While it seems clear that the opposition has won, the official results of the Serbian general elections will have to wait for a second round. But through all of the uncertainties surrounding the elections, one thing is clear: the Serbian Democratic Opposition (DOS) easily swept the local elections, which were held simultaneously with the federal ones.
Opposition sweeps local elections
According to still unofficial results, the opposition had a remarkably strong showing in local elections throughout Serbia. The DOS retained all of the towns it controlled going into the elections, and even managed to pick up several others, including Smederevo, Valjevo, Kruševac and Novi Pazar. In the Vojvodina, they won majorities in 36 of a total 45 municipalities. In the Vojvodinian capital of Novi Sad, they won a majority in the town assembly with 57 of a total 70 seats.
But it was in Belgrade, capital of both federal Yugoslavia and the Republic of Serbia, that the opposition scored its biggest victory, taking virtually every seat in the town assembly: 102 out of 110 seats according to predictions. Milošević's Socialist Party (SPS) won only four seats, and the Radical Party won just one seat, which will be held by the party's leader, Vojislav Šešlj. Vuk Drašković's Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO), which controlled the capital going into the election, came out on the other side without even a single seat on the city council.
Belgrade's third opposition mayor
With the DOS victory, Milan St Protić of the Nova Srbija (New Serbia) party has become the third Mayor of Belgrade from the ranks of the opposition.
The capital had its first multi-party local election in December 1992, and the results showed Milošević's SPS taking a majority in the town assembly, while the opposition trailed far behind. All of that changed in the next local election, in November 1996.
A coalition of several opposition parties called Zajedno swept the local elections in Belgrade and several other cities throughout the country, but the Belgrade election commission refused to allow them to assume power, citing irregularities. Protests ensued and, by 14 January, the election commission was sufficiently convinced that the opposition must be allowed to take power. The SPS, however, still refused.
It was only on 11 February, three months after the elections, that the official results of the Belgrade local election were announced, and they showed a complete turn around from the 1992 elections. The Zajedno coalition took a strong majority, while the SPS lagged almost 40 per cent behind. With the official announcement of the opposition win, Zoran Đinđić of the Democratic Party (DS) became the first opposition mayor.
The reason the Zajedno coalition gave Belgrade to the DS was that the leader of the more influential SPO, Vuk Drašković, was running for the post of President of Serbia. Once it became clear that Drašković had no hopes of winning, the SPO set its sights on the post of Mayor of Belgrade. With the help of the Radicals, the SPO succeeded in ousting the DS. Drašković installed Vojislav Mihailović as mayor. Mihailović ran unsuccessfully in the present elections for the post of President of Serbia.
Milan St Protić, Mayor-Elect
Mayor-Elect Protić comes from a long line of influential Serbian politicians. His great-grandfather, Stojan Protić (1857-1923), led the People's Radical Party in the pre-First World War Kingdom of Serbia and the post-First World War Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (KSHS), where he was named the country's first prime minister. Milan St Protić's grandfather, also named Milan St Protić (1898-1976), was the governor of the National Bank of the pre-Second World War Kingdom of Yugoslavia.
An independent life
The Protić dynasty is now entering its second century, but the Mayor-Elect is unperturbed by his family's past. In an interview given earlier this month to Free Serbia, Protić said that he has "tried to build his life independently from [his] ancestors." He went on, saying "I never had an obligation or even encouragement to go into politics from my family. Very often, I was warned that politics brought nothing good to our family." However much he tries to turn his back on history and Serbian politics, he is a stranger to neither.
The current Mayor-Elect began his studies in Belgrade, but got his PhD from the University of California, in the United States. He has been an assistant and visiting professor at the University of California, the director of the Center for Serbian Studies in Belgrade and, since 1985, an associate at the Institute of Balkanology of the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences. Protić has also published numerous books on the history of Serbia.
"Soldier of the great idea"
Politically, Protić's career includes numerous highlights. In the beginning of the 1990s, he was among the leaders of Vojislav Koštunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS). He has been president of the organisation Odbrana (Defense) since he founded it in 1997. Earlier this year, he became co-president of Velimir Ilić's Nova Srbija party, based in Čaček. Protić told Free Serbia: "I never wanted to be in politics, but I was pushed into it by the horrible state of this country and I would welcome the moment when I could go back to my work, writing books and returning to the university, and not being in politics."
Protić makes no apologies for his nationalism, but is quick to point out that his idea of Serbian nationalism is not necessarily that of the majority. "That idea has been very exploited and, literally, thrown into dirt [sic] in the last decade and today it sounds ugly when you say to someone in Serbia that he is a nationalist," he told Free Serbia. "By renouncing our nationalism, we will never understand the world and the world will never understand us. On the other hand, that doesn't mean that we need to be in conflict and negate and renounce the values of others."
When he assumes power in Belgrade, Protić will attempt to implement a modest program which stresses transportation infrastructure, waste removal and the establishment of a responsible municipal government for the capital. But, as he also told Free Serbia, success in the local election in Belgrade is but one step, and it is a step of little importance if the opposition does not also succeed in the Presidential election.
Milan St Protić made his debut as Belgrade's new mayor early last week at a celebration of the opposition's projected electoral victory held at the capital's Republic Square. Đorđe Balašević, the beloved Vojvodinian performer, was also at the party. Balašević had said that he would not perform in Serbia so long as Milošević was still in power. Internationally known Bosnian performer Goran Bregović also gave his first concert in Belgrade this week in honor of the predicted opposition win. If Sunday's elections are any sign, the results of the second round should show Milošević faring no better than his party in the local elections, and Kostunica mirroring Protić's success.
Brian J Požun, 2 October 2000
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Robert Thomas, The Politics of Serbia in the 1990s. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999
Belgrade Municipal website