More than ever, dissent in Yugoslavia is scarce

Fears of a crackdown escalate after the murder of an independentpublisher who was a Milosevic critic.

NATO planners may have hoped their operation would be a boost to the political opposition here, but just the opposite has happened. Throughout the capital, opponents of President Slobodan Milosevic are in a state of fear. Some have changed apartments; others have fled the country.

"With this attack by NATO, [opposition politicians] are suffering," says Konstantin Obradovic, the vice president of the opposition Civic Alliance in Belgrade. "The population has become absolutely against all concepts of Western-style democracy. Nobody talks about elections anymore."

Fears were stoked even more Sunday when Slavko Curuvija, the publisher of an independent newspaper and magazine here, was murdered just outside his apartment in downtown Belgrade.

Mr. Curuvija was a leading critic of Mr. Milosevic, and even though his publications had been banned by the regime several months ago, he had continued publishing. Though no one has been publicly fingered for the shooting, it was carried out in a way that is consistent with other political murders over the past few years.

"This is taken as a clear message," says an independent journalist in Belgrade, who, like others, asked that his name not be published. "Now we understand."

Voices of dissent are becoming ever more scarce. One independent journalist says he is constantly followed by secret service policemen; another recently moved to Bosnia, out of fear for his life. B-92, the most popular independent radio station here, was closed last week. Veron Matic, the editor in chief, was briefly jailed.

Sonja Biserko, a leading human rights activist, recently left Yugoslavia for Sweden. Workers at her office reached by telephone Monday would not say why.

Many students from the University of Belgrade, once a leading voice of reform, are now silent in their dissent. Some can be seen at daily anti-NATO protests, which have taken on a strong nationalist tone.

The result is that, while almost everyone here is against the NATO bombing, there is no one to stand up and say that Milosevic is at least partially to blame.

Just two years ago, the opposition appeared on the brink of challenging Milosevic for power. Though Zajedno (Together), a powerful coalition of independent media, students, and opposition leaders, broke down over internal rivalries, members continued to significantly challenge Milosevic - until violence broke out in Kosovo in February 1998.

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