Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Bulatovic's Loyalty Ill-Repaid

Milosevic and his wife have suddenly turned on their loyal ally from Montenegro - a tactic they hope will delay the republic's increasingly likely split from Yugoslavia.
By Srdjan Staletovic

The Yugoslav United Left (JUL), the party of Mirjana Markovic, wife of Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, wants changes in the federal government.


According to top JUL member and Serbian Health Minister Leposava Milicevic, the federal government "ignores" the party's views on national reconstruction and "is deaf to JUL initiatives".


Such a statement seems a sudden and unmistakable challenge to federal prime minister and longtime Milosevic loyalist Momir Bulatovic. But the real cause of the volte-face has more to do with the situation in Montenegro.


The JUL is junior partner to Milosevic's ruling Socialist Party (SPS) in the Serbian republic government. It has made no secret of its wish to extend its influence in the government of federal Yugoslavia, which still links Serbia with the junior republic of Montenegro.


But the president of Montenegro, Milo Djukanovic, is working towards separation - last week his government effectively gave up on the Yugoslav dinar and adopted the German mark as Montenegro's parallel currency.


Milosevic needs time, and now appears ready to sacrifice Bulatovic - a former president of Montengro - as a sop to Djukanovic. It is part of Milosevic's efforts to persuade Djukanovic to accept cosmetic changes to the federation instead of deeper redefinition, let alone actual separation.


Unusually it is the JUL that is acting to buy this time, in order to help the regime in Belgrade to consolidate its power. Until now, such delicate trading has always been handled exclusively by Milosevic. Now he is ready to trust his wife.


Federal prime minister Bulatovic, leader of the SPS's Montenegrin sister party, the Socialist People's Party (SNP), had already reshuffled his government in June to find room for more JUL party members.


It was clearly not enough, and the JUL's response was defintely a surprise for the SNP. Federal defence minister and senior SNP official Pavle Bulatovic refused to comment on Milicevic's anti-federation comments. But he said that while it was "early for assessments", the statement was probably some "scam". SNP Deputy Federal prime minister Danilo Vuksanovic was equally stunned by the JUL attack.


JUL federal parliamentarian Sladjana Stamenkovic reiterated Milicevic's charges on Monday. "Two and a half years after the JUL submitted a project for the material and spiritual reconstruction of the country to the federal government, no answer has been received," complained Stamenkovic. "There is no answer either to the proposal on the reconstruction of the country that we handed in in July this year."


A SPS source said the JUL's attack was not a coincidence. "The JUL has been preparing a campaign to strengthen its power for some time now. I would not be surprised if the first step was an attack on the useless federal government."


Following Djukanovic's decision to introduce the German mark as a parallel currency, the future of the federation is once more in doubt. The federal government, supposedly in charge of fiscal policy, has been humiliated. Podgorica has also suspended federal customs law in Montenegro and introduced its own trade law.


Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) has refused to recognise the federal government's authority ever since he unseated Bulatovic to become president of Montenegro in January 1998.


"Obviously, the authorities in Serbia are beginning to realise that Yugoslavia is a failed project," said DPS official Miodrag Vukovic. "Montenegro has already offered to redefine relations in the federation. Now, everything is up to Serbia." The only function of the federal state still in the hands of Bulatovic's cabinet is defence. But his authority there is also being challenged - by the army itself.


According to various reports, VJ Chief of staff Gen. Dragoljub Ojdanic reportedly accuses the federal government of leaving the army penniless. The army has denied that he has made such statements.


But witnesses to a meeting between Ojdanic and representatives of the VJ's Second Army on Friday heard the general castigate prime minister Bulatovic, second deputy prime minister Nikola Sainovic and defence minister Pavle Bulatovic for blocking a pay rise for VJ officers. Ojdanic, those present claim, says he will personally ask Milosevic to allow the pay rises.


The JUL will ultimately be the main beneficiary from this week's machinations. A few SPS officials have been shyly, but continuously, protesting the JUL's growing influence. A fresh reshuffle of the federal government may now be expected, and they do not expect it to bring them good news.


"It will be an occasion for the JUL's crows to collect the power in this country," said one official, speaking not for attribution, "just as the crows peck on seeds from a field without a scarecrow."


One thing is for sure. A increased role for the JUL in the federal government will do little to change Yugoslav domestic politics and do even less for its international standing, such as it is.


The tone was set by top JUL official and federal trade minister Boris Vukovic, who travelled to Iraq this week and in meetings with President Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath party officials on Monday, praised Yugoslavia and Iraq for "holding a common front in the fight against America".


And at home, senior JUL official and deputy Serbian prime minister Milovan Bojic has warned that Serbs do not "sufficiently appreciate the results of the reconstruction of the country achieved by the current authorities.


"Only those who put on their American sunglasses a long time ago cannot see our results," he added.


Srdjan Staletovic is a regular IWPR correspondent in Belgrade.