After Milosevic?

By Denitch, Bogdan | The Nation, March 3, 1997 | Go to article overview

After Milosevic?


Denitch, Bogdan, The Nation


When Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic finally backed down on February 4, agreeing to recognize the results of municipal elections he had lost in most of Serbia's major cities, including Belgrade, to the opposition coalition Zajedno ("together"), it was seen as a massive and unprecedented victory, and is indeed a potentially major victory for democracy in Serbia. (Since November 17, mass demonstrations have clogged Serbia's streets with up to 400,000 protesters.)

Yet the situation in the present Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) is now extremely fluid, with quickly shifting relations of forces including student organizations, unorganized students, political parties, trade unions and the Serbian Orthodox Church. On the other hand, there is great stability of leadership among the political parties, including the leaders of the Zajedno coalition. Milosevic is no Gorbachev; he will not go quietly into the night. How much violence he will use to maintain power will depend on how far beyond the issue of the stealing of the November municipal elections the opposition goes. Two weeks before, Milosevic's coalition had won the federal elections with a bigger majority than before. How much the sentiments of the electorate have changed as a result of the demonstrations is anyone's guess. What is clear is that Milosevic is much weakened and that most of the paralyzing fear of confronting the authorities is gone.

Zajedno parties are consistent in their detestation of Milosevic but are vague about their own program. They tend to repeat the deadly mantra "privatization and marketization," which, given the obsolete industrial base in a Yugoslavia devastated by five years of blockade, would mean even more unemployment and misery. That is one reason Milosevic may be able to resist the pressure for a change of regime while yielding on control of the cities.

Unfortunately, the joy over the weakening of the regime most responsible for the carnage of the past five years has led many to engage in deep denial about the nationalist character of most of the opposition. Yet several questions arise. For example, why is it, in a multi-ethnic Yugoslavia where 37 percent of the population are not Serbs, that no member of any other ethnic community was invited to speak either at the meetings controlled by Zajedno or at the meetings run by the student leaders? Why were extremist nationalist speakers invited by the students? Why was the Serbian Orthodox Church so visible in the protests? The church did not protest the war, the bombing of Sarajevo, prolonged violation of democratic rights of Albanians in Kosovo, mass destruction of mosques and Roman Catholic churches, repression of the media or mass expulsions of Croat and Muslim citizens of Yugoslavia. …

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