opposition leaders refused Aleksandar Karadjordjevic's invitation. What is even more interesting, at the Athens meeting they all agreed to create a council of democratic forces of Serbia, which will be presided over by Crown Prince Aleksandar and Patriarch Pavle--the Crown and the Church. Mr. Vucetic, how do you explain that?

Slobodan Vucetic: As far as I can see, this idea of a council of democratic forces cannot be implemented because, basically, it was not truly agreed to. The Serbian Renewal Movement did not accept it, and some other parties remained reserved towards it.

I would rather say that [need for] the Crown and the Church to make their good offices available shows the extent of the crisis within the opposition. Obviously, the process of unifying of the opposition has been moving along very slowly over the last six months, like a caravan whose speed is determined by the slowest camel. I personally think that the opposition will be forced to unify not by somebody's good offices, but by the growing repression by the regime. If anything will make them get together, it will be the growing and increasingly obvious repression by the regime.