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INFO   :::  Reports - PAGE 3 > Annual Report 2000 > Text



Human Rights in Serbia 2000


I - Introduction


1. Overview

Status of human rights in the year 2000 resulted from many negative developments which marked the past decade, or legacy thereof. The nationalistic project was defeated, but that defeat is yet to be accepted. The aforementioned is best mirrored in nationalism which persists, although it has lost its mailed fist. New authorities have only 'retouched' nationalism and are yet to make a clean break with respect to the previous policy. Such a break would indicate discontinuity with the past regime. Neglect and implosion of society, collapse and de-professionalization of institutions, absence of independent judiciary, politicisation of police, social and economic ills-are circumstances essentially determining a general picture of human rights.

After bombardment and filing of war crimes indictments against Slobodan Milosevic and his collaborators, the regime, after a short-lived consolidation primarily made possible by inappropriate actions of the very opposition parties, entered a genuine agony of bare survival. After exhausting all possibilities for the post-NATO intervention recovery, the regime opted for a non-selective repression in all spheres of public life, notably in the judiciary, educational system and the media. That was the last stage of devastation of institutions. Added to that the regime in the early 2000 aggressively opened a front against Montenegro, and through constant tension in the republic held the war option permanently open there.

After several months of shilly-shallying the opposition managed on 10 January 2000, under pressure of the international community, to sign the Agreement on Joint Actions. Since then, having banded together an 18-party coalition, the opposition started gradually winning the confidence of citizens of Serbia, notably with respect to the issue of removal of Slobodan Milosevic. In fact the opposition did not endeavour to offer any other program than the one of removal of the regime. In the post-NATO campaign period citizens for the first time reacted from the positions of their bare survival. Mood of masses had changed significantly. A broad-based resistance to the regime was mounted, but motivations thereof varied. Some blamed the regime for the collapse of the country, some feared a new war, and some deplored the war defeat. Economic situation in the country however played a crucial role in citizens resolve to be rid of Milosevic.

Regime responded in a panicky way to each new problem. Its responses always ended in a new form of repression. Crackdowns on the media were frequent. They were either shut down or compelled by judicial rulings to pay exorbitant fines. Members of the student movement "Otpor" were persecuted and frequently detained. Faced with a total debacle of its policy and a mounting internal resistance, the Socialist Party of Serbia at its Fourth Congress opted for the policy of continual repression, brutal harassment of all its political opponents and self-isolation in the international scene.

In such a repressive mood the regime also laid waste to the judiciary, key pillar of any legal state. Although in former Yugoslavia the judiciary has never been independent, notably in political cases, it nonetheless achieved enviable standards of professionalism and independence in many segments of its work. Constant purges de-professionalized and simultaneously discredited the judicial system. A major blow to the system was the early June dismissal of a large number of impartial judges.

Such an oppressive conduct of the regime helped homogenise the opposition, notably regarding the issue of removal of authorities. In the course of 2000 a series of unsolved murders and disappearances continued. Abduction and disappearance of Ivan Stambolic, former President of Serbia, was the most salient political case. Several months after his abduction there were still no indications as to his whereabouts and -fate. Precarious situation was moreover compounded by the fact that the new authorities had not taken adequate measures to boost relevant investigation and eventual solving of this case. Mafia circles increasingly resorted to abductions as a method of money extortion. After a recent kidnapping of a son of a celebrity couple Fahreta Jahic and Slobodan Zivojinovic, the whole family moved to the US. Murder of judge Nebojsa Simeunovic, who investigated many unsolved murders cases, notably the one of Pavle Bulatovic, Defence Secretary, indicates that at play were diverse methods of showdown. Assassinations of Zeljko Raznjatovic Arkan (President of the Serbian Unity Party), Pavle Bulatovic (Federal Defence Secretary), Zika Petrovic (Director of the Yugoslav Airlines), and Bosko Perosevic (President of the Executive Council of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina) are yet to be solved.

The regime's decision to call early local and federal elections was obviously an expression of its misjudgement of the popular mood. In line with that decision Slobodan Milosevic swiftly staged a "constitutional coup" by amending two key provisions of the FRY Constitution, which severely affected Montenegro and derogated election rights of Serbia. Montenegro stayed away from the federal elections, for its participation would have been tantamount to acceptance of its abruptly changed, or in fact, worsened position in the federal state. Consequently the government was cobbled together with representatives of the Socialist Popular Party (SPP) headed by Momir Bulatovic, former ally of Slobodan Milosevic, instead with representatives of the ruling Montenegrin coalition. It bears stressing that amendments to the FRY Constitution were just one more confirmation of "institutional and extra-constitutional" disintegration of the FRY (the same method was applied in former Yugoslavia). But this method had a boomerang effect on Serbia proper.

Non-participation of the official Montenegro in the local and federal elections, its reserved stance on the "new Serbia" and insistence on secession from Yugoslavia caused much displeasure among the Serb politicians. One of the first post-election statements of Vojislav Kostunica was that" secession is out of question." In his subsequent statements he was however more observant of his declared pro-legitimacy position, albeit that position remained a hard-line one. In his talks with Milo DJukanovic on 25 December 2000 Vojislav Kostunica warned that the "Montenegrin Constitution expressly prescribes a two-third parliamentary majority regarding the issue of change of the state status," but also stressed that "any talks on re-arrangement of state, without participation of the federal authorities, cannot be conducted." He also cautioned against "the grave consequences of the Federation split on the whole area of the FRY."

September and December elections were an expression of a deep frustration and dissatisfaction of citizens of Serbia on the one hand, and an upshot of a genuine agreement between the DOS and the closest collaborators of Slobodan Milosevic (from the military, and police ranks) in the period between 25 September and 5 October 2000, on the other hand. Choice of Vojislav Kostunica as the DOS presidential nominee resulted from a consensus reached between some circles of the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Yugoslav Army. He was widely promoted as "Mr. Clean," while most DOS leaders were tainted with corruption allegations. Kostunica was also hyped as a personality maintaining the Serb national interest "in a democratic way." Developments related to elections and 5 October "revolution" indicated that in 25 September-5 October period a new "alliance of elites" was forged. That alliance secured a non-violent ouster of Milosevic. Lengthy interview given by Zoran DJindjic to weekly Blic News in the late 2000 sheds light on some aspects of those developments. He admits that his key contact was "Legija, Head of the Red Berets, a unit created to represent the last line of Milosevic's defence. Red Berets are 1,200-strong unit trained for urban warfare, which can smoothly crush the resistance of 20,000 civilians. They are equipped with choppers, armoured vehicles, state-of- the- art weapons and are in fact a cross between the police and army. I was tasked with establishing contacts with them. "Legija" pledged that "Red Berets" would side with DOS, likewise their colleagues, all the police units previously deployed in Kosovo, whereas other units, non-combat units, which were not deployed in Kosovo, were said to be ill-equipped to carry out that task." In crucial moments Kostunica met with Nebojsa Pavkovic, Head of Joint Chiefs of Staff and Slobodan Milosevic. Topics of their talks still have not been disclosed. First cracks in the alliance between Zoran DJindjic, President of Democratic Party and the DOS nominee for the Prime Minister of Serbia, appeared in the immediate post-revolution period. Namely they disagreed over treatment of the SPS cadres. Kostunica was convinced that people could change and become better persons. Dusan Mihajlovic, President of New Democracy, cautioned him against such reasoning: "We have not elected you our Patriarch, but our decision-making President."

Interregnum between the two election rounds, characterised by division of power, threw the country anew into disarray. It soon became evident that DOS had no political concept whatsoever. Moreover it started emulating the former regime. A near coup-like take-over of some public services and companies of vital importance by the DOS leaders was justified by the need to protect vital state functions, property and compromising documentation on machinations of former regime. Numerous "crisis headquarters" swiftly cobbled together in many institutions and companies Serbia-wide, were a brainchild of the DOS member- parties. Although the underlying political connotation of such moves was clear (destabilisation of the republican authorities and 'extortion' of early elections at the republican level), even understandable (although not legal), the manner of appointment of new management and administrative bodies was debatable. As in most cases DOS leaders were guided by party and personal interests, they tended to disregard professional and moral criteria. In numerous cases dismissals of old management were initiated by the very employees, freed from fear and resolved to single-handedly "dispense justice." Such a DOS conduct was most evident at the local level.

DOS used a wide support (which was extended to the opposition to effect the ouster of Milosevic) to place under its control all segments of society. This had a negative impact on trade unions, without a firm footing in the society, and weighted down by incompetent and unprofessional cadres. DOS holds sway both over the Independent Trade Union (which used to protect the regime's interest) and other free trade-unions. This could prove to be fatal for trade unions, for they could lose credibility and the very sense of their existence. Moreover it could help legalise all possible abuses in the process of transformation of companies and institutions, at the expense of employees' interests, which should be the primary focus of trade unions activities.

Total collapse of the system and social and economic ills still threaten to throw the country into a total anarchy in months to come. The fact that Milosevic was overthrown is not in itself a guarantee that fundamental changes of the system shall be effected.. Legacy of the previous regime objectively does not leave much room for positive expectations Added to that potential of new authorities is not very promising. Transition shall be weighted down by corruption and criminality. Top leadership of former authorities partook in many criminal activities and shady deals. But as those circles helped and smoothed over the take-over of power, it is difficult to expect that new authorities would be willing to "purge" them.

One should also underscore the key role of international factors. They rendered ample financial and logistical backing to the domestic political, civil and NGO opposition. In the immediate post-bombardment period a series of initiatives aimed at training the opposition activists and organising resistance to the regime, was launched, notably the Segedin one. Under the auspices of the Stability Pact in the course of the year a series of round-tables, conferences, workshops, and training courses were organised. The most positive change in the wake of September elections was the end of the FRY political isolation, its immediate re-admission to many international institutions, for example, the IMF, UN, OSCE, the Stability Pact for South East Europe. The chaos in which the country had been plunged would have been even more dire and dangerous without enormous financial support rendered to the new authorities. The basic goal of the international community is to prevent collapse of Serbia and to consolidate the entire region. Hence in the past three months no demands regarding the criteria and standards to be met by the FRY were voiced or placed.

DOS victory simultaneously helped "normalise" Serb nationalism; relativised recent past and within that context confirmed the negative stand of the Serb society on the Hague Tribunal. Systematic glossing over the truth and orchestration of collective amnesia, hyping of illegitimacy of NATO intervention and of the "Serb victims" gives little hope that the past events would be faced and examined and that the issue of the war-time responsibility would be tackled. Due to inability to tackle the essential problems and an objective identity crisis of society, the abstract "Serbhood" regains importance. Serbs are depicted as victims anew and myths are once again employed. Milan Protic, Mayor of Belgrade, stresses that "new Serbhood should rely on anti-communism, Orthodox religion and monarchy."

A very critical line is taken on the Hague Tribunal. As regards Slobodan Milosevic not a single opposition leaders is ready to back the hand-over of Milosevic to the Hague Tribunal. They all maintain that that the Serb people should first try him for election rigging and criminalization of society. Such a tack can backlash, for it facilitates Milosevic's political comeback. Positions on Milosevic and the Hague Tribunal shall be genuine indicators of readiness of new authorities to effect fundamental changes.

Society and administration steeped in corruption are a main obstacle to transition. Ouster of Slobodan Milosevic has not immediately resulted in the removal of his close associates, who are extremely wealthy, have excellent contacts and joint interests with criminalized segments of society, good connections with the underworld, managers of the grey economy zone, and those wielding the levers of repression apparatus.

Judiciary, university and media bore the brunt of Milosevic's repression. Media were financially exhausted, journalistic professionalism was degraded, and but key problems of the society are still not tackled in the right way. After Milosevic's ouster the media scene underwent a transformation which is yet to crystallise the media role in the new social context. The pro-government media overnight switched sides, and non-government media are yet to distance themselves from the new authorities. Restructuring of the media scene is in the offing, under thoroughly new conditions of reduced foreign donations. Added to that the foreign capital-if any-shall be invested in commercially viable media ventures. OSCE and other international organisations shall insist on freedom of information as one of the main prerequisites of democratisation.

Serbia ranks among the most corrupt states in the world. It is steeped in the state-boosted corruption, which over the years 'contaminated' the whole society. Corruption and war crimes are key issues and main challenges for the new authorities. Moral recovery of the society and the very process of its re-integration in the international community shall depend on the authorities' ability to tackle the two aforementioned issues. Resolution of those issues shall be required prior to distribution of foreign financial assistance/support.

Serbia practically has no institutions or a financial basis for ensuring minimal rights, notably the social and economic ones. Added to that citizens in the forthcoming period shall focus on their every day survival. Consequently the emphasis shall be on social and economic rights. Highly pauperised and devastated Serbian society has no preconditions for democratisation and full observance of human rights. Hence the following strings should be attached to the FRY's admission to the Council of Europe: establishment of independent judiciary, professional police and professional media. All three requirements are objectively difficult to meet. They exact time and political will, but minimum standards must be met.


2. Elections

The political makeover in Serbia opened up all sorts of possibilities and new fields of action. However even three months after elections the political scene of Serbia is still in a genuine turmoil. Crystallization of society shall not be possible without an in-depth probe into the past activities of former authorities and institutions, The new authorities have not made a clean break with the previous regime nor have they made moves in that direction.

Slobodan Milosevic made a blunder by calling snap elections. He obviously misjudged both the popular mood and influence of international factors on developments in the country. Added to that there is no real insight into behind-the-scenes developments, which according to scant information, where masterminded by Milosevic's coterie. The NATO air strikes, indictment against Milosevic and the Western countries decision, notably the US one, to finally remove Slobodan Milosevic from the political scene, coincided with dissatisfaction of citizens and consensus on the necessity for changes within the Serbian elite.

The regime's attempt to rig the September elections and contest Kostunica's victory caused massive demonstrations and general strike in Serbia. On 2 October 2000 DOS appealed the decision of the Federal Election Commission. Two days later the Constitutional Court at its 4 October session refused to pass a ruling on the DOS appeal and relegated responsibility to the Federal Election Commission. The 5 October turnaround confirmed Kostunica's victory, which was thereafter recognized by the FRY Constitutional Court.

After 5 October, thanks to favorable coverage of their role, the police and the Yugoslav Army saw their popularity soar with the general public. Slogan "the police sided with people" essentially implied that the most influential police and military circles cooperated with the DOS. Also physical and logistical support of broad masses, and notably of the "Otpor" movement played a crucial role in making possible a turnaround.

"Otpor"'s role in pre-election developments is still not clear, but judging by large foreign assistance it has received, it must have been an important one. According to Washington Post, Americans -resolved to bring democracy to Serbia- were attracted to the students' movement. Namely Americans assessed that "Otpor"s horizontal structure would thwart the regime to target it precisely. Added to that the movement's resolve to endure all detentions and continual police harassment helped its members pluck up enough courage for a long struggle. "Otpor" also had a clear plan to remove Milosevic and transform Serbia into a "normal" European country. It also encouraged many parents and young people to vote. All this strengthened the US resolve to bankroll the movement. Paul Mac Carthy from the Washington-based National Heritage Foundation says: "So since August 1999 large amounts of dollars were siphoned into "Otpor...the movement was on the receiving end of the largest part of about $ 3 million spent by the Foundation in Serbia since September 1998. Meetings were held in Podgorica, Budapest, etc." Slobodan Homen from "Otpor" says: "We enjoyed a very large financial backing of Western NGOs and some Western governmental organizations."

"We want Milosevic to step down, to leave Serbia and end up in the Hague, the seat of the International War Crimes Tribunal," stated Madeleine Albright, US Secretary of State. Former US Ambassador to Croatia, William Montgomery, said: "Madeleine Albright was personally interested in Milosevic, he was her top priority."

Nobody knows the exact amount of money invested to that end. USAID stated that only in 2000 it allocated $ 25 million to Serbia's opposition. Top leadership of "Otpor" hinted that they have received sizeable covert assistance. Before fall 2000, "Otpor" evolved into a well-organized movement, bolstered up by the US assistance worth several million dollars

In addition to financial assistance, "Otpor" was also taught how to implement a well-elaborated strategy. US author Gene Sharp writes: "Naked force of the regime was aimed at non-violent activists...but it backlashed, sowing disaccord among the regime's ranks and bolstering up the popular and even the regime's loyalists support for "Otpor". Disenchanted parts of the military and police sided with the opposition long before the federal parliament building went up in smoke and Milosevic decided to step down. "Strategists of disobedience know it is difficult to crack-up dictatorship if the police, bureaucracy and military continue to back a dictatorial regime and obediently carry out orders of their superiors. Hence it is important to attach great priority to strategies aimed at weakening loyalties of pro-dictator forces."

The political scene was affected by 5 October developments, public speech acquired new forms. All the blame has been put squarely on Milosevic's shoulders and he has been turned into a scapegoat. New detractors, former members of the SPS, Milorad Vucelic and Zoran Lilic, blamed the party for all the past developments. Public at large is primarily interested in the issues of crony privatization, origins or background of wealth illegally amassed in the hands of few individuals and corruption. Statements of DOS leaders imply that courts of law shall resolve all irregularities. But courts of law in fact can only solve violations of legal provisions and not 'amend' the social processes.

The post-5 October period was marked by a genuine vacuum in functioning of the republican authorities. DOS, despite the popular backing, instead of taking-over complete power at the republican level, opted for the formation of an interim government through nominations of co-ministers. The SPS co-ministers were also named. This halted changes in all structures of republican government, notably in the judiciary and police.

The financial elite of Socialists profited most from the election outcome. It created a cult around Kostunica's legalism, and turned him into a new leader. They think that he will help them legalize and preserve their amassed wealth, once a legal state is created.. Only the issue of corruption of Milosevic and his closest allies is tackled, in a bid to dispense a kind of justice. Daily "Blic" for example ran a feature on enormous wealth of Milosevic and his inner circle. Judging by unwillingness of the new authorities to make a clean break with the old structures, one can expect only a few spectacular trials, which shall give a stamp of legitimacy to the new authorities.

A part of the general public and some Western governments (notably the US Administration), expect that "Otpor" shall "spawn a new generation of leaders, making up a new elite in the Serb political scene," as the US Ambassador to Serbia, William Montgomery, has put it. "That would be a hefty interest rate on the US investments into the movement," stated the Ambassador. However "Otpor" is yet to criticize some moves of President Kostunica, notably those related to non-cooperation with the Hague Tribunal, relations with Montenegro and his position on the top brass and upper echelons of the Serbian police.

December parliamentary elections in Serbia confirmed the DOS victory at all political levels. Of a total of 250 parliamentary seats, DOS won 176, the SPS-37, the Serbian Radical Party-23 and the Serbian Unity Party-14. Personal popularity of President Vojislav Kostunica ensured 45 seats for his DPS. DP has also won 45 seats, although it was a marginal party in terms of its size. The Civic Alliance of Serbia, Social Democracy and New Democracy each won 9 seats, New Serbia has won 8 seats and the Christian Democrats Party of Serbia-8 seats. Democratic Center, Social Democratic Union, the Vojvodina Coalition and Vojvodina Reformists won 4 seats each. Democratic Party of Sandzak of Rasim Ljajic won 2 seats, while the SRM, Coalition Sumadija and Association of Independent and Free Trade Union won 1 seat each.

Such a motley structure of 18-party coalition was immediately reflected in the policy pursued in the post-election period (since 5 October). Two blocks soon emerged: the nationalistic block rallied around Kostunica, backed by the Serbian Orthodox Church, the Serbian Academy of Sciences and part of the top brass and police, structures of former regime, while the block rallied around Zoran DJindjic, bent on articulating a pro-European policy enjoys the backing of part of the nouveau rich elite. But regarding key issues there are no big differences between the two blocks. Kostunica's block still insists on the Greater Serbia issue and denies the Hague Tribunal legitimacy, while DJindjic shows a more flexible stance on the latter.

Weaknesses of the new authorities, for example, lack of professionalism and experience in managing the affairs of the state, soon emerged. Milan Protic, for example had jockeyed for the position of Mayor of Belgrade, but soon after his appointment opted for the ambassadorial post in the US, as "Serb people shall benefit more from my foreign assignment."

Massive assistance rendered to Serbia after installation of the new authorities, prevented the collapse of the country, and enabled consolidation of the new ruling set. However that assistance also helped improve the image of new authorities, who in fact lack a genuine potential to effect fundamental changes. For example recent pay rises based on foreign donations thwarted social protests. But once donations stop flowing in, strikes and demonstrations are likely to be staged.





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