Issue No. 313 - March 21, 2003


1. Serbia and Montenegro: SERBIAN POLITICS ALSO RESPONSIBLE FOR DJINDJIC'S ASSASINATION: Interview with Miljenko Dereta, president of Civic Initiatives
by Stojan Obradovic

by Slobodan Rackovic

by Zvezdan Georgievski


Serbia and Montenegro: SERBIAN POLITICS ALSO RESPONSIBLE FOR DJINDJIC'S ASSASINATION: Interview with Miljenko Dereta Director, Civic Initiatives
by Stojan Obradovic

        Following the murder of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic there are various theories about who is behind this assassination and what the possible consequences may be. Miljenko Dereta, director of Civic Initiatives (Citizens' Association for Democracy and Civic Education), one of Serbia’s most prominent NGOs that helped lead the civic sector in the fight against Milosevic's regime, spoke to NIJ about this issue. Dereta is also well-known as an insightful analyst of the Serbian political scene.

        In the interview, instead of offering stereotypical stories about the connections between the political and criminal underground, Dereta opens up the issue of responsibility that a part of Serbia's political scene should shoulder for Djindjic's assassination, but at the same time asserting that the force of reforms started by the charismatic prime minister has gotten to the stage that they can not now be stopped.

        The Serbian government has accused a mob clan and its leaders for murdering prime ministers Zoran Djindjic. But is that all there is to Djindjic's assassination? What is the political context of Djindjic's assassination? Who do you think are the possible political “sponsors” of the assassination?

        Above all, one must remember that the assassination came at the precise moment when the government finalized a set of laws providing the tools for more efficiently fighting against organized crime, thus proving that its stated intentions were serious. A new position of special prosecutor was introduced, as was special protection for witnesses and the formation of new police units. It undoubtedly influenced the executioners to turn their threats into reality.

        However, it is clear that behind the actions of these criminals there is also the direct and indirect support of those political circles in Serbia that represent not only a continuation of Milosevic's government, but also his political program. They constantly accuse the government of being “worse than the previous one,” that it “changed nothing,” that “the police are incompetent,” etc. At the same time, they used their influence within the judicial system, the secret services, the police and the media to obstruct the functioning of the new government. One should note especially—although it is an issue people avoid at the moment—that the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), headed by former Yugoslav president Vojislav Kostunica, having turned his back on Djindjic, his partner in toppling Milosevic, and leaving the DOS coalition to become his main rival, started to give a certain veneer of legitimacy to the more deadly opposition of Milosevic's type.

        If we speak of the political context or the political sponsors of the assassination—and not those who gave the direct orders or the executioners themselves—one cannot ignore that Kostunica was the legitimized political actor opposing cooperation with the Hague Tribunal, demonstrating close ties with the military and other structures of the former regime, and expressing strong skepticism and opposition to the pro-European reform course of Djindjic. In this situation, the criminal and political mafias wanting to deal with Djindjic could believe that at least part of
Serbia's legitimate politics thought Djindjic should be removed, with force if necessary.

        There have been many nice words said for the murdered prime minister, but there has also been information that Djindjic himself had some “deals” with members of the criminal elite, that he tolerated the criminal underground for a long time, and that he entered into the arena against crime too late. Are these criticisms correct and to what extent?

        While he was alive, Djindjic constantly refuted such rumors. None of the people who accused him of “ties” and “obligations” to criminals ever produced a single proof. I think the accusations were part of a campaign that was organized against him. I also think that Djindjic was a politician who never postponed resolution of problems.

        The moment of the crackdown on crime, I might point out, was not of his choosing. It became possible only after the dissolution of Yugoslavia and the establishment of the new union between Serbia and Montenegro, when both republics were obliged to harmonize their views on the Hague Tribunal, crime, the role of the army, and Milosevic's legacy and when the political leaders of Serbia and Montenegro (Djindjic and Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic) reached a higher level of agreement regarding further reforms and accession into the European Union than was possible during the existence of Yugoslavia under President Vojislav Kostunica.

        What was Djindjic able to accomplish for Serbia during his short term in office? What are the most important results of his reformist politics?

        In an article, I wrote that Djindjic succeeded in introducing Serbia to a third year of reforms. He managed to prevent opponents of modernization, the market, rule of law, active citizenship, success based on level of work and individual capabilities, from stopping changes in their beginning stages. Much of what he did was a struggle for more time. Traveling throughout Serbia, he explained to people about unavoidable difficulties, striving to find support for reforms, encouraging the public through his personal dedication and faith in success. In that task he did well.

        We have crossed an invisible political and psychological barrier and started the key third year. His contribution is also reflected in the number and composition of the people who came out to his funeral in Belgrade. They clearly came to support his pro-European politics, both Serbian citizens and European representatives who want reforms to continue. I would like to add that only time will show the full complexity of his contribution to the change of values in Serbia.

        There is much talk about the connection between crime and politics, about criminals pushing into political structures, secret services, and how organized crime is led by war criminals. It all speaks to the difficult legacy of Milosevic's regime. To what extent is that legacy determining political life in Serbia?

        The consequences of Milosevic's politics are deep and lasting. I would like to be able to say that they influenced political life in Serbia in the past, but no longer do so. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Facing responsibility for wars and individual guilt for crimes is going very slowly. It is useless to argue that this process is no faster among other participants of the war. Ethnic extremism still exists in Serbia and was never critically covered by some influential media. I think the situation significantly changed with the introduction of Djukanovic's option of state community, primarily because of ridding politics from the army. There is now a consensus about entry into Europe as a priority, which, in my view, also means consensus about cooperation with the Hague. At the same time, Milosevic's so-called patriotic forces are significantly weakened by internal divisions, the Hague indictment against extreme right leader of the Serbian Radical Party, Vojislav Seselj, and, especially, the force of the ongoing police and political action [following Djindjic's assassination]. There are more and more indications that the political circles that ordered the assassination are among the remains of Milosevic's political bloc. For public opinion, it is extremely important and positive that some “national heroes” are being unmasked as the criminals and war criminals they are.

        What scenarios await Serbia? Does it have political strength and will to deal with criminals, the intertwining of politics and crime, with Milosevic's legacy? Or will this assassination achieve its goal to frighten political structures and stop changes?

        Such tragedies often illuminate the situation better and help mobilize people around clearly defined joint goals. It appears that the government has consolidated itself and will continue with reforms. The vote in the Serbian parliament for the new prime minister, Djindjic's close associate as vice president of the Democratic Party and the former minister of internal affairs in the last Yugoslav government, Zoran Zivkovic, show that there is still a pro-reform majority in parliament.

        It now becomes very delicate politically to oppose the government because it is seen as siding with criminals. I expect that reforms will be temporarily slowed down, but they will continue.

        According to some analysts, the main reason for Djindjic's assassination was his decision to fulfill the demands of the Hague Tribunal and to extradite current and future suspects, including the second most wanted Hague indictee, Ratko Mladic, the military leader of the Bosnian Serbs during the war. The chief prosecutor of the Hague Tribunal, Carla del Ponte, who wished to come to funeral, was informed that she was persona non grata, while already there are demands from some politicians that cooperation with the Hague should be re-examined. Does it show that political changes could go in a negative direction?

        No. It shows that Carla del Ponte still remains unaware of the political implications of her words and actions to the internal situation in Serbia. Djindjic was also partly killed because of his brave decisions to take upon himself responsibility for cooperation with the Hague. Maybe Mrs. del Ponte understands it and respects it, but her appearance at the funeral would be used by nationalists as proof that Djindjic “betrayed the Serbian people and national interests.” What should have been re-examined, even before this crime, are the pressures that have taken into consideration only the needs of the court, not the situation in Serbia.

        Djindjic's Democratic Party has put forward a new prime minister, but what is the real constellation of political forces? Can the ruling coalition stay in power or will Serbia face new elections? And in new elections can reformists of Djindjic's type win against the political forces of former Yugoslav president Kostunica or even more right-wing and radical options like Seselj's or Milosevic's?

        It is difficult to answer these questions. Only several days. The first indicators show new pro reform energy among all ranks of society. I do think that the public has seen the futility of Kostunica's politics. His popularity has been rapidly declining, partly due to his decision to go in opposition to the coalition that brought him to the president's office of the now defunct Yugoslavia. I think that he, his Democratic Party of Serbia, and many others are unpleasantly surprised with the fact that Serbian citizens are not politically illiterate fools who can be swayed simply with demagogy. Many still remember Djindjic's message to Kostunica's party: “If you are tired, go to sleep. You are living in fairy tales, not the real world.”

        They could recently compare the effects of both these politicians on the issue of Kosovo. While Kostunica's DSS re-used Milosevic's rhetoric about the territorial integrity of the country, with Kosovo as part of Serbia, Djindjic left all options open, ranging from integration to separation. He stirred many political circles, but also started a serious discussion. Maybe his political vision will be missed the most on this issue.

        This murder was also a clear attempt to destabilize political scene for a possible coup d'etat. After a decisive action and joint activities of army and police forces, I think such a danger is completely behind us. Support for the old/new government leaves open the possibility to postpone elections until their regular date in 2004. I hope that the so-called moderate nationalist and radical nationalist currents will completely lose support by that time.

        Is there a danger that introduction of a state of emergency could lead to misuse of power and imposition of some non-democratic and authoritarian option? Is there a fear of possible internal conflict?

        I doubt there is a serious danger of using the state of emergency to limit citizens' rights or imposing a non-democratic option. NGOs have clearly given their support, but also warned the government that they would carefully watch the implementation of all measures and take a decisive action if any misuse occurred. The influence of the public that can now be called democratic is growing stronger and is an important obstacle to totalitarian ambitions and possible troublemakers.

        There were many high-ranking foreign delegations at the funeral. What aid can Serbia expect from the international community at this moment? What errors did international community commit so far regarding Serbia?

        The international community needs to honor promises it has given according to clear timetables. Unfortunately, reforms are still at a stage where they are completely reliant on international support. Former Yugoslav countries do not have a good experience with the focus of the international community. I hope the tragic consequences of such politics have awakened all involved.

        I believe that the international community has learned something and that mistakes won't be repeated. What is extremely important is the announced faster introduction of Serbia and Montenegro into the Council of Europe and Partnership for Peace because these will impose control mechanisms that can prevent straying from democratic options or giving up on the course of reform.

• • •

by Slobodan Rackovic

        The death of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic will have grave consequences for the new union between Serbia and Montenegro and their drawing closer. This is the view of all local and foreign political analysts. The international community's fears are best illustrated by the fact that soon after the tragic event the President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Peter Schieder, recommended immediate acceptance of the Union of Serbia and Montenegro into the Council of Europe bypassing usual procedures and conditions.

        “The murder of Prime Minister Djindjic spurs the urgent need to give aid, support, and cooperation to that country,” said Schieder, adding that a benevolent sign from Brussels would be of paramount importance to Europe itself. Javier Solana and Chris Patten, the two figures in charge of the EU's foreign politics, immediately arrived in Belgrade [to attend the funeral], illustrating how much the international community is concerned with the fate of the new-born Union of Serbia and Montenegro.

        In Podgorica, where there is little inclination towards a joint life with Serbia, the removal of Djindjic has destroyed the one strong cohesion between the two republics, especially since their two prime ministers, Djindjic and Djukanovic, symbolized the cornerstones of the newly created community. The Serbian prime minister's tragic death is additionally unbalancing an already foggy future of the new community. If there are early elections in Serbia, which could bring so-called patriotic forces led by former Yugoslav president Vojislav Kostunica back to power, everything could be pushed back to start.

        The disappearance of the ambitious Djindjic, who knew how to tackle pro-independence winds in Montenegro (in the spring and summer of 1999 he hid in Montenegro from the same people who ended up killing him the other day), has caused utmost pessimism among economists who claim that reform processes in both republics will now be slowed down, with potential foreign investors giving up on their investments in Montenegro and Serbia.

        Another evaluation is that harmonization of the economic systems between the two republics, so important for the joint life in the new union, will now experience a significant setback. For example, if two member states want a joint market, they face an exceedingly difficult and long process of harmonizing custom rates for about nine thousand products. The extent of such undertaking is best illustrated by the fact that negotiations on custom rates in textiles lasted from October 2002 until today. Montenegro has a custom rate of 3-10 per cent on textiles, while it is more than double in Serbia.

        A similar situation is in other branches of industry because the average custom rates in Montenegro amount to 3.5 percent, while in Serbia they are around 13 percent (Europe averages 6.5 percent). For example, Montenegrins pay no customs on imported milk and milk products. In Serbia, that rate ranges from 22 to 46 percent! Almost identical is the situation regarding the import of fruit and vegetables—Montenegrins pay 1 to 5 percent on such products, Serbs 28 to 44 percent. Imported cars, both new and second-hand, will cost a Montenegrin 5 percent in customs, while a Serb will pay 20 percent. Similar is the case with refrigerators and other household items. Coffee is rated at 5 percent in Montenegro, its import amounts to 20 per cent in Serbia.

        With such enormous differences in customs, not to speak of the fact that there is a dual monetary system in the union (Montenegro uses the euro, Serbia the dinar as legal currency), it is impossible to build a joint life.

        However, it was late Serbian prime minister Zoran Djindjic who managed to persuade his Montenegrin colleague and close friend Milo Djukanovic to make some economic exceptions to Serbia. Flexible and wise, Djindjic never brought into question internal Montenegrin sovereignty, which is a very sensitive issue to Montenegrins, nor did he dispute their right, regulated by the Belgrade Agreement, to hold a referendum after three years of living together. He wisely remained silent to frequent messages from Podgorica that Montenegro will proclaim its full state sovereignty when the three-years term was up, hoping that improved standard of living in the union would persuade Montenegrins not to go that way.

        Has Belgrade such refined politicians and what is the future of the union between Serbia and Montenegro?

        “New negotiations are possible. The degree of understanding between Serbia and Montenegro will now be at a much lower level than in Djindjic's time, so one could expect emergence of new-old problems and animosities,” said Veselin Vukotic, a prominent professor at Economic faculty in Podgorica. The director of the Center for Transition, Nebojsa Medojevic, predicts that attention of the international community will rightly be pointed towards the existence of a “Balkan confederation of criminals.” “The fact that crime surpassed state institutions will increase investment risk in Serbia and Montenegro and lower enthusiasm of investors,” said Medojevic. He even thinks that the introduction of the state of emergency in Serbia, which will, as announced, last at least until the 1st of May, will mean “suspending economic harmonization with Montenegro for a longer period of time.” He added that Djindjic headed a new current in Serbia that accepted and understood the national interest of Montenegro and its need for independence. Montenegro therefore lost an important partner in Serbia, he claims.

        Milenko Popovic, director of the Center for International Studies, also fears that if crime still remains stronger than state institutions, process of economic harmonization between the two republics will be slowed down. “I fear that in the worst-case scenario there could even be a civil war because crime is a key problem of the Union of Serbia and Montenegro,” said Popovic.

        “Investment risk is related with politics, and the assassination of Serbian Prime Minister endangers political stability of the two member countries of the Union. Foreign investors will first look for risk assessment before they invest anything,” said professor at the Economic Faculty in Podgorica Gordana Djurovic. Loss of investors' trust is logical for a state that had her prime minister shot, adds Predrag Drecun, director of the Center for Economic and Social Studies in Podgorica.

        A distinguished professor of international law in Podgorica, Nebojsa Vucinic, also thinks that Belgrade will now begin to pressure Montenegro much more, in both a political and economic sense, in order to make greater cessions to Serbia than it has been the case.

        In countries lacking strong institutions, individuals carry more weight. The assassination of Zoran Djindjic could have painful effects on the fate of an already fragile union between Serbia and Montenegro. If actions of Serbian authorities fail to give results, a vacuum of power will be left after Djindjic's death that could be filled with criminals and bullies connected with Slobodan Milosevic who still wield much power in military and para-military forces as well as secret service. If that happens, then the union between Serbia and Montenegro, which still isn't functioning to a full extent, doesn't have a bright future.

• • •

by Zvezdan Georgievski

        The new Macedonian government has started a strong action against corruption that has enveloped much of Macedonian society. The question is whether the rule of law will be respected to the end or whether the whole issue will come apart due to ethnic divisions that remain strong in Macedonian society.

        Besnik Fetai, economics minister of the last Macedonian government, was arrested at the beginning of March at the border crossing between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Police acted on an international Interpol warrant for arrest.

        So far this is the biggest loot in the anti-corruption action started by new Macedonian government led by the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia. Before Fetai's arrest, directors of some prominent firms, utilities' companies, and an occasional MP were put into prison. All were charged with corruption, making contracts damaging to the state, misuse of position, illegal privatization, etc.

        Fetai himself was arrested because of a damaging sale of the biggest Macedonian publishing firm, “Nova Makedonija,” to a Slovenian firm called “Jug storitve.” The same contract has already landed in prison the general director of “Nova Makedonija,” Nikola Tasev, and director of the Macedonian privatization agency, Dusko Avramski.

        Although a minister has been arrested, the Macedonian public is not satisfied with the speed of the anti-corruption campaign. On one hand, despite the speed of police, none of several dozens of cases has yet been processed in court. That displeasure is further emphasized by a severe situation in many firms that fell victim to corruption. . . . For example, in “Nova Makedonija,” 1,500 employees have not seen their pay for almost a year.

        However, the strongest opposition party, which was previously in power, the nationalist Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE), has pushed the struggle in the political arena. They claim the new government is not fighting organized crime, but is making an aggressive campaign to destroy its political party. When former director of the Health Fund and current general secretary of VMRO-DPMNE, Vojo Mihajlovski, was arrested, the party even withdrew its signature from the so-called Ohrid Agreement, which ended conflict with Macedonian Albanians in summer of 2001, and decided to boycott parliament. However, after a month, VMRO returned to institutional politics. Even Macedonian president Boris Trajkovski was asked to give presidential pardon to his former partisan colleagues, with the explanation that if he could “give pardon to terrorists, then he could do so also for victims of classic political war.”

        VMRO-DPMNE's response to the anti-corruption activities was only issued recently. Media were sent videotape depicting police questioning of a controversial businessman Petrit Ame, well-known to Macedonian police and Interpol, who disappeared last year and was allegedly murdered in Kosovo. [On the videotape], Ame, who was never arrested or sentenced, [is seen] openly admitting that he smuggled arms and tobacco, that he broke into TV “A1” and demolished it, that he fired weapons, and that he was helped by current prime minister Branko Crvenkovski, head of the ruling Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM), when in trouble.

        Ame provides names of some other SDSM members, both from the former and current ruling elite, as important players in organized crime. VMRO-DPMNE also attached a so-called official police note from that talk, made during the SDSM's first government (1992-1996). Clearly, this scandal has not yet ended.

        Many Macedonian analysts think that the government's anti-corruption campaign is in fact self-serving. The new government can both impress the international community, while also tightening the noose around former prime minister Ljupce Georgievski and striking a serious blow against its strongest political enemy. At the same time, the strongest Macedonian party, SDSM, headed by prime minister Branko Crvenkovski has joined in coalition with the strongest party representing Macedonian Albanians, the Democratic Union for Integration, led by Ali Ahmeti. Ahmeti is the former leader of the Macedonian Albanian guerillas who fought two years ago for greater autonomy. Before parliamentary elections, Crvenkovski rejected any possibility of cooperation with the leader of the military group that destabilized Macedonia for a year, but after the elections he stated that Ali Ahmeti had gained the support of 140,000 voters who gave legitimacy to his party and that he thus was willing to speak with legitimate party. Recently, Crvenkovski officially met with Ahmeti for the first time in Ohrid. Ali Ahmeti began representing himself not as a militant leader of rebels, but as a classic social democrat. It seems the vital interest of this coalition is to secure the image of corruption fighters.

        An indication of this common interest is the arrest of an Albanian named Dilaver Bojku-Leku. Living in the village of Velesta in western Macedonia, with a dominant majority of Albanian population, he is being accused of being the biggest Balkan boss of prostitution and trafficking.

        Immediately after the announcement of his trial in county court in Struga (a western Macedonian town on the coast of Ohrid Lake), there was a bomb explosion, which virtually demolished the building. However, the trial, with 15 charges including 13 for forced prostitution and trafficking, started anyway. There are speculations in public that Leku owns video tapes showing foreign diplomats using the services of his whorehouse. The tense atmosphere has been heightened by the killing of four of the 13 foreign girls (mainly Romanian and Moldavan) [who are supposed to testify].

        Public and expert opinion sees this case as the biggest test of the current coalition in its struggle against organized crime. Very often, Albanian politicians were inclined to denounce arrests of any Albanian Macedonians as acts of political repression against them. So far both SDSM and DUI are firmly behind finishing the trial according to the law. The cases of the powerful Bojku and ex-minister Fetai are important signals that the fight against crime is not symbolic, nor the political situation in Macedonia.