AIM: start

SAT, 02 FEB 2002 13:33:01 GMT

The First Year of the Government of Serbia

Conservation or Reconstruction

The self-satisfaction the members of the Government of Serbia have demonstrated in summing up their first anniversary in power was exceeded only by the amount of ill humour towards critical comments about their work. Absolutely in accordance with the local customs, the severest showdown is going on among partners in the ruling coalition

AIM Belgrade, January 30, 2002

The coalition of 18 parties whose presidential candidate Vojislav Kostunica in September 2000 election defeated Slobodan Milosevic – who was finally overthrown by the massive protest of citizens on October 5 that same year - nowadays operates in the Assembly of Serbia as a loose coordination of a few groups of deputies. More than two-thirds assembly majority won by the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) in parliamentary elections in Serbia in December 2000 has nowadays been reduced to “procuring” sometimes behind the screen and sometimes scandalously publicly, but sometimes even practically by mere accident, one or two votes that decide on some key laws for a democratic society.

A year after the establishment of the Government of Serbia headed by Zoran Djindjic, its survival in power depends on the intensity of pressure exerted by the international community in order to keep the launched process of democratization of Serbia going despite the passions running high and the growing intolerance among the leaders. The initial reformist momentum of the Government of Serbia was attributed mostly to the great "pragmatism" of its Prime Minister, his resoluteness to definitely remove Slobodan Milosevic from the political scene by the arrest and later extradition to the Hague Tribunal.

Cooperativeness with the international community was confirmed in spring last year in the operation of taking over the control of the land security zone in which the key role - with unconcealed American support - was played by Nebojsa Covic, deputy prime minister of Serbia. In internal affairs the Government demonstrated equal enthusiasm having successfully passed a few sets of economic laws, the law on privatisation and the labour law, providing in this way a part of the foundations for further political and social changes in Serbia. The biggest disagreement within DOS was caused at the time by the extradition of Slobodan Milosevic without previous passing of the law on cooperation with the Hague Tribunal advocated by Vojislav Kostunica - in vain, since his draft law was not accepted even by Montenegrin pro-Yugoslav coalition. The fall of the federal government caused by that additionally complicated Kostunica's position in the negotiations on the future of Yugoslavia. With his declarations and behavior, pragmatic Zoran Djindjic did not re-enforce the federal president's position, on the contrary: for many this was a sign that the internal coalition conflict developed into a new election campaign. Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) decided to separate its representatives from DOS's group of deputies. In the following several months this was done by another four groups of deputies in the Assembly of Serbia, each for its own reasons.

And yet - before it was publicly demanded - the reconstruction of the Republican Government was announced by Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic himself in June 2001, by declaring that it would be broadened with representatives of the Albanians from three municipalities in the south of Serbia and the Muslims from Sandzak. DSS demanded reconsideration of the work of the Government in general, and no less vehemently, abolition of the decisions the Government had reached without seeking agreement of the Assembly of Serbia, such as the decrees on turnover of tobacco, oil and oil products, decisions of foundation of various offices, agencies or councils the Government transferred its jurisdiction to that had no foundation in the Constitution and laws. Ever since the discussions on reconstruction, responsibility of the Government and/or its ministries - especially the ministries of police and judiciary - have never stopped. For the members of a pre-election coalition based on its platform, an unusual practice of exchange of services - the labour law was passed with the support of DSS after the rest of DOS had supported the set of judiciary laws drafted by DSS - has become a form of parliamentary behavior that considerably slowed down the work of Serbian parliament in the second half of last year.

In the past year Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic most persistently defended one of his five deputies and minister of internal affairs, Dusan Mihajlovic. Not only have all of his several resignations been rejected - last time because of the armed rebellion of the Unit for Special Operations of the state security which would in other circumstances have brought about the fall of the entire cabinet - but, despite discontent with the work of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MUP), Prime Minister showed that he had "understanding for the causes and the reasons" of failures among which the most painful are the unexplained murders, and not just the ones "inherited" from Milosevic. In the middle of January the Government established a security council headed by Prime Minister himself, perhaps because it believed that MUP "must not be the place for party deals and arrangements". The announcement that this Council will among other control the work of state security agencies - which should be the job of the parliament, and not to have the executive authorities control themselves - caused an avalanche of reactions. Similar antagonism was provoked by the publication of the fact that MUP of Serbia was purchasing equipment for its needs that consists of 25 thousand Zippo lighters and the same number of Swiss pocketknives and flashlight torches.

In the meantime, Minister of Finance Bozidar Djelic has become a favourite of the public. He is rightfully believed to deserve the merit for the majority of the moves that introduced until recently unthinkable order and discipline in the field of finances and taxes. In the course of this year Aleksandar Vlahovic, Minister of Privatisation, will be faced with great challenges: the fact that cast a shadow over the planned sale of about eighty enterprises is that the cement works in Beocin was bought by a foreign buyer for a much smaller amount of money than expected. It seems that this provoked a conflict and disputes in the Government about the question whether the statements of coalition partner Nenad Canak, at present at the post of the Chairman of the Assembly of Voivodina - for example, that the Government of Serbia was "selling stolen goods" - have brought about undercutting of the price of Beocin cement works. That is what forced Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic face not only the unpleasant fact that his schizophrenic rating in the public - one half cannot stand him, the other applauds him - has not changed in the past year, but also the banal everyday clash with "the dirty practice" of political pragmatism.

Unlike Vojislav Kostunica and DSS they experience as the greatest opponent, at least some of the coalition partners in the Government condition further support to Zoran Djindjic and the "rest" of DOS by specific concessions. That is how just about the first anniversary of its existence the Government of Serbia put the law on the "return" of the autonomy to Voivodina into assembly procedure, and approved the construction of a tobacco factory in Cacak despite its own decision that the "question of tobacco" would be resolved by a call for tenders. By paying in this way the support of the members of DOS from Voivodina and of Cacak mayor Velimir Ilic's eight deputies in the Assembly, Djindjic got another postponement of a direct clash having ensured the support of the minimum assembly majority. But this also postponed for an indefinite time a systematic solution not only of decentralisation of executive power, but also of a constructive agreement on the essential amendment of the Constitution of Serbia.

Even more conspicuous than the lively activities of the Government and its attempts to control even the fields the supervision of which is not its job, is its failure - or inexplicable delay - in resolving the catastrophic situation in health, the status of the university and media. They all operate in conditions of prolonged interregnum, health is approaching inevitable collapse, the university is in the shadow of Milosevic's laws, the media are left at the mercy of resourcefulness and capability of the owners to become close to the executive authorities by being servile. On the occasion of the first anniversary of the Government, Miroslav Prokopijevic, President of Belgrade Centre for Free Market, concludes that it is true that "the headlong retrogression Milosevic and his regime had led to was interrupted", but that it can be claimed with certainty that the key deficiency of the government of Serbia is that "it is not capable of significantly changing the inherited system in the direction of market democracy within the framework of the rule of law".

The incapability of the government to seriously launch system reforms, according to Prokopijevic, is caused by the fact that DOS is dominated by the members of the former regime (deputies of prime minister: general Momcilo Perisic, Dusan Mihajlovic, Nebojsa Covic) or persons unofficially close to the former regime (Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, deputy Prime Minister Jozef Kasa, Dragoljub Micunovic) or who are hostages of certain members of the former regime in the army and police (President of FRY Vojislav Kostunica, Prime Minister of Serbia Zoran Djindjic, deputies Covic, Mihajlovic and Perisic). The certainty of new elections is also essentially influencing the postponement of reforms, because their launching would significantly affect the popularity of leading politicians. Finally, according to the opinion of Miroslav Prokopijevic "none of the 18 leaders of DOS, not a single minister or important official believes in market economy and the rule of law".

In the end of December deputy federal prime minister Miroljub Labus warned about systematic increase of resistance to reforms in social strata that were privileged in Milosevic's regime, but also the necessity for both governments, the federal and Republican, to start negotiations with trade unions in order to avoid massive resistance of the (un)employed to reforms in 2002. Almost 60 thousand enterprises with 1.2 million workers are constantly or occasionally insolvent; almost 30 thousand firms with about 450 thousand employees are already facing bankruptcy. In such conditions hardly any government can afford the luxury of staying in power at all costs.

On the other hand, the survival of the Government of Serbia directly depends on the support of small parties in DOS: that is why Zoran Djindjic cannot remove unsuccessful ministers and his deputies, because they are all “leaders” of their own parties. The other possibility that the Prime Minister announced as a reform of the Government for March 2002, is the increase of the number of ministers and deputies in order to smooth over the differences with the individually strongest party of DOS. According to Djindjic’s statement made in the middle of January, the reconstruction will include the appointment of the minister of health, of the environment and of natural resources, opening of another ministerial post without portfolio, appointment of two new deputy prime ministers and another three unnamed ministries. Briefly, a government was announced that will be neither less bulky nor more efficient than the present one. The part offered to DSS – one post of deputy prime minister, three ministerial and the non-existent post of general police inspector – was refused by Kostunica’s party which repeated the demand that the work of the government be re-examined and that “its method of work be essentially changed”.

In the meantime, MUP of Serbia observed one of its new important dates with several-day appropriate performances. On the occasion Minister Mihajlovic gave away guns to his fellow ministers, and not Zippo lighters, pocket-knives and torches. The only ones who turned down the gift were deputy prime minister Jozef Kasa (“I believe that the time of shooting has passed”), Zarko Korac, and minister of social issues Gordana Matkovic. DSS commented on the scandal with a statement in which it declared that the minister of police should take away arms from the criminals and not arm the ministers: “Arming of the ministers is a move towards merging of MUP and the Government into a single executive body that could be called the government of internal affairs of Serbia and that might have the jurisdiction over other departments”.

Aleksandar Ciric