Decline of The West
by George Szamuely

October 13, 2000

Kostunica's Coup Unravels

Last week’s coup d’etat in Yugoslavia is unraveling rapidly. President Vojislav Kostunica is emerging as a new type of President. He waves to the cameras; he gives interviews to the media; he meets foreign dignitaries. Yet he is in charge of nothing. He has no political party and no political base. He does not control the Federal Parliament. He does not control the Serbian Parliament. He does not control Montenegro. He does not control any Ministry. He does not control the police. Above all, he does not control Yugoslavia’s armed forces. And, as he reveals in an interview with the New York Times (October 12), he does not even control his own coalition. Kostunica won 50 percent of the vote – if that – in an election with a 60 percent turnout. The Yugoslav Presidency is essentially a powerless institution, important only because Slobodan Milosevic occupied it. The Yugoslav President, for example, is not the Commander in Chief of the armed forces. The Supreme Defense Council commands the armed forces. This body comprises the President of Yugoslavia, the President of Serbia, the President of Montenegro, the Yugoslav Defense Minister and the Yugoslav Army Chief of Staff. Since Montenegro President Milo Djukanovic is likely to continue boycotting the Supreme Defense Council, Kostunica is outnumbered 3 to 1 by Milosevic loyalists.

The United States and the European Union poured hundreds of millions of dollars into Yugoslavia over the years trying to oust Slobodan Milosevic. They ended up with no popular, national hero in the Lech Walesa or Vaclav Havel mould; rather a not terribly bright, pedantic protégé, one who can only achieve power by thuggery, media attention, and large infusions of foreign cash. As ever, the NATO project is failing. Since last week throughout the country drunken mobs have been storming the offices of factories, coalmines, banks and universities and forcing people to resign. Armed gangs seized the National Bank as well as the Customs’ office. The managers of Yugoslavia’s largest gold mine and smelter were kicked out, as were the managers at Zastava, the country’s giant carmaker. The Director of the Kolubara coalmining complex was thrown out, as was the Director of Yugoslav Coal Production.

This lawlessness has not escaped the attention of the Yugoslav military. Last Sunday Kostunica met the Yugoslav Army General Staff. At the meeting, according to the Serbian Ministry of Information, "concern was expressed over certain events in the country, in post-election period, that are not in accordance with the Constitution and the laws, and the position and role of the Yugoslav Army in resolving problems had also been considered." Sounds like a clear warning to Kostunica not to engage in mob rule. Zoran Djindjic, unquestionably the real leader of the Democratic Opposition, evidently decided that the time had come to try to use the same bullying tactics with the army. Djindjic began telling reporters about the need to replace Army Chief of Staff General Nebojsa Pavkovic with Momcilo Perisic, a former general sacked by Milosevic in 1998. "We can expect not only the resignation of the present chief of general staff Nebojsa Pavkovic, but also a wind of fresh air throughout the top ranks," Djindjic said. On Wednesday Kostunica went to army headquarters – a highly revealing act leaving no one in any doubt as to who really wields power in Yugoslavia. Following the meeting, the army issued an ominous statement: "The army leadership drew the President’s attention to possible negative consequences which might result from increasingly violent attacks on and efforts to discredit individual Army officers and the Army as an institution of vital importance to national security and defense." Kostunica made it clear that Pavkovic was staying on, that he had never had the slightest intention of replacing him and that Djindjic does not speak for him. Like Al Gore, Kostunica is "his own man."

On Monday, the Democratic Opposition was boasting that it had bullied the Serbian President Milan Milutinovic into holding elections for the Serbian Parliament in December and into ceding power to a transitional Government in the interim. Now, it looks as if there will be no elections until September of next year, when Parliament’s term is due to end. Members of Milosevic’s Socialist Party and those of Vojislav Seselj’s Radical Party walked out of talks earlier this week on forming a new government in Serbia. They vowed not to come back until the "end of riots, violence and lawlessness against the citizens of Serbia." The Radicals complained of people were being "lynched by mobs belonging to the illegal regime of the Democratic Opposition."

The response of the Democratic Opposition was to threaten more violence. Djindjic issued an ultimatum. Either the Serbian Government sets a date for new elections by Friday or the Opposition will call its followers out into the streets. One senior Democratic Opposition official, Cedomir Jovanovic, warned the Socialists, that they will face "non-constitutional" pressure. Jovanovic said that the DOS would ask for the help of people in the streets to force the Serbian Government into holding early elections and to cede power to a "transitional government." The "people’s patience is exhausted," said Velimir Ilic, the Mayor of Cacak. "Serbs are so eager to see changes, and I do not know who…will protect Socialists if they continue to drag their feet."

Meanwhile, the Democratic Opposition is trying to bring the Serbian police under its control. Serbia’s Interior Minister resigned this week citing a conflict of interest on account of having been elected to the Federal Parliament. The media reported this as a major triumph for Kostunica. No sooner had they done so, than Serbian Prime Minister Mirko Marjanovic announced that he was taking over the Interior Ministry himself and thereby assuming control of the police.

Kostunica wants to ignore elected bodies and to set up so-called "crisis committees" to run the country. But no one is buying into the idea. According to Branislav Ivkovic, a senior figure in Milosevic’s Party, the "government [of Serbia] will…ignore all the decisions of the so-called ‘crisis committees’." In addition, all managers of state companies dismissed by the Democratic Opposition will be reinstated. The Serbian Government, he explains, "was elected on a four-year mandate, and it is the only one which can make legal decisions."

This week Zoran Djindjic announced that the new Federal Prime Minister would be G17 Plus Chief Executive Miroljub Labus. Djindjic has long been an advocate of putting Yugoslavia into the receivership of the IMF. G17 Plus drew up the Democratic Opposition’s economic program, with all its promises to abide by IMF demands. Apparently this was all news to Kostunica. He announced that he had promised the job of Prime Minister to a member of Montenegro’s Socialist People’s Party, which is aligned with Milosevic. The Socialist People’s Party has, however, rejected the notion of establishing a "government of experts" in the interim. Kostunica intends to travel to Montenegro on Friday to meet local party leaders as well as Milo Djukanovic. Note that once again it is Kostunica who has to do the traveling and the paying of respects, not the politicians of Montenegro.

Kostunica continues on his clueless and sycophantic way. "The United States has done too much meddling in our internal affairs," he says in the Times interview as if he were still running for office, "Now it’s meddling less than usual, so this will have a positive influence." "Less than usual"? The United States manipulated an election, and engineered his seizure of power. What does he mean by "usual"? On improving relations with the United States, the Times says: "If re-establishing diplomatic relations is in his competence as Federal President, he said, he will do it quickly." An extraordinary statement, first, in its revelation about Kostunica’s lack of knowledge as to what falls within his competence. Second, in its revelation as to the kind of "nationalism" espoused by this supposed "Serbian nationalist." He literally pants to win the approval of the very power that was bombing his country to smithereens last year. Third, if even diplomatic relations do not fall within his competence, what does?

What happened in Yugoslavia was the overthrow of a legitimate Government by a combination of brute force and US threats and dollars. The people who have been hoisted into power are no democrats, but the servants of foreign interests. They have no power, and their attempts at circumventing democratic institutions are meeting ferocious resistance in the country. The media hacks, robbed of their "fall of the Berlin Wall" and "people power" story are unable to understand any of this. Convinced that the Democratic Opposition leaders are the "good guys," and that the United States is self-evidently on the side of democracy and freedom, they have only one explanation as to why events are not following the approved script: the old standby, "Milosevic is causing mischief." But this is an old story now, and an increasingly unconvincing one. By stepping down last week and not resorting to violence, Milosevic may well have outmaneuvered the Americans once again. The fight for Yugoslav sovereignty will continue.

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