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Wednesday, 20 December, 2000, 18:32 GMT
Serbia's long road to recovery
By Tim Judah
Barring any unforeseen upsets the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) - the 18-party coalition which brought down the regime of Slobodan Milosevic last October - will triumph in the elections to the Serbian parliament on 23 December.
By mid-January DOS should then have constituted a new government for Serbia and a transitional phase following the end of the Milosevic era will be over.
According to an agreement between the parties that make up DOS and President Vojislav Kostunica of Yugoslavia - which on paper consists of the two republics of Serbia and Montenegro - the new premier of Serbia will be Zoran Djindjic.
Mr Djindjic, a veteran opposition leader, is widely credited with having been the key man in orchestrating the fall of Mr Milosevic. He has a reputation for being ferociously intelligent, quick and a brilliant organiser.
Serbia has been devastated economically and socially by 10 years of fighting wars and by the international sanctions that accompanied them, so Mr Djindjic and his team will have a monumental task ahead of them.
Amongst the most urgent jobs facing the new Serbian authorities will be to negotiate a new relationship with Montenegro.
The authorities in the tiny neighbouring republic say that Montenegro is already independent in all but name and so they have begun organising a referendum on independence, which they expect to take place in spring.
President Milo Djukanovic of Montenegro says he would like to see some form of loose alliance of the two states to be formed after independence.
The new Serbian authorities may well opt for a clean break though, so, in a few months, the current Yugoslavia may well be dead, and Serbia and Montenegro will be Europe's newest independent countries.
Although Serbia would like to restore its sovereignty there its majority ethnic Albanian population will never accept this.
In fact the men and women likely to run the new Serbian government know this and, burdened by so many other problems, they are likely to leave the Kosovo issue on the back-burner for as a long as possible.
If they can ignore Kosovo though the new Serbian authorities cannot ignore ethnic Albanian guerrillas fighting to attach a part of the Presevo valley, in Serbia proper, to neighbouring Kosovo. The guerrillas are inside the demilitarised zone separating K-For and the Yugoslav army.
So far the authorities in Belgrade have restrained their armed forces but unless K-For succeeds in choking off the guerrillas' supply routes, the new Serbian government may be sorely tempted to send in the troops to finish them off.
If they do this, without Nato's consent, they risk plunging Serbia back into confrontation with the international community.
On the domestic front the economy will be one of the most important tasks facing the new authorities.
The average monthly salary in Serbia is now about £33 ($50) and the enormous popularity currently enjoyed by DOS will, over the next year, be measured in great part by how successful the new government will be in turning the economy around.
The tasks are formidable. Having lost 10 years compared to the rest of former communist Europe, Serbia has a huge job to do when it comes to legal and banking reform, closing down loss-making plants, modernising potentially profitable industries and the agricultural sectors.
It also needs to deal with the legacy of dubious privatisations under the Milosevic regime, which sold many assets to cronies of the former leader.
Crime and corruption will also have to be dealt with by the new authorities otherwise the country can expect that both will stifle development plans.
If they fail, those with money inside the country will be reticent to invest in productive enterprises at home and most foreign investors will simply pass Serbia by in search of safer investments.
The new authorities will also have to deal with the legacy of the war years. In particular they will be faced by ever more persistent demands for men like Slobodan Milosevic, who are indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague, to be handed over for trial.
Others point out that the law prohibits extradition but neighbouring Croatia was forced to change its laws to send its indicted war criminals to The Hague.
Legislation already passed in the US stipulates that unless Serbia's indictees are turned over to The Hague the US will cut aid to the country.
The war crimes issue has the potential to sour Serbia's current honeymoon with the West and embarrass some of its new leaders.
During the siege of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo Mr Djindjic once famously roasted an ox at a feast with Radovan Karadzic, the wartime leader of the Bosnian Serbs, who is also an indicted war criminal.
As if all of this was not enough to deal with, the next few months may also see the disintegration of DOS, which was an unnatural coalition brought together only to fight Mr Milosevic.
This should lead to the development of a more normal party system in Serbia with Mr Djindjic leading an emerging social democratic wing and Mr Kostunica a European-style conservative or Christian democratic wing.
Tim Judah is the author of The Serbs: History, Myth and the Destruction of Yugoslavia
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