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Milosevic to Retain SPS Leadership

Slobodan Milosevic is expected to remain at the helm of his former ruling party
By Zeljko Cvijanovic

Slobodan Milosevic is expected to retain control of the Socialist Party of Serbia, SPS, at the annual conference of the former ruling party in a week's time.

Opponents of the erstwhile president had been predicting a "second revolution" at the SPS gathering, which opens on November 25, but Zoran Andjelkovic, who took over as secretary-general following the October 5 revolution, claims that Milosevic retains widespread party support. "Most municipal and local councils call for Milosevic to remain president," he said, while admitting that other names have been put forward.

Former SPS vice-president Milorad Vucelic, who split with Milosevic at the end of 1998, had been considered the most likely replacement as party president. Now he says that he may not even attend the conference. "If I thought I could serve any purpose, I would come," he said. "But, as matters stand, my presence would not facilitate a democratic dialogue."

Vucelic is part a group calling itself the "SPS founders", which has been calling for Milosevic to resign in favour of a temporary secretariat to run the SPS in advance of the conference. The group includes former presidents of Serbia Zoran Lilic, Borislav Jovic, Jovan Radic, Milovoje Stefanovic, Radovan Radovic, and ex Belgrade SPS head Slobodan Jovanovic.

The group is supported by former SPS ideologue Mihailo Markovic, but as all of them were previously sidelined or sacked by the former president, their influence within the party is small. An IWPR source claims the head of the Belgrade SPS Ivica Dacic flirted briefly with the group, before deciding they didn't stand a chance.

Conference organizer Zoran Andjelkovic invited Zoran Lilic to join the steering committee of the party conference, but he made his acceptance conditional on the resignation of Milosevic and his close associates. "Andjelkovic replied: 'You know that is impossible', so I told him I couldn't return," said Lilic who has now set up a rival party, the Serbian Socialist Party, SSP. If, as expected, the SPS conference elects Milosevic party president, the SSP could recruit members among those whose party loyalty no longer extends to Milosevic himself.

But IWPR's highly-placed SPS source insists there is no real dissent within the SPS. "There have been some serious disputes over the years, particularly regarding our relationship with JUL [the party led by Milosevic's wife]," he said. "But as for political questions or the issue of Milosevic's leadership, there were never any doubts about those."

The source insists that the "SPS founders" are trying to gain control over the SPS on behalf of DOS, pointing out that Milorad Vucelic is a friend of Democratic Party leader Zoran Djindjic.

Milosevic is said to have told close associates that he was thinking of running for the party presidency mainly because there is no other party figure capable of resisting pressure from DOS. Such anxiety is understandable. Without the protection of his party, Milosevic will be very vulnerable to arrest following Serbian elections in December.

The SPS is not expected to win more than 11 per cent of votes in December, but the party still controls all the property of the former Communist Party, worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Moreover, the parallel "underground" structures which the SPS spent over a decade building up within the secret police, commerce and paramilitary groups should not be overlooked. "The SPS may have revolved around one man, but it is also a party with a strong infrastructure and huge financial resources," said Belgrade sociologist Slobodan Antonic.

Milosevic's SPS opponents argue he has become a millstone around the neck of the party. "The SPS may be able to prolong Milosevic's political career, but by keeping him as leader the party will shorten its own political lifespan," said one party official.

Adding that the DOS has no magic solution for the myriad social problems facing Serbia, he predicts possible riots this winter, "This creates a void for a left of centre party like the SPS to fill. In three or four years, the SPS could be back in power - but only if Milosevic leaves and we eliminate the influence of DOS."

Much attention is focusing on local party committees, which by refusing to support a Milosevic candidacy for party presidency could undermine the party's system of centralized authority. So far, about 20 committees have indicated they will not support the former president.

As for Milosevic himself, he will avoid any long conference discussions about responsibility for events in October, as these could only harm him. Should he reconfirm his position as party president, he is likely to carry out a purge of those who oppose him, along with those loyalists associated with the party's recent fall in popularity. Nikola Sainovic, Gorica Gajevic, Dragan Tomic, Mirko Marjanovic and Vlajko Stojiljkovic are likely candidates in such a cull.

Even if he chooses not to run for the party president, it seems likely that the gathering will create an honorary SPS presidency for him. However, any victory can only be temporary. With Milosevic at the helm, the SPS influence can only dwindle further and it will be only a matter of time before its half-million strong membership starts drifting away towards Lilic's new alternative socialist party. While lacking the vast wealth of the SPS, a rival socialist party will not be saddled with an indicted war criminal as its president.

Zeljko Cvijanovic is a regular IWPR contributor

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