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

Serbia: Public Disillusioned With Leaders

The majority of Serbs seem to feel the current political elite is no better than their authoritarian predecessors.
By Sinisa Stanimirovic

For a long time after former president Slobodan Milosevic's extradition to The Hague war crimes tribunal, a slogan could be seen plastered on posters and billboards across Belgrade. "Everything's the same only he's not here," read the Otpor (Resistance) movement message.


It's a sentiment that persists to this day, with a recent survey by the Institute of Researching Public Opinion indicating that 65 per cent of those polled believe little has changed since the former Serb leader was overthrown.


"The politicians are just the same as the last ones, and it seems to me that those in the future will be similar," shrugged Belgrade newspaper seller Zorica, a view shared by many in the country.


Public discontent stems from disillusionment over the new authorities' failure to substantially improve living standards - following the misery and poverty of the Milosevic years - and the constant political bickering between Yugoslav president Vojislav Kostunica and Serbian prime minister Zoran Djindjic.


Nurse Zivanka Jovanic says that she is so disappointed by the new leaders that she feels "nauseated" by the thought of voting in future elections. "The only thing they did was overthrow Milosevic, and they did that with the support of the West. We'll get rid of them easily, but I don't know who can take their place," she said.


Lawyer Petar Rosic is also concerned that no real alternative to the ruling DOS coalition has emerged on the political scene. "It's becoming unbearable. Before they were in power, they promised much. It turns out that they had nothing prepared, and are only now making laws which we have waited ten years for," he said.


Analysts believe that too many DOS deputies are content to ignore the big issues crippling the nation - such as poverty and corruption - in favour of aping the very worst aspects of their arrogant predecessors.


A series of recent incidents have enraged a nation already close to despair over their leaders' failure to turn the country around.


Serbia's average salary is 130 euro a month - barely enough to live on - yet in January deputies demanded that iced cakes be added to the parliamentary restaurant's menu. The public outcry that followed saw newspapers contrast the political elite's demand for tastier sweets alongside stories about soup kitchens for the poor.


There was a further scandal just one month later, when a pedestrian crossing was painted in front of the Serbian parliament a day after DOS official Cedomir Jovanovic - one of the prime minister's closest associates - commented that one was needed.


This perceived need for what is now locally known as "Ceda's zebra" - despite there being a controlled crossing just 50 metres away - coincided with a drastic hike in fines for traffic violations and jaywalking.


Jovanovic provoked yet more public scorn when he refused to testify at the trial of Marija Milosevic - the former Serb leader's daughter - accused of illegally discharging a firearm on April 1, 2001, the night her father was arrested.


The DOS deputy, who was present at the time of the incident, was ordered by a Belgrade municipal court to give evidence at a hearing on June 18 but did not appear - the fourth time he had failed to do so.


The police had been ordered to bring him to the hearing but did not force the issue. Pressed about the civic responsibility of telling the court what he knew, Jovanovic then claimed not to have received a single summons.


In another controversy, Nacional reporter Gordana Peric received a volley of abuse when she tried to question DOS leader Velimir Ilic about education ministry allegations that he had not been elected a professor at the Cacak technical faculty. "He cursed my mother and called me an 'illiterate cow'," Peric told IWPR.


Asked about the incident, Ilic replied, "She is an illiterate fool and I'll repeat this to her if she calls me again." When questioned whether such insults were appropriate to his position, he said, "I don't have time for idiots."


Ilic went even further during a telephone interview on Belgrade's radio station Studio B. Live on air, the politician repeatedly threatened journalists with physical violence.


Sinisa Stanimirovic is a regular contributor to IWPR.


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