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    Copyright: The following text is for personal information only. Any professional use or publication in written or electronic form is subject to an agreement with AIM, 17 rue Rebeval, F-75019 Paris, France

    TUE, 27 FEB 1996 19:48:10 GMT

    The Serbian Political Scene


    AIM, Beograd, February 25, 1996

    "Studio B would not have fallen had we realized on time the truth that one is not to enter into agreements and pacts with the SPS (Socialist Party of Serbia). There have been among us, the opposition, those who deluded themselves that there do exist moderate socialists and that some sort of agreement could be reached with them. And to think that there exist moderate socialists is to claim that crocodiles are vegetarians", Dr.Vladeta Jankovic of the Democratic Party of Serbia stated in the middle of last week in a protest gathering organized in support of the erstwhile independent and now "etatized", "Studio B".

    The Media...

    Dr.Zoran Djindjic, leader of the Democratic Party, said, immediately after the developments in "Studio B", that in the next ten days the opposition would be taking steps "which would amount to more than statements". Later on, that "more than" was confined to his calling upon citizens to cancel TV subscriptions in protest against the seizure of "Studio B". Vuk Draskovic sent messages to Milosevic saying that what he was doing with the media would soon backfire on him for the democratic world, allegedly, would not take too kindly to such behaviour. The leader of the radicals, Dr.Vojislav Seselj, was also at a loss as to what to do and, rather, opted to repudiate Draskovic's thesis that "the democratic world" could have saved "Studio B": "Had Halbrooke waved an admonishing little finger at Milosevic, the decision on the abolition of "Studio B" would have been revoked." But, judging by the news coming from Rome, it seems that Halbrooke, as indeed the majority of those whose only concern is Milosevic's cooperativeness, could not be bothered to lift his little finger on account of "Studio B".

    Some ten months prior to the elections, the socialists have embarked on an intense electoral campaign, with their crocodile becoming increasingly voracious, and, judging by all appearances, having no intention to stop. Especially if he is displeased with something and there is a shadow of a doubt that unregulated property relations are in question. No wonder that speculations about the next one to devoured are already being bandied about: the Beta News Agency, Radio B-92 or the weekly NIN. The list of the potential victims of the wholesale media deratization includes the weeklies "Vreme" and "Telegraf" as well, but in their cases (property relations being quite clear), their eventual strangulation will have to be done on another pretext. Perhaps the excuse this time will be the protection of somebody's name, person and deed. In between gulping down the independent media, the "crocodile" resolved to make short work also of the Belgrade chapter of the SOROS Foundation.

    Immediately after the takeover of "Studio B", the zealous court assessed that the SOROS Foundation with its, as was said earlier, "dirty" USD 11 million intended for refugees in Serbia in this year alone, was no longer suitable to continue its work. For, one never knows whether any of those dollars could go astray and find their way to some of the media not to the SPS's liking. The independent "Studio B" whose claim to fame started with the coverage of the March 1991 demonstrations, is already being slowly consigned to memories and legend, with there being no hope that we could have something similar again. At the same time there is no hope either that perhaps already on the morrow some "Our Studio B", like "Our Borba", which survived last year's attempt of the authorities to strangle it, could crop up.

    With the electronic media that is a much tougher proposition, for all the available frequencies are held by the state and the state allocates them only to tested faithfuls. The virus of etatization which "Studio B" succumbed to, could easily spread also further through the "Beogradjanka" building, and reach the Agency Beta, several floors below. Fifty percent of the equity capital of this Agency, comprising mainly journalists who at a certain point decided to quit the state Agency "Tanjug" out of a kind of self-respect, belongs precisely to "Studio B". Ljubica Markovic, the Director of this Agency, asked a couple of days ago to anticipate what might happen to Beta, replied briefly that "for the time being they were being left alone". This, needless to say, does not mean that the new management of "Studio B" remotely controlled from SPS headquarters, will not shortly announce that "Beta's offices henceforth belong to someone else".

    The authorities, which, in an election year, and, quite possibly, a year of thwarted expectations after Dayton and the suspension of the sanctions, are seeking to bring under their control not only the media but indeed everything else, could very soon crack down on Radio B-92 as well. This radio station, which makes by far the most professional information programme in Serbia, but cannot be heard farther than the center of the city of Belgrade, is actually using frequencies once lent it by Radio Belgrade. Some think that B-92 could even be considered a socially-owned enterprise, which could only facilitate its possible execution.

    Rumour in Belgrade has it, and, at least as far as the fate of the media is concerned, rumours have so far most often proven to be true, that the fate of NIN is also in the balance. The Director of "Politika", Hadzi Dragan Antic, who two years ago himself recommended to the editors of NIN to become independent and leave "Politika", recently stated how a grave error had been committed then and how this weekly would fare much better and be much safer in its old house. Most of the initiated, however, tend to believe that Antic as a man very close to the Milosevics, has been entrusted with the task of undermining NIN's independence and returning it under "Politika's" wing. Apparently, Bogoljub Karic, President of the "Braca Karic" company, who has over a very short period of time created a quite powerful and popular television station and who, media-wise, is not hiding his ambition to become "the first Serbian Berlusconi", also has his eye on NIN. Bogoljib Karic does not hide, naturally, either the fact that he has coffee with his next door neighbours, the Milosevics, whenever they have time.

    ...The Opposition and the Socialists

    The "Studio B" affair has posed yet once again (for the umpteenth time) the same question before the Serbian opposition - what is to be done. The Dayton Accords have in a way shifted the focus of politics from war subjects to existential ones, but also compelled the opposition to start, of necessity, contemplating cooperation. The parliamentary and media situation, for instance, in Serbia today, is incomparably worse than it was five or six years ago, at the very inception of opposition parties while democratic institutions are virtually non-existent.

    Describing the situation, Dr.Milan Bozic of the SPO (Serbian Renewal Movement) recently noted that at this moment the authorities had a hundred percent monopoly over the army and the police and at least 95 percent over money and the media.

    In the aftermath of the Dayton Accords, the idea was launched for the opposition to unite and present a unified list at the coming elections. It soon became evident that for the kind of Serbian opposition we have now even a parallel parliament was too ambitious a project and that much more was expected from it than was warranted by realistic circumstances.

    The dilemma who will be where and with whom profoundly disrupted the atmosphere in the small Civil Alliance Party of Serbia and rocked the position of its leader Dr. Vesna Pesic. The differences among the members of this party who, from the very outset of the war, were the staunchest advocates of anti-war positions and opposed the nationalistic hysteria, reached a point whereat two factions within the party started accusing each other of a "Ravna gora" and "watered-down peacemaking" options, respectively. Obviously these consistent champions of peace have difficulty finding their bearings in peace.

    This increasingly looks like a serious rift which can be expected already in mid-March. One of the factions is led by the leader of the party Vesna Pesic and the other by Dr. Zarko Korac, together with professor Stevan Lilic and Drago Hiber. Two explanations of the reasons underlying this conflict have been offered. According to one, Zarko Korac has announced that he will stand as a candidate against Vesna Pesic at the internal elections of the party in mid-March. According to the other, the controversy has been simmering ever since the time when a joint list was being discussed and when the Civil Alliance could potentially have found itself in the company of extreme radicals. Although the idea of a single list was dropped, Vesna Pesic was criticized for flirting with the nationalists.

    Last week, after a heated eigth-hour debate, at a press conference, Vesna Pesic called the opposing side "watered-down peacemakers" and "the Dayton party". Only a day later 15 members of the party wrote to all Belgrade newspaper desks distancing themselves from her positions. Drago Hiber withdrew his membership in the Main Board, as did Nebojsa Popov, although for other, namely reasons of principle.

    Seselj and Draskovic showed once again that they simply cannot get along and that the current differences between them, irrespective of their common political beginnings, are too deep. Seselj, for instance, demands that all opposition leaders take an oath in church, on Easter and before the Serbian Patriarch, pledging never again to cooperate with the socialists. Draskovic will have no oaths and says that the idea lacks seriousness. The SPO leader also feels that they need to take to the streets more often and that any attacks by the police must be responded to in kind - with a stick. Seselj, however, has all of a sudden developed a penchant for "Ghandian methods" and says - "if they attack, we shall sit down on the sidewalk and offer passive resistance and let the whole world see what they are doing".

    Even before they admitted Anatoly Karpov to their ranks last week, the socialists exhibited a remarkable ability to anticipate at least several moves that the opposition might make. The rumours about possible cooperation between Draskovic and Djindjic and the approaching anniversary of March 9, set in motion a veritable avalanche of accusations against these two opposition leaders. Djindjic, who recently accused the Prime Minister of Serbia Dr.Mirko Marjanovic of dishonourable dealings with grain and gas, bore the brunt of all the regime media in one day. After a several-year respite, an article was again devoted to Vuk Draskovic in a daily, describing all his trespasses.

    This is certainly very much contributed to by the nearing of March 9, and the intention of the opposition to mark the 5th anniversary of the demonstrations after which tanks appeared on the streets of Belgrade. Apprehension can be felt on both sides before this anniversary. The regime fears the possibly large number of people that could assemble in the streets of Belgrade that day and the inability to control the masses. The opposition refers to March 9 as the beginning of the electoral campaign, while in actual fact they wish for the first decisive match to take place on that day with the socialists so as to show them that they have a substantial body of followers backing them. But, the opposition is also apprehensive lest the mountain prove to be only a molehill.

    Draskovic and the SPO undertook to organize the rally and in their paper "Srpska rec" (Serbian Word), promised to refund travelling costs to all those who come from outside Belgrade to participate. All the others from the opposition wish to participate, but do not want Draskovic to choose their slogans, set the iconography and write the scenario of events. Poising themselves for this derby with the opposition, the authorities decided to postpone the other one, scheduled for the same day - the football match between the "Red Star" and "Partisan". Even for the multitudinous and exceptionally well equipped Serbian police, two such "high-risk" matches in a single day are too much to handle.

    Nenad Lj. Stefanovic (AIM)