Serbia: DOS Cancels Revolution Celebrations

Belgrade leaders cancel revolution anniversary celebrations fearing they may draw attention to their unfulfilled election promises

Serbia: DOS Cancels Revolution Celebrations

Belgrade leaders cancel revolution anniversary celebrations fearing they may draw attention to their unfulfilled election promises

Madonna will not perform at a pop concert in Belgrade on October 5 after all. The governing DOS coalition in Serbia has abandoned plans for a grand celebration to mark the first anniversary of the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic.

The reasons are not hard to find. The coalition's popularity ratings are plummeting. At the same time, divisions between two main DOS factions, supporters of Serbian Premier Zoran Djindjic and those loyal to Yugoslav president Vojislav Kostunica, run deeper than ever.

No political alternative has emerged, so in spite of its unpopularity, its position is not in jeopardy. But after a year in power, DOS is in a political cul-de-sac. The coalition cannot remain together for much longer, because the 18 parties no longer have a joint enemy, now Milosevic is in The Hague.

Nor can they peacefully separate and go for early elections until the Serbian constitution is reformed. Yet these reforms cannot be completed until Serbia has resolved its relations with Montenegro, its partner in the federation, which has not decided whether to remain inside Yugoslavia.

The DOS leaders insist they have not abandoned their plans for a festival on account of their internal squabbles but because the country needs hard work more than celebrations. Miroslav Hristodulo, deputy leader of Social Democracy, said they had more important tasks to concentrate on, such as improving the standard of living. Predrag Markovic, from the influential reformist think-tank G17 Plus, agreed. He said there is "no time for a celebration, work ought to be done".

Only three months ago, the government was planning to celebrate the events of October 5 in the centre of Belgrade with a big concert involving Madonna. Bogoljub Karic, a nouveau riche businessman from the Milosevic era who now backs the new authorities, was expected to stump up a million dollars for the event.

In reality, the celebrations have been cancelled in case they draw attention to the coalition's unfulfilled election promises. Of three key pledges to the voters, the removal of Milosevic, economic reform and institutional changes, only the first has been fulfilled.

The economic reforms exist only on paper. Failure in this department is illustrated by the fact that almost three-quarters of the 1.4 billion dollars approved for Yugoslavia at a foreign donors' conference in Brussels in June has not arrived. The reason is that Yugoslavia has not supplied the donors with the project documentation they need to release the money.

As for the other political and institutional reforms, they have not even begun. The government has not proposed one institutional reform law to parliament. As a result, Serbia still functions under the old Milosevic code.

Officials in Djindjic's Democratic Party now complain that the "October revolution" should have been more thorough-going. A "year zero state" should have been introduced, one of them said. "All Milosevic's laws should have been suspended and a fresh start made," he continued, but admitted this was no longer practical party policy.

By contrast, President Kostunica has emerged as the defender of the existing constitution, arguing strongly that "the laws must be respected, until they are changed". Speaking on September 15 at a public meeting on reforms, he said, "Anything else, whatever reasons are used to justify it, would contribute to greater disorder, not to reforms or stability".

While Djindjic has tried to unify the coalition on a platform of

economic reform, Kostunica has emerged as a key opponent. He does not want to see power concentrated around the Serbian premier.

For a decade, Milosevic was the one figure who united the Serbian opposition. After his arrest and extradition to The Hague, this cohesive factor became weaker. But it still fed on fear of Milosevic's supporters, some of whom had retained leading positions in the police and army.

The arrest of Milosevic, however, marked the appearance of the first cracks in DOS. The previous October, they had garnered the support of more than two-thirds of voters. But since the revolution, public opinion shifted steadily against them.

Their popularity fell again in June when Djindjic and Kostunica clashed over the extradition of Milosevic to The Hague. The ratings tumbled further in August, when Milan Gavrilovic, a former secret policeman close to Kostunica, was shot dead in Belgrade, prompting the Yugoslav president to accuse the Serbian premier of having links with the mafia.

Erstwhile DOS voters are not moving over to other parties but abstaining from voting altogether. As a result, though support for the DOS is falling - one poll by G17 Plus says 40 per cent of the population believe they now live worse than they did under Milosevic - the coalition still has a popular mandate.

Moreover, Djindjic controls the majority of the media, the money supply and the police, which gives him an additional advantage over the president.

The essential task they now face is to end the uncertainty over Montenegro's future status within the Yugoslav federation. A second possible development is the emergence of a new group of parties on the left, headed by deputy prime minister Nebojsa Covic and Yugoslav foreign minister Goran Svilanovic and supported by the G17 Plus experts. Both developments would stabilise Serbia's democratic foundations and assist the halting reform process.

Marketing analyst Srdjan Bogosavljevic believes the government must use its remaining time in office to press ahead with reforms and avoid debilitating in-fighting.

"As long as there is an understanding that the country is heading in the right direction, the authorities will still be in a comfortable position," he said. "It would be a shame if they wasted that position on squabbles instead of preparing the ground for better future."

Zeljko Cvijanovic is a journalist with Belgrade weekly Blic News

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