bosnia report
New Series No: 37-38 January - March 2004
The Eighth Session Lives On
by Sonja Biserko

The political crisis into which Serbia was plunged in March 2003 by the assassination of Zoran Đinđić assumed new dimensions with the parliamentary elections of December 2004, in which Š ešelj’s Radicals emerged as the largest party and following which a minority coalition government was installed only with the help of Milošević’s supporters in parliament. The new situation thus created in Serbia will be a major theme in the next issue of Bosnia Report, but in the meantime the articles translated here, albeit written before the elections, retain all their relevance.


The Eighth Session Lives On

Sonja Biserko

The parliamentary crisis that has followed the assassination of premier Zoran Đinđić should be viewed as a screen behind which a sharp struggle is being fought, not only between alternative policies but also for preservation of the Army as Serbia's key institution.

The apparatus that had survived Milošević moved promptly into action after Đinđić's assassination. During the past months it has achieved what appears like a continuation of the spirit of the Eighth Session [of the Central Committee of the League of Communists of Serbia in 1987, at which Ivan Stambolić was removed from power by Slobodan Milošević]. It has slowed down reforms, practically halted cooperation with The Hague Tribunal, and seriously weakened the government. However, by contrast with 1987 when Milošević released an enormous amount of energy, this time the apparatus is faced with a stalemate. This situation opens the possibility of anarchy prevailing, since neither side will be able to win elections that would secure governmental stability.

The coalition has been weakened by recent affairs and scandals, and especially by the discrediting of the G17 Plus group, which during the past few months has acted as the exponent of certain services tied to Milošević's apparatus. This was starkly revealed by parliamentary speaker Nataša Mićić's remark that 'the most dangerous of Milošević's men are to be found in the Army', and that her dismissal was being sought because she, in her capacity as acting president of Serbia, sits on the Supreme Defence Council. She also pointed out that 'these men are more dangerous in the Army than in other posts', and that 'their removal was unfortunately attempted only after 12 March [when Đinđić was murdered].'

Cooperation with the Hague Tribunal serves as a litmus test for the mental and political situation in Serbia. It is impossible not to see that we are dealing here with a consensus, whose main aim is to prevent the charge of genocide against Milošević being proved. This strategy has erased the earlier difference between those favouring and those opposing cooperation. As a result the delivery of Ratko Mladić continues to be viewed as unacceptable, and his location continues to be 'unknown'.

‘We are all Lukić!’

The demand by Carla del Ponte for the surrender of four generals - Pavković, Lazarević, Lukić and Đorđević - was also received with protests, since it arrived at a time when the government, in the view of its leader, was under constant attack. Minister of the interior Dušan Mihajlović's comment was that 'he did not wish to be the one to send General Lukić to the Hague', since that would 'leave Serbia without a proper army or police, with unimaginable consequences'.

The 'peaceful and dignified meeting' of the police under the banner of 'we are all Lukić', and the call by Dragan Marković Palma, a member of Arkan's Party of Serb Unity in the parliament, for a coup d'etat - i.e. an invasion of government offices by the police and the army - defines precisely the nature of the political mood in Serbia. 'Preparation' of the public for such a scenario is part of a strategy of continuous revelation of affairs aimed at discrediting DOS [the outgoing governing coalition], in order to cause the failure of presidential and parliamentary elections. This would open a space for anarchy, and also a path to the establishment of military dictatorship in some form.

Serbia started to mobilize soon after Tito's death [in 1980]. The assumption by General Nikola Ljubičić of the post of Serbian president served to accelerate the process (which does not mean that the JNA had not already been a political force). The preparations for taking over Yugoslavia went in two directions: on the one hand, reorganization of the JNA and the demand for changing the 1974 constitution; on the other, the installation of a political leader (Slobodan Milošević) who would implement the policy. The Eighth Session marked the start of the transition in Serbia and Yugoslavia, dictated by Milošević with his policy of presenting Yugoslavia with a series of faits accomplis.

The scenario of Yugoslavia's break-up involved also an attempt to seize control of Yugoslavia's economic resources. Hence the attack on Yugoslav premier Ante Marković and his reform, as he recently explained in The Hague. The Serbian government stole DM 2.5 billion from the federal budget (only DM 1.5 billion was eventually returned). This plunder of Yugoslavia continued with the policy of war and ended with the plunder of Serbia itself - after that of Vojvodina and Kosovo. During the hyper-inflation of 1993 money was taken from each and every Serbian citizen. The wealth of many billionaires who today own Serbia was made during those 'heroic' times. The previous nomenklatura, especially the part of it linked to the apparatus of repression - but also to international trade networks - makes up the new financial elite which started to acquire wealth soon after the Eighth Session. It embodies also the continuity of that apparatus and all the relevant political actors on Serbia's contemporary political scene. Not a single political party can claim to be 'clean' in this regard.

Army reform

Serbia still holds the central place in the region from a security point of view, which explains the desire of the EU and the USA to reform its army and police. A single strategy regarding the role, size and concept of the Army is lacking, however. General Blagoje Grahovac, who advises the SCG president on military matters, argues that the Army reform 'has practically not yet begun, while the military high command, as the most loyal part of Milošević's system of power, is now stronger than ever.' It is not strange, therefore, that the Army continues to treat Kosovo as its priority, and is considering introducing a special dispensation allowing it 'control of the roads leading to the border with Kosovo and also within it'. If one takes into account that the Serbian government has this year spent 133 million Euros on maintaining the ‘Coordination Centre for Kosovo and Metohija’, and for paying the Serbs in Kosovska Mitrovica to (among other things) guard the bridge [dividing the city], it is crystal clear that Kosovo is being used as a permanent source of crisis. The search for partners on the other side for partitioning Kosovo continues.

Despite the evident problems, however, the region as a whole is slowly taking on a wholly new form, which now needs an economic momentum. It is highly encouraging that the High Representative in Bosnia, Paddy Ashdown, believes that the Dayton agreement 'must be reformed in order to join Europe'; and that 'it is not possible to join Europe with two customs services and two tax bureaux'. This approach negates the illusions of the 'patriotic bloc' in Serbia, and indicates that all the regional armies will come under NATO control. The international community has clearly realized that without demilitarization and essential reforms it would not be possible to bring into Europe not only Bosnia's Republika Srpska, but also and in particular Serbia itself.

Translated from Helsinška povelja (Belgrade), October 2003


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