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Serbia After Djindjic


The assassination of Serbian Premier Zoran Djindjic on 12 March 2003 means that Serbia has lost its most skilful and realistic politician. The great question is whether the assassination provides a catalyst that energises the governing coalition to restart the long-stalled reform process and thoroughly clean out the interlocking nexus of organised crime, war criminals, and police and army officers hiding behind "nationalist-patriotic" slogans and organisations. There are some initially encouraging signs: the police appear to be energetically pursuing the prime suspects, and sweeping reforms of the military have been promised. Djindjic's successor, Zoran Zivkovic, has yet to acquire his predecessor's authority, however, and he will need encouragement – both carrots and sticks – from the international community to hold the course that should have been pursued from October 2000.

Djindjic's killing is believed to have been carried out by shadowy elements in the closely linked local underworld and the state security apparatus that had long exploited the struggle between Djindjic and former Yugoslav President Kostunica to gain protection from one or the other of the contenders and prevent reforms. Djindjic's victory in that duel in late 2002 left them more vulnerable. Those alternate power structures were originally created by Milosevic to finance and protect his regime, and in order to unseat Milosevic, Djindjic and DOS were forced to make deals with them. However, while Djindjic was sensitive to Western pressure on delicate matters like cooperation with the Hague War Crimes Tribunal, wanted to reorient the crumbling socialist era economy to the free market, and was keen to align the country with Western European institutions, those same forces were the greatest source of opposition to any program of reform and modernisation. Recently, more confident of his political position, he had begun to move more vigorously on Hague cooperation, against organised crime and state corruption, and to some extent on economic reform as well.

That process must continue but there are real doubts that, left on its own, the deeply fissured Serbian body politic will be up to the challenge. It needs at this crucial time continued and increased international help. In particular, Djindjic's assassins should not be rewarded by a softening of the international community's terms of conditionality. The new state of Serbia and Montenegro needs to eradicate the poisonous legacy of Milosevic from its ruling structures before it can be admitted to the Council of Europe, NATO's Partnership for Peace, or begin negotiations on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the European Union.

And demonstrable progress – not only on cooperation with the Hague but also on specific steps to clean out corrupt and criminalised structures, to establish definitively civilian control of the security services, and to put transparent and democratic modes of governance in place – ought to be the clearly stated prerequisite for significant economic assistance.

There are a number of causes of concern about Serbia's future. Much of Serbian society and political culture has appeared to be drifting towards the nationalist right, accompanied by the emergence of strongly conservative clerical elements in alliance with segments of the security forces. Intolerance towards national minorities, for example, has been on the rise, as have ethnically and religiously-motivated attacks.

Belgrade has also continued to oppose the international community's goals in both Bosnia and Kosovo, and it had been fanning the flames of regional tension in both areas prior to the assassination. Until it changes those policies, it cannot be viewed as either a reliable partner or a guarantor of regional stability.

The new state of Serbia and Montenegro, created as a successor to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia for a trial run of three years under heavy European Union pressure, is a country in flux, an amorphous creation that neither of its constituent members really wants. Djindjic's death could well slow down the development of the joint institutions it is supposed to acquire.

In all these areas, each tied in some fashion to the still oppressive legacy of Slobodan Milosevic, Serbia either faced difficulties or was creating difficulties for its neighbours before 12 March. With the strong and for the most part progressive leadership of Djindjic removed, there is more need than ever for the U.S., the European Union and other key donor nations to remain deeply involved.

If the international community is to play a useful role helping Belgrade's beleaguered reformers put their country irrevocably on the path that Djindjic was promising, there is no case for drawing down troop levels and financial assistance to the Balkans any time soon. Indeed, it may well have to devote more, not less, financial and military resources to maintaining regional stability. Otherwise, there is a real risk that the assassin's bullet will have killed the dream of a progressive and prosperous Serbia as surely as it killed that dream's strongest champion.


To the European Union, the United States and others in the donor community:

1. Provide clear incentives, including increased financial and technical assistance, to Belgrade's reformers to combat organised crime and corruption.

2. Provide Serbia's reformers with access to law enforcement specialists and intelligence sharing.

3. Apply strong conditionality in order to help reform forces advance their program:

(a) maintain existing conditionality requirements – full compliance with the international war crimes tribunal in the Hague, implementation of civilian control of the military, and respect for the Dayton accords and UN Security Council Resolution 1244 – for membership of the Council of Europe or NATO's Partnership for Peace, or commencement of negotiations for a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the European Union; and

(b) condition new and substantial economic assistance upon demonstrable progress in cleaning out corrupt and criminalised structures and putting transparent and democratic modes of governance in place.

4. Resist all Serbian efforts to link Kosovo's final status to that of the Republika Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

5. Monitor closely the contacts between the armed forces of Republika Srpska and of Serbia and Montenegro, and impose sanctions if they are in breach of the Dayton Agreement.

6. Encourage links between the Ecumenical Patriarchate (and other liberal orthodox churches) and the Serbian Orthodox Church.

To the government of Serbia and the government of Serbia and Montenegro:

7. Arrest and prosecute those responsible for the series of political killings culminating in the 12 March assassination of Zoran Djindjic.

8. Comply with the International War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague by taking into custody and transferring the remaining indictees, including as a priority Ratko Mladic.

9. Institute clear codes of conduct and financial disclosure statements for all elected officials, election candidates, political parties and military officials in Serbia.

10. Enforce civilian control over all the security forces, including paramilitary structures outside the regular army.

11. Stop trying to link Kosovo’s final status to that of Republika Srpska.

12. Stop encouraging Republika Srpska’s nationalist diehards to believe that they have a future outside Bosnia and Herzegovina.

13. Restart the economic reform process using the original G17+ program as a template.

14. Remove the mechanisms for state control of the media and cease harassment of independent journalists.

15. Carry out complete lustration of the Serbian judiciary, coupled with a process of general reappointment.

16. Increase support for the newly formed office of the Special Prosecutor, who is designated to lead the war against organised crime.

Belgrade/Brussels, 18 March 2003


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