Putting heat on Milosevic
Civil unrest is the most pressing threat to the Serb chief, as his
Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has been so effective in his hold on power that even his adversaries have admired his tenaciousness. But now, after the war in Kosovo, several factors are increasing the heat on him.
The international tribunal at The Hague has indicted him for war crimes, the Serbian Orthodox Church issued an unprecedented statement last week calling for him to step down, and the West likely will not give Yugoslavia a penny to rebuild its infrastructure with him still in power. Meanwhile, opposition parties are pounding the drum for early elections, and a poll shows Mr. Milosevic's support falling.
Milosevic's most immediate concern is the threat of civil unrest, as disillusioned soldiers return home, and Serbs and Gypsies (Roma) from Kosovo seek refuge in Serbia proper. Some 50,000 civilians have fled Kosovo, fearing reprisals at the hands of ethnic Albanians, and their presence in Serbia has caused tensions in some areas.
Kraljevo, a central Serbian town with a prewar population of 30,000, now has an extra 15,000 refugees roaming its streets. The Alliance for Change, an umbrella organization of opposition groups, announced Monday that it is organizing demonstrations in Kraljevo and Cacak, which is also in central Serbia.
"We are asking for Milosevic to step down and for the establishment of a transitional government," says Liljana Lucic, vice president of the Democratic Party, which is a key member of the Alliance for Change.
Demonstrations in Belgrade
On Monday in Belgrade, authorities arrested Svetozar Fisic, the leader of a Belgrade contingent of Serbian refugees from Kosovo. Mr. Fisic was arrested for violating martial law after he led demonstrations in the city center for three days straight and announced a list of grievances and demands.
Although Serbia's well-paid police force remains loyal to Milosevic, and Army commanders were recently showered with decorations to quell reported rumblings of discontent, rank-and-file soldiers returning from the front are disillusioned and bitter, say sources from southern Serbia. They are returning to a destroyed economy after losing a war against 19 nations. The Kragujevac Corps of the Yugoslav Army reported that 50 soldiers blocked a large road from Belgrade to Topola last Sunday at the village of Desimirovac, in central Serbia. The soldiers had just returned from the front and were angry that they hadn't been paid yet.
On Saturday, a group of approximately 100 reservists blocked the road from Kragujevac to Belgrade at the village of Petrovac because they had not been paid in 53 days. The incident ended when Gen. Maj. Zivomir Smiljkovic of the Kragujevac Corps promised they would be paid.
Such incidents occurred despite the fact that martial law has not officially ended. The federal government, however, says it will lift martial law on Thursday.
Timing of elections
Another key factor for Milosevic is the occurrence of elections, either sooner or later. Milosevic's term in office expires in fall 2001.
The main question on almost everyone's mind is how soon elections should be held. Local and federal elections are not scheduled until 2000, and republic elections in 2001, but early elections are nearly a given at this point, observers say.
Opposition leaders are saying unanimously that early elections are necessary to procure the staggering amounts of aid necessary to rebuild the country. Even some members of Milosevic's Socialist Party want early elections.
While some countries, like Japan, have pledged unconditional, albeit small, amounts of reconstruction aid, the West has tied such aid to democratic changes within Serbia or elections.
"Early elections are necessary in order to legitimize the government in order to procure Western aid and normalize the situation in the country," says Dragolub Micunovic, president of the Democratic Center and member of the federal parliament.
Opposition leaders also say that it is not enough to have elections; they must be fair ones. Longtime Belgrade political analyst Vladimir Goati says it would take six months to prepare for fair elections, which would have to include new election and finance laws. He warns that quick elections would only serve the ruling parties.
A poll taken the second week of June by a respected local polling agency found that Milosevic's support has fallen by half in recent months. At the same time, the poll found that Milosevic is still the most popular leader of a highly unpopular group of politicians.
Milosevic had the approval of only 15.6 percent of Serbian citizens, but that was still higher than any other politician. Vuk Draskovic, leader of the Serbian Renewal Movement, came in second at 10 percent.
"Looking at age and education level, Milosevic's strongest support comes from the elderly and those with less education," says Srbobran Brankovic, director of Medium, the polling agency that surveyed Serbia. "I expect support for Milosevic to continue to fall sharply because of the refugee crisis and late checks for pensions and state salaries."
"Peace will tend to favor opposition parties," adds political observer Ognjen Pribicevic, who is also a member of the Serbian Renewal Movement.
Once Milosevic's support base
The poll did not address Kosovo, an important piece of Milosevic's political foundation. One-quarter of Milosevic's Socialist delegates in Serbia's parliament come from Kosovo, a situation that occurred because the majority Kosovar Albanians boycotted elections.
But Milosevic stands to lose the most in those regions where he once commanded the strongest support - southern Serbia and Kosovo. "Milosevic has lost support, especially among Serbs from Kosovo who supported him for years," says Slobodan Vuksanovic, vice president of the Democratic Party.
Serbian refugees from Kosovo speak of betrayal by the Milosevic regime. "I admit I voted for him," says Prokopije Moisejevic, a Serbian refugee and carpenter from the village of Sredska in southern Kosovo.
"He urged us on 10 years ago, saying nobody would ever bother us again. He pushed us into a war, and now he's turned his back on us and doesn't dare show his face."