Milan Milosevic of the Belgrade weekly “Vreme,” looks at the record of the coalition government in Srbia after its first hundred days in power in the July 11, 1998 issue of this magazine.

Minimal economic growth, maximal regime security. This is a paradox pointed out by political scientist Slobodan Antonic to explain how authoritarian regimes stay in power for a long time, despite stagnation and degradation of economy, thanks to the fact that they redistribute the funds towards police, propaganda and remaining in power. Here, the story is a little bit more complicated.

What is the real count of the SPS-Radical-JUL government ?

The briefest definition was given by Zarko Joknovic from the New Democracy party when he mentioned the formula “inflation plus mobilization.” This party lists among the factors that have worsened the Kosovo crisis the abandonment of timely negotiation attempts with Albanians and the fact that the Serbian regime has endorsed the Radicals approach to the solution of Serbian - Albanian national conflict.

It is possible that the Albanians, when they decided to radicalize and enlarge their armed activities have counted with the fact that the coalition with Radicals in Belgrade makes it easier that the Serbian side is disqualified in the West. The government was not able to escape this trap. After the action in Prekaz, in which, according to the opinion of the international community there was an non selective use of disproportionate force and killing of civilians, the government, under international pressure, promised an investigation. It did not conduct it timely, which has maybe attributed that Serbia was faced with an impossible request to withdraw military forces from Kosovo at the time when the rebellion there was flaring up.

It is speculated that the armed forces in Kosoivo cost one million dollars per day, but in Serbian politics the Kosovo problem carries such weight that this price does not have to worry any government, since the maneuvering space there is quite wide and can go as far as the introduction of war economy.

There are those who are of the opinion that the FRY president could fall if, after all, he would be too lenient towards Kosovo. Who would bring him down ? Vojislav Seselj, who, as the government vice president, was very exposed in this question and practically acted as the government spokesman concerning the Kosovo question. From that aspect, it seems that the Socialists’ move to include him in the government when Kosovo question came to head was a far sighted cunning move as far as they were concerned. Hi is not only an accomplice, but the front man of this policy. But, Slobodan Antonic is of the opinion that in this case too, the Socilists did not have a long term plan.

They opted for Seselj since the negotiations with Draskovic failed. In that context, of course, they will attempt to use him, as much as he will attempt to use them. By tradition, in this position Seselj guards the back of the army and police and attacks the diplomatic service. Seselj is also repeating the stance that the Kosovo question is determining the fate of the coalition government.

Slobodan Antonic, editor of the publication “New Political Thought,” realizes that there is an ongoing simmering war for influence in the state apparatus between Radicals and Socialists and makes an estimate that in this regime, the Socialists will be the ones that will gradually lose out, and that Seselj will get stronger, since the Socialists entered into coalition with him calculating, but have lost the control over him. Monstrous laws on universities, fruition of a political marriage between close relatives from the same authoritarian political family , illustrate how these two authoritarianisms have strengthened each other.

During 1997 Seselj has realized that in order to gain power he needs to have people within the state apparatus, so it is not excluded that he will attempt personnel infusions from the position of power, that he will enlist bureaucrats and experts into the ranks of the Radicals, since his party is very thin in that respect. Seselj himself has become a member of the executive boards of a number of colleges and institutes. He has decided to train his team through participation in the regime, which is not as simple as it looks, while he is obviously attempting to acquire some information about the opponent before it come to the decisive conflict between the Socialists and Radivcals, which in mid term, will be the main political conflict in Serbia.

So what came about after the first hundred days of this government ?

In the first five months, the exports are 20 % bellow projected goals, while the trade deficit is already exceeding one billion dollars. During my, the exports cam to only 13,3 million dollars, which is the lowest since the lifting of the sanctions. Through the amendments of the fiscal law, the income tax of citizens for every dinar paid has been lowered by 15 % - from 1,24 dinars to 0,98 dinars. But after this first burst, there was no word of the announced further changes in fiscal policy, maybe due to sanctions, but also maybe it became clear that the purse is empty, and that an attempt to lead a populistic policy has failed. It became clear that the government cannot fulfill the promises it took upon itself.

For this government, the economy is not so important in relation to other aspects of politics, it has been thrown back into the rear. That is why we have an ongoing attempt to quell the fire with gasoline.

Source: Belgrade weekly “Vreme,” July 11, 1998

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