Back to 'Hope' Opinions Hope on the Balkans 2000
Hope on the Balkans
The worm has turned

All eyes are on Yugoslavia. The intoxicating vapor of people power is in the air. If what is now a breeze of civil disobedience can gather force to become a strong and steady wind, opposition candidate Vojislav Kostunica and his growing throngs of supporters may come out on top of the country's post-election crisis. Moreover, if those who for years have been propping up Milosevic's regime continue to abandon ship, then Milosevic could well drown.

Thousands have turned out to decry election violations and show their support for the opposition candidate. The message from the masses is clear, but not confident. As Dragan Stojkovic reports in "The calm before the storm", protests have been in fits and starts, with people sticking their toes in the water, but afraid to immerse themselves.

Still, what is happening is unprecedented. A slew of state-run media outlets have been less hesitant, declaring over the weekend that their loyalties to the regime are over, and calling on any wayward colleagues to do the same. On 1 October, a number of state-run radio stations contacted Democratic Opposition of Serbia headquarters and called on all journalists to expose the "blatant rigging" of the elections. And a group of staff members from state-run Novi Sad television went on strike against the regime, as did several other TV stations. Imagine this a month ago.

Milosevic's people are panicking, or so it seems. The head of one of Serbia's largest industrial plants (who also happens to be the Yugoslav Finance Minister) resigned his position in the company. Though this is only one unconfirmed report, it's something to look out for.

What's more, Serbian Radical Party (SRS) leader and ultranationalist Vojislav Sesejl confirmed Kostunica's first-round victory, and has begun to dismantle his own party after massive electoral losses. "Milosevic is finished," the SRS leader, who used to be an ally of Milosevic, was quoted as saying. It seems that one worm has indeed turned.

For the people, it is not just Kostunica's astute rallying skills and unblemished record that matters, but also Milosevic's admittance of defeat. The president may be trying to buy some time, force the opposition to boycott a second round of voting and be disqualified, pulling out his last trump card before using force. In the meantime, however, he may come very close to losing almost all the support of the general population. By admitting defeat, he admitted he could be defeated-something many fearful citizens could never contemplate.

Internationally, Milosevic even seems to have lost vital support from his "Slavic brothers" in Russia, who have dragged their feet in making any show of support one way or another. As a Moscow defense analyst pointed out, the Kremlin has no need for a defeated leader. But there's always China.

But if the wind of civil disobedience breaks pace and fails to culminate quickly and decisively in outright victory for the opposition, Milosevic will pounce. As TOL was going to press, Milosevic upped the ante, and in a televised address to the nation, warned that "Yugoslavia will inevitably break up" if the opposition comes to power.

The Yugoslav strongman is counting on the backing of some key allies. The head of the security police, Rade Markovic, is a close pal of the president and his wife. And Milosevic is betting that Defense Minister Dragoljub Ojdanic would prefer to lead Yugoslavia to battle than follow his commander to The Hague to face war crimes charges.

Should it come to blows, the fate of Yugoslavia rests on where military alliances turn-toward the growing voice of the people, or to their troubled leader.

Source: Transitions Online ©2000

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