International Spectator

The International Spectator

Volume XXXIII No. 3 (July-September 1998)


In or Out of the Black Hole? Fin de Siècle Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
By Ivan Vejvoda


The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) is today, along with Albania, the country with the weakest, most volatile and precarious political and economic situation in Europe. Contrary to Albania, it still has a very significant economic and social potential with a population of 10.5 million and a central geographic position neighbouring on Croatia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The F.R. Yugoslavia has become a “black hole” in the southeast of Europe in which politics is the defining and determining sphere of state and society. Although formally governed by democratic rules and procedures and democratic elections, substantively it has many of the features of an authoritarian regime. It is a sort of “democratic despotism”, an “illiberal democracy”, in many ways a “sultanistic” regime. From its central and advantageous position (within the former Yugoslavia) during the Cold War, as the country that seemed to be closest to joining the European institutions, as a country already well integrated into the economic and commercial flows of the Western world, it has sunk to the lowest of positions in the hierarchy of middle developed countries.

The causes are multiple and deep-seated and yet the human resources still present in the country could yield a relatively rapid upswing if the political and economic conditions for the full use of existing entrepreneurial and creative energies were created. This would bring the country back into the community of nations and allow it to pursue a drastically delayed process of democratization and economic reform.



Serbia (and until recently Montenegro) have been under the exclusive tutorship of President Slobodan Milosevic who rose to power in Serbia in 1987. He has led the two republics from one strategic defeat to another and has managed with remarkable tactical political skill to remain in power and even reinforce his personal grip on power while everything around him has been crumbling. During his term in office, the country has become more or less completely isolated, with no real allies, its links to the world have been destroyed and its economic and social infrastructure depleted. It has suffered defeat in the Yugoslav wars (1991-95) in which “Serbia did not participate”. His policies have closed the society instead of opening it. Meaningful rational politics have not had a chance to take root, parliamentary life has been instrumentalized and the state media have been used as weapons in a brutal trench war against perceived domestic and foreign rivals. Milosevic himself started out as a communist apparatchik imbued with the idea of Yugoslavism, then espoused and instrumentalized the ideas of Serbian nationalists as a way of remaining in power. It became clear very early on that he was neither a convinced communist nor a nationalist but a power monger whose only goal was to remain at the helm alone and uncontested.

Milosevic has had to accept the democratic framework and the skeleton of democratic rules and procedures, but has done everything in his power to subvert these at every opportunity. When Felipe Gonzalez, the former Spanish Prime Minister, came to F.R. Yugoslavia in December 1996 invited by Milosevic himself to help “resolve” the electoral crisis created by his own electoral fraud in the November 1996 local elections in which the democratic opposition (united in the coalition Zajedno—Together) won in Belgrade and 15 other major cities in Serbia, he (F. Gonzalez) published a devastating report on behalf of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Gonzalez confirmed that the democratic opposition had won the elections (thus that the regime and Milosevic had blatantly stolen the citizens’ votes), but, more generally, it stated that substantive democratic conditions were absent and that fair electoral rules had to be established and supervised, that the state media had to open up to non-regime views and opinions and that a dialogue had to be taken up with the opposition concerning all of the issues mentioned.

To this day the guidelines of Gonzalez’ OSCE report have not been followed or addressed. With his cunning political tactics Milosevic has, in fact, since then managed to destroy the oppositional coalition Zajedno by luring Vuk Draskovic’s Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) into the fold of the ruling majority (in July 1997). He managed this with promises of power-sharing which, despite Draskovic’s expectations, have not been fulfilled since Milosevic decided at the last moment to create a coalition government in Serbia with Vojislav Seselj (leader of the ultra-nationalist, rightwing, populist Serbian Radical Party (SRS) and paramilitary leader in the 1991-95 wars), of whom many say that he was both created and sustained by Milosevic.

With Draskovic’s passage to Milosevic’s camp (for reasons of power and money) the situation of the democratic opposition has cleared. Although very much weakened, the remnants of the Zajedno coalition have been pursuing a systematic uphill and unrewarding struggle to make the government accountable and to foster change along democratic lines. The Democratic Party, the Democratic Party of Serbia and the Civic Alliance of Serbia, with varying followings (generally all weak), are trying to work for the long term without illusions of quick success.

Paradoxically, Milosevic’s electoral and public opinion support has been systematically dwindling since 1990. A very large number of voters abstain or vote against him or his party. This abstention has to be qualified in a complex manner. Many of those abstaining do so not out of political passivity or apathy, but in an active fashion, repelled by the continuing instrumentalization and manipulation of politics for the sole purpose of personal benefit. There is not the slightest hint of policies aimed at the public good or some widely understood general interest. The only effect of these policies for the people has been suffering and more suffering along with generalized impoverishment, and once again—with the Kosovo crisis and new sanctions applied by the international community in March, April and May of this year—the absence of any hope for the near future.

The opposition had a unique opportunity to transform the winter of discontent (1996-97) into a political victory—all it had to do was remain unified. Unfortunately, the opposition suffered from many of the ailments of post-communist politics; the vanity of leaders unable to realize the need to overcome short-term interests for the sake of long-term gains and, thus, constant petty quarrels led to the alienation of an engaged public, left to itself. In fact, a significant part of the electorate opposed to Milosevic is being attracted by populist, rightwing, authoritarian leaders who are promising quick solutions and salvation based on xenophobia, intolerance and a policy of ethnic homogeneity.

It was thus somewhat unexpected to see Milosevic create a coalition government (after a six-month delay from September 1997–March 1998) with the populist, rightwing nationalist Seselj. This “red-brown” coalition, as many have come to call it, has been the subject of much speculation. Is the intention to neutralize Seselj by drawing him on board the government or is this a ploy on the part of Milosevic by which his political “instrument” (Seselj) will help him navigate the rough waters that lie ahead and secure for him the support of a broader (nationalist, rightwing) public opinion for some difficult decisions that are to be made?

The personal rule of Slobodan Milosevic is based on an unusually numerous police force (estimated at 80,000-100,000), and less so on the Yugoslav Army (JA). Weakened by war and systematic and constant purges of its higher echelons, the JA prefers to remain in the shadows (although it has, on several occasions, stated through the voice of high-ranking officers its clear reluctance to be drawn into civil-political battles).

It is important to note that on 15 July 1997, Milosevic decided to have himself elected President of Yugoslavia via an accelerated procedure in the federal parliament, after conceding that he would abide by the Constitution of Serbia and not run for a third unconstitutional term in office as President of Serbia. While ready to use all possible means to attain his political goals, with his party frequently engaged in a variety of practices of electoral fraud and abuses, he has not openly gone against the stipulations of the Constitution mentioned above. His desire to appear to “respect” the law goes hand in hand with his often-reluctant acceptance to negotiate with the international community, although he has been forced to do so by the sheer necessity of prolonging his stay in power.

Much of this regime’s power is based on an economy and politics that have been criminalized, initially through sanctions-busting in 1991-95, and through other activities after the end of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina.



As in other post-communist countries of Southeastern Europe, “transition” in F.R. Yugoslavia has been rapacious. In fact, there has been—again paradoxically—both a complete absence of “transition” in the Central European sense, and a dramatic, “wild” transition in a chaotic sense.

No sustained effort has been made to implement market reforms, privatization, accompanying legal and fiscal reforms. Laws have in various spheres depended on the whims of politics and its rulers. The legal nihilism of the communist period has continued in the form of legal uncertainties and abuses that have presented high costs for political and economic actors. Thus, the rule of law is still a distant goal. Many economic-criminal actors are still among the strongest anti-rule-of-law constituencies, as they thrive on the vagueness of the law and profit immensely from the weakness of the courts and the law-enforcement agencies, which are often drawn into the economy’s criminalized operations.

On the other hand, there has been a dramatic and often chaotic “transition”, in the sense that even the existing rules of the communist period, for whatever they were worth (and in the case of the former Yugoslavia, with its ties to Western economies, there was a respectable level of management know-how and efficiency) have been obliterated, and former Communist Party nomenklatura members have rapidly seized the day to devour state/social property in a wholly non-transparent take-over dynamic.

Government sponsored businessmen have become wealthy overnight by securing preferential loans and credits from state-run banks. They have acquired preferential import-export licenses and have, in particular, made fortunes by sanctions-busting with oil, gas and cigarettes. The political bureaucracy and the economic gray-zone operations reaching into mafia-type activities have created a vicious circle from which it is difficult to exit without sustained state effort and political leadership.

Corruption is clearly a closely related problem, which envelopes nearly all spheres of society, the judiciary included. Salaries of civil servants are so low that it is no surprise that many administrators and law enforcement agents can be bought. In this “small pond with many crocodiles”, tensions and conflicts arise. In the past year alone, there have been a number of “high profile” murders (interestingly of people who were among the closest friends of the Milosevic family), symptomatic of relations in the political/economic élite and the fierce struggle over money and power that such relations generate.

More generally, the economy has suffered from a rapid decline in production, lack of investment, lack of upkeep of infrastructure, demotivation in the labor force, and a brain drain of massive proportions. There has been a virtual collapse of the banking system (there are no savings in banks worth mentioning). The expatriation of profits gained through these various activities translates into a lack of investments and badly needed money to kickstart the economy. Furthermore the persistent “outer-wall” of sanctions that keeps the F.R.Yugoslavia out of practically all multilateral organizations such as the OSCE, Council of Europe, but more importantly for the economy, out of the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and World Trade Organization and at arms’ length from the Paris and London Clubs (bank consortiums), is devastating for the economy.

Perhaps even more alarming is the “inner-wall” of “sanctions”, which the regime of Slobodan Milosevic is itself imposing on the domestic economy by not allowing for long-delayed market reforms, macroeconomic restructuring and privatization to take place. These reforms, if embarked upon, would ultimately lead to a rule-governed economy, which is clearly not in the interest of the powers that be. So much so that even the members of Milosevic’s party who are reform oriented have given up. The most notable example is the very recent resignation of Federal Deputy Prime Minister Danko Djunic who, among others, organized a Yugoslavia wide conference with United States AID participation on the state of the Yugoslav economy in Belgrade in January 1998.

Real unemployment is extremely high (40-50 percent), although official figures do not reveal it because many workers are still formally employed but on so-called “paid leave”. The gray and black economies are thriving. The various social and pension funds have been emptied and the government is constantly struggling to make ends meet. Confronted with this problem, it decided to go ahead in the summer of 1997 with the sale of the Telephone Company of Serbia (Telekom) to the Italian telephone company STET and the Greek telephone company OTE. With the estimated 800 million dollars from this sale the Milosevic government bought time to avoid having to confront the harsh reality of the urgent need to implement radical reforms and open up to the world. It is now ready to sell off, piece by piece, the utilities infrastructure and the larger companies (there have been persistent rumors that the car producing factory Zastava, originally built with the help of FIAT, will be sold to an important Japanese, South Korean or European company—Peugeot has been mentioned most recently). In principle, this could be a long process, and yet the destruction of the economy and its isolation from the globalised trade winds is worsening the overall situation, not only of the economy, but also of society.

It must be stressed that commercial openings to China and Russia (especially for import of gas and oil) have been unsuccesful because of the low quality of the products offered in exchange for the natural resources. On the other hand, there has been a resumption of trade between the new states created on the territory of former Yugoslavia and, as soon as the conditions are propitious, this trade will flourish once again.



One of the most positive political developments in the past several months has been the election of Milo Djukanovic to the presidency of Montenegro. This has meant the creation of an alternative, pluralist pole of government within the Yugoslav federation of Serbia and Montenegro. Because there is parity of representation in the second chamber of the federal parliament between the two federal units, Montenegro can forestall any attempt by Federal President Milosevic to usurp his otherwise constitutionally relatively weak position—even though power is where Milosevic is, regardless of constitution and law.

Although far from being a model democrat, Djukanovic has persistently and firmly advocated and struggled for democratic reform and market regulation in the Yugoslav political and economic arena. In the Montenegrin presidential election of October 1997, he won a hard-fought political battle against his arch rival, former friend and former Montenegrin president Momir Bulatovic, who was, and still is, being backed in the strongest manner by President Milosevic and his political team. Indeed, on 18 May, President Milosevic decided to oust incumbent Federal Prime Minister Radoje Kontic and replace him with Bulatovic. He was nominated on 19 May and voted in by the Federal Parliament on 20 May. The reason for this change on the part of Milosevic (the Federal President) was to put someone closer to himself at the head of the federal government, but also to try and boost Bulatovic’s chances in the important Montenegrin parliamentary elections on 31 May 1998.

Milo Djukanovic and Momir Bulatovic had been close allies of Milosevic from 1989 onwards, but Djukanovic broke off this relationship after the November 1996 local elections in Serbia, which brought the opposition to power in Belgrade and fourteen other cities throughout Serbia. He backed the three months’ long protests and began to criticize Milosevic’s policies in the harshest of terms, advocating democratic and market reforms.

So strong is Milosevic’s animosity towards Djukanovic, that Serbia’s heavy TV media artillery was brought out to try and destroy him in the Yugoslav public arena before the crucial Montenegrin parliamentary elections. But Milosevic failed dismally in this intent because the coalition “To live better” assembled by incumbent President Djukanovic won a landslide victory, acquiring the absolute majority of 42 seats in the 78 seat Montenegrin parliament with 49.5 percent of the votes. The turnout was very high (75.9 percent), which testifies to the fact that the Montenegrin electorate recognized the political importance of this election. The CEDEM (Center for Democracy and Human Rights), the CESID (Center for freedom of elections and democracy) and the OSCE monitoring mission (led by Javier Ruperez), all declared that they were the most regular elections in Montenegro to date. Whereas Bulatovic had not acknowledged his defeat in the October 1997 presidential eections, this time he and his party did and also recognized the validity of the elections.

These extraordinary elections held only 18 months after the last ones are important because Montenegro gives 20 seats (an equal number to Serbia) to the upper chamber and a number of seats to the lower house of the federal parliament and can thus veto any attempt to change relations in the Federation. The recent ousting of Radoje Kontic and the ongoing tension between Milosevic and Djukanovic have heightened the dispute between the two republics. The victory of Djukanovic’s coalition reinforces the democratic potential not only in Montenegro but also in the rest of Yugoslavia. But as Djukanovic himself pointed out on the night of the victory: “This is not our final victory. Our final victory will be when democracy wins throughout Yugoslavia”.(Nasa Borba, 1 June 1998.) The results of the 31 May elections installed the 36-year old Djukanovic as the head of a pro-democracy and pro-market faction in Yugoslavia—a leader who will have to be reckoned with in the future.

There is speculation that President Milosevic will try to reinforce his position at the head of the country using the federal parliament and the federal government he has handcrafted. But to date, President Milosevic has tacitly acknowledged Djukanovic’s victory and has met him on a couple of official and unofficial occasions, which testifies to the working of the federal institutions for the time being. Potential for divisions still exists. President Djukanovic has adamantly put forward the demand for the urgent replacement of Momir Bulatovic as federal prime minister by a person from a Montenegrin majority party. This has not yet occured. Djukanovic has also continued to voice his strong criticism of Milosevic’s policies and is asking for a political settlement in Kosovo. The ongoing Kosovo crisis and low-intensity war with daily victims is a constant threat to peace in the region.

Djukanovic has repeatedly stated that he has no intention of changing the status of Montenegro in the Federation, but rather of changing the (authoritarian, anti-modern, anti-rational) policies within it. With this in mind he has launched a political initiative with the aim of assembling the democratically oriented parties and groups of FR Yugoslavia (and possibly Republika Srpska in Bosnia-Herzegovina) in a joint endeavour for democratic and market reforms.

Montenegro has elaborated a comprehensive market-oriented reform package that comprises coupon privatization, the selling of six major enterprises, including major utilities (among which the tobacco industry, an aluminium plant, tourist capacities). It has made a crucial step toward opening up the public sphere to more independent media. And, it has challenged Milosevic’s power monopoly. It is with these evaluations of developments in Montenegro that Western governments have committed substantial amounts of financial aid to Montenegro. Commercial delegations of a variety of governments and aid organizations have come and confirmed the country’s determination and willingness to move ahead and rejoin the world of “normalcy” by attracting foreign investment. Montenegro could become the door to the Serbian economy and market.


Kosovo and the Albanian population in Yugoslavia

Albanians in Yugoslavia live in Serbia’s province of Kosovo, in Serbia proper and in Montenegro. In Montenegro they have their political parties that participate in the political process. These parties have wholeheartedly supported Milo Djukanovic and his reform programme. They represent about 7 percent of Montenegro’s population and are loyal citizens of the Republic of Montenegro. Albanians also live in the southern part of Serbia proper (mostly in the municipalities of Medvedja, Bujanovac, Presevo). They have their political parties and participate likewise in the political life of Serbia and have two members elected to the Serbian parliament. The Albanian population living in Kosovo, though, boycotts the political life of Serbia and F.R. Yugoslavia wholesale.

At present Kosovo is the most burning political issue not only of the F.R. of Yugoslavia, but of the whole Balkan region and of Europe. It threatens to lead to a further breakdown of the country itself and also a general conflagration in the region. The present conflict, which has led to the deaths of several hundred people since the beginning of March 1998 is, in fact, already a “low-intensity” war. And it could easily flare out of control into a full-scale war, which could at any time involve the Republic of Macedonia, Albania, Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey.

The hard-bargaining American diplomat, Wall Street banker and now newly appointed UN Ambassador to the UN, Richard Holbrooke, together with Clinton’s special envoy Ambassador Robert Gelbard, brokered the first meeting between Milosevic and Ibrahim Rugova, which took place in Belgrade on 13 May 1998. This meeting, a most notable development, was to initiate the negotiation process on the future status of Kosovo in the F.R. of Yugoslavia.

Kosovo, with its 90 percent (about 1.8 million) Albanian population, has been an outstanding issue during the whole of the post-1945 period. The 1974 Constitution of the SFR of Yugoslavia gave Kosovo the highest possible degree of political and territorial autonomy within the then Socialist Republic of Serbia. Kosovo, ruled by Albanians, had its own president, parliament, ministries and a seat in the eight-member collective presidency of Yugoslavia (Fadilj Hodza, an Albanian from Kosovo, was for one year president of the Former Yugoslavia), as well as seats in the parliament of Serbia. At the same time, Serbia had no say in the affairs of its own autonomous province.

The fact that Albanians were the only non-Slavic population of the former Yugoslavia, the fact that Kosovo was the least developed part of the country, and the fact that there was no employment outlet for the many Prishtina University graduates created a “ghettoized”, parallel society even in socialist Yugoslavia, in which social and political unrest was always latent. This situation was only exacerbated by the way in which Slobodan Milosevic approached the issue upon his arrival in power in Serbia in 1987 as head of the League of Communists [Communist Party] of Serbia.

Kosovo’s dismal economic situation just adds to the enormity of the problem. People in Kosovo live mostly from the remittances of family and friends abroad, and any production is very limited. In 1997, a Greek investor took a stake in the mines of Trepca in Kosovo, but this seems to be a one-off foreign investment attempt.

With Milosevic’s lack of initiative and statesmanship concerning Kosovo, maintaining the status quo simply reinforced the already notable separation between the province’s Albanian and Serbian populations. The appearance, since autumn 1997, of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA, UCK in Albanian) has been the dual result of Milosevic’s policy of status quo and of the radicalization of a part of the Kosovo Albanian opposition, impatient with the non-violent policies of Ibrahim Rugova’s Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK).

The KLA has by certain estimates grown to a 12,000 strong separatist army composed of former Yugoslav People’s Army officers of Albanian origin and young radicalized Albanians from home and the diaspora, financed by the large Kosovo diaspora in the US, Switzerland, Germany and other West European countries. Weapons are brought in through the rugged and unguarded high mountain passes between Albania and Yugoslavia/Kosovo. Last year’s chaotic developments in neighboring Albania created a supply of weapons looted from Albanian army depots, which are finding their way not only into Kosovo but also into Macedonia.

During the summer, there has been a widespread offensive of Serbian police forces with the backing of the Army against the expanding KLA. This offensive has severely weakened the KLA, but has not eliminated it from the fighting nor from the political scene. Adem Demaci has become the leader of the political wing of the KLA and has taken a critical stance toward Ibrahim Rugova. The new mediator for the Contact Group, Christopher Hill, US Ambassador to the Republic of Macedonia, has been engaged in intensive shuttle diplomacy and is working for an interim agreement which could last for three or four years.

The conflict continues and has produced a number estimated between 200,000 and 300,000 internally displaced people, thus creating a potential humanitarian crisis with the approaching winter. Humanitarian agencies are in the field and are organizing relief operations.

The ramifications of the Kosovo crisis are multiple. Firstly, they concern definition of the status of the province within the F.R. Yugoslavia. Many ideas and options have been put forward, from giving back to Kosovo the status of autonomous province that it had under the 1974 Constitution (full political and territorial autonomy within Serbia), to giving Kosovo the status of a republic equal to that of Serbia and Montenegro and thus creating a third republic in the Federation, through projects of “special status” (put forward by the Foreign Ministers of France and Germany Hubert Vedrine and Klaus Kinkel). The Albanian public and political opinion are more or less unanimously for complete independence and secession.

However, the international community rejects independence and secession because of the second important ramification of the Kosovo issue, namely the “negative” example that secession/separation/divorce would set for the Albanians in Macedonia (a new nation-state with 2 million inhabitants of whom 25 percent are Albanian and eager to get their own autonomy—and perhaps, in the minds of the radicals, to secede). This international dimension of the future status of Kosovo, as well as the disastrous experience with the breakup of former Yugoslavia and the ensuing wars, have led to a flurry of diplomatic activity attempting to foster preventive diplomacy—very simply the prevention of a possible all out fin de siècle Balkan war and the chaotic reconfiguration of borders in a precarious region of Europe.


Balkan Dimensions

In November 1997, a meeting of Balkan leaders took place on the island of Crete. The then new Albanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano and Slobodan Milosevic met for the first time; this was in fact the first meeting of leaders of these two countries since the late 1940s. Milosevic in a speech in Crete promised, in the spirit of cooperation, to endeavour to help bring about a stable peace in the region. His domestic policies have not been proof of his rhetoric.

What is clear is that in order for a solution to be found and for war to be avoided, maximalist goals will have to abandoned and compromise sought. Now, after the meeting between Milosevic and Rugova, the first modest steps can be taken. The question is: is it not too late, has the genie come out of the bottle, have the non-violent tactics of the Rugova party not already been superceded by the violent struggle of the UCK? More precisely, is the LDK capable of controlling the UCK and bringing it to reason if a compromise solution is realistically possible? Is Milosevic ready to move faster than a snail to avert the worst-case scenario or is he again simply trying to buy time for himself without wishing to change anything? All these questions will find their answer in the near future.

It is abundantly clear that widespread concern in the broader international community and—perhaps as importantly—in the countries of the Balkan peninsula is putting serious pressure on all parties to think twice about any unreasonable options.

Finally, the destinies of these neighbouring countries are very much interdependent, especially those of FR Yugoslavia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Apart from sharing the same language (in spite of all the nationalist rhetoric about the differences between Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian), they share the same type of political regime with strong authoritarian traits, based on personal rule and a small inner circle of confidents. When reform processes, democratization and market reform begin in earnest in one of these countries, there will be spillover effects in the others. By the same token, this will accelerate the positive trends, just as it has the negative ones until now. Thus, even though these countries are viewed separately for analytical purposes, it is important to realize that, while remaining independent, they nonetheless have many a common feature and are still communicating vessels.


Civil Society

One of the most difficult legacies of communism is the destruction of civil society. Society has been disabled, atomized and fragmented. People had been brought up in a spirit of (enforced) collectivism in which individualism was a hunted animal. The absence of democracy and freedom of speech and association have left the deepest of scars on the texture of social life.

The former Yugoslav wars of 1991-95, the policies of the regime and the sanctions imposed on the FR Yugoslavia from 1992 to 1996 have devastated the urban middle classes, bitterly impoverished them and led to a severe brain drain. The social capital in society has been drained. And yet, despite all of this, the forceful three months’ long protests in fifteen major cities of Serbia between November 1996 and February 1997 attested to the resilience and the birth of a social civil movement throughout urban Serbia. This movement has been of the greatest importance in that it has shown not only to the outside world, but—in a mirror image to society itself—the existence of a strong latent civic energy that is waiting to engage itself in democratic and market reforms.

Many good people have left the country, but many good people have remained. Many are willing to continue in the most adverse conditions to work for a democratic and meaningful future that will link the country up to the runaway European train, in the hope that they too can help their country become a decent member of the international community of nations.

There are serious fractures and negative traits in all three key levels of state, political society and civil society. The state is still strongly in the hands of a monopolistic power apparatus. It has not undergone any substantial transformation; an efficient, neutral, civil administration is a distant dream. The separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judiciary is largely mendacious, illusory, although there have been notable attempts in particular by some representatives of the judiciary to confront these issues and work on them.

The institutions of political society, the meso-level between state and civil society, exist only in a fragmentary state. Political parties, intermediary associations are in their initial stages and are not yet sufficiently structured and organized to bear the brunt of seriously engaging in a reform movement. They have produced many serious reform programmes in the greatest of detail; that is not what is lacking. What is, is a professional, oppositional political class; but it is in the making and its contours are already visible.

The independent media have in many cases played an immensely important role. Daily newspapers, weeklies and, most of all, radio stations have been the voice of independent, investigative journalism and have, by proxy, given the opposition a voice, since the opposition was and still is barred from the state-owned media and, in particular, from the most influential media of all, television.

Radio B92 in Belgrade has pioneered the creation of a network comprising about 30 independent radio stations. The network was succesfully launched in June 1997 with the help of foreign governments, the EU and several foundations. To the dismay of the regime, this network (ANEM—Association of Independent Electronic Media) is now, for the first time, able to cover 70 percent of the territory of Serbia with independent information. Following this blueprint, a TV network is now being launched by ANEM, with the cooperation, among other this time, of the Montenegrin government.

The government controlled by President Milosevic has done everything in its power to muzzle these independent voices. At times stations have been closed down, editors of newspapers called in by the police, and the state media used to vilify the independent media as traitors, enemies and mercenaries of evil external forces wanting to destroy Serbia. Most recently, the allocation of frequencies to radio and TV stations has been used as a new source of pressure; the government has set an exorbitant monthly price for the use of radio and TV frequencies which small private, independent radio/TV stations do not have. At the same time, the Ministry of Telecommunications is still stalling on a decision to give more independent media frequencies for broadcasting. ANEM has vigorously protested and notified international organizations.

Furthermore President Milosevic has embarked on a harsh attack on the University of Belgrade (a traditional bastion of freethinking) by having the Serbian parliament vote in a new law curtailing even the little autonomy that the university still had. The substance of the new law is a much greater government influence in the nominations and running of the university. A movement of protest has begun (with the rector of the university and several deans of faculties resigning) in an attempt to have the decision revoked.

There has been a significant spread of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), both domestic and foreign, engaged in a great variety of projects fostering communal development, various forms of self-help, grassroots organizations in the fields of education, health care and social services. All this needs considerable financial and organizational support, as do the efforts to build the institutional “infrastructure” of political society.

One notable NGO in the FR Yugoslavia that has been helping across the whole spectrum of areas of activity since 1991 is the Soros Foundation. It has recently been joined by much more modest but nonetheless important efforts by German foundations (F.Nauman, F. Ebert, K. Adenauer) and others. Also the US Agency for International Development and its branch, the Office of Transition Initiatives, have broadened their operations to help projects promoting and buttressing various aspects of civil society

The road out of totalitarianism is lengthy and riddled with pitfalls. The issue of simultaneous transition from authoritarian/totalitarian rule towards an open society (meaning the parallel radical transformation of politics, economy and society) and its consequent complexities still await F.R. Yugoslavia.



The country has, contrary to most other post-communist countries, been thrust backward and downward into a black hole. The population has gone through eight years of fear, uncertainty and insecurity—this is neither the stuff nor the basis for democracy. People’s political, emotional, psychological energies are at a record low. There is much resignation and hopelessness with the continuing turmoil and instability and with the lack of outlook.

There have been countless elections over the past years which have not changed anything. And yet the local elections of November 1996 were a defining moment which put FR Yugoslavia back onto the democratic political map and showed the dormant civil and political capacities, the great potential that lies in waiting. Obviously, it is wrong to wait for political change because it is only the people themselves who can bring about change through active engagement; nobody can do it for them. Thus the process of gestation has to continue slowly in preparation for the next opportunity. But if this can be helped in its many dimensions by concerned outsiders, all the better.

The bleak and dark picture that has been sketched here is one which does not wish to remain blind to the stark realities into which FR Yugoslavia has been plunged. Yet the unmistakable impression that anyone who travels and visits the country returns with, in spite of the dire situation there, is of thriving small businesses, enterprises, groups, collectives, individuals, artists, scholars, athletes, who live in the “real” world and are not closed in by the regime’s blunders. They communicate with the world, they are in tune with the Zeitgeist and are engaged in the Herculean task of staying sane in an insane situation and pursuing their professional activities for their own private interest, but also for the public good. It is estimated that there are some 300,000 computers in the country, of which 50,000 are linked up to the Internet. Although just a statistic, these numbers are indicative of the desire for freedom and independence from coercive and stifling conditions. Ingenuity and resourcefulness are used to survive and strive while maintaining a sense of ethical responsibility and of public good. It is such individuals and their daily perseverance that gives hope for an exit from the black hole. It is they, these individuals and groups, who willconstitute the core of future developments in all spheres of society. Relationships with them based on solidarity, mutuality and reciprocity are the way to foster future cooperation and integration into the multiplicity of European networks. This should not be left for ideal times.


Ivan Vejvoda is Assistant Professor, Smith College, Massachusetts.