- The Washington Times - Monday, March 18, 2002

The trial of former President Slobodan Milosevic at the war crimes tribunal in The Hague threatens to split Yugoslavia's ruling coalition and undermine the country's political stability.
The threat comes as Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica loses power to Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, even as the prime minister's own popularity suffers due to Mr. Milosevic's strong performance at the tribunal.
"The willingness of the current ruling coalition to cooperate with The Hague was their entry into power," said Srdja Trifkovic, the foreign affairs editor of Chronicles magazine and a frequent commentator on the Balkans. "This is boomeranging because Milosevic has proven himself to be such a strong defendant at the war crimes tribunal, putting many of the witnesses on the defensive."
The power struggle deepened this month when Mr. Kostunica's party openly clashed with the ruling alliance led by Mr. Djindjic over the issue of cooperation with the tribunal, which is prosecuting those charged with war crimes committed during the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
Mr. Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia, a pivotal member of the ruling alliance, announced last week it would boycott key coalition meetings because of a draft law on cooperation with the tribunal. Mr. Kostunica has been a critic of the U.N. tribunal.
The party said it would withdraw from all meetings of Serbia's presidency, which includes party leaders of all alliance members and formulates most of the policies affecting Yugoslavia.
In a statement quoted by the Associated Press, Mr. Kostunica's party said it had "no intention of giving false legitimacy to the decisions passed by other parties."
Dragan Marsicanin, the party's deputy president, said it had not bolted from the coalition but is only boycotting presidency meetings.
Mr. Kostunica's party controls 45 of 250 seats in the Serbian parliament, eight of the 130 seats in the federal parliament's lower chamber and one of 40 in its upper chamber. Mr. Djindjic and his allies hold 131 seats in the Serbian parliament.
Mr. Djindjic, whose party is the largest in the coalition, supports the law on cooperation with The Hague. He approved the extradition of Mr. Milosevic to the tribunal last year a move Mr. Kostunica denounced.
Balkan observers have said the boycott highlights Mr. Kostunica's loss of influence within the alliance.
"After Milosevic's fall, it would have been impossible for Djindjic to come to power without Kostunica's help," Mr. Trifkovic said. But "during the last 15 months, Djindjic's ruling coalition has been doing its best to undermine Kostunica."
The turning point, he said, was the decision to turn over Mr. Milosevic to the tribunal.
Mr. Milosevic, who is accused of perpetrating crimes against humanity during the wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo, has managed in the early days of his trial to put the prosecution's Albanian witnesses on the defensive and portray Yugoslavia as a victim of NATO's 1999 bombing campaign.
"Milosevic's performance has hurt Djindjic. Even Milosevic's opponents are saying that decent Serbs have no choice but to support Milosevic against The Hague," Mr. Trifkovic said.
Mr. Djindjic promised to get Western aid to revive Serbia's economy in return for delivering Mr. Milosevic to the tribunal, but that has not happened, Mr. Trifkovic said. "This has damaged Djindjic politically. … Now, the Serbs feel that they have the worst of both worlds."
Mr. Djindjic meanwhile has followed the pattern of other former Yugoslav republics in using economic reform and the privatization of state industries to consolidate his hold on power.
"Djindjic has established control over the economic and media levers in Serbian society. He is propping up a series of prominent ruling families who pull the strings from the background," Mr. Trifkovic said.
"We will have a post-communist oligarchy similar to that of Milosevic except that this one can present itself as democratic."


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