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

Mr & Mrs Milosevic's Parties Squabble Over Cash And Influence Across Serbia

The idyllic harmony between the 'his and hers' political parties that dominate Serbia's ruling coalition does not go very far. In provincial Serbia the two supposed allies are at daggers drawn - mostly over money.
By Srdjan Staletovic

The idyllic harmony between the 'his and hers' political parties that dominate Serbia's ruling coalition does not go very far.

The Socialist Party (SPS) of Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic and the Yugoslav Left (JUL) run by his wife Mira Markovic live happily enough as partners in Serbia's ruling coalition government. But this cosy his-and-hers party harmony does not travel very far out of Belgrade.

Out in provincial Serbia the two parties are at daggers drawn. Mostly, over money.

Officials and members of the two partner parties claim that in central and southern Serbia they are not threatened by the opposition protestors marching daily through the country's cities. Instead, they fear each other.

The SPS - which inherited the apparatus and the wealth of the former Communist Party - as a result controls the local authorities and the state funds in the majority of towns in the south of Serbia. But over the past year JUL cadres have moved up into top positions, both in local government and the local economy.

This makes SPS officials nervous and reluctant to cooperate with their supposed coalition partners. "In a way, the true SPS membership has never been able to swallow the emergence of the JUL," said one official of Milosevic's SPS in Kragujevac, one of the five biggest cities in Yugoslavia.

The JUL's style is distinctive. For six years Momcilo D. has owned a run an import-export company working with distributors in Kraljevo without problems. "And then Mira's JUL appointed its people in the key positions that control the money and began to make its own communism," said Momcilo D. a SPS official in Kraljevo. "Well, this cannot be."

The Kraljevo branch of the JUL's version of its 'own Communism' involved sending two 'messengers' around to his business to demand money to "help" his business partners in town. He turned them away.

A week later a gang of big men broke into his office late in the afternoon. They told him he had two days to pay the "help to the partners," or else he would have "huge problems". Momcilo D. paid, he said, but "since I did not want this to become a habit,

I went to the SPS headquarters in Belgrade and reported everything. They calmed me down and told me that it would stop." It did stop, but Momcilo heard from his colleagues about similar cases of JUL intimidation at other companies owned either by the members or the supporters of the SPS.

The JUL in Kraljevo calls upon the services of people like 23 year old local Sasa D., a member of the town's Aikido martial arts club and a student at the Higher School of Interior Affairs in Belgrade. He has no money, but asked who pays for his participation in competitions, he answers readily. "These (people) from the JUL," he says.

"In return, they ask (for us) when pressure needs to be put on someone for money. Simple as that." The entire membership of his Aikido club has now joined the municipal party board of the JUL.

The SPS gets its own back. Local JUL official Ljiljana T. used to work as a manager in a state company in Aleksandrovac, 190 kilometres south of Belgrade, until four months ago. Then she fell out with the SPS controlled town authorities.

"Someone heard what I was saying about the SPS in the city centre and ran to report it to the president of the municipality. Two days later I was suspended from my managerial post, and then I received my notice of dismissal," Ljiljana T. says bitterly.

The local JUL party chief was unable to help her and the town's powerful SPS president of the Aleksandrovac municipality, Zivota Cvetkovic, would not speak to her. Instead he dismissively told her over his shoulder as he walked through the town hall: "That's your problem - when you are a member of the wrong party."

In the end she had to look for a new job in neighbouring Kragujevac. "And I joined the JUL two years ago in order to be able to become a manager," adds Ljiljana, sadly.

The relations between Mr and Mrs Milosevic's parties are at their worst in the south of Serbia, in Krusevac. In the south of Serbia everyone knows who has the power and who has the money. Those who need assistance or a recommendation, they must ask the SPS. If they need cash or a 'special favour', they need to speak with the JUL.

Krusevac is known as a bastion of the SPS and dominates the local council chamber, but only gives one of its 48 seats to the JUL. This has not stopped the JUL from challenging them.

SPS member Milovan J., a 51-year-old economist from Krusevac, is sorry that his party "on which I take the oath and for which I die" has problems with the JUL. "I know that the president of the JUL in Krusevac hates me, but he does not have the orders to destroy the party. That's his whim."

JUL official Rade Markovic, director of the biggest chemical plant in Yugoslavia, the Merima works in Krusevac, has been accused by opposition deputies of embezzling two million German marks from the company on the eve of the NATO intervention in Yugoslavia.

Krusevac members of the SPS, the opposition's sworn foes, initially backed the charges. It took a visit from a top JUL official from Belgrade to stop the SPS and the opposition from turning on the JUL.

The matter was brought to a close, though the money is still unaccounted for.

Srdjan Staletovic is a regular IWPR correspondent in Belgrade.