- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 2, 2002

THE WASHINGTON TIMES
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia Yugoslavia has plunged into the worst political crisis since the ouster of Slobodan Milosevic nearly two years ago, which threatens to bring some of his former associates back into active political life.
The prospect of delaying much-needed reforms and hampering cooperation with The Hague war-crimes tribunal, where Mr. Milosevic is on trial, is a result of a bitter power struggle between the country's top politicians, who joined efforts against the former president in 2000, local officials and foreign diplomats say.
Vojislav Kostunica, the Yugoslav president, and Zoran Djindjic, the prime minister of the federation's dominant republic, Serbia, have always been seen as rivals in the governing coalition even as they pledged to work together to take the Balkan country out of the economic and political isolation they inherited from Mr. Milosevic.
But Mr. Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DPS), which opposes Mr. Djindjic's reforms, walked out of parliament last month, de facto withdrawing from the Serbian government, and called for new elections.
The split has led Mr. Kostunica's party to accept people with ties to Mr. Milosevic in order to secure wider support for his candidacy in the forthcoming Serbian presidential elections, expected to take place in the fall, Western diplomats say.
That quarrel, they say, is splitting the nation into reformists led by Mr. Djindjic and conservatives supporting Mr. Kostunica.
"All that is happening at the moment is political jockeying before the election," said Jim O'Brien, the Clinton administration's point man for the Balkans, who visited Belgrade for a conference last weekend.
"Kostunica is really the only one with anything to lose," Mr. O'Brien said. "Although he is clearly the most popular politician in the country, there is a sense that he is not pursuing reforms."
Mr. Kostunica's post will become even more ceremonial than it is now when the Yugoslav federation is replaced by a loose union between Serbia and Montenegro, its junior partner, according to an agreement reached earlier this year.
Mr. Djindjic is not likely to challenge him, but Mr. Kostunica is afraid of another reformist opponent allied with the prime minister, whose victory would leave the DPS out of all branches of government, political observers said.
Last week, Mr. Kostunica dismissed the armed forces' chief of staff, Gen. Nebojsa Pavkovic, a holdover from the Milosevic era. Mr. Djindjic, who had been urging the general's sacking since Mr. Milosevic's fall, criticized the president for acting in an autocratic manner.
Mr. Kostunica may be a serious presidential candidate, but his party's weakness, due partly to its embrace of people associated with Mr. Milosevic, would diminish its chances in a general election, a Western diplomat said.
A senior Serbian official attributed Mr. Kostunica's popularity to the fact that most voters are conservative by nature and fear the drastic economic and social reforms introduced by Mr. Djindjic's Cabinet.
"Being conservative was the only way to survive the Milosevic regime, and now it's an obstacle to change," the official said. "Kostunica and Djindjic don't share the same political values. For the former, legality is a way to avoid problems, while for the latter, the law is an impediment to reforms."


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