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

No Way Out

There are several ways in which the Yugoslav could be ousted from power. But all of them are unlikely.

The indictment of Slobodan Milosevic for war crimes has renewed speculation--both in Western capitals and in Belgrade--about the future political career of the Yugoslav president.

Having seized power in Serbia nearly 12 years ago, Milosevic has presided over all the wars of Yugoslav dissolution and turned his country from a respected and relatively affluent state into an impoverished, international pariah.

Despite this, despite the indictment by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and despite more than two months of NATO bombing, he remains in power, and, at just 57, shows no desire to take early retirement.

How, then, might the Yugoslav president leave office and what might his ultimate fate be?

In theory, there are any number of ways--both peaceful and violent--by which Milosevic may exit politics. These include impeachment and electoral defeat at the peaceful end of the spectrum and extend to assassination and suicide at the more violent.

Although attempts to impeach presidents seem to be currently in vogue, the chances of the Yugoslav parliament moving against Milosevic during the current NATO bombing campaign are non-existent. Even if parliament could meet, the handful of opposition deputies--mostly from Montenegro--could never outvote the Milosevic loyalists.

If parliamentary deputies were to attempt to impeach the Yugoslav president, they would effectively be blaming him for the war. While this is unlikely to take place as long as the bombs are still falling, it could conceivably happen in the wake of an unfavourable peace settlement which leaves Serbia isolated and destitute. However, few Serbs are holding their breath, given the security apparatus which Milosevic has at his disposal.

In the wake of a settlement, Milosevic may call a snap election to capitalise on his current popularity as the head of the Serb nation in its war with NATO. But he would only do this if he is sure that he will win. The elections in Serbia in the 1990s have had little to do with democracy. Moreover, given Milosevic's control of all aspects of Serbian society and, in particular, the media, the result should not be in doubt.

Many analysts outside Serbia are no doubt hoping either that there will be a coup d'etat against Milosevic or that the Serb masses will turn against him. However, the chances of this are also minimal. Despite a tradition of military coups, the army leadership is loyal to Milosevic and, after a series of purges, firmly under his control. Moreover, the officer corps is thoroughly committed to the current campaign.

Demonstrators have turned out in the streets of several towns in southern Serbia to protest against the way the war in Kosovo is being prosecuted--in particular, the manner in which young Serb males are being mobilised and sent to the front. But such demonstrations remain isolated and small-scale. Serbs do not view Milosevic's indictment as a reason to come to their senses and rise up against their leader, but as yet more evidence of a conspiracy against them.

In time, especially in the wake of an peace agreement which effectively seals a Serb defeat, civil war in Serbia will become a serious possibility. Indeed, Milosevic may launch it himself against the alleged fifth columnists whom he will likely hold responsible for what may be a national humiliation. Such a war could prove extremely ugly and will not necessarily lead to Milosevic's ouster.

Many in Serbia look to the Russians for a settlement on terms acceptable to Belgrade, with perhaps a clause allowing the Yugoslav president to depart Serbia for a friendly state such as Belarus. Though perhaps the kind of compromise which NATO might accept, it, nevertheless, requires Milosevic to give up power, something he has signally refused to do throughout his career.

Given the importance of force to Milosevic's power, it will probably require force to oust him. One possibility is that he will be killed by one of NATO's laser-guided missiles. One of his residences has already been hit in an air attack and two of the ruling nomenclature, Gorica Gajevic and Dusan Matkovic, have also had close scraps with death. However, Belgrade's best-guarded secret is Milosevic's current bunker.

In the event of a full-scale NATO invasion of Serbia, Milosevic would not be able to survive military defeat and might even be put on trial. However, nobody expects NATO to launch such an offensive because of the risk of casualties.

Another possible violent end for Milosevic may come at his own hand. His domestic critics have long been convinced that Milosevic's actions are driven by a suicidal urge and that ultimately, like his parents, who both killed themselves, he will self-destruct.

Slobodan Inic is a political scientist from Belgrade's Institute for European Studies.

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