by Milan MILOSEVIC
In such circumstances, a murder of the Prime Minister could have created chaos and initiated a chain reaction leading to the collapse of institutions.
STATE OF EMERGENCY: Hours after the murder of the Prime Minister, however, it became obvious that the state apparatus was functioning and that it was led by a firm hand in the emotionally charged atmosphere. Deputy Prime Minister of the Serbian government Nebojsa Covic appeared collected. He announced government’s proposal to the acting president of Serbia to introduce the state of emergency. The decision to proclaim the state of emergency was quickly made. That decision includes a ban on questioning of the decision, and will consequently not be discussed in this magazine, but time will definitely come for an assessment of its validity. For now, the public only knows of Vojislav Kostunica’s comment to the effect that the state of emergency is based on the law imposed by Milosevic after the 1991 demonstrations.
The opposition condemned the imposition of the state of emergency, but those protests did not receive a lot of publicity, and the press was warned that any reporting of such statements would be a violation of the state of emergency regulations. A day later, Radical party representatives surprisingly did not attend an extraordinary session of the Serbian parliament called to inform the representatives about the state of emergency.
On March 12, in the evening after the assassination, the Supreme Defense Council met and increased readiness of the Yugoslav Army. It also ordered the Army to assist civilian security forces. Military structures, although until recently summarily denounced as a potential destabilizing factor and an impregnable stronghold of Milosevic’s regime, quickly became a factor of stability. The Army actually served as a back up in case it turned out that some of police units refused to obey orders, but the military did not leave barracks nor was there any need for its public presence.
Several hours after the murder of the Prime Minister it was announced that the police had information that the assassins and their mentors were members of the so-called criminal Zemun clan, briefly described in one relatively well-known [Police] brochure about criminal gangs in Serbia. Due to the declared state of emergency and obvious public support for the disarmament and arrest of all the registered criminal gangs, in the first week after the murder there was not much political debate regarding the success of the operation so far. The fortunate circumstance that in the series of arrests, 750 so far, there have been no collateral victims among the civilians, nor casualties among the policemen and the suspects, also influenced the reluctance to publicly question authorities’ actions.
In that context we could only hear hesitant questions whether at least key among those gangs could have been disabled by some sort of active preventive police measures (in the Hague or police context), given that the police had information about their activities and that the press, in different places, with more or less malice, was full of announcements that criminal gangs may do something dangerous. One of the suspected brains behind the assassination, Milorad Lukovic Ulemek Legija even wrote a threatening open letter.
One of government’s announcements states that an arrest of the mentioned gang had been planned, but that the murderers had found about it and murdered the Prime Minister on the day the arrests were supposed to start. Other statements indicate that the chain of crime started with speculation about Hague indictments. There are also claims that Mafia lashed out after changes in the leadership of the state intelligence service.
Did someone betray the secret police action? To what extent did criminals infiltrate the very heart of the police? Were there any traitorous alliances? All of these questions will come up once free public debate is again permitted.
In that context the story about corrupt judiciary and irresponsible acts of some judges who released Bagzi Milenkovic (suspected of trying to kill Prime Minister Djindjic with a truck) from custody, continued. However, state prosecutors and their offices were not mentioned, although the executive authorities have stronger control over them, and even though they failed to actively prosecute Lukovic (indictments that were later withdrawn) after two significant incidents (Kula [shooting and burning down a café] and “Stupica” [shots fired in a café]). The ruling majority, formally and informally (by postponing the debate about the responsibility of the authorities for the assassination, issuing instructions to the media, stopping TV broadcasts of parliament sessions, and apparently orchestrating suppression of opposition reactions in the media), has to a certain extent limited criticism of its actions, but it appears that it does not similarly feel compelled to in any way curb its criticism of the opposition. Some of the attacks on the opposition, some made even at the funeral, was directed at Vojislav Kostunica. He is again accused of being indecisive, seeking compromise and being “uninformed”, as when he allowed the former State Intelligence Service chief Rade Markovic to keep his job for a few months after the overthrow of Milosevic, until the government of Serbia was formed in 2001, after which it replaced him.
Some of opposition reactions were nevertheless mentioned by the media, as usual more in the printed than in electronic media. On Monday Kostunica reminded that he had warned about the existence of Mafia as early as during “Gavrilovic” affair and emphasized that forceful anti-crime measures should have been taken immediately after the first assassination attempt on February 21.
There was no discussion of the responsibility of the Police Minister, nor of the State Security Service, nor of Prime Minister’s security, although, according to some officials (Covic, Tadic) time for that will also come.
That was the extent of that, because obviously a replacement or resignation of the Police Minister, with possible dissatisfaction of his party, could bring into question functioning of the pro-government majority.
TWO PATHS: During the night between Wednesday and Thursday, the presidency of the DOS decided to keep the current composition of the government and to offer the Prime Ministerial post to the Democratic Party, based on the coalition agreement from November 2000.
The proposal by the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) to form a national unity government was, at first quietly, and then loudly (meeting of the Chief Council of the DS) rejected. On that occasion we could hear a paraphrase of the old controversial sentence: “There is no democracy for the enemies of democracy”. It goes like this: “We must not allow the enemies of democracy to use democracy for destruction”.
In the coming months we shall see whether the investigation will include, for example, the activities of the Serb Unity Party (SSJ), whose honorary president Svetlana Ceca Raznatovic was arrested on Monday, March 17.
The Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) demanded that the state of emergency be quickly concluded because it opens a lot of possibility for abuses against political opponents. New Serbia (NS) demanded that a state commission form a parliamentary committee that would investigate the responsibility of the institutions for the murder of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. This party believes that it is too early to select a new Prime Minister and that that should be done once the state of emergency is over, when conditions for a democratic functioning of the parliament are created anew. G17 plus demanded in one statement that the institutions be consolidated as soon as possible, that the government of Serbia be reconstructed and political consensus urgently sought and reached for the sake of defense of democratic institutions.
Vojislav Kostunica proposed that a national unity government be formed by all political parties that agreed to participate in it. Its tasks would be to punish those responsible for the murder of Zoran Djindjic, to work on the new constitution for Serbia and prepare general elections. Kostunica stated that the government of Serbia was unable to prevent evil and consequently it is not to be expected that it will be able to destroy it.
The Democratic Party rejected Kostunica’s proposal saying that participation of the DSS of the SPS would make the government less efficient, bring back the blockade of the institutions and undermine the forceful manner with which this political party is building its new decisive course, based on the sympathy for the slain Prime Minister. This new course is usually referred to as “October 6”. In parallel with the election of the new Prime Minister of Serbia the ruling majority is pushing through the Parliament a set of five laws regulating the judiciary.
Dragoljub Micunovic, president of the Democratic Center (DC), stated that it is too early for the formation of a national unity government, since in the state of emergency it is necessary to from a new government as soon as possible and provide conditions for the functioning of all institutions, and that the new government would focus on the war against crime.
UNION GOVERNMENT: On Monday March 17, when the Parliament of Serbia and Montenegro elected five members of the new union government, the ruling majority turned out to be stable. 47 representatives from Serbia and 19 from Montenegro voted for the new ministers. Representatives of the DSS, Serb Radical Party, NS, SPS, the Socialist People’s Party, the Serb People’s Party and the People’s Party from Montenegro voted against the new ministers. Their objections had to do with the violation of the Union Charter (ministers of defense and foreign affairs should be from different states), which was emphasized by the DSS, interruption of TV broadcasts from the parliament (Maja Gojkovic from the SRS); lack of legitimacy of representatives due to seats “stolen” from the New Serbia (Velja Ilic, leader of the NS) and the fact that the government was not elected in a secret ballot (Dacic from the SPS). Mr Micunovic, who has distinguished himself over the last ten years with spirited defense of parliamentary democracy probably was not happy to preside over a public vote in a (semi)closed session as that does not mesh well with parliamentary democracy, but he has recently emphasized on several occasions that at this point the most important issue is the consolidation of state institutions.
The session of the Parliament of Serbia held on Tuesday, March 18, was also not broadcast on TV. Consultations about candidates for the new Prime Minister were extremely brief. Natasa Micic [the acting president of Serbia] proposed a new Prime Minister after consulting only the representatives of the majority, as was her obligation due to article 83 of the Constitution, but failed to consult representatives of all groups in the parliament as would be expected from someone supposedly having a unifying role. When the session of the parliament was scheduled, the pro-government majority made it clear that it expected 128 votes in favor of the new Prime Minister. The DOS-reform delegation in the parliament has 96 representatives, DOS-DHSS seven, DA six, SDP-DOS 13, “Serbia” five. The predictions turned out to be correct and on Tuesday, March 18, somewhat after 3pm we learned that the new Prime Minister was elected with 128 votes “for” and 100 “against”.
GOVERNMENT OF SERBIA: Thus, at the time this article was being written, there was very little doubt regarding whether Zoran Zivkovic, deputy president of the Democratic Party, former mayor of Nis and until recently the Federal Police Minister, was going to be confirmed as the new Prime Minister. The coming months will show whether Zivkovic is capable of making a distinction between Nis and Serbia and how he will fit in the government, which he will not change, apart from including Ceda Jovanovic, Zoran Djindjic’s loyal collaborator, or more accurately his enforcer. Zivkovic has so far displayed more persistency and verbal aggression than pragmatic flexibility, more forced and clumsy humor than infectious inspiration…
At first, it seems the government will be supported by the public. According to some public opinion polls (Martin Bord), over 80 percent of population demands a decisive showdown with crime.
SYMBOLIC MYTH: The March 12 tragedy transformed Zoran Djindjic from a not-excessively popular politician into a political symbol, similar to dead Kennedy. All sins, intentional and unintentional, were forgiven in that touching mass show of respect and Zoran Djindjic, without any doubt, became a historical figure and a symbol for young generations. He has become a martyr. His myth is being spontaneously created these days and is shinning like a star, and may survive in the future if the politicians do not trash it with various excesses. For example, in Kragujevac, where they like to excel in tributes to authority, as when they initiated tributes to Tito or introduced red street signs, they are already proposing to name one of main city streets after Djindjic, and several towns are considering memorial centers in honor of Djindjic.
In the shade of that growing marble monolith and that globally favorable historical flow, however, lie earthly troubles, undeveloped institutions that need to be consolidated, conflict of interest that must be removed, responsibility that must be established. That environment hides characters from the previous regime, while recently we had a chance to see some new people, rather odious characters, perhaps even suspicious, of the sort that sticks to every authorities for personal gain and power.
The attempt to build policies on the base of the myth of personality was made 23 years ago (just recall the slogan “after Tito – Tito”), as some still recall, miserably failed.
It is favorable for both the government and the whole society that in yet another crisis, deeper and more difficult than some from the past, it was obvious that Serbia is on a new favorable path. Despite all of the incompetence of the executive authorities, lack of seriousness and criminal negligence, impermissible improvisation, changes in Serbia are irreversible and, let us repeat this for those who still don’t get it, this country is not threatened by something big, evil and dangerous, such as general chaos, a new civil war, or total collapse of institutions and the moral melt down from the past decade.
Time will demand answers, but that is a political sphere, where it is impossible to sit on a sword for too long, where history cannot be repeated and where full stops easily turn into commas followed by fateful “but”…
TRAPS: The riskiest part of that game will come at the moment someone decides to try to benefit from the state of emergency, and some tendencies of that sort are already noticeable. The authorities will for a while accuse the opposition of all sorts of things, and that approach always backfires. Ultimately, everyone understands that the authorities run the state, not the opposition, even if the authorities manage to convince the population that they are the best possible government with the worst possible opposition.
According to a recent public opinion poll of the Center for Political Research and Pubic Opinion, the mood of the public did not favor the ruling parties (DSS – 24 percent, DS – 8.5 percent, G17 plus – 8.2 percent, SRS – 7.1 percent, SPS – 3.8 percent, SSJ – 1.8 percent, SPO – 1.3 percent, other parties, members of the DOS, 1-5 percent, undecided – 23.7 percent).
It is likely that the ruling team will feel the need to strengthen its standing, although the politicians in power like to boast that they make their decisions regardless of their likely effect on public opinion. Even if they did not try something like that, and it is obvious that they actually are, the authorities will be suspected by the opposition. That may bring about new tensions and new risks.
The state of emergency or not, the authorities must be told to get serious and drop games they like so much.
There should be no problems while the authorities pursue already thoroughly discredited criminal gangs. The police is these days probably claiming that it needs expanded authority and that otherwise it cannot control crime. The police will most likely try to keep expanded authorities even after the end of the state of emergency. It will be dangerous if the new authority is interpreted as license to use insufficient evidence in future prosecutions, as in the past the Police avoided criticism for its sloppy work, while the criticism was chiefly directed at courts. Executive authorities seem determined to reshape the judiciary based on their tastes (besides they are already pushing a package of laws regulating judiciary, in the midst of the state of emergency; according to some news the president of the Supreme Court and the state public prosecutor, both of them appointed after October 2000, have been suspended). The lawmakers will have to decide whether faithfully copied modern solutions that haven’t been adjusted to the local conditions are suitable legal norms, even in the sphere of criminal law, and whether laws enacted since October 2000 can actually be implemented etc.
Problems will start once more sophisticated problems resurface, for example consolidation of institutions, mutual control of three branches of government, redefinition of the distribution of power – all of them first class constitutional matters.
All of that cannot be cut with the axe of the state of emergency. Government’s priorities, according to the new Prime Minister, include the adoption of a new constitution. The constitution, however, should not be adopted under the state of emergency, as in that case it may become an imposed solution.
Consequently, it is the public interest that the operation ends as soon and as successfully as possible and that the society be healed using procedures full of drawbacks, but nevertheless the best we know – a strong parliament, and rules of the game accepted by all players.