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South Slavic: June 1, 2000

1 June 2000, Volume 2, Number 21

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 I appeared on 25 May.

Cedomir Cupic: I agree with Mr. Vucetic that repression by the regime would probably unite the opposition better than anything else. The government is resorting to violence--selective state-sponsored terror-- and recently it has even started to use small groups of terrorists--thugs and bodyguards--[against its opponents]. All those things will eventually force the opposition to act united, since, if it remains fragmented, it will have no chance at all against the terror.

We have here a quasi-system that has destroyed all values and set off various crises--the economic and the social ones as well as the political crisis. It destroyed the moral substance of both the community and the individual. It imposed corruption by gathering the scum of the earth...[and] outlaws and bringing them into the very state apparatus. The state has become a personal state of one man. All those things are very dangerous, and this country is in serious danger.

Omer Karabeg: We were talking about the possibility of Milosevic being replaced after [eventual] elections. However, do you think Milosevic would ever agree to call elections? Why would he do so if there is the slightest chance that he will lose, since, in his case, losing elections would mean either exile or a ticket to The Hague?

Slobodan Vucetic: We are approaching the local elections as well as those for the Chamber of Citizens of the Federal Assembly. I think that the government would never agree to early general and presidential elections in Serbia. It would never even agree to discuss the matter.

What can be done, then? The opposition could try with strong, non-institutional methods--since the institutional ones have been destroyed--and try to force the government to accept its demand for early general and presidential elections to be held together with the local and federal ones. However, it is hard to believe that it would happen--I am afraid that the regime would rather increase repression and make the country slide toward the abyss.

Omer Karabeg: You think that Milosevic would agree to call the local elections?

Slobodan Vucetic: I think that he will call the local and federal elections in the fall. He will call the federal ones in order to show to Montenegro that he is for the federation [on his own terms] and the local ones because he is counting on the divisions within the opposition [to render the opposition impotent]. Furthermore, if the opposition boycotts these elections, he will seize the opportunity to take over local authority everywhere in Serbia, together with the local media. That would allow him to prepare for the general elections next year.

Cedomir Cupic: Milosevic would agree to call the elections only if he were certain of victory. That means that he will call the local elections only if he manages to undermine the unity of the opposition.... The only thing left to the opposition [now] is to resort to non-institutional forms of pressure. If a huge number of citizens take to the streets, there is no army or police force that would dare to go against them.

Omer Karabeg: As far as I can see, the opposition has renounced street methods--overthrowing the regime by force--since it fears that could provoke a civil war. How should they use non-institutional methods that fall short of violence?

Cedomir Cupic: ....The government's [repressive] activities were stopped at once as soon as the people took to the streets in Kraljevo and Pirot. The opposition should learn a lot from these examples. You cannot achieve anything without investing something. After all, Slobodan Milosevic did the same, using both institutional and non-institutional means on his way to take power through a coup within the establishment. The same means should probably be used [now], since there are no institutional means left in Serbia. Legality has been completely destroyed, and those in power can do whatever they wish to do.

Slobodan Vucetic: The opposition has no choice. There is nothing it can do within the institutions of the state. The key institutions have either been destroyed, marginalized, or reduced to mere instruments of the top structures....

The fight for changes that will lead up to taking power is a far cry from child's play. It implicitly requires sound organization, unity, and also the readiness to take certain risks. That fight demands extraordinary coordination, the most effective use of the independent media, work among the citizens, daily protests, and other forms of civil disobedience and resistance.

Otpor is a great example of all this. And those methods are...I am afraid, the only ones left. Nevertheless, the opposition must be thoroughly organized in order to avoid any sort of incidents and not to give an excuse to the regime to declare a state of emergency.

This is what Milosevic might actually wish to do since his government has no other way left to maintain basic social, political, and economic stability. This is why they resort to repression.

Omer Karabeg: What you are saying is rallies, rallies, and continuous protests. However, what can it accomplish? We had protests last fall. They started with 50,000 people, and it ended with 100 of them gathered at in Belgrade's Republic Square.

Cedomir Cupic: It takes a specific impetus for a [successful] rally. As I said earlier, when the media were clamped down on in Kraljevo, people went out and stayed until they won. One must endure and not give up. If one gives up, then energy is lost, which always works to the government's advantage.

Omer Karabeg: It is not very probable that Milosevic's regime will fall through elections, and even less so [that he will be ousted] in a coup, since Milosevic has a firm grip on the army and the police. However, could the regime implode, as has already happened with some other dictatorships?

Cedomir Cupic: When people want something, when they are ready and motivated, then they can find many ways to subvert the regime and its sources of support. Civil disobedience, for instance, might involve non-payment of taxes, TV license fees, etc.

However, I would not exclude a civil war, i.e. a severe internal conflict provoked by intensified terror either sponsored by the state or organized through terrorist groups.

Once the bloodshed starts, nothing can be excluded. This is an unstable country with so many imported weapons. It would be terrible if a civil war erupted here. As a human being, I am very much afraid of that. As an analyst, when I think about all sorts of things we have had in the last 10 years in this region--wars, horrible deaths, and disasters--I cannot exclude that possibility. Therefore, everything is possible, although I am deeply against any sort of violence and wish this [crisis] could end peacefully. I sincerely hope that no one dies, and that those from the top structures are held responsible for what they have done and brought to justice.

Omer Karabeg: Mr. Vucetic, do you fear the worst--a civil war?

Slobodan Vucetic: Of course I do, although, if you allow me to make fun of myself, I am a depressive optimist. This regime rules by means of repression, spreading fear, blackmail, and reprisals; it will not hesitate to "restore public order" if there are massive and determined protests. That "order" will be "restored" with police repression since, over the last 10 years, the police have grown into a terrifying force that outnumbers the army. They are also much better equipped than the army, 80 percent of which consists of conscripts. [Ed.: Milosevic never fully trusted the army, which has its own traditions and power centers. He consequently built up the police over the years as a praetorian guard that was and is entirely his creature.]

Therefore, if there is a serious conflict, a state of emergency would be declared. According to the law, a state of emergency is maintained by the Yugoslav Army while the police forces are put under the army command. The president of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia would head the entire organization of the state of emergency.

I think that this regime is ready to do anything just to remain in power--and therefore everything should be done in order not to give it an excuse to declare a state of emergency.