Issue No. 299 – December 4, 2002


1. FRY/ Serbia:  LONG ROAD TO CHANGE:  Interview with Miljenko Dereta, President of Civic Initiatives
by Stojan Obradovic

by Milos Jeftovic

3. Slovenia:  TOWARDS Successfully ENDING TRANSITION
by Zoran Senkovic

FRY/ Serbia:  LONG ROAD TO CHANGE:  Interview with Miljenko Dereta , President of Civic Initiatives
by Stojan Obradovic

        Miljenko Dereta is director of the well-known NGO, Civic Initiatives (Citizens' Association for Democracy and Civic Education), which played an important role in the successful activation of the civic sector in Serbia in the fight against the Milosevic regime. Civic Initiatives is now taking the lead in many civic actions aimed at the democratization of Serbian society.

        NIJ interviewed Miljenko Deret about the current political situation in Serbia, including the repeat of its presidential elections on Sunday, December 8 as a result of low voter turnout (less than the required 50 percent) in the runoff elections in October. In this second set of elections, there are only three candidates, the current Yugoslav president Vojislav Kostunica and two representatives of extreme nationalist sentiment close to Slobodan Milosevic: Vojislav Seselj and Borisav Pelavic. Although polls indicate an advantage to Vojislav Kostunica, Seselj gained a surprising 23 percent and third place in the first round. His appeal to boycott the second round runoff between Kostunica and Miroljub Labus was considered crucial for the second round's failure.

        How would you describe the political scene in Serbia on the eve of the new presidential elections? What political options exist?

        Following the failure of the initial presidential elections, the political crisis in Serbia has deepened. Two opposed parties—on one side Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic and the "reformists" and on the other side current Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and the "moderate nationalists"—have tried to establish a period of cease-fire, but without any real intention of cooperating. Their struggle is reflected in people's attitude toward the elections. During the last, failed presidential elections, the high amount of abstentions sent a clear message to politicians that citizens were unhappy and that they wanted either unity or new people. Recent developments surely do not lead to any larger involvement of people in the election process. It is not just voter apathy but also a voter protest. If one looks at the current list of presidential candidates, the political image of Serbia that arises should give cause for real panic. The only offer for citizens is to the right of the right center, from "moderate" to radical Serbian nationalism. Of course, such a political image does not reflect the real situation. The absence of the reformist and center left part of the political spectrum is the result of political tactics that are, in my view, both dangerous and wrong. It especially radicalizes the position of minorities, bringing into doubt the effects of reforms and weakening the position of reformists since the minorites' voice as citizens in supporting them has been disabled. The danger exists that the political demagogy of the main candidates, Kostunica and the extreme nationalist Vojislav Seselj, will supplant the needs of transition.

        It has been two years since the fall of Milosevic's regime. What changes have been implemented in Serbian society during this time? What transition is Serbia currently undergoing?

        The most visible change in Serbian society since Milosevic's fall is the liberation of individuals from fear of repression by state institutions. Simply, one breathes more easily now. There is also greater transparency of political and economic processes, better and more frequent communication with citizens. However, many things improved less than was necessary or expected. Many people from the former regime are enrolling into the ruling parties and re-appearing in public. The refusal, especially of Kostunica, to implement a lustration process is the source of much displeasure and commentary that the people in power are the same as those before.

        The role of media should be emphasized under these new circumstances. There was not the expected professionalization of the media. On the contrary, there are more and more links being made between individual media and the centers of power, which is then followed by a manipulation of the public. We are overwhelmed with accusations of unproven scandals that are meant only to compromise political opponents.

        Regarding transition, much has been done, but the pace and effects are slowed down with the boycott in parliament. Dozens of legislative proposals have been waiting for over a year to be adopted. An especially delicate situation is found in the judiciary, where we need a general change of people but this is held back due to the boycott of the system itself. If we compare with some neighboring countries, one might consider that Serbia has done more, but we are still at the beginning. We will need at least ten years to completely change the nature of our system.

        What are the consequences of Milosevic's regime on Serbian society?

        Milosevic's regime left its deepest mark in the area of inter-ethnic relations. Everything has been seen according to ethnicity, including politics. National/ethnical background remains the key characteristic of society and criterion for political behavior. When Kosovar Albanians, the most numerous ethnic group, "left," then Serbians saw the rule of Serbian nationalism legitimized over a small percentage of other minorities. There are new generations that have grown up in complete isolation from the world, surrounded by xenophobia and violence, so one shouldn't be surprised that this generation is showing the most radical nationalist attitude. If we add to this legacy Milosevic's economic devastation, then it is clear that we will need much time to rid ourselves of his heritage.

        I would like to add that the re-birth of Serbian nationalism is much aided by the messages coming from President Kostunica and his party. Their purposely unclear attitude towards the Serb Republic entity and their resistance to full cooperation with the Hague Tribunal are continuously spurring on nationalist tensions and pushing Seselj and others toward even greater extremism. The consequences could be very serious, especially in parts of Serbia with greater concentration of minorities and where there are already increased tensions and even the first instances of violent conflict.

        How strong is Milosevic's appeal now? How does Serbia regard Milosevic's trial? What is the general view about the wars in former Yugoslavia and Serbian responsibility for starting them?

        People have clearly underestimated Milosevic's influence on Serbian politics. His party has collapsed, but its program and its supporters have moved to Seselj. Those who laughed at his directive coming from The Hague to vote for Seselj were scratching their heads after the elections. Still, I do believe Milosevic's influence is decreasing and that it will diminish further with time. Still, it would be very dangerous if his health deteriorated and turned him into a sufferer and saint. The trial itself has gotten relatively small media coverage and people's views are completely polarized. On the one hand, there are his supporters who don't hear anything of what the witnesses are saying. That unfortunately is also how most media covers the trial. On the other side are his opponents who do not want to see any positive effects on public opinion resulting from Milosevic's arrogance. There is not enough information coming to public view about the wars and the events mentioned in the trial. Like other countries involved in the war, Serbia is certainly not ready to face its role in it. Absent true historical research, questions like "Who started it first?" and arguments that "They did it to us, too" will remain, for a long time, the basis for the general public's refusal to accept responsibility.

        There are two significant and difficult issues that Serbia faces. What will the future community with Montenegro bring and can such a community survive also the issue of Kosovo?

        I think that relations between Kosovo and Serbia are a serious and difficult issue. A common state with Montenegro is not such a pressing issue. No one has an adequate solution to Kosovo and it is an issue to be resolved for years to come, with the possible downward slide into small-scale armed conflicts. The new state community of Serbia and Montenegro will be registered at the Council of Europe and immediately continue to act as two separate, independent units. Nobody believes seriously in the future of such a union.

        What are the most important democratic challenges facing Serbia at the moment?

        The most important challenge is how to secure continuation of reforms and build well-functioning democratic institutions respected by all politicians. The second priority is a re-assessment of the Serbian role in past wars and the bringing to trial of those responsible. But it is not only our priority. The third challenge is how to create and preserve a multicultural society with as few tensions as possible. That includes how to improve neighborly relations and communication within the region. Serbia must open up to its neighbors, to Europe, and to the world. That opening must be directed primarily at young people.

• • •

by Milos Jeftovic

        After local elections in October, there is an increased activity of the international community in Kosovo in order to improve the political situation and strengthen fragile democratic institutions, both at the Kosovo-wide and municipal levels. However, the efforts aren't greatly helped by leaders of political parties and ethnic communities that have very distinct and contradictory political goals and interests.

        The initial resolve of the international administration and the conditions it has laid out indicate it will not be giving up its efforts. Leaders of two communities, despite internal opposition, still signal their willingness to cooperate. Still, the international administration cannot on its own overcome the animosity between the Albanian majority and Serbian minority, two communities that have been opposed for years, nor the consequences of a still fresh war, including killings, suffering of civilians, destruction, and exile. The international administration is aware of this reality but insists that Kosovar citizens and their leaders look to the future.

        The basic issue for Kosovar Albanians is when the final status of Kosovo, which they see to be only independence, will be resolved. They have already shown an extreme sensitivity regarding this issue. On the other hand, Kosovar Serbs, helped by the Belgrade authorities, are trying to block the issue of resolving Kosovo's status until all exiled Serbs and other non-Albanians are enabled to return and live in safety. They also have a single united viewpoint: that Kosovo cannot gain independence, although it might gain a significant degree of autonomy within Serbia and a future union of Serbia and Montenegro. When the starting positions are so far apart, there can hardly be a mid-point without there being strong pressure from the international community.

        Michael Steiner, the head of United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), the province's international civil administration, announced on the eve of local elections held on October 26 that he would work in favor of a plan for decentralization of power and the devolution of authority and obligations from the international administration to the province and its local institutions. The push is for local institutions to begin responsibly and, largely independently, deal with general tasks of public interest. As a major condition for official discussions on final status of Kosovo, the international administration will insist on supervising all local institutions and ensure that general democratic standards are put in place.

        At the end of November and beginning of December, Steiner made several clearly signaling the administration's readiness to push its plan. In agreement with Belgrade authorities, Steiner issued a decree disbanding parallel local institutions of power in the northern part of Kosovska Mitrovica, the second largest town in Kosovo. The town, once known for it’s nearby mine, has been divided into two parts since June 1999, the southern part inhabited by Albanians with only several Serbs and the northern part having a dominant Serbian population. During the past three years, there have been countless clashes between the two communities centered on the bridge over the Ibar River that divides the town in two, but also between each community and members of the international police.

        Steiner introduced international administration over the city without problems, despite its reputation as Kosova's most dangerous hotspot. UNMIK's chief even put in an Albanian as head of the temporary government in response to the decision of local Serbian leaders to boycott local elections held in October. There are over 8,600 registered Serbian voters in Kosovska Mitrovica, but only 59 turned out to vote. Naturally, Steiner's decision met with acclimation among Albanian leaders, but the enthusiasm was curbed when it became clear that "uniting the town" didn't mean that Albanians from the southern part would be immediately able to take full control over the northern (Serbian) part.

        There was additional disappointment when it was announced that local police in the northern part of Kosovska Mitrovica would also include former members of the Serbian police [meaning those who had served before the 1999 war] and the infamous "bridge keepers," armed groups, mainly made up of former police and army officers, that Albanian see as para-military formations.

        The concessions Steiner gave to the Serbian side contributed to the peaceful transition of power, avoiding fighting that was clearly wished by extremists from both sides. The problem of Kosovska Mitrovica will thus be discussed in a tidy and peaceful atmosphere. If that issue can be resolved, it will be one of the greatest successes of the current international administration. The "Case of Kosovska Mitrovica" is part of Steiner's general project for Kosovo to adopt basic standards in order to open talks about final status.

        Among the standards set by Steiner are efficient and functional institutions, rule of law, freedom of movement, respect of rights of all Kosovar citizens to stay or return to Kosovo, development of a healthy market economy, solution of property ownership, normalization of dialogue with Belgrade, and reduction and transformation of the Kosovar Protection Corps, formed mainly with demilitarized Kosovar Liberating Army (KLA) soldiers transformed into a kind of civil protection units.

        Steiner's conditions are acceptable to both sides. If Albanians respect them, there will be space for discussion of independence so long as Serbs are enabled to return, feel safe, and participate in political life both on the local and provincial levels, without fear of being over-voted. Serbs also feel that Albanians won't be able to adopt such rigorous and harsh standards overnight and will not get passable marks in democracy, giving Serbs more time and space not to accept discussions on the painful subject of the final status of Kosovo.

• • •

by Zoran Senkovic

        After 12 years, Milan Kucan will be replaced as Slovenia's president by Janez Drnovsek, the country's current prime minister and head of the main party in the ruling coalition, the Liberal Democrats. On December 1, Slovenian voters showed that they still trust experience over any new politicians, no matter their charisma, and that they are not inclined towards change when not necessary. Drnovsek won slightly over 56 percent votes and his opponent, former minister of justice and state prosecutor Barbara Brezigar, a dark horse in the first round of elections who defeated many well-known politicians to reach the runoff, won slightly below 44 per cent. Participation was still relatively high (65 percent). Most analysts had given Drnovsek the advantage, so one can say that the second round of presidential elections went off without much excitement and surprise.

        Both sides have different explanations for the outcome's 11 percent difference. The left bloc of parties supporting Drnovsek (the Liberal-Democratic Party, or LDS, the United List of Social Democrats, the ZLSD, or former communists, and the Party of Retired Persons, known as Desus) claim the outcome to be a great victory, while parties that supported Barbara Brezigar (a right bloc made up of the People's Party, although also part of the ruling coalition, the Social Democrat Party of Janez Jansa, the New Slovenia party) claim that the difference was surprisingly small, noting that Brezigar entered politics only a year ago as an independent candidate without political background and fought against the strong and established Drnovsek better than anybody before her. If the campaign lasted a month longer, they claim, it is doubtful Drnovsek would be celebrating.

        The election results can help discern some facts. Namely, Slovenian voters considered the current prime minister a better personality to fill Kucan's large shoes because of his status as a seasoned Slovenian politician with international experience.

        Milan Kucan was Slovenia's head of state during the country's most difficult times: the dissolution of Yugoslavia, the struggle for independence and international recognition, overcoming deep internal divisions, and European and trans-Atlantic integration. Kucan created a model of president who was agreeable to most Slovenians, but also posing a problem to his successors. Drnovsek is not nor can he ever be Kucan. The times are different.

        Slovenia is at the end of a transition period and is now a definite candidate for entrance into first round of EU expansion. Doors into NATO are now open with its entrance now dependent on Slovenians themselves. Credit for this successful work is rightfully given to Drnovsek, who headed Slovenian governments for ten years. And in trying to bring Slovenia from the bottom of recognizability among future EU members, Drnovsek as Slovenian president is much more acceptable given the superlatives with which European political elites praise him.

        The losing parties argue that Drnovsek's victory means a renewed dominance of forces that represent continuation. In the eyes of right parties, continuity has a negative connotation because they link it to the continuation of a left ideology, an old right-wing complaint that Slovenians never want to cross the threshold of  "true democracy" but will only give their votes to the political successors of the former communist regime. Of course, this claim can also be that Slovenians still are not ripe for "true democracy" because they do not allow the opposition to come to power. Losers get the right to be angry, but they cannot overcome that Drnovsek has headed Slovenia through a difficult period of transition and adoption of EU standards without major political and social crises.

        With its $10,000 per capita GDP, Slovenia is the most successful future member of the EU among post-communist countries. Slovenia managed to emerge unscathed through the loss of the Yugoslav market. Unemployment is currently below 10 per cent and has a slightly downward spiral, inflation is still high (approximately 8 percent), but forecasts are good, and Slovenian capital has begun to make a heavy presence in former Yugoslav countries.

        If the election of Drnovsek to the office of the country's president, a position with minor powers, is a proof of such continuity, then it is difficult to label as negative, even if the country still faces difficult tasks, including getting rid of excess administration, completing the privatization and decentralization processes, increasing openings to foreign capital, and reorganization of the army.

        Two unknowns remain. Can the new president forget all that he did as prime minister during the past ten years and restrain his ambition to further influence everyday politics, allowing himself to be limited by the constrictions of his new function? He must now be president of all Slovenian citizens. He will no longer be president of his own party LDS, but his party will remain strongest in parliament and government and that could be a big challenge to him.

        The second unknown is how will the party and government function without him. Although Drnovsek made his best to secure a peaceful transition, one cannot completely disregard the possibility of certain tensions. Things are likely settled within the LDS (current finance minister Tone Rop should become the new prime minister), but it is not unlikely that coalition partners in the government may try to enhance their political influence.

        For parties backing Barbara Brezigar, her "success" should be an indication that with good candidates and a not too aggressive program, it is possible to challenge the long domination of left parties. It is especially clear to the biggest opposition party, the SDS of Janez Jansa and the eternal loser in Slovenian politics. Many analysts think that the opposition would do better if Jansa withdrew and left his position to someone like Barbara Brezigar, a candidate who lost but nevertheless has become the new hit of the Slovenian political scene.