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Serbia's Transition: Reforms Under Siege

 PDF version of Serbia's Transition: Reforms Under Siege Click here to view the full report as a PDF file in A4 format.
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The 3 August 2001 murder of former State Security (DB) official Momir Gavrilovic acted as a catalyst for the emergence of a long-hidden feud within Serbia�s ruling DOS (Democratic Opposition of Serbia) coalition. Inflamed by Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica�s closest advisers, the �Gavrilovic Affair� has driven a wedge into DOS that could spell the end of the coalition in its present form. In so doing, Kostunica�s Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) has been exposed more clearly than before as a conservative nationalist party intent on preserving certain elements of the Milosevic regime.

The open quarrel may force entirely unnecessary elections that could prove harmful to the reform process. The crisis is also likely to block the already slow work of the Serbian parliament in its current session. At the same time, it has presented the government with a clear opportunity to make its work more transparent and accountable.

Kostunica�s DSS led the attacks against a group of reform-oriented, relatively pragmatic politicians centred mostly around Serbian Premier Zoran Djindjic and his Democratic Party (DS). The severity of the DSS attack dealt a heavy blow to the coalition and changed the face of Serbian politics. Although the two sides may soon patch up their differences, the fallout from the events surrounding the �Gavrilovic Affair� will be widespread and could affect the pace and extent of political and economic reforms, as well as Yugoslavia�s cooperation with the international community and its neighbours. So too the lack of civilian control over the Yugoslav Army (VJ) has become more apparent. In regional terms, at stake in the current struggle within DOS are the continuation of FRY funding for the Army of Bosnia�s Republika Srpska, Belgrade�s stance towards UNMIK, and the question of further cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

Since the nineteen-member DOS coalition defeated the regime of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in the September and December 2000 elections, internal DOS rivalries and disputes have hindered Serbia�s reform process. The pro-reform faction centred around Djindjic, while the more conservative and nationalist elements grouped around Kostunica. The differences seemed manageable until Gavrilovic�s murder, but since then, political feuding triggered by the murder has shaken the foundations of the governing coalition and exposed Kostunica and the DSS as significant obstacles to continued reform.

Hoping to support the emergence of democracy in Yugoslavia, the international community has rushed to accept Kostunica. But apart from the arrest and transfer of Slobodan Milosevic to The Hague, international leverage on Yugoslavia to comply with international goals for regional stability and peace has been manifestly ineffectual. The DSS has yet to formulate a vision of a modern economy or society, except in terms of state-building and nationalist goals that are unlikely to deliver either internal development or regional stabilisation. Since early August, the DSS has tried to force early (and quite unnecessary) elections; dealt what could have been a terminal blow to the DOS coalition; brought a number of other reform initiatives into question; and emerged as protectors of Milosevic�s legacy in several essential respects. Even now, the DSS is � under the guise of legalism � pushing measures that could lead to an increase in regional organised crime, cigarette and petroleum smuggling, and worsened relations with UNMIK.

In sum, the �Gavrilovic Affair� has thrown the problems involving reform, elections, and the fate of DOS into newly sharp relief. This report describes the affair, puts it in context, and examines its implications in the light of international community priorities for Serbia, FRY and the region.


1. If the international community seriously wishes the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to continue down the path of democratic reform, it should examine the role that President Kostunica is playing, as well as his party�s platform and positions on key issues such as economic reform, judicial reform, social reform, cooperation with the ICTY, support for Republika Srpska and its military, support for Serb-run �parallel structures� in northern Kosovo, the effective functioning of the federal state, and the role of the Yugoslav military (VJ) in political life.

2. There should be a reappraisal in particular of the options for pressuring President Kostunica to move positively on the following issues:

a) removal of General Pavkovic from his post as Chief of General Staff of the VJ; b) re-entry of the DSS to the Serbian government; c) preservation of the DOS coalition until at least the middle of 2002; d) postponement of the Serbian elections until at the very earliest the late autumn of 2002 (to enable reforms to get on track); e) a public declaration of support for cooperation with the ICTY; f) use of his prestige within the federal government to get the law on cooperation with the ICTY adopted, and to ensure practical cooperation with the international mission in Kosovo.

3. The international community should pressure President Kostunica and Premier Djindjic to distance themselves from prominent individuals associated with the Milosevic regime and its cronies.

4. The international donor community should urge President Kostunica to take an unequivocal public stance supporting the difficult economic, social and judicial reforms required by donors and desperately needed by Serbia.

5. The international community should support the DSS�s call for increased transparency and accountability within the Serbian government.

6. The international community should express concern at the DSS�s call to revoke three administrative decisions affecting revenue collection in Kosovo and petroleum imports to Serbia, as their revocation would reduce revenue flows to the Serbian government and UNMIK, and increase organized criminal activity.

7. Given that no political party or coalition can be expected to make Serbian society face up to its own responsibility for the atrocities and suffering of the past decade, the international community should support other groups in civil society that are better able to foster the values of truth and reconciliation. For without these values, the reform process will not take root.

Belgrade/Brussels, 21 September 2001

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