Is he finished or can this be yet another swindle?

People taking over the parliament. The Serbian Revolution claimed just 2 deaths and less than 100 injured. This is quite an advance in non-violent civil disobedience since the French Revolution 200+ years ago. Mediascape in Serbia changed in three hours (from 6 to 9 PM on October 5 reportedly) with most of the regime media "flipping the vinyl" and claiming loyalty to the new president, confirming our fears that many journalists are just scribes with no integrity.

Vojislav Kostunica apparently took control of the national parliament, national television and national bank, unopposed by the national army and police forces, recognized by the church leaders and Serbia's key ally, Russia, as a new president of FR Yugoslavia and even by Slobodan Milosevic himself, who submitted a video tape conceding his defeat, following the abrupt change in decision of Constitutional Court granting Kostunica victory (that allowed him to keep the appearance of obeying the law, which was always very important to him, the appearance that is). One of the first actions of the new government was to let the imprisoned foreigners (two British constables) go. Also, the former Serbia's president Ivan Stambolic, kidnaped by unknown persons in the unmarked white van some times ago, is finally found. He was found by the police in one of Serbia's prisons. My, my, how did he end up there?

People taking over the parliament. But let's hold our horses for a moment in this euphoric times. Russian foreign minister Ivanov reiterated for the press that he congratulated Kostunica NOT "on being elected president but on victory in elections", and his boss, Putin, expressed his hopes that Kostunica will overcome this "internal political crisis" just as a week ago he expressed his hoped that Milosevic will overcome the same. First Ivanov carried that message, and then Milosevic himself in the taped address said the same: he ain't going away. He plans to continue having the political role as the head of the largest opposition party in Serbia and FR Yugoslavia - something that, I am sure, did not please Mdm. Albright's ears.

What can be the consequences of this recent developments? Kostunica won as a candidate of a coalition of 18 political parties. Once this euphoric mood settles, and the need for political decisions arise, the old rivalries may surface. I have never heard of 18 party coalition surviving for a long time in history. On top of that, Kostunica is president of FR Yugoslavia, a federation of Montenegro, lead by Milo Djukanovic, edging towards independence, and Serbia, lead by Milutin Milutinovic, a Milosevic's party cadre, with province of Kosovo being governed by NATO forces and inhabited with the majority of population that does not consider themselves a part of FR Yugoslavia any more. So, de facto we have parallel governments in FR Yugoslavia, now - a power sharing that only Russians seem to desire, a power sharing that however on the case of former Yugoslavia proved impossible to uphold. In such power sharing it is more likely that the end that comprise of 18 parts would get broken over time.

Kostunica's obvious advantages - clear support of the people, unity of the 18 parties, firm footing in many cities and townships governed by various parties belonging to the coalition, near absolute loyalty of the media, un-opposing security apparatus - may wane over time, and if he does not act quickly and decisively (the beginning of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I in Britain comes in mind), he might find himself unseated or rendered irrelevant by Milosevic in a few months.

People taking over the parliament. State Department conditioned lifting the sanctions to the removal of Milosevic from political life (a.k.a. Karadzic), but it is not clear whether the Europeans will heed that rule and it also is not clear whether in the current economic situation in Serbia, Kostunica's position may be more harmed or helped with the continuation of sanctions. What is clear, however, is that Kostunica's position would be helped with the removal of Milosevic from Serbia's political life, more than anything else would help it.

Here The Hague question comes into play. The emotions among Serb people against NATO countries are understandable and acceptable, following the ill-conceived 78 days of bombing. The perception that ICTY is a political "kangaroo" court set up by NATO countries, while factually wrong, is also reasonably expected, given the location of the court, the US refusal to submit itself to the rules of the court and the origin of the majority of the court's supporters. That's why nobody, except the 'moral forces' embodied in various NGO-s in the West, is mandating Kostunica to arrest Milosevic and extradite him to the Hague, something he gave his word of honor to Serbian people that he would not do.

While I wouldn't want for Kostunica to start his government with breaking promises, and while I wouldn't want for him to appear as a Western lackey (which was how the media in Serbia called him just a few days ago) obeying dictates of State Department, he might find out that The Hague may be the best way to get rid of Milosevic and for a quite a long time. I mean: nobody will give asylum to Milosevic anywhere despite some old voices of "reason" like Owens, Ahtisaari, Dienstbier and of all people Eagleburger, and Milosevic is obviously not going to just retire to his bunker-villa near Bor and play with his grandchildren (he said he's planning to have more time to do that, he didn't say he'd devote his life to that).

People taking over the parliament. If Kostunica wants to stay in power past Christmas, he needs to neutralize Milosevic's political influence. Obviously, he may have him arrested and tried him on numerous charges in Serbia. While legally the ICTY charges have priority, politically, since we still unfortunately live in a nation-state based world, the national charges are taken care of first. But Milosevic's trial and arrest in Serbia may give Milosevic the media prominence, the bully pulpit from which he may undermine or even destroy Kostunica's government. Yes, the new Croatian government discovered and publicly revealed Tudjman's criminal, corrupted reign - but Tudjman was six feet under at that time. Milosevic, having Napoleonic urge to lead, may come back after a hundred days, and people may welcome him the same as they ousted him, particularly if the economic situation does not improve, and if sanctions are not lifted, it may not, and the sanctions may not be lifted, because Milosevic is still playing a political role.

Therefore, actually, the smartest move Kostunica can do, is to use the current people's euphoria and send Milosevic to The Hague - get rid of the trouble before it starts, pass over the Elbe period and move him straight to St. Helens - I think this is still a British possession, maybe they can keep Milosevic there for the rest of his natural life, or if he really want to go to Russia, there must be some old abandoned gulag in Siberia where they can keep him.

Balkans Pages