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Vol 2, No 22
5 June 2000
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Serbian News Review News from Serbia
All the important news
since 29 May

Vana Suša

Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević plans to visit the Republic of Montenegro, whose reformist government is in dispute with Belgrade, an independent news agency quoted a Montenegrin ally of Milošević as saying. "During recent talks with the Yugoslav President in Belgrade, certain members of the Socialist People's Party (SNP) invited Milošević to visit Montenegro, and he accepted," SNP Vice President Predrag Bulatović said but did not say when the visit would take place. There was no immediate comment from Milošević or his Socialist Party (SPS). Milošević has not gone to Montenegro since a pro-Western government took office in Podgorica three years ago. The SNP has been the main pro-Milošević party in Montenegro, since Milošević's opponent, Milo Đjukanović, was elected president in 1997. Bulatović told Elmag television that the visit by Milosevic would "create great problems" for Đjukanović (Reuters).

Montenegro's Prime Minister, Filip Vujanović, said UN war crimes indictees will not be arrested in the republic if this could provoke conflict or bloodshed. Vujanović's government pledged to cooperate fully with the war crimes tribunal in the Hague, but he said no one really expected Montenegro to arrest Milošević or Defence Minister Dragoljub Ojdanić, who has also been indicted for alleged war crimes committed in Kosovo. "This would clearly provoke internal conflicts, and it would make no sense to expect such a thing of Montenegro, and absolutely no one is asking us to do this," Vujanović told Montena television. "Montenegro would not receive him (Milošević) as a man who is leading a democratic and reformist project but as a man who is conducting a policy of dictatorship damaging to the Serb people and Serbia and to us who are in a union with Serbia," he concluded.

On 27 May, only about 15,000 people (although the figures vary) gathered in Belgrade, for what had been billed as a major opposition rally, indicating growing public disillusion with the campaign to oust President Slobodan Milošević. "Today the whole land, and especially Belgrade, is paralyzed by fear, despair and a feeling of helplessness," opposition leader Vuk Drašković told the demonstrators, whose numbers have shrunk steadily over the past month. "We say there is no other way except general civil disobedience, popular resistance to lawlessness and terrorism," said Drašković. Zoran Đinđic also goaded the crowd to action, but struck at the heart of the opposition's problem, when he acknowledged that it had not worked out exactly what to do (Glas, 29 May).

On Monday 29 May, Slobodan Milošević opened what he called a "morally superior" bridge across the river Danube, which restores an international rail link severed by NATO bombing. Milošević made a defiant speech to tens of thousands of people near the 432-metre long road and rail bridge at a rare open-air public appearance. "This bridge is sophisticated, visually modern and morally superior," said Milošević. "It represents shining construction and a moral victory. We have defeated our enemies, because we are better, not because we are stronger," he said. Milošević arrived amid high security on a train pulled slowly over the bridge by an engine decorated with flowers and the Yugoslav flag. This was an obvious attempt to echo Yugoslavia's late socialist leader Josip Broz Tito, whose special train was always greeted by adoring crowds, and it seemed to work.

Private bus operators brought public transport to a halt in Belgrade on Monday 29 May, when they took their vehicles off the streets to demand higher ticket prices. Some 300 private bus drivers parked near downtown Belgrade, waiting to see if the government would respond to their request, while thousands of people waited for hours at bus stations. "We can simply no longer work at this price. In a month or so, we will be ex-transporters anyway," said Miloš Paunović, the head of the transporters' crisis committee. Around 800 private buses account for the bulk of public transport in Belgrade, because the city is unable to renew an aging fleet or keep up repairs. Serbia's government makes the decisions on any price hikes, including those of public transport. Ticket prices have remained unchanged since 1996. The Yugoslav Dinar has since been devalued twice in that time, once officially in April 1998 and then unofficially last Thursday. "We can't compare the ticket price of YUD (Yugoslav Dinars) three (USD 0.06 at the black market rate) with anything," said Paunović (Blic, 30 May).

On Thursday 1 June, Serbia's government said it had taken control of public transport in Belgrade. A top official from the government said, "The government has decided to take over the city's transportation, because of the difficult situation that the city authorities have brought it to," said Nikola Sainović, a top official in the SPS. The city council described this move as "illegal" and said, "The government's decision does not have a basis in any law and represents the political will of the ruling coalition and the punishment of Belgraders for choosing democratic authorities" (Beta).

Goran Žugić, one of Montenegrin President Milo Đjukanović's closest and most reliable allies, was shot dead on Wednesday evening in the courtyard of his apartment block in the Montenegrin capital of Podgorica. The murder is one in a series of mysterious assassinations of officials and underworld figures in Serbia, but this was the first such killing in Montenegro. "We are terrified by the murder of Goran Zugić," Miroslav Vicković, the leader of an opposition party, told Reuters. "We are terrified but not surprised. For a long time, we have been warning that Podgorica will inevitably became a second Belgrade. Both Serbia and Montenegro have lost the thin line between politics and crime," said Vicković. Police and government officials declined immediate comment on the assassination, which an eyewitness said had been carried out by a lone gunman with an automatic weapon (Danas, 31 May)

Former Soviet dictator Josef Stalin was so angry with Josip Broz Tito that his special services were planning to assassinate the Yugoslav leader. The plan was dropped in 1953, when Stalin died, which allowed Tito to live to 1980, according to a collection of Cold War archives at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in the United States. A top secret document prepared by the Soviet Ministry of State Security and addressed personally to Stalin mapped out three Tito assassination scenarios. All centred on a Soviet agent known as "Max." Under one plan, Max was to arrange a private audience with Tito, during which a mechanism concealed in his clothes would release a dose of pulmonary plague bacteria which would guarantee not only Tito's death but that of all those present (Reuters, Blic, 30 May).

Vana Suša, 5 June 2000

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