Making Murder A Way Of Life

As Milosevic and his associates step up their attacks on the opposition and the media, serious violence in Serbia may be becoming inevitable.

Making Murder A Way Of Life

As Milosevic and his associates step up their attacks on the opposition and the media, serious violence in Serbia may be becoming inevitable.

Thursday, 10 November, 2005

Zoran Djindjic, president of Serbia's Democratic Party (DS) and one of the leaders of the opposition bloc Alliance for Changes, has made claims that Yugoslav authorities are preparing to assassinate him.

Djindjic said October 20 that he had received information from several police officers who told him that his flat, as well as those of his friends, was under surveillance. The routes he habitually takes in his car are also being analysed. According to Djindjic, the police are preparing a dossier on his bodyguards and the weapons they have at their disposal.

"There are indications that we have entered the political phase when murders count as a part of political life in Serbia," Djindjic said.

Opposition figures believe that the incident in early October involving Vuk Draskovic, leader of the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO), was an assassination attempt. If such claims are correct, then Djindjic's warning must be taken very seriously. Draskovic escaped injury when a truck swerved suddenly in front of his car, but four other passengers died in the incident.

Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and his influential wife, Mirjana Markovic, seem to be competing to see who will be better at vilifying the opposition. Daily rallies organised by the Alliance for Changes have taken place since 21 September, with politicians and citizens demanding the president's resignation.

In public statements, Milosevic has called the demonstrators cowards and toadies of the West. He has said that citizens can vote for whomever they wish in the next elections - apart from those who are destroying the country.

A much more dangerous threat came from his wife. In an interview with the Vatican paper Familja Kristijana in mid-October, Markovic accused the international community of instigating the civil war in Serbia and declared Djindjic chief collaborator and traitor. She charged the DS leader with having placed himself at the disposal of Western governments during the NATO bombing and claimed that NATO had assigned him the task of stirring up civil war in Serbia. As a political and military ally, she said, he had suggested what targets should be hit.

At any other time this avalanche of accusations could have been dismissed. Markovic, leader of the Yugoslav United Left, also described Djindjic as a military deserter, murderer of his own people, a coward and a sneak. But recent events have proven that such denunciations can have fatal results.

In September last year, in an article for the Belgrade magazine Bazar, Markovic accused Slavko Curuvija, owner of the independent daily Dnevni Telegraf, of suggesting that bombing Serbia was the only means of bringing Serbs to their senses - a charge Curuvija vehemently denied. In April, he was gunned down in front of his house, and his murder has not been resolved.

Now other associates of Milosevic have joined in the threats. Goran Matic, the Yugoslav Information Minister and an official of Markovic's Yugoslav Left, said on October 18 that "foreign agencies" are preparing attacks on opposition leaders, which they will then blame on the Serbian authorities.

"The chain of incidents and provocations that will most likely target opposition leaders will be caused by foreign agencies or by rival groups in the fifth column, only to accuse the authorities of causing those incidents and trying to remove the political opponents from the scene by non-democratic and other means," Matic said.

The next day, Gen. Dragoljub Ojdanic, chief of the General Staff of the Yugoslav Army, accused the opposition of cooperating with NATO during the bombing. He also made a reference to the on-going protests, suggesting that those involved had provided advice to the Western alliance.

Nearly all opposition parties in Belgrade have taken this onslaught of criticism as a sign of imminent civil conflict. The Civic Alliance of Serbia believes that such statements are the harbinger of a new wave of violence organised by the authorities. The Democratic Alternative also thinks that the regime is preparing the field in advance "for crimes with which it will remove political opponents and the most vocal witnesses of its tragic policy that cost Serbia the loss of territories, life, dignity and international reputation."

The heated political scene was stirred up further this week by the emergence of a an terrorist organisation.

On October 18, a group calling itself the Serbian Liberation Army (OSA) claimed responsibility for the assassination attempt on Vuk Draskovic. In an announcement, typed out on a old-style type-writer and distributed to news offices, the OSA accused Draskovic of being a pro-communist traitor. The letter, stamped with the two-headed eagle insignia of the Nemanjic family and a skull and crossbones, was signed by the "Supreme Command of the OSA."

The emergence of "real terrorists" in Serbia was met with derision - almost everyone suspects that the regime is the creator of the OSA. Political analysts have surmised that the regime's aim is to divert attention away from the fact that it has not made any progress in resolving the Draskovic incident.

Milosevic's October counter-offensive against his political opponents seems to be unfolding along several lines. Overshadowed by the abuse of the opposition in the state media and physical abuse in the streets, the pressure on the independent media is being stepped up through the brutal Law on Information.

Both Narodne Novine in Nis and Svitel Television in Svilajnac were tried on October 19. In a speedy hearing, Narodne Novine was fined 200,000 dinars (about $7,500) for writing about the salaries of the managers of one local company. Proceedings against Svitel were postponed for several days. The television station is standing trial because of an interview with historian Milan Protic, a leader of the Alliance for Changes, who is not in favour with the local Socialist authorities.

Meanwhile, the trial against the printing house ABC Grafika, publishers of the daily Glas javnosti, began in Belgrade on October 20. ABC Grafika's crime is printing leaflets for the Alliance for Changes. Some 52 charges have been brought against it.

Independent media have also been receiving increasing visits from the financial inspectors, reviewing accounts, payments, taxes and the like. These have become so frequent, journalists say, that they have started to address the inspectors as "colleagues."

Many people in Serbia now fear that violence is inevitable. Government representatives have announced the adoption of a new law on local government and imminent local elections. It is believed that the regime will try to wrest power from their enemies, at any cost, in all opposition-ruled towns and municipalities.

Nebojsa Popov, a sociologist and the editor of the monthly Republika, notes that violence attacks will only be the continuation of a long-running policy by the authorities. "Our problem is how to exit the cycle of violence in which we have been caught for too long, and not how to prevent its beginning," he said.

Vlado Mares is a regular IWPR correspondent in Belgrade.

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