Draskovic Uncomfortable, But Uncompromising In Istanbul.

Iconoclastic Serb nationalist Vuk Draskovic - ever ready to evoke centuries of Ottoman Turkish rule over his motherland - visited Istanbul last week with offerings for the OSCE, new navigators of Serb destiny.

Draskovic Uncomfortable, But Uncompromising In Istanbul.

Iconoclastic Serb nationalist Vuk Draskovic - ever ready to evoke centuries of Ottoman Turkish rule over his motherland - visited Istanbul last week with offerings for the OSCE, new navigators of Serb destiny.

Thursday, 10 November, 2005

Vuk Draskovic, leader of the opposition Serbian Renewal Movement, appeared somewhat out of sorts following his sight seeing tour around the mosques of Istanbul.

This was Draskovic's first visit to the capital of the old Ottoman Empire, subjugator of the Serbs for 500 years. The nationalist politician reacted as one visiting a bygone 'evil empire', now benign but resonating with historical menace.

He mused on his visit to the Mehmet Pasha Mosque, dedicated to Janissary Sokolovic, a Serb who rose to be grand vizier of the Ottoman Empire. Sokolovic features in Draskovic's stage play 'The Knife', in which the vizier leads Serbian boys away to fight in the Ottoman armies.

A political celebrity at home, in Istanbul he was upstaged by US President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin and forced to accept that the situation in Chechnya headed the agenda, though a fifth of the summit's final declaration was eventually devoted to Balkans issues.

Perhaps most discomforting of all for Draskovic, however, was enduring meeting after meeting in the company of arch-rival Zoran Djindjic, leader of the Democratic Party and the pro-Western Alliance for Changes coalition. Both men came to the summit, together with Social Democratic Party activist Zarko Korac, as guests of Czech President Vaclav Havel. Montenegrin president Milo Djukanovic was also present.

The opposition leaders trudged from meeting to meeting: with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov; OSCE Chairman Knut Vollebaek and various foreign ministers of European Union member states.

Only when approached for an interview did Draskovic appear more at home. Once settled with a cigarette and an espresso Draskovic happily launched into a resume of his political strategy for ousting Milosevic as presented to western leaders at the summit.

"I demanded two things," Draskovic said. "First, the very urgent and unconditional lifting of oil and air sanctions. Secondly, I said that Europe and America should make a public statement, that at the moment a settlement is announced on democratic elections monitored by the OSCE and European NGOs, at that moment, all sanctions should be lifted and Serb police and soldiers - a few hundred - should return to Kosovo".

Any offer from the West "has to shock the people of Serbia," Draskovic continued. "If the regime rejects the West's offer to lift sanctions if elections are held, millions of people in Serbia will take to the streets to protest against a leadership unwilling to accept such terms".

Draskovic is frustrated with the constant pressure from the West to join forces with Djindjic, whose Alliance for Change has been holding poorly attended anti-government demonstrations for the past three months.

Draskovic led massive protests against the government alongside Djindjic in 1996-1997. But when both parties gained success in local elections the coalition broke down amid squabbles between Djindjic and Draskovic.

Draskovic claims, with some justification from recent polling evidence, that he is the most popular politician in Serbia and would win in a national election. Draskovic has strong nationalist credentials and remains popular with rural voters, who make up the majority of the population.

But Western leaders favour Djindjic, a German educated philosopher, despite the fact that he commands little support in Serbia outside liberal, educated circles in the major cities.

"I have the winning plan," Draskovic went on, insisting his party could win 1 million votes. Djindjic's Alliance for Chance would be obliged to bring in only 300,000 votes; the coalition of pro-European, leftist democratic parties that includes former General Vuk Obradovic's Social Democratic Party and the former Socialist mayor of Belgrade Nebojsa Covic's Democratic Alliance party would need to bring in 400,000 votes. And a coalition of national minority parties, such as those in Vojvodina, would be obliged to bring in 200,000 votes.

"After that we will create a post-election coalition, a government for just three months, that will dismiss Milosevic and the Socialist party, change the laws, re-establish links with Europe and the West and bring Serbia into the Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe," Draskovic said.

Draskovic claimed that, having explained the numbers to Albright, the U.S. Secretary of State understood the futility of pressing Draskovic to back the street protests organised by Djindjic.

"I do not want to spend the energy of the people, to go on the streets and call for the resignation of Milosevic by using whistles and their running shoes", he said. "People are afraid of that."

The low turn out at the Alliance for Change demonstrations, Draskovic argued, only embarrassed the opposition movements.

"I think we need to stop these shameful demonstrations. Give the people time to recharge their batteries, to settle on a new strategy. To decide on a goal, a rallying call, a slogan to get them on the streets", Draskovic said.

And that rallying cry, Draskovic insisted, hinges on an assurance sanctions will be lifted and evidence that the situation for Serbs in Kosovo is improving enough to enable Serb refugees to return home. "Then I would have the prize in my hands. In that case, I will win."

Draskovic then turned to the alleged attempt on his life two months ago. In a bizarre 'accident', a lorry loaded with sand careered into Draskovic's motorcade, killing four close associates.

"Until now the Milosevic investigation has failed to find two simple things: who drove the truck and who owned the truck," he said. Draskovic claims that Western officials at the summit gave him information on who ordered the attack. He has in the past accused leaders of the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party and the Yugoslav United Left party led by Milosevic's wife of ordering the attack.

On November 22, the Serbian daily Blic published a statement by Draskovic's SPO associate, Borivoje Borovic, in which he claimed to have proof that the truck belonged to Serbian state security forces. Borovic also accused Dragan Ilic, the police general in charge of the investigation, of participating in a cover-up. Ilic's wife is in charge of the office of vehicle registrations.

Draskovic warned, however, that the information he had received on who ordered the assassination is so sensitive it will need careful handling. "It could trigger the beginning of a civil war", Draskovic said.

"I must avoid that. I must prepare my supporters, and explain that it is not the voters for the Socialist Party who targeted me, but three or four men in the regime. These people are a great danger to Serbia," he concluded.

Laura Rozen is a regular correspondent from the Balkans for IWPR.

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