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Friday, 26 January, 2001, 13:51 GMT
Serbia squares up to challenges
Zoran Djindjic, Jozef Kasa, Zarko Korac, Dusan Mihajlovic, Vuk Obradovic and Momcilo Perisic
The first non-Communist government is sworn in
By South-east Europe analyst Gabriel Partos

Serbia has finally broken with the authoritarian legacy of the past 55 years following Thursday night's vote of confidence in the new government.

One of the new government's first acts was to appoint a successor to ex-President Slobodan Milosevic's notorious secret police chief, Rade Markovic.

The resounding vote of confidence - by 168 votes to 55 - in the new government marked the beginning of a new era in Serbian politics.

Tasks ahead
Investigate Milosevic-era crimes
De-politicise police, judiciary, media and nationalised industry
Improve standard of living
Future of federation with Montenegro and Kosovo
Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic's new administration is the first since the Second World War that is not dominated by the Communist Party, or its successors.

Even before the vote of confidence it had introduced two measures - breaking with the Milosevic years of government secrecy and the unregulated accumulation of power:

  • All 24 members of the new government have undergone health checks at Belgrade's Military Hospital in a sign of the new leadership's openness to public scrutiny.

  • But more importantly, ministers have been banned from holding key posts in business, which was one of the hallmarks of the Milosevic regime.

Milosevic henchman ousted

Immediately after the vote the government appointed a new security chief, Goran Petrovic - a professional police officer who was dismissed from his job during the Milosevic era.

He replaces Rade Markovic, one of the pillars of Mr Milosevic's rule in its final two years, whom many human rights activists have accused of involvement in political assassinations.

Slobodan Milosevic
Dealing with Mr Milosevic's cronies is only one of the challenges Mr Djindjic and his government face
Mr Djindjic has now said that politically motivated crimes will be thoroughly investigated - along with those who benefited from corruption.

The 48-year-old prime minister added that his government "will not allow those who illegally gained wealth to remain unpunished".

Earlier the incoming Minister of the Interior, Dusan Mihajlovic, said Mr Milosevic would be placed under 24-hour police surveillance.

But dealing with the personalities of the former regime - including those, like Mr Milosevic, who have been charged with war crimes by the UN Tribunal in The Hague - is only part of the burdensome legacy.

There is also the need for wider, institutional reforms - to depoliticise the police, the judiciary, the nationalised sector of business and the state-controlled media.

But perhaps the most important challenge Mr Djindjic will have to tackle is the parlous state of the economy that over the past decade has been reduced to one of the poorest in Europe.

Without visible progress in improving living standards, the public's overwhelming support for the Democratic Opposition of Serbia could evaporate.

That, in turn, would undermine the unity of the 18-party coalition which few observers expect to last beyond the next year or two in any case.

Future of the federation

In the short term, though, the government's key task is to sort out the future of the Yugoslav federation with Serbia's partner, Montenegro.

The pro-independence leadership in Podgorica is confident that the Montenegrin elections in April and the planned, subsequent referendum, will back its policy on independence.

For its part, Serbia wants to revamp the existing federation, rather than form a loosely-knit alliance of two independent states.

The future of Yugoslav federation may now be decided in a matter of months. That of Kosovo - the UN-administered province whose ethnic Albanian majority are insisting on independence - will probably take years.

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See also:

26 Dec 00 | Europe
Analysis: Serbia votes for change
25 Jan 01 | Europe
War crimes chief defiant
22 Dec 00 | Europe
Serbs promised international aid
08 Dec 00 | Europe
Yugoslavia seeks missing millions
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