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Hope on the Balkans
Life after Milosevic

Milosevic's rivals are hoping he's defeated this weekend, but some may end up regretting his departure.

By Zeljko Cvijanovic in Belgrade

The moment Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic steps down, the Balkans will be transformed, an idyllic democratic future will beckon - or so the West likes to think.

But strange though it may seem, he could be sorely missed by the governments of Montenegro, Republika Srpska and Kosovo, whose animosity to the Yugoslav president is well known - and well rewarded - by the West. In a new political landscape they might suddenly seem less democratic, so if Milosevic loses the election they could lose some of their sheen.

Starting with Kosovo, long-time commentator on Balkan affairs and former US Ambassador to Belgrade, Warren Christopher believes that the survival of the Milosevic regime will lead to independence for Kosovo. Victory for Vojislav Kostunica, whom the West will have to support - however grudgingly - might result in Kosovo being forced to stay within Yugoslavia.

Both former Kosovo Liberation Army leader Hashim Thaci and his rival Ibrahim Rugova agree that their aim of an independent Kosovo will be achieved more easily if Milosevic stays in power. Indeed, as none of the Serbian opposition have ever countenanced the idea of an independent Kosovo, many Albanians fear that an opposition victory will see international support for their independence evaporate overnight.

Serb opposition circles are buzzing with a rumour that regime figures Nikola Sainovic and Milomir Minic have approached Thaci for help in manufacturing Albanian votes in Kosovo. While the story is not verifiable, it shows how people in Serbia believe that the interests of Milosevic and Kosovo Albanians still overlap.

There is a fear that yet again, the votes of Albanians who have boycotted the elections will be used by the regime.

Then we come to Montenegro, where President Milo Djukanovic, who is boycotting the elections, has said he would like see Kostunica and the democratic opposition win - even in "illegitimate" elections.

But maybe Djukanovic too might be sad to see Milosevic go. Currently, Montenegro it seems would pay a heavy price if it chose to leave Yugoslavia. But Belgrade's threats have secured the tiny republic a vow of international protection and generous economic aid.

Milosevic's presidential rival Vojislav Kostunica takes a dim view of Djukanovic and the Montenegrin democratic opposition, denouncing their election boycott as "selfishness and treason". The West would probably expect Montenegro to remain within Yugoslavia after a Kostunica victory, moreover Djukanovic would face problems within his ruling coalition.

One member of the ruling "Let's Live Better" alliance, the Peoples' Party, has only ever supported separation from Yugoslavia as a way of escaping Milosevic's clutches, whereas the Social-Democrat party favours an independent Montenegrin state regardless of who is in power in Belgrade.

Apart from unbridgeable differences within the coalition, Milosevic's departure could cause problems within Djukanovic's own party, where the President of the Parliament, Svetozar Marovic, holds markedly pro-Yugoslav ideas, placing him closer to the moderate wing of the Socialist People's party, SNP, headed by the pro-Milosevic Momir Bulatovic.

Indeed, the moderate president of the Podgorica Board of the SNP Predrag Bulatovic enjoys some support within the Serbian opposition. A new Yugoslav government which acquires some democratic legitimacy would divide Djukanovic's coalition into pro-Yugoslav and pro-Montenegrin blocs and there is a question as to how he would maintain his own power in the face of such a shift.

Finally, the Prime Minister of Republika Srpska, RS, Milorad Dodik, who is seen by the West as the most effective bulwark to Milosevic in Serb-controlled Bosnia, has enjoyed undivided international support, despite his administration's increasing corruption, undemocratic practices and economic failure.

If Milosevic stays in power, then the international community will probably "sit on" the parties under Milosevic's control in the November elections in Bosnia Herzegovina. The way would then be open for a Dodik victory, which would certainly not be otherwise assured. Dodik recently lost a vote of confidence in the RS parliament.

In other words, a Milosevic defeat would rob Dodik of his "unique selling point" with the international community, without increasing his popularity with RS voters.

So while the eventual fall of Milosevic will be a huge relief for the people of Serbia, it should raise some thorny questions for the international community, which has lavished political and economic support on his detractors. They should ask themselves: are those forces really democratic, or are they just a "lesser evil"?

Zeljko Cvijanovic is a regular IWPR contributor

© Institute of War &Peace Reporting

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