Socialists Think Milosevic May Have Ten More Years Yet

The powerful political tremors rocking Slobodan Milosevic's ruling SPS party to its core will not necessarily bring it down. Indeed many SPS officials think that the party has a strategy in mind that could give them another decade in power.

Socialists Think Milosevic May Have Ten More Years Yet

The powerful political tremors rocking Slobodan Milosevic's ruling SPS party to its core will not necessarily bring it down. Indeed many SPS officials think that the party has a strategy in mind that could give them another decade in power.

Slobodan Milosevic's mighty Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) has been shaken to its foundations. The international criminal tribunal in The Hague has indicted Milosevic for war crimes; his party functionaries cannot get EU visas or access to their money abroad.


But the party continues to meet under banners that read 'We Will Move Ahead'.


The SPS has carefully limited its attacks on the range of different opposition groups, former allies, church, community and academic groups that have turned on the party and its leader since the end of the Kosovo fighting. Some read this reticence as a sign of panic - others as proof that the SPS is marshalling its forces for a counterattack and a 'second decade of rule'.


Milosevic's party came to power in Serbia in 1990's groundbreaking multi-party elections, just four months after it was cloned from the former ruling Communist Party. According to its own figures, the SPS has around 600,000 members. It is the largest political party in Yugoslavia and runs its own business in the same autocratic manner it runs the country.


At the top there is Milosevic, joined two years ago by his wife Mirjana Markovic, the leader of the Yugoslav Left (JUL) party in a public and private coalition of forces. Their place is maintained by loyal lower ranks, which share in the riches accumulated through the party's absolute control over the economy, legal or otherwise.


Over the years former allies have been dumped and new ones brought in. Most of the 'old' SPS point to the alliance with the JUL as the watershed in the party's fortunes. It has resulted in a three-way split in the party. Their members' feelings towards Markovic and her party largely define the factions.


It divided into what some called the 'pro-JUL' SPS and the 'honest' SPS, which in turn split into 'honest', and 'moderate' wings. Individually the factions have no power in a party that is still strongly bound by Milosevic. But the differences remain.


The "Pro-JUL" SPS group consists of members close to Mirjana Markovic, who saw the coalition as an open door to power over the nation's purse. Appointing directors of businesses, presidents of management committees and deans of colleges, the coalition has massive influence to wield. The prominent figures here are Prime Minister Marko Marjanovic, Yugoslav Deputy President Nikola Sainovic and Dragan Tomic, director of the Yumko industrial combine.


The man who speaks for Milosevic in his direct dealings with the party is his effective number two, SPS general secretary Gorica Gajevic. Milosevic does not like to mix directly with the party membership, this is Gajevic's task, and here the JUL do not have influence. Gajevic has the party's utmost confidence.


The second group, or so-called 'honest' or 'neutral' SPS, is largely made up of party members whose relationship with the JUL is undefined. Mostly left to tackle routine state duties and left out when the wealth-generating business directorships are given away, they have no financial or economic influence and are thus "not interesting for JUL," says a SPS who prefers to remain anonymous.


This group of neutrals includes the President of Serbia, Milan Milutinovic, Serbian deputy President Ratko Markovic, Foreign Minister Vladimir Jovanovic and Interior Minister Vlajko Stoiljkovic.


The third and the most interesting group are the so-called 'moderate SPS' who pointedly stand aside from the JUL. They are long-serving party members whose reputation as 'true, honest socialists' still lives on among the electorate, despite the alliance with Markovic's party.


Typical of the group are the former deputy President of the party, Milorad Vucelic, director of the Yugoslav Customs service, Mihalj Kertes, President of the Citizen's Council of the Yugoslav Parliament, Milomir Minic, the SPS official in Vojvodina Radovan Pankov and the present Deputy President of the SPS, Zoran Lilic.


These figures tend to be the most directly effective of the party membership, busy working out strategy, giving out the jobs and generally implementing their leader's ideas. This effectiveness singles them out as a group, and it is often said that they could move, as one, into opposition 'when required'.


Accordingly Milosevic has tightened his reins over the party in general and the 'moderates' in particular. Top SPS sources say Lilic faces the sack, while Vucelic, a successful businessman, left for Greece during the war in Yugoslavia, giving his former SPS colleagues the chance to excommunicate him.


But isolating his enemies also drives them into the arms of the opposition. Vucelic is friendly with the leader of the Democratic Party Zoran Djindjic and is often in the company of the Montenegrin establishment. For some time he was also seen together with ex-Serbian secret police chief Jovica Stanisic, which further fed talk of a split within the SPS.


Other developments fed the speculation. Even though Vucelic was a high-ranking party official during some of the repression in Kosovo, significantly the European Union has kept his name off the 300 list of proscribed persons who have had their foreign bank accounts frozen and are to be denied EU visas.


Stanisic also appears to have friends among the EU - whose leaders dream of the day the Serbs topple Milosevic. The former secret police boss has had his name removed from the list and his bank accounts unfrozen.


A source close to the SPS decision-makers argues that Stanisic, Vucelic and others' intentions do not worry them. Few believe a plan to forcibly depose Milosevic is likely. "Milosevic could be weak in some areas, but he is still the strongest in the party," declared an SPS official.


He has the power to purge, silently, effectively and unexpectedly. Few will know where he may strike next. Milosevic's acts "rather sharply without long explanation, thus creating feelings of fear amongst party members," said the SPS official. After all, SPS has fewer dissidents than most parties on the Serbian political scene.


Life within the SPS ranks has been picturesquely described by former party member and former mayor of Belgrade Nebojsa Covic, now leader of the opposition Democratic Alternative.


"On the top there is absolute obedience," he said, "they comfort and animate each other... pulling each other like some old worn-out train carriage. On the lower levels the situation is somewhat different. The members are not given the space to speak out. There is a lot of fear because the leading echelons of the party are literally ready and willing to do anything."


A possible future strategy of the SPS can already be outlined. A SPS source says the party will simply, but "aggressively" campaign for a "reorientation of its politics from a nationalist stance to one of peace and economic development, on the lines of the policy which prevailed after the signing of the Dayton Agreement in 1995".


Thus despite the destruction, the lost wars, the ruined economy, the lack of jobs and the rampant corruption, the SPS may yet win the day and go into a second decade in power.


Another SPS official thinks it can be done. "If Milosevic did not lose his electoral support in 1994-95 when he changed from being a nationalist to a peacemaker - he will not lose it now by accepting an International Protectorate over Kosovo."


Srjdan Staletovic is an IWPR correspondent in Belgrade.


Serbia, Kosovo
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