The Next Purge

The political demise of two of Milosevic's closest associates in the days before a peace agreement may herald the latest political cleansing.

The Next Purge

The political demise of two of Milosevic's closest associates in the days before a peace agreement may herald the latest political cleansing.

In the days immediately preceding Belgrade's acceptance of a deal over Kosovo, two prominent associates of Slobodan Milosevic departed the Serbian political scene in a move which political analysts here believe may herald yet another purge.

Milorad Vucelic and Milovan Vitezovic have been two of the most influential individuals in Serbia during the past decade. Until last month they were both trusted members of the Yugoslav president's inner circle. Now they are casualties of a reshuffle of the Belgrade establishment as Milosevic seeks to reassert his authority within Serbia.

A deep purge may be in the offing. Of the two, Vucelic was probably the more powerful. Although initially critical of the Milosevic regime, he transformed himself into one of the Yugoslav President's most loyal lieutenants and held a succession of top posts in the administration.

Vucelic was appointed chief executive of Radio Television Serbia (RTS)--the cornerstone of the Milosevic regime--at the end of 1992 and immediately set about purging the institution, either dismissing journalists deemed unsuitable by the authorities or obliging them to take forced leave.

Vucelic removed all trade union activists and made the formation of a new, independent union among RTS employees impossible. The independent union--which at the time would have been the first in Serbia-aimed to introduce a professional code of conduct for journalists, including objective and accurate reporting.

Later, Vucelic rose to the top of Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) where he became chief whip of the SPS parliamentary group. In this capacity, he became the Yugoslav president's chief liaison with the Montenegrin authorities.

In addition to his party role, Vucelic held a variety of lucrative posts in Serbia's business and cultural life. One of the country's so-called "tycoons", he was chief executive of Telecom Serbia, president of Yugoslavia's Volleyball Association and friend and business partner to all of Serbia's new rich.

In recent years several of Vucelic's associates met a tragic end, executed by unknown assassins. These include Radivoje Nikcevic, director of the Sumadija housing association, Radovan Stojicic-Badza, chief of Serbian police, and Zoran Todorovic, a leading official of Yugoslav Left (JUL), the political party of Milosevic's wife Mirjana Markovic. None of the murders has been resolved.

In recent months Vucelic's star had been falling as he lost the position of the chief whip of the SPS parliamentary group. Then, in May, RTS reported that he had been sacked from Serbia Telecom, for allegedly leaving the country during the NATO bombing campaign.

Vucelic denied that he had deserted Yugoslavia, explaining that he had been in Salonika in Greece with the country's volleyball team. But he has not been reinstated.

Milovan Vitezovic, the other former Milosevic loyalist to have been dismissed, was originally a popular writer of children's books, aphorisms, and television drama. He won notoriety in the early 1990s for coining the phrase "the happening of people" to describe the mass protest meetings staged by Milosevic to pressurise the leaderships of Vojvodina and Montenegro into resigning so that he could install new governments willing to do his bidding.

Vitezovic became something of an unofficial poet laureate to the regime when he was appointed editor-in-chief of arts and cultural programming at SRT. Although aspiring to become director-general of the organisation, he never reached this position and has now fallen from grace and been dismissed.

The circumstances of both of these dismissals remains murky. But with the regime searching for scapegoats and needing to confirm new internal alliances, they may not be the last.

The author is an independent journalist from Belgrade whose identity has been concealed.

Serbia, Kosovo
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