Another Communist Star Falls in E. Europe

Persistent protests win power for Serbia's opposition in Belgrade

It was billed as "the mother of all parties." On Friday night, Serbia's opposition held a massive fete to mark its takeover of the city assembly - the "first non-Communist administration since 1945."

More than 100,000 Belgraders toasted the triumph of their 12-week protest against President Slobodan Milosevic and his decision to reinstate canceled opposition election victories.

But today a harsh reality is hitting: For the opposition leaders of the Zajedno, or "Together," coalition, there will be no evading the question of what they are actually going to do in power.

One of their first acts was to remove the five-pointed star put atop City Hall by the Communists in 1945 and kept there by the Socialists. "It was something that had been bothering us for the past 52 years," says one senior opposition leader.

But in a country with little history of Western-style democracy, the opposition leaders have so far only spoken in generalities about what is next. They are eloquent on what they are against, but apparently less certain of what will replace it.

And already there have been bitter squabbles over the division of jobs in the new Belgrade authority.

The three Zajedno leaders were each asked by the Belgrade weekly, Vreme, to write on the theme of "What Now?"

Vuk Draskovic, a poet with a reputation as a fiery orator, made the perfectly fair point that Mr. Milosevic will give the opposition little room to show its mettle. "We are taking over just some 10 percent of the real power and everything else is concentrated at the republic level - that is in ... the office of the president."

The Socialist government is likely to choke off the cash supply to the councils, which are already virtually bankrupt. "We are finding treasuries empty, traces of crime, and excessive spending at every step," Mr. Draskovic said.

Vesna Pesic wrote in the same vein: "We must put a stop to a system in which one couple [Milosevic and his wife, Mirjana Markovic] and a narrow circle of their friends hold all authority ..., in which all the wealth of our country ... is their private property, and where the police are their personal bodyguards."

The man increasingly seen as the main strategist of the opposition, Zoran Djindjic, added: "We are looking at a number of institutional and essential reforms which should put some order back into this mess of a society," he wrote.

"This means respect for the law, starting with proper penalties for traffic violations. This process could be quite painful for many an individual because it will require responsibility, paying taxes, eliminating the black market."

First test: How free will media be?

The opposition's main target is reform of the media, especially the state media, which they blame above all else for keeping Milosevic in power. "Someone watching state television in a remote village must rest assured that the anchorman is telling the truth," Mr. Djindjic wrote.

Winning the councils has given the opposition control of some local radio and TV stations. The biggest prize is Studio B, the Belgrade-based national TV channel, which comes under city-council control. But the Studio B journalists who left when Milosevic's Socialist Party took control of it last year aren't celebrating now that the opposition are in charge.

They have watched as opposition leaders fight over who will run Studio B, fearing it will be a political appointee not an independent journalist.

"Studio B could end up just like Srpska Rec [the journal run by Draskovic's party]. Their propaganda is just as bad as Milosevic's," one Studio B journalist says. To quell their fears, Djindjic visited the station last week and assured them they would be allowed to be independent. But no decision has yet been made.

The West watches for support of Dayton

On another key issue, Zajedno leaders are eager to maintain international support, so they have long stressed that the 1995 Dayton peace deal - which silenced the guns in Bosnia and which Milosevic was a key sponsor of - would be safe in their hands.

But Ms. Pesic is the only one of the three leaders with a consistent antiwar record. Draskovic is still a romantic nationalist, while Djindjic has had to defend close ties with the Bosnian Serb Democratic Party of Radovan Karadzic.

Senior Zajedno coalition strategists see the problem of winning power nationally as one of reassuring the international community about Dayton while at the same time maintaining enough of a nationalist stance not to lose votes at home.

Neither has the opposition yet been able to give a commitment that it will give up all those indicted by the International War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague - including three Yugoslav citizens.

Officials speak of allowing Hague officials to participate in cases in Yugoslav courts, something not likely to satisfy the international community.

Indeed, while democratic rhetoric is prevalent, the true test begins today.

And for those who hope that opposition victories will have put Serbia quickly and unalterably on the road to becoming a liberal, Western- style democracy, there are the words of the Democratic Party official: "Remember, this is the Balkans."

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to Another Communist Star Falls in E. Europe
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today