Hurdles for new Yugoslav regime

France's foreign minister arrived Oct. 10 for talks, as Kostunica grappled with legacy of Milosevic rule.

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There is no script for the democrats of Yugoslavia who are now grappling with the legacy of 13 years of authoritarian structures left behind by ousted President Slobodan Milosevic.

Just days after a popular uprising brought him to power, new President Vojislav Kostunica and his allies are moving faster and more lithely than expected to gain control of state institutions, the Army, and police, analysts say.

But Mr. Milosevic still lingers in Yugoslavia, and his vow to remain in politics casts a long shadow that could spell trouble. At stake is security in the Balkans, and the speed with which Serbia - after a decade of involvement in bitter ethnic wars - is welcomed back into the European fold. Kicking off an expected stream of foreign dignitaries, French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine arrived in Belgrade yesterday.

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"This opposition is more disciplined, organized, cohesive, and prepared than others were in Eastern Europe. They had 10 years to think these things through, and they know what they are doing," says Jim Hooper, director of Balkan policy for the International Crisis Group in Washington. "They are very smart and moving quickly. We're going to see a 100-day plan, but the course of it will be set in the first week."

After an apparent array of machinations to manipulate the Sept. 24 vote to his benefit and, when that didn't work, cancel it, Milosevic grudgingly confirmed Mr. Kostunica's victory Oct. 6. But experts say it will take time and significant effort to dismantle Milosevic's far-reaching influence at the federal level and in the technically more powerful republic of Serbia. "He hasn't accepted it, despite his public words.... He can exert a real influence on his party and could be very dangerous," Mr. Hooper says. "As long as Milosevic is there, it is a sign to other hard-liners to hang in and ride it out. They can't leave him as a legitimized political figure in Serbia. That is the worst of all possible scenarios."

Milosevic's Socialist Party already seems to be playing the spoiler by refusing to hand over key ministries, including the post of police chief. The new leadership finds that unacceptable. "The Democratic Opposition of Serbia insists on the Ministry of Police, and there will be no compromise over this," opposition leader Nebojsa Covic said yesterday, according to Reuters.

Kostunica has made clear that he will not send Milosevic - branded the "Butcher of the Balkans" in the 1990s - to The Hague war crimes tribunal. The legalistic Kostunica views the tribunal as a biased arm of American and Western policy. But the new leadership increasingly speaks about tough local justice and bringing charges in Serbia for crimes such as manipulating elections and stealing state funds.

Still, while Kostunica and his 18-party coalition take hold of the levers of power - and try to keep from squabbling among themselves for influence - there has been much to make them smile.

Senior hard-liners loyal to Milosevic, including federal Prime Minister Momir Bulatovic and Serbian Interior Minister Vlajko Stojiljkovic, resigned Oct. 9. Serbian parties have agreed to dissolve their powerful parliament - which was not at stake in the recent federal vote - paving the way for elections in December. Such moves were not without argument. "This is highway robbery," complained Vojislav Seselj, Serbia's ultranationalist deputy prime minister. "You will not get our blessing for a coup." Later, he was pelted with stones by an angry crowd, prompting his bodyguards to fire in the air. Student demonstrators also staged a march toward the Milosevic home in a suburb of Belgrade, but were turned back by police.

The new leadership plans to create a transitional government of economic experts, and has begun to examine Yugoslavia's dire economic plight, marked by 50 percent unemployment. "We want to implement Polish shock therapy, Scandinavian social security systems, and Slovenia's model of gradual privatizations," economist Mladjan Dinkic, who is considered likely to be named governor of the Yugoslav central bank, told state television. "It takes brains, not a fist, to create an economic miracle."

The Army and police have both pledged support, though senior ranks are packed with Milosevic supporters. Defense Minister Dragoljub Ojdanic has tried to rally Milosevic loyalists, declaring that the political chaos is "inciting plans of our proven [foreign] enemies."

There reportedly have been two tussles over control of the police, but the resignation of the pro-Milosevic interior minister - who commanded some 100,000 police - is seen as a blow.

But the situation remains confused. Yesterday, senior opposition leader Zoran Djindjic said there were sectors in the police that were "closed to the democratic process." Three days before, he had declared police were "practically immune to orders that could bring them into conflict with the people."

That view is shared by military analysts in Belgrade, though few rule out some rear guard or freelance action. "I think this story about the Army and police is finished. Now, Kostunica has complete control," says Miroslav Lazanski, military commentator for the Vecrnje Novosti daily newspaper.

"The new coach of the football team wants new players, and he will have a new defense minister and chief of staff," Mr. Lazanski says. "I think the former president has no chance of causing trouble for Kostunica. I hope the future for the Yugoslav Army is for peace, even as a member of NATO."

Many analysts have been surprised by the relatively smooth transition. "Anyone in Yugoslavia who doesn't respect this moment is stupid," says Igor Pantelic, an attorney who has defended Serb clients at The Hague tribunal. "[Milosevic] can buy a week or two, and provoke something. But after that, what?" Anything in the Balkans is possible, he says, but notes: "In our neighborhood we have very strong NATO forces [36,000 in Kosovo, 10,000 in Macedonia and Albania, and 20,000 in Bosnia] that can defend us. Plus there would be the reaction of the people - a lot of them have arms in their hands.

"This nation has suffered enough," he adds. "We were the last black hole in this region, and that is unacceptable. There is huge work before us."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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