The revolution that overthrew Yugoslav socialism, led by Vojislav Kostunica, is far from over: having gotten rid of Slobodan Milosevic, and freed the country from the sclerotic grasp of the Serbian Socialist Party, Kostunica became the President of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) only to find yet another obstacle in his path: Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. US sock puppet and Yugo-yuppie extraordinaire, Djindjic is an opportunist in the Machiavellian mode who bitterly opposes the independent foreign policy stance taken by the President and his party. It was Djindjic, you remember, who handed over poor old Slobo to The Hague, in exchange for something less than thirty pieces of silver a move that outraged Kostunica, and drew the line of demarcation between these two increasingly bitter rivals.
Not that anyone could have failed to see the contrast before. Two more disparate men could not possibly be imagined. As one wag put it, "Kostunica drives a beat-up Yugo, he has three ties and two suits, a $50 watch and a 13-cent pen. Djindjic's pen is worth more than Kostunica's car."
On the one hand, we have President Kostunica, the principled professor in rumpled suits who opposed both NATO and Slobo with equal vigor. In his victory Kostunica became the very symbol of what I call "market nationalism," a hero to his people and an inspiration to the small nations of the Balkans proof that it was possible to defy the US, after all, and still survive politically, and physically.
On the other hand, we have Zoran Djindjic, whose curriculum vitae reads like that of German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, or the "ex"-Trotskyist Lionel Jospin: an ex-New Left Marxoid on the fringes of the ultra-left Baader-Meinhoff "Red Army Faction," Djindjic studied philosophy in Germany, where he came under the influence of his Frankfurt School professors, notably Jurgen Habermas. Djindjic's 1979 doctoral thesis, "Marx's Critical Theory of Society and the Problem of Foundation," sought to construct a philosophical foundation for Marx's theory that a crisis must be generated before the capitalist order is destroyed and socialism triumphs.
Certainly Djindjic has thrived on crisis. He took advantage of the crisis of his own country the NATO attack to openly meet with the enemy while skulking about in Montenegro. A skilled seeker after the main chance, the Serbian Prime Minster, in the words of one analyst, "realized that he couldn't win an election himself, so he found another way through Kostunica, through DOS to run the country." He is also the richest politician in the country, according to a very interesting article in the Chicago Tribune, as well as arguably the most powerful in spite of his unpopularity with voters and therein lies the root of the developing revolution within the revolution....
Ever since the victory of the DOS, and the expulsion of Milosevic from the circle of power, Djindjic has worked hard to undermine and ultimately sideline Kostunica by far the most popular politician in the former Yugoslavia and now, finally, Kostunica has struck back. The first shot of the Yugoslav revolution's second phase was fired when Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) withdrew from the government coalition, known as DOS, a move that could mean new elections in Serbia and is likely to mean a massive defeat for Djindjic. What is especially interesting is the DSS's stated reason for the split:
"Deeply convinced that organized crime and corruption are the most dangerous enemies of democratic changes in our country and the major obstacles to its full integration into the world of well-organized and law-abiding states, the DSS Presidency warns that not a single chain of organized crime has been broken, nor have its leaders been punished, and that, of a series of murders that have repeatedly shocked the public, not a single one has been solved. Quite the contrary, crime has assumed dramatic proportions, new killings and new abductions have taken place. . . . Consequently, the right question is if organized crime enjoys the protection and support of certain segments of the authorities, or the Serbian government is incapable of dealing with it."
This is an unmistakable reference to the murder of Momir Gavrilovic, the former deputy chief of the State Intelligence Service in Belgrade. Gavrilovic's violent death was particularly untimely, having occurred right after a meeting with Kostunica and his cabinet, where, according to the respected daily newspaper Blic, he delivered evidence of collusion between the Serbian mafia and the Serbian state. The whole story is typically Balkan in its murky darkness, involving a mysterious "Surcin group" of gangsters who supposedly control the smuggling trade, a series of murders, and Djindjic's links to a fair number of mobsters, with whom he reportedly enjoys a certain rapport.
This is not the first time Djindjic has been implicated in his relations with criminal elements. The Chicago Tribune piece little noticed, for some reason revealed to American readers that the man who is supposed to symbolize the "new Serbia," as opposed to the old nationalist Serbia of Kostunica, once "bragged about how, in the days leading up to Milosevic's ouster, three of Belgrade's most prominent crime lords called him and pledged their neutrality in the expected showdown between police and street protesters." The Tribune cites Alexander Tijanic, a former advisor to Djindjic, as saying: "He's admitting that gang members can reach him on the phone every day. Does he owe them favors? How can he fight corruption when he's openly admitting he's friendly with mob guys?"
How indeed. Kostunica has answered this question unequivocally by declaring war on corruption and, by implication, on Djindjic. In a blistering statement days after the Blic revelations, Kostunica put the Serbian Prime Minister squarely in his sights:
"It is correct that the late Gavrilovic was in my cabinet on Friday morning and that he spoke with my advisors. Momir Gavrilovic came to my office, not for the first time, because was concerned about the level of criminalization in society. He wished to warn about the penetration of organized crime in economic life, about the strength and vastness of the activities of individual members of the group, and about that which he as a police officer he believed to be the insufficient responsibility and mistakes by the government and the appropriate organs. He spoke of corruption. We cannot close our eyes to crime nor can we attribute this to the legacy of the former government. The number of unresolved murders and kidnappings has not decreased. On the contrary, there are now more cases than ever. This country has to stop that, if it wants to survive."
An article in the Croatian newspaper Nacional ended its account of the Gavrilovic affair with this thought:
"Even though it is believed that Kostunica is the real successor of Slobodan Milosevic, first and foremost due to his pronounced nationalism, today it is obvious the Djindjic, who appears much more European, is certainly more inclined to Milosevic's style of ruling, in uniting the Mafia with politics and erasing the boundaries between those two worlds."
While this may seem baffling to those who equate the West with the rule of law, when you think about it the Djindjic-mafioso connection is entirely consistent with his links to another kind of Mafia NATO and the US government. During the election campaign that toppled Slobo, the US spoon-fed the Djindjic faction of the Serbian opposition with millions of dollars. Naturally, Kostunica's party wouldn't touch a dime of it but Djindjic and his allies, who met openly with US officials while their country was being bombed by the US, were not so fastidious. Millions in US taxpayer dollars were given to Djindjic and his shady friends to do pretty much as they pleased. Suitcases of cash were passed around quite freely, just as in any money-laundering scheme, to all sorts of dubious characters, all in the name of spreading American-style "democracy" to the benighted Balkans. Will there be a congressional investigation that poses the question: where did all that money go? As the motto of my favorite newspaper puts it: inquiring minds want to know.
The Republicans in congress, who (in general) opposed the Kosovo war, had better wake up, for here is a chance for them to make political hay. Corruption, collusion, and Mafia-style tackiness where have we seen all this before? Remember, the Kosovo war was Clinton's war, and it was under the Clintonian regime that the tragic course of American policy in the Balkans was followed through to the bloody end. The Arkansas Mafia was the sleaziest gang to take over Washington since the administration of Ulysses S. Grant, so rife with inside deals, payoffs, and influence-peddling scandals that the Monica Lewinsky affair was only a thin glaze of bittersweet icing on a cake filled with corruption. Slickness, arrogance, brazen opportunism: these themes, which defined the Clinton administration, pretty much nail down Djindjic and his gang. "Uniting the Mafia with politics and erasing the boundaries between two worlds" a clearer conception of the Clinton years would be hard to find. So it is not so surprising that the "pro-Western" elements in Serbia should turn out to be a criminal gang: they are, after all, Clintonian clones.
I must admit to a moment of extreme trepidation before deciding on the subject of this column. I am, after all, soon to be traveling to the former Yugoslavia, and weighing in on this sensitive subject is hardly the way to ingratiate myself with the Serbian authorities. As for writing about the Serbian Mafia, it is not exactly a safe subject for a traveler to the region. This is the first and only time I, as a writer, have ever found any comfort in my own obscurity. Why would anyone bother going after little old me? If, however, modesty blinds me to my awful fate, then you may soon read about yet another mysterious assassination in the streets of Belgrade (or perhaps the mountains of Montenegro). Yet another execution carried out right in broad daylight, just like the killing of Momir Gavrivolic only, this time, the victim will be some formerly obscure American journalist. In that case, let me leave my readers with some last words, a kind of credo that sums up my attitude toward mortality as well as this column and life in general: it was fun while it lasted!
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