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Opposition Draws Closer Together, But Milosevic Still Has Cards Up His Sleeve

In the last few days a few bridges have been thrown across the divide between the leaders of the Serbian opposition and the country's maverick political figure Vuk Draskovic, once more raising the possibility of a united opposition to Slobodan Milosevic's
By Milenko Vasovic

Up until last week the Serbian opposition was as hopelessly divided as ever, and barely on speaking terms. Yet in the last few days a few bridges have been thrown across the divide, once more raising the possibility of a united opposition to Slobodan Milosevic's regime.

On Friday members of the Serbian republic parliament in Belgrade adopted a declaration calling on Milosevic to "resign in the interest of Belgrade and the whole country".

They also adopted two more declarations condemning police attacks on demonstrators on September 29 and 30, and the attempt on the life of Vuk Draskovic, president of the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO). Four of Draskovic's associates were killed in a car accident on October 3, widely assumed to have been staged by regime supporters.

The significance of these declarations lies in the fact that both Draskovic's SPO and members of the Democratic Party (DS) of Zoran Djindjic endorsed all of them. The vote marked the first active cooperation of the two parties since the two leaders' split acrimoniously during civil protests against local election vote manipulation at the end of 1996 and the beginning of 1997.

During those two years apart Draskovic effectively held power in Belgrade with the tacit agreement of Milosevic's Socialists.

But Draskovic's miraculous escape on October 3 - of his group, travelling in two different cars, only he survived when a truck swerved over and smashed into them - has changed everything.

Circumstantial evidence pointing to a regime plot is piling up. The state has not reported on the incident yet, nearly a fortnight after the attack; the owner and or driver of the lorry has not been identified, even though the truck was of a unusual type, said to be one of only five in Serbia. Nearly a fortnight later, Draskovic has not been interviewed by the police, even though they were on the scene of the accident in minutes - and no one knows who called them.

Speaking at the funeral of the dead men, Draskovic warned that the assassins would pay for their deaths, and the price appears to be effective cooperation between the opposition. Draskovic was moving that way anyway, even before the car smash, commenting that "the SPO and Djindjic's democrats are the partners who could bring Milosevic's reign to an end".

As yet however, no one among the senior ranks of the SPO and DS will speculate on the prospect of binding the SPO with Djindjic's party. The DS is in turn part of the Alliance for Changes (SZP), organisers of a running programme of street protest across Serbia since September 21.

A meeting of the DS party executive board last weekend was called to review the effect of the demonstrations so far. There has been no formal announcement, but Balkans Crisis Reports has learnt unofficially that it has been decided that future demonstrations should put the demand for elections ahead of demands for Milosevic's resignation.

This is another step that shortens the distance between the SPO and the Alliance for change. Up until now the SPO has insisted first on elections and only then on Milosevic's removal. To demand the contrary, Draskovic argued, would risk civil war with Milosevic's forces.

A meeting of the presidency of the SPO is expected this week, and probably its executive board as well. But Balkans Crisis Reports has learnt from a high level official of the SPO that a discussion about the SPO joining the street protests, organised by the SZP, is not expected.

The top officials of the SPO still fear that "the west cares about the trouble being caused in Serbia" and that the party does not want to get involved in it.

The question, however, remains how long the leadership of this party can ignore the demands of their members to go to the streets.

Three members of the executive board of the SPO: Veroljub Stevanovic, Vojislav Vukcevic and Srdjan Filipovic have told the media that the opposition is soon put a proposition to Milosevic that an election be called. If he declines it, the 'pressure at all levels' will follow, to include joining street protests.

On Thursday, October 14, representatives of 21 opposition parties are scheduled to gather for the third time at the round table at which they will discuss precondition for the election. If, as expected, the opposition has reached a final agreement, the request that elections be held could soon be forwarded to Slobodan Milosevic.

But former associates of Milosevic, Dusan Mihajlovic, now president of opposition New Democracy party, and Nebojsa Covic, the leader of the Democratic Alternative, warns that Milosevic can be unpredictable when cornered.

Mihajlovic warns of a possible trick card up Milosevic's sleeve. If the opposition unites as one in a demands for the elections, Milosevic may grant them their wish and immediately and immediately dissolve the Serbian Parliament - making it impossible to change the election rules to ensure a free and fair election. The opposition will then be presented with a fait accompli: 'you asked for the elections, here they are'.

In that case the opposition could not participate in the election under the current conditions - Milosevic's grip on the state media gives him one winning advantage. But it would mean that the only option then open to the opposition would be to escalate street protests.

This suits Milosevic best. As long as the police and the army command are behind him, he can go on amusing himself by dispersing the demonstrations daily.

Milosevic's wife, Mira Markovic, said that the left came to power in Serbia in blood and without blood they will not give up power. She meant the communists' seizure of power in 1945. Those who know Milosevic doubt his readiness to give up power if defeated at the elections. Still, it is worth trying.

Milenko Vasovic is a regular IWPR contributor.

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