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Djindjic Bolstered by Police Chief Appointment

Serbia's new prime minister, Zoran Djindjic, scores a notable victory in his power struggle with Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica
By Daniel Sunter

A protracted dispute between Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and Serbia's new prime minister, Zoran Djindjic, over who should run Serbia's powerful police forces was finally resolved last week.


The appointment of Dusan Mihajlovic, leader of the New Democracy party and member of the Democratic Opposition of Serbia coalition, marks Djindjic's first real victory in his on-going power struggle with the president.


Both sides have hailed Mihajlovic's appointment as a compromise, but the new police minister is believed to be closer to Djindjic's Democratic Party than Kostunica's camp. His appointment should afford the Serbian prime minister full control over the Serbian ministry of interior.


During negotiations over the distribution of ministerial posts back in December, Kostunica had set as a condition the appointment of lawyer Gradimir Nalic as police minister.


At the time, Djindjic did not have a candidate of his own, but was determined to prevent the president securing control over the police, believing Kostunica already had the Yugoslav army in his pocket.


Nalic, a respectable non-party figure, is widely known to the Serbian public for his legal work on behalf of Otpor (Resistance), the student protest movement, and various non-government organisations which were exposed to judicial and police repression under former president Slobodan Milosevic's regime.


But the Djindjic camp suspected Kostunica's motives in choosing Nalic had less to do with his desire to appoint a person with professional experience in human rights and judicial affairs than his ambitions to gain complete control over Serbia's security forces.


Kostunica, as president of Yugoslavia, does not in fact enjoy much real power. The post of Serbian prime minister offers significantly more control over government affairs.


The threat posed by Djindjic encouraged Kostunica to oppose moves by DOS to purge the Yugoslav army high command and officer corps. Kostunica's stand earned him the trust and loyalty of army officers and military chief General Nebojsa Pavkovic.


With some justification, many have criticised Kostunica over his failure to purge the army of officers compromised by their links to the Milosevic regime. His detractors claim he has put political expediency ahead of the need to sack disreputable members of the armed forces.


Meanwhile Djindjic, although formally agreeing with Kostunica in December to appoint Nalic as police minister, pointedly referred to him as "one of the candidates". By early January Djindjic had changed his position, saying Nalic was no longer on the list.


Nalic found himself at the centre of a political feud and personal drama. He announced plans to open state security files, a move opposed by a majority in the DOS coalition and the police. Nalic's Muslim origins were mentioned and newspaper reports claimed he had been treated in a Moscow anti-addiction clinic.


An official from the Serbian police told IWPR that Nalic's candidacy was opposed by several DOS leaders, besides Djindjic, and by many in the police force itself.


"For many in the police it is unacceptable to have a lawyer with no experience of police work at its head, and a man who is in addition of Muslim origin," one police inspector said.


"Besides, Nalic announced he would open the files of the Serbian state security services completely, which by our assessment could affect the normal functioning of the security apparatus in Serbia and the FRY [Federal Republic of Yugoslavia].


"Mihajlovic is a much better solution because he worked in the police and he is a politician, and therefore satisfies all the conditions for being a minister."


The arguments and delay over the appointment of a new police minister has affected the day to day functioning of the force.


The police inspector said the delay had had "a bad impact on the morale and mood of police officers.


"Believe me, we all can't wait for the government and minister to start to work and for things to begin to function regularly."


The tussle between Djindjic and Kostunica will now move into other areas, possibly over who is going to run the federal police forces. Belgrade-based military analyst Aleksandar Radic thinks this question is next on the agenda for the two politicians.


The current head of the federal police, Zoran Zivkovic, is one of Djindjic's closest associates, but Kostunica looks likely to try and appoint his own loyalists to key posts within the service.


Radic expects Kostunica to transfer the federal border police, currently under the control of the army, to the Yugoslav police, ensuring a large proportion of the service is loyal to the president and not Djindjic.


"Kostunica has again found an ally in Pavkovic who has agreed to hand over all of his border forces, totaling three units and fourteen battalions, to the federal police," Radic said.


Although Mihajlovic's appointment has robbed Kostunica of control over the Serbian police forces, he still has the army, headed by Pavkovic, and potentially some sections of the federal police as a counter balance. That, alongside his continued public support, is Kostunica's trump card in his on-going struggle with Djindjic.


It is too early to say what impact, if any, Mihajlovic will have in his new job. Zarko Korac, one of the DOS leadership, says who the minister is shouldn't matter, what is important is what the police are like.


Mihajlovic, after completing his law degree, worked briefly in the state security services. His public interest in police matters in recent years has earned him the nickname "Dule the CIA". (Dule is short for Dusan).


He is a businessman and a controversial political figure. In the early 1990s he formed small New Democracy party. Initially an opposition party, it backed the government in the Serbian assembly in 1995. This provided Milosevic with a clear parliamentary majority. After the opposition demonstrations in the winter of 1996-1997, however, New Democracy returned to the opposition benches.


In his first speech on becoming police minister, Mihajlovic announced a drastic reduction in police numbers, the decentralisation of the police force and a concerted effort to track down the perpetrators of the numerous execution-style murders carried out during the Milosevic era.


Daniel Sunter is a regular IWPR contributor.


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