September's electoral victory and October's verification have brought the new Serbian authorities short-term joy and long-term headaches. The change of government seemed extremely clumsy even to seasoned observers, and to the public at large it gave the impression that both victors and vanquished feared the new circumstances and their attendant obligations.
The new government's political moves on the domestic front have been either unsure or so cautious as to come too late. The Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) did not have many people in its ranks who could immediately take over important government offices and perform their duties proficiently. Professionals in the state administration were loyal to the former regime and would probably have been loyal to the new one, but many opposition veterans were hungry for office.
On the other hand, aware of the security services' comprehensive infiltration of all institutions, especially government offices, the new authorities took the precaution of placing "trusted" people in almost every position where this could be done without too much of a ruckus. One could even say that some of the more influential people within DOS put their own people in important positions even when there were more competent, and better qualified candidates, who belong to smaller parties, or to no party at all. Hence the great disparity between the effectiveness of the new Serbian authorities in foreign and domestic affairs.
Abroad, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia has been quite a hit. It has been accepted back into many international institutions from which it had been expelled or had voluntarily withdrawn, and diplomatic relations with the most important democratic states have been restored.
Overnight, Yugoslavia went from bad guy to good guy; no longer a savage and primitive people, the Serbs now belong in Europe and find the doors of the democratic world open to them.
Down but not out?
Domestically, however, everything looks different, or at least much more difficult. Never very united, the DOS alliance faces greater internal problems today than before the September elections. Its coalition with Montenegro's Socialist People's Party, only yesterday Slobodan Milošević's ally, hinders the work of the federal government.
While, on the level of the Republic of Serbia, having Milošević's party itself as a coalition partner, even in a transition government, does not bode well for that government's performance. The Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) was on the canvas after 5 October. Now Milošević, still the party's president, wants to return to the political scene.
His return is controversial, to put it mildly, since it cannot be said for sure whether or not he controls certain levers of power and whether the obstruction in which he is engaging represents a final spasm or a tactical maneuver.
There is no doubt that his party is crumbling and will not represent a threat to the opposition in the 23 December elections for the Serbian Parliament. It is not entirely clear, however, what means Milošević may still have at his disposal, and to what extent the new authorities will have to backtrack and completely eliminate the remnants of his power.
More and more people believe that Milošević is potentially dangerous as long as he remains free, and that fundamental democratic changes in Serbia will not be possible until he is completely eliminated from the political scene.
The best example of his "obstruction" is the events concerning Serbia's State Security Service and the attempt by some party leaders in the new government to replace the head of the service, Rade Marković. The SPS, which alongside DOS and the Serbian Renewal Movement makes up Serbia's transition government, opposed the move and effectively blocked the government's work.
Defending Marković, Milošević showed his teeth, and the opposition leaders abandoned their demand for Marković's dismissal, at least for now. Time will tell how wise it was to raise the issue and then back off. But Marković and other key security officials—disabused of any lingering illusions that they would necessarily keep their jobs after the 23 December elections—were given the chance to destroy certain files and put others aside for "safe" keeping.
The situation in the Yugoslav Army is not fundamentally any better, although talk of replacing Chief-of-Staff Nebojša Pavković was much quieter. It is clear that, at least for a time, General Pavković will remain at the head of the Army and that his relations with Yugoslav President Vojislav Koštunica are not bad.
But Pavković was one of Milošević's most agile generals, and he did not even hesitate to participate in his election campaign. Now, he and Rade Marković continue to work in the positions they held under Milošević, to the undisguised dissatisfaction of some members of DOS.
Battles on the home front
It can be said that the new authorities in Serbia are fighting several battles on the home front. One is against the former regime, as it tries to get back in the game; a second is against the Serbian Radical Party and its leader, Vojislav Šešelj, who are trying to attract voters as a third political option; and a third is within DOS, over dominance and influence.
President Koštunica, in addition to popular support, needs some actual power, which he is trying to secure through support of the military leadership. For his part, Zoran Đinđić would not like to lose his position as the most influential person in DOS.
The other parties in the new government are likely choosing sides according not only to ideological affinity but to who they think will emerge victorious from this battle of sorts. These alignments will probably crystallize in a political regrouping in Serbia following DOS's break-up, which will inevitably occur after the December elections.
This impending break-up, however, will not resolve the difficulties in which the new government finds itself. On the contrary, all these issues will become more complicated, and very serious problems will arise with regard to fulfilling conditions laid down by the international community, from adapting legislation to cooperating with the Hague tribunal.
For its international successes, Yugoslavia has had only to meet certain formal conditions, while everything else is carried out from abroad quickly and professionally. The same cannot be expected in internal affairs, which depend exclusively upon Serbia and Yugoslavia's trouble-plagued institutions; hence the severity of democracy's birth pangs.
No one can say when the new government's domestic accomplishments will match its diplomatic triumphs. But the degree of democracy in Serbia will depend on that equation.
Slavko Živanov, 11 December 2000
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