Back to 'Hope' Opinions Hope on the Balkans 2000
Hope on the Balkans
The day after

by Zoran Kusovac

On 24 September, in a fair electoral process, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic will be defeated by Vojislav Kostunica the presidential candidate of the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) by a clear first-round majority. Official results, due a day or two later, will confirm that the federation of Serbia and Montenegro has a new president. Serbian democratic forces will also win parliamentary elections by another convincing majority, as well as most municipal councils across Serbia.

Within a reasonable amount of time necessary to prepare the take-over Milosevic will step down and devote all his energy to consolidating his Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) after electoral defeat. Likewise, his wife Mirjana Markovic will be licking the wounds of her Yugoslav Left (JUL); the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) and the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) will vote out their former leaders Vojislav Seselj and Vuk Draskovic, respectively, for their failure. The Yugoslav army, Interior Ministry forces, the state courts, and state industries will all behave impeccably, performing their duties without any hindrance, obstruction, or even a word of protest, and will duly allow the victors to assume their new posts and responsibilities. Within weeks, the new leadership will renegotiate the federal system with Montenegro and open up to the world, re-establishing diplomatic relations with all major powers, and once again taking a place at the United Nations. All embargoes and restrictions will be lifted, and investors will pour into Serbia with much-needed cash, new projects, and jobs. Following the opposition victory, Yugoslavia will blossom and prosper.

Of course, that is a best-case scenario. In reality, it is wishful thinking. There is not going to be a peaceful, quiet, and simple transfer of power and authority in Belgrade. Milosevic will not allow an opposition victory as opposition in Serbia is still quite a vague notion, the president has this power. The opposition includes the DOS, a coalition of 17 parties and political organizations headed by Kostunica and Democratic Party (DS) President Zoran Djindjic. The opposition platform also includes the SPO, whose leader, Vuk Draskovic, once led a raid on the symbol of Milosevic's power then was imprisoned and beaten on the orders of Milosevic, only to become his deputy prime minister and to be fired a few months later.

Seselj whose party members see nothing unusual in being government ministers while at the same time claiming to be in opposition to Milosevic is also part of the platform. Traditional notions of political theory don't usually apply in Serbia. The widespread failure of citizens to recognize the contradiction of the opposition serving the government only strengthens the notion that Serbian society is caught in the middle of a collective stupor. Ultimately, Milosevic will cling to power whatever the outcome of the elections. If he lost power he would become just another UN War Crimes Tribunal fugitive he has nothing to lose by reclaiming power through fraud or force.


More often than not, political parties in Serbia are shaped by the personalities of their founders or historical leaders. Would-be leaders who could not fully impose themselves on their parties simply went on to create new ones. Those parties are often called "minivan parties" as their entire membership could comfortably fit into such a vehicle. Yet neither those essentially one-man "parties" nor the few big ones that exist see anything wrong in taking themselves seriously, claiming to be functioning and responsible political organizations. That is hardly surprising, for even the larger parties (Draskovic's SPO, Djindjic's DS, Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia, and Seselj's SRS) are not developed political parties in the true sense. They are political organizations, they have structures, they (sometimes) run in elections and take up or refuse seats in parliament, but they are not political parties in the sense that any Western democracy and by now even most of the former-communist countries would recognize or accept.

Serbian political parties have three main attributes. First as mentioned above, they are all top heavy each with one towering and dominant leader. Second, they have an underdeveloped party apparatus, kept in such an unsatisfactory state by leaders' fears of losing their grip on power. Third, they have an unconvincing membership base in essence, the parties exist to support their leaders.

Any example would do, but that of the SPO is particularly striking. The party has a strong rural following, yet claims not to be agrarian, and it has repeatedly called for the reinstitution of the monarchy, yet claims not to be royalist. Other groups function amid similar contradictions. Simplistic mottos have so far sufficed as the main program for many of these parties: Kostunica is honest, Djindjic is modern, Draskovic honors Serb traditions, and Seselj is the guardian of Serb historic grandeur and the symbol of its territorial expansion. All deliver one absurdly reductionist message no substance, no creed, no ideas, no commitments, no plans, no programs.

Apart from unseating Milosevic, the four parties that do not belong to the Milosevic-Markovic family circle of politics hardly have any identifiable strategic goals neither as individual organizations nor as a "united opposition." There is plenty of talk of a "free market economy," but not one of the parties has ever produced a meaningful, comprehensive, and viable program to that end. In economic terms, virtually all Serbian political parties have strong communist undertones, even when they talk about privatization, optical fiber communications, and the Internet.

Politicians love to promise that economic recovery will be swift because "Serbia is naturally rich," but few care to mention that the country's main ore deposits are in Kosovo a province that is not governed by Serbia, nor is it likely to be for a long time. And the natural riches discovered and explored in the 1960s were economically nonviable and technically unexploitable already by the 1980s.

The same goes for Serbia's other "strategic resources." Agriculture which is still essentially based on the concept of producing huge quantities of low-value staples such as wheat and maize is loved by authoritarian regimes that like to express themselves in thousands of tons and "strategic reserves." Not a single Serbian opposition party, however, has bothered to tell farmers that their minuscule land holdings are untenable, and that the number of farmers will have to be drastically reduced if Serbian food production is ever to make any sense.


The unrealized dream of grandeur remains at the heart of all Serbian issues. Not a single opposition leader has ever dared to say that there will never be a Greater Serbia. Instead, they toy with that sentiment, nurturing it carefully, gauging how far they can push the notion with the international community. Seselj's calls to "retake Serb lands to within sight of the spires of Zagreb cathedral" are perhaps to be expected. But open calls to incorporate Republika Srpska the Serbian part of Bosnia and Herzegovina which the apparently calm and composed Kostunica has made are more shocking. The ultimate illusion is Kosovo or rather the goal of reclaiming Kosovo. Focusing all of Serbia's efforts on Kosovo makes no sense. Even if it were suddenly proclaimed a part of Serbia proper it would remain a political, social, security, educational, financial, and infrastructural burden.

The longer Milosevic retains power, the higher the probability of bloodshed whose blood remains to be seen. Fratricide could well be prompted by an incident involving Montenegro, which has been kept in an unnaturally aroused state for far too long, or by careless police action, or by the wrong result of a football match, or by a group of people with a sudden thirst for blood who can take no more misery and humiliation. Politicians parroting empty promises in today's Serbia would be unable to even remotely control the situation, let alone defuse it.

Not a single person in the opposition has any realistic idea of how the country would be run the day after Milosevic. Serbia operates on a system of delicately balanced concentric circles with concentration of power in the hands of the few. The country could not function without those men, who operate neither by laws nor regulations but by bonds of loyalty to Milosevic.

Zoran Kusovac is a Balkan affairs analyst.

Source: Transitions Online ©2000

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