Magazine article The World Today

Plus Ca Change in Former Yugoslavia?

Magazine article The World Today

Plus Ca Change in Former Yugoslavia?

Article excerpt

Christopher Cviic

This year started poorly for the leaders of the rump Yugoslavia and Croatia, but both have grown in strength. The Dayton Accords on Bosnia promised change that has proved difficult to achieve. Following September's local elections in Bosnia, aimed at setting the framework for democracy and the rule of law, is there still a democratic prospect for the former Yugoslav states?

AT THE BEGINNING OF 1997 THE OUTLOOK SEEMED set for serious and far-reaching political change in Croatia and Serbia, the two biggest successor-states of former Yugoslavia, both of them ruled by autocratic leaders. President Franjo Tudjman, Croatia's leader since 1990, was diagnosed ill with cancer last November. This led to widespread speculation that he would not be well enough to stand for president again in June after his second term.

Dissatisfaction with his rule had grown - in the bigger cities including the capital, Zagreb, in particular. The authorities tried to stifle it with ever tighter control on the media. While Tudjman was in America for medical tests, his government tried to close down Radio 101, an enormously popular independent station in Zagreb. That provoked widespread protests, culminating in a peaceful rally of 120,000 people in the city's main square. The attempt to shut the station had to be called off.

The president's apparently deteriorating condition led to furious, behind-the-scenes activity in his own party about the succession. The post-Tudjman era seemed to have begun with Tudjman still there.

President Slobodan Milosevic, leader of the rump Yugoslavia the former federal republics of Serbia and Montenegro - was facing large-scale daily demonstrations in his capital, Belgrade, against his administration's refusal to recognise opposition victories there and in other cities in local elections held in November 1996. His Socialist renamed Communist - party was openly accused of having `stolen the election'.

Milosevic has been in power much longer than Tudjman. He was appointed Communist party leader in Serbia in May 1986 when he was only 45.

The key to the president's power was his alliance with Serb nationalism. His popularity with fellow-Serbs rose to greater heights when he unleashed war in pursuit of a Greater Serbia - first against Croatia in 1991 and the following year against Bosnia, using Tito's Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) as a hammer.

Last winter, with the war for a Greater Serbia lost, and the country on its knees economically, Milosevic seemed to be in real trouble, the regime's days in power numbered. This impression grew when, under strong international pressure coupled with hints of reimposition of economic sanctions, the authorities conceded to the jubilant opposition the control of Belgrade and a number of other cities.


However, things have turned out somewhat differently. As we approach the end of 1997, both Milosevic and Tudjman are still not only around but firmly in the saddle. Tudjman's health improved dramatically in the first half of this year following treatment by French specialists. In June, a month after his 75th birthday, he was re-elected president for a third five-year term, easily defeating his two rivals.

Milosevic, too, successfully weathered the crisis. Prevented by the Serbian constitution from standing for the Serbian presidency for the third time he had himself elected president of Yugoslavia in July by the federal parliament in Belgrade made up of deputies from Serbia and Montenegro.

The presidency is largely ceremonial, but few doubted that, having taken the post on, Milosevic would upgrade it. That was soon confirmed by regular visits this summer and early autumn from Richard Holbrooke and other senior American and European offcials. They were trying to persuade him to use his influence with the Bosnian Serbs to make them support the implementation of the 1995 Dayton Accords which ended the war in Bosnia. …

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