Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 2, No 7
21 February 2000

C E N T R A L   E U R O P E A N   N E W S:
News Review for Serbia
News from Serbia since
13 February 2000

Vana Suša

Yugoslav Air Transport (JAT) was freed of sanctions. The foreign affairs ministers of the European Union decided on 14 February to lift the air travel sanctions imposed on Yugoslavia. A Portuguese representative stated that the lifting of sanctions includes both foreign flights and JAT flights. At the same time, however, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the EU extended the sanctions imposed on Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević that are in place to stop him from accessing his accounts in banks abroad. Furthermore, the list of people who are believed to be close to Milošević and who are banned from traveling in EU countries will be extended from 600 to 800 names. The lift on flight bans is set to last for six months and it is meant to send a strong and positive message to Yugoslav citizens and the opposition to the Milošević regime. As the daily Blic reported, representatives from England and Holland, under pressure from chief German diplomat Joshua Fisher, decided to make concessions with the rest of the EU counties and support the lifting of the travel ban.

The Serbian opposition welcomed the EU's decision. Zoran Đinđić, President of the Democratic Party, said that the EU's decision represents the first significant victory for the opposition and proves that the opposition has managed to become a partner with the EU. Vojislav Koštunica, President of the Democratic Party of Serbia, stated that, "The lifting of the flight sanctions does not represent a removal of sanctions but rather a game that the EU plays with our country " (Blic, 15 February). The coordinator for the Alliance for the Change, Vladan Batić, said that this decision represents "the first clear result of the parallel diplomacy that representatives of the democratic opposition has lead over the last several months" (Blic, 15 February ). The Serbian Renewal Party (SPO) welcomed the EU's decision and expressed their hope that the rest of the opposition's requests will be met soon. As SPO explained, only in this way can the EU show the Serbian people that it is not in conflict with them people, but rather with the present regime.

Freimut Duve, an envoy from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), strongly condemned statements made by Vojislav Šešelj, the leader of the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) and Yugoslav Prime Minister Momir Bulatović, who both accused certain independent media of murdering the former minister of defense, Pavle Bulatović. "With a vocabulary that is more appropriate to a member of some gang than to a government official, Šešelj warned of possible punishments for independent journalists, comparing them to murderers and describing them as the worst form of criminals", stated Duve. "Šešelj called for a public lynching of independent journalists," Duve said. He also stated that the threats augment the already repressive measures of the information law and the financial sanctions that the law imposes. Duve appealed to all OEBS country members to use their influence on the Yugoslav government, in order stop these threats from becoming physical attacks.

"STOP THE VIOLENCE" was the announcement to the readers of the independent press. The directors and editors of the biggest private and independent media in Serbia accepted the proposal of the Independent Union of Journalists in Serbia (NUNS), which asks that all independent media no longer report on the SRS's press conferences, its activities nor report statements of SRS officials. "This decision is an expression of our protest, because of Šešelj's threats of arrests and the deaths of independent journalists. We request that the state implement its laws and that it stop the violence and the spread of hatred and any other kind of animosity. We call others in the media to join us" (Danas, 15 February). The proposal was signed by the following media outlets: Blic, Danas, Glas Javnosti, NIN, Vreme, Republika, news agencies Beta and FoNet, radio stations B-92 and Radio Index, television stations TV mreža and Studio B and production company WIN.

On Sunday 13 February, cyanide from a Romanian gold smelter flowed from a tributary into Europe's largest waterway, the Danube. This has been said to be the worst environmental disaster since Chernobyl. The Tisza River will be uninhabitable for a long time, according to Dr Branislav Balažić, minister for the protection of the environment. The Danube river, due to its massive water volume, managed to reduce the cyanide concentration, however, it is disputable just how much. According to Yugoslav law, the tolerable measure of cyanide in a body of running water is 0.1 milligrams per liter, while 0.05 milligrams is acceptable in drinking water. All the test results measuring cyanide in the Yugoslav parts of Tisza and Danube show that the level of the cyanide is below the allowed maximum. Conversely, the percentage of copper is above the accepted limit. All the channels along the Tisza have been closed, and all the dead fish have been removed and taken for further analysis.

A New Minister of Defense has been named. President Milošević issued a decree naming loyal general and Chief-of-Staff of the Yugoslav Army Dragoljub Ojdanić, 58, as the new Yugoslav defense minister. Milošević also appointed General Nebojša Pavković, commander of Yugoslavia's Third Army, as the new army chief-of-staff. Milošević, Ojdanić and three other Yugoslav officials were indicted last May by the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) for war crimes in Kosovo province.

On Thursday 17 February, the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) held its fourth congress under the slogan "Renewal, Development and Reform," in Belgrade's Sava Center.

Yugoslavia's ruling SPS re-elected Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević on Thursday as its president for the next four years. Out of 2314 delegates attending the party's fourth congress, 2308 voted for the Serbian strongman, who was, incidentally, the only candidate for the job. Five delegates did not vote, while one vote was declared invalid, party officials said. Gorica Gajević remained as General Secretary, while Mirko Marjanović was elected to be the new vice president of the party. The congress began with a speech by Milošević to the Yugoslav delegates the and sixty foreign delegates that came from five continents to attend the congress. During his speech, Milošević stated that in Serbia no opposition exists, but just a "small formation that manipulates the feelings and needs of the people... while SPS has done everything from its first day to keep Serbia as a state, first within the former Yugoslavia, and then during the process of its destruction." Milošević also said that SPS "does not have any intention to admit is failures," and that it also has no intention of ceasing to do things like the "impressive billions of good deeds that it has done in the past for this state, its citizens and Serbian people overall". Furthermore, Milošević condemned the shameful mission of the peace-keeping troops, who, as he said, have "created a great fiasco... and that, unlike them, the Serbian Government is ready to offer help to its citizens in Kosovo and Metohija." "We guarantee peace, security, freedom and, overall, equality," Milošević said. "Serbia, Yugoslavia and SPS are symbols of freedom, dignity and defiance to the unjust forces in the world," Milošević concluded.

Press accreditation was not given to any independent Serbian media. However, due to foreign press agencies, such as CNN, Associated Press and Reuters, independent journalists were able to obtain material from the congress.

Vana Suša, 19 February 2000



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