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Serbia after Djindjic

SlobodanAntonie

he Djindjic government was established after


the anti-Milosevic coalition of 18 political
parties won a sweeping victory in the elections
for the Serbian parliament on December 23, 2000.
Milosevic had already been displaced from the presidency of Yugoslavia by the strong victory of Vojislav
Kostunica in the election for that office on September
24, 2000, and the political revolution in Belgrade that
essentially ousted Milosevic, on October 5 of that year,
ensured the new government's victory. After Milosevic
was removed from the federal presidency, it became
clear that the Democratic
Opposition
of Serbia
(DOS)-the
anti-Milosevic coalition-would
also win
the Serbian parliamentary elections and would form a
government on its own. DOS's main candidate for
prime minister was Zoran Djindjic, president of the
Democratic Party (DP).
Djindjic was one of the most prominent opposition leaders during the Milosevic regime. His party was
considered to be one of the two largest opposition
parties, and he himself was reputed to be a skillful antiMilosevic campaign manager. However, he was also
known as a cunning politician who often did not keep
kept his word. For instance, during the massive street
protests against Milosevic between November 1996
and February 1997, he swore that he would never
negotiate with Milosevic. Nevertheless, as soon as he
finished that speech, he began secret negotiations with
Milosevic, even swearing to his closest political
colleagues and friends that he never met with him. All
the while, he attended at least ten meetings with
Milosevic. He was finally forced to admit the existence
of these meetings. Perhaps as a result of such goings-on,
DP was respected, but Djindjic's rating was among the
lowest among the opposition leaders.

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Yet, Djindjic also played a crucial role in bringing


down the Milosevic regime. Alone, Djindjic had no
chance of becoming a serious candidate to oppose
Milosevic in the presidential election. Milosevic could
be beaten directly only by Kostunica, who, as the leader
of the third largest opposition party (Democratic Party
of Serbia [DePS]), enjoyed great popularity. Kostunica
was seen as a politician with clean hands who had never
collaborated with Milosevic, a man who kept his word,
and was committed to strong democratic beliefs.
However, Kostunica lacked the organizational and
financial means to run a successful electoral campaign.
Without Kostunica, the opposition would have been
left without a strong contender to face Milosevic. And
yet, without Djindjic, Kostunica's electoral victory
could have hardly effected Milosevic's downfall.
When Kostunica became federal president, it was
only logical that Djindjic would become the Serbian
prime minister. As soon as he formed the cabinet,
Djindjic enthusiastically tackled economic hardship and
administrative chaos. Serbia was in a terrible situation;
the economy was in shambles, the state administration
expensive and inefficient, the police corrupt, and the
government heavily in debt. Djindjic truly did want to
play the role of a reformer who would, finally,
modernize Serbia, enabling the country to enter, or
reenter, Europe. But he also wanted, more specifically,
to be the person to lead Serbia in this direction,
knowing it was the only way to increase his popularity
and win the next election.
Djindjic's program to modernize Serbia was made
up of three main points: reform of the budget and
administration; privatization of state-owned enterprises;
and attraction of foreign direct investment, especially
from large Western companies.

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He had the most success with the first point. A


profound tax reform was carried out, and the budget
became transparent. The policy of hidden deficits
(which, in 2000, amounted to 13 percent of GDP) was
abandoned, and, for the first time, all budget items
became publicly known. The fiscal deficit did not disappear (in 2003, the government has a deficit of 740
million euros, almost one fifth the total budget), but it
is intended that it should be covered by foreign credits
and donations. The administration was modernized,
equipped with computers, and many staff members in
the administration attended management courses
taught by Western specialists.
As for privatization, the government decided to
sell large state companies to strategic partners, a model
applied in Hungary, Estonia, and Poland. There would
be a gradual sale of about 150 large state-owned enterprises within four years, whereas some 7,000 medium
and small enterprises were planned to be sold at auction
more quickly. The process got off to a slow start, but it
accelerated toward the end of 2002, mostly as a result of
the sale of small and medium-size profitable companies
that did not require large investments. In contrast, the
government had the greatest difficulty in finding
strategic partners for large public enterprises,
employing more than 1,000 workers that were in need
of enormous investments. Privatization in this field was
hardly under way. Because of this, Djindjic was criticized that privatization going both too fast and too
slow. And in both cases, the accusations were not
without grounds.
Djindjic had the least success with the third point
of his modernization program-attracting
foreign
investment. In 2001, foreign direct investment did not
exceed 165 million euros, and, in 2002, a total of 300
million euros was considered a success. However, the
economic needs of Serbia called for at least 1 billion
euros per year. Djindjic was continuously announcing
the arrival of large corporations to Serbia-Microsoft,
Krupp, Volkswagen, Siemens, Deutsche Bank, and so
on. But the poor legal system (incoherent laws, weak
judicial protection, and corrupt police), as well as the
unstable political situation, in fact, kept foreign investors
away. Serbia had to compensate for the lack of investment with foreign credits and donations. Thanks to a
1.2 billion euro donation (between October 2000 and
June 2002), Serbia avoided a total collapse.

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In the last analysis, the most important thing


Djindjic accomplished during his two-year mandate
was to change the political discourse of Serbia. Before
him, the country's political vocabulary was governed by
such notions as "nation," "tradition," "territory,"
"Serbianhood," and so on. He generally succeeded in
changing the political discourse to one consisting of
terms such as "reforms," "modernization," "econ01ny,"
"Europe," with so on. Djindjic spoke often about the
importance of Serbia's economic and political integration into Europe, and the economy as the main field of
competition with the neighboring nations. His public
appearances, even when they included some demagogic
elements, managed to sooth the public's anxieties.
Djindjic's work may have not changed much, but his
discourse did. And that is where his crucial historical
merit lies.
As for the poorer or negative aspects of his
government, the most important one is, no doubt, the
survival of some of the worst elements of the Milosevic
political machine. Djindjic was willing to effect changes,
but only insofar as they did not endan'ger his grip on
power. For instance, according to the Electoral Law,
which Djindjic preserved from the Milosevic era, it was
not parliament that controlled the government but,
rather, the other way around. Namely, according to Art.
88, a party (or coalition) leader could at any point unseat
a deputy and replace him with another deputy. Since
Djindjic included the presidents of almost all the minor
political parties from DOS in his government, he was in
position to control the majority in the parliament.
Djindjic unscrupulously took advantage of the
Milosevic-era Electoral Law at the moment when the
parliamentary majority began to break up (May-July
2002). Citing the law, Djindjic ousted Kostunica's
deputies from parliament, claiming that the mandates
had been won by the DOS coalition, not the individual
parties. Since the coalition leadership could replace any
of its deputies, the DOS presidency (the Serbian
government, that is) unseated the 45 DePS deputies and
distributed the empty seats to Djindjic's DP and other
small parties in DOS. In this way, DePS, which
according to all polls was the most popular party in
Serbia, was left with no seats in the parliament. It was
only due to the strong resistance of a democratically
inclined public, the intervention of international institutions, and a verdict of the federal Constitutional

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REVIEW

Court, reversing this decision four months later, that


parliament did not become politically illegitimate.
Djindjic had the same Machiavellian attitude
toward judicial authorities and the legal system as his
predecessors. While Milosevic ruled, the appointment
and replacement of judges, as well as the financing of
courts, were practically under the government's
control. On November 5, 2001, as a result of a parliamentary compromise, Kostunica's DePS pushed
through parliament a set of judicial laws that provided
the sought-for independence of courts and judges.
However, along with stealing DePS's seats, Djindjic
launched an offensive to control the judiciary. On July
18, 2002, new judicial legislation, which put the courts
back under the domination of the legislative and the
executive branches, was enacted. Protesting this revision, judges appealed the legislation before the courts.
The case was settled during the state of emergency (see
the following section).
In media sphere, Djindjic also kept some of the
key elements of Milosevic's policies. State television
was controlled by the parliamentary majority (in other
words, the government), and a couple of the most
profitable television networks from the Milosevic era
(TV Pink and BK TV) were used directly for progovernment propaganda after the stations were promised
all the privileges they had enjoyed under the old
regime (including access to the national broadcasting
frequencies).
Djindjic's supporters, who were quite numerous
within the intellectual elite, justified these and other
nondemocratic measures by pointing to the necessity
for reform and the rapid modernization of a backward
society, presumably from the top down. Yet, such a
modernization was closer to an authoritarian model
than a democratic one. And, unfortunately enough,
authoritarian modernization in the Balkans has always
resulted in only one thing-authoritarianism.
The state of emergency
Djindjic was assassinated by a large Serbian mafia group
called the Zemun clan. The group's mastermind was
Milorad Lukovic Legija, a high-ranking officer of
Milosevic's secret police. The Serbian mafia was an integral part of the Milosevic system. It acted symbiotically
with the secret police, and it did the dirtiest jobs for the
regime-from
the military operations in Bosnia and

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Croatia to the assassination of political opponents in


Serbia. Shortly before the revolution of October 5,
Djindjic met with Legija and reached an agreement
according to which the secret police (and mafia) would
not defend Milosevic on October 5.
After the revolution, a gentlemen's agreement
between the new government and the police-mafia
structures was cut. Neither Kostunica nor Djindjic
wanted to get in the way of the mafia's activities.
Kostunica declared his strong condemnation of these
groups, but he left Djindjic to deal with them. Djindjic
self-confidently believed that he would be able to
outsmart the mafia,just as he had outsmarted Milosevic
in 2000 (or even Kostunica in 2002). He thought that
the only thing he needed was time, which would
enable him to learn the mafia's main weaknesses.
That was a mistake that cost Djindjic his life.
Legija and the other underground strongmen interpreted Djindjic's continual communication
with
them as an attempt to stick to the deal. During 2001
and most of 2002, the mafia groups felt safe and
continued to broaden their activities. And then, in the
late 2002, they came to understand what was really
on Djindjic's mind: he has trying to turn various
elements of the mafia against each other by extraditing some to The Hague Tribunal, by making some
protected witnesses, and by sentencing others for
organized crime. The mafia bosses were enraged.
Djindjic could lie to demonstrators,
cheat on
Kostunica, but he could not treat them in like
manner. They would not forgive a betrayal.
In early 2003, Serbia witnessed an unusual lifeand-death race between the prime minister and the
mafia leaders. Djindijc was too self-confident. He had
always beat his opponents easily,leading him to believe
that victory against the mafia was within reach. On July
19, 2002, the Law Against Organized Crime, which
established the institution of protected witnesses, was
adopted. Djindjic made one of the Zemun leaders,
Ljubisa Cume Buha, a key state witness. His next step
would have been to pursue the mafia heads. But one
step shy of victory, he was dead.
Djindjic's assassination was a shock to the nation.
The government immediately declared a state of emergency and a war on the mafia. What Djindjic wanted to
accomplish was accomplished by his successors. During
the state of emergency, most of the Serbian mafia chiefs

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were either arrested or made outlaws. The backbone of


the last remaining structure of the Milosevic regime
was finally broken.
But at the same time, the state of emergency
represented a severe blow to Serbia's weak democracy.
Already vulnerable democratic institutions became
even more vulnerable as the political crisis intensified.
First of all, the state of emergency was declared in a
manner that violated both the Serbian Constitution
and the laws. For the last few years, the ruling elite has
often violated the Constitution, justifying such
behavior by claiming that this was the "Milosevic
Constitution," soon to be replaced by a new one. This
was evident in the recent struggle to elect a new president. The Constitution states that the president will be
elected directly by citizens. The Law on Presidential
Elections additionally stipulates that more than 50
percent of the electorate must turn out for the presidential election to be valid. In late 2002, the
presidential elections were held twice. Both times,
Kos tunic won a majority of votes but the turnout was
below the required threshold, and thus the elections
failed to produce a president. Djindjic rejected the
proposal to drop the turnout condition, supposedly
because the electoral result would have placed
Kostunica in a powerful position. Thus Djindjic
manipulated parliament into deciding that no further
presidential elections would be held until a new
constitution is adopted (by September 2003), and until
that time, the presidency would be occupied by Natasa
Micic, chair of parliament. This was absolutely unconstitutional, but Djindjic supporters exclaimed, "Never
mind ... that's the Milosevic Constitution anyway."
Natasa Micic, who unconstitutionally executed
the duty of president, once again violated the
Constitution by declaring the state of emergency. To
be exact, the Constitution and the Law on the State of
Emergency both differentiate between the state of
emergency and the state of war. A state of emergency
is declared when a part of the Serbian territory is
endangered by a natural disaster or riot (Art. 83.8).
During a state of emergency, parliament and all the
other institutions continue to function, which means
that there is no suspension of human rights or change
ih the institutions. Suspension of human rights is
allowed by the state of war, which is declared for the
entire territory and during which parliament is not in

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session, although it holds a debate after such a state has


ended. Micic declared a state of emergency and
suspended some basic human rights as if she had
declared a state of war. Although the state of emergency was declared for the entire territory of Serbia,
parliament continued to hold sessions, and the president suspended some basic human rights and altered
certain institutions by decrees. She suspended civil
rights but there was no further obligation that parliament review the decisions taken under the state of
emergency once it had been terminated.
Along with the declaration of the state of emergency, Micic issued an order on March 12 that
suspended the following human rights:
the right to legal protection in detention (the
period of detention was extended to 30 days
without the right to an attorney and without
the right to appeal to the court);
the right to privacy in correspondence and
privacy of the domicile;
the right to strike (generally);
the right to gather (generally);
the right to political and trade union activities (if
they put the state of emergency at risk); and
the right to free information (more precisely, the
right to discuss the reasons for declaring the state
of emergency).
As already mentioned, according to Art. 83. 7 of
the Constitution, most of these rights could be
suspended only in the case of war, not in a state of
emergency. Moreover, some rights cannot even be
suspended in the state of war, for example, the right of
detainees to appeal to the court to determine the
legality of their arrest or the right of detainees to be
arrested according to the provisions of the Constitution
or the law. The Minor Charter of the State Union of
Serbia & Montenegro (February 28, 2003;Art. 6, line 9,
and Art. 14, line 6) and the International Convention
on Civil and Political Rights (Art. 9, line 4), which is
directly applied in Serbia (Art. 10 of the Constitutional
Charter) and is more powerful than the domestic legal
sources (Art. 16 of the Constitutional Charter), explicitly forbid the suspension of these rights.
Not only were the principles of constitutionalism
violated by these suspensions but the violations

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REVIEW

continued when parliament adopted several crucial


laws during the state of emergency. These laws were
passed in an atmosphere of media censorship and in the
context of the government's belief that the opposition
(primarily Kostunica and his DePS) consists of
"inspirers" and "passive accomplices" in Djindjic's assassination. While the public was in shock because of the
murder and the opposition feared arrests and bans, the
ruling majority adopted a few laws of dubious democratic character.
The Law on the Amendment of the Serbian
Constitution was adopted, on April 11, 2003. The law
invalidated Arts. 132 and 133 of the Serbian
Constitution that mandate a two-step procedure to
amend the Constitution, whereby parliament has to
amend the Constitution with a two-thirds parliamentary majority and this decision must then be validated
by more than 50 percent of the voters in a national
referendum. According to the changes, amending the
Constitution now requires a simple majority in parliament with endorsement by only 25 percent of the
electorate in a referendum. The ruling majority can
now adopt the kind of constitution it wants.
The Law on Public Prosecutors was amended on
March 19. Until that time, prosecutors were under the
legal authority of the High Council of Judiciary, which
is composed of judges and prosecutors. Now, however,
prosecutors are government employees, appointed by
the government for eight-year terms (except for the
Public Prosecutor). How will prosecutors now press
charges against, for example, ministers or persons close
to the government if their careers depend directly on
the political will of the executive?
The dispute with the judiciary was settled in a
similar manner. Only one judge was arrested for his
connections with the mafia. Nonetheless, the remaining
2,200 Serbian judges came under the suspicion of
corruption. The judiciary was once again placed under
the control of the legislative and the executive power.
From now on, according to the new laws on judges,
presidents of courts-who
are allowed to propose the
dismissal of other judges-are
appointed by a special
body elected by parliament (whose seventh member is
the justice minister himself). How will such a dependent judiciary bring impartial verdicts in cases of
electoral disputes or in criminal cases against government members?

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2003

Parliament amended the Law on Fighting


Organized Crime on April 11. The concept of organized crime was extended to members of groups
"which were not formed with the aim of immediate
execution of criminal acts ... but function as organized
crime" (Art. 2). This is a vague formulation. Police can
detain anybody who is charged with membership in
such a group for up to 90 days with no lawyer and no
possibility of seeking the court's protection. The potential witnesses can spend up to 30 days in detention.
When the Belgrade Foundation for Humanitarian Law
complained that such revisions "are in full contravention of the basic European standards for protection of
human rights," the new prime minister, Zoran
Zivkovic, replied that the "new amendments are not the
most drastic solutions seen in democratic societies"
since "police detention lasts up to six months in the
Great Britain and for life in the United States" (Danas,
April 14, 2003, p. 4).
The new Information Law was adopted on April
22. Article 16 gave the authorities the right to ban the
circulation of any information
that "encourages
violence," and journalists are now obliged to reveal the
sources of practically any information they have. The
prominent Belgrade weekly Vreme commented that
this was "an unexpectedly oppressive act that, when it
comes to the media sphere, has the ability to partly
prolong the effect of the state of emergency even after
it is suspended." "We are a democratic government and
will not abuse this law" was the government's response.
All in all, a number oflaws were passed during the
state of emergency that directly violated the basic principles of constitutionalism and international standards
on human rights and freedoms. It is true that the 1990
Serbian Constitution
was adopted by Milosevic.
Nevertheless, the problem with the Milosevic government was not that his Constitution was particularly
flawed, but that it was used only as a fai;:ade for authoritarian rule. By violating the Constitution whenever
they saw it fit, Djindjic and his followers brought about
a state of general legal insecurity and created the atmosphere of a permanent state of emergency. Their
justifications and rationales, to the effect that this was
dictated in the interest of quick reforms or by the fight
against organized crime, were not completely without
reason. However, in the long run, such moves always
eventually bring more damage than benefit.

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Where next?
During the state of emergency, a recurrent expectation
was that the government would cross the line dividing a
democratic regime from an authoritarian one, in other
words, that the incarceration of criminals would develop
into the harassment of political opponents and the
government's critics. For example, when briefing
editors-in-chief on April 11, the government stated that
Operation Saber, as the assassination investigation was
known, had "reached its most delicate stage: the disclosure of instigators, fomenters, and sponsors of the
assassination of Zoran Djindjic," and that the "environment of the lastYugoslav president Vojislav Kostunica was
profoundly involved for a long time in dirty operations
of the Red Berets" (Danas,April 12-13, 2003, p. 3). In
light of these statements, the public was expecting the
police to interrogate Kostunica any minute. Minister of
Culture Branislav Lecic hinted at an upcoming
confrontation by announcing the formation of a special
commission to investigate writings in the media, critical
of the government, that "were the mechanisms that
caused a dominant black state of consciousness of the
media" (Politika,April 6, 2003, p. 1). Minister of Justice
Vladan Batie also directly accused a "part of the independent media" for involvement in the "criminal
conspiracy" (Danas, April 18, 2003, p. 3). Vreme commented that there was an obvious "attempt to break the
backbone of the opposition" (April 23, p. 23).

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However, at the last moment, the government


decided not to cross the authoritarian Rubicon. Most
of the independent Belgrade analysts claim that this
well-_timed halt was a result of strong pressure coming
from Western diplomats.The ruling elite in Serbia cared
a good deal for the image of "pro-European politicians," as well as Western support. Thus, under the
pressure of Western diplomats, the government
restrained its authoritarian impulses and abandoned
further draconian plans.
The struggle for the creation of a democratic
society in Serbia cannot be reduced to a mere fight
against organized crime or a fight against the remnants
of the Milosevic regime. A democratic society also
requires unconditional respect for certain standards of
human rights, a stable legal system, separation powers,
and a commitment by the ruling elites to hold free and
fair elections. Unfortunately, few of these standards exist
in Serbia. On the country's journey toward these ideals,
as the recent state of emergency showed, the advice and
support of the international community can be of great
importance. The revision of the laws adopted during
the state of emergency will be a first critical step.

SlobodanAntonie is an assistantprofessorin the departmentefsociologyandfaculty efphilosophy at BelgradeUniversity.

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