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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 July, 2003, 18:20 GMT 19:20 UK
Serbia still riven by feuds
By Tim Judah

Document check in central Belgrade
The police crackdown may not have dealt organised crime a death blow
Almost every day there is news showing that Serbia is rapidly restoring relations with its neighbours and becoming a "normal country" again.

You no longer need to have a visa to travel between Serbia and Croatia.

By the end of the year flights should be restored between the Serbian and Croatian capitals, and a fast "business" train should be running between Belgrade and the Slovene capital Ljubljana.

Plans are also well advanced for the Serbian Government to start talks with a delegation from Kosovo, the mainly ethnic Albanian-populated province that is now a UN protectorate but still legally part of Serbia.

When these begin, they will be the first official and substantive talks between the two sides since the end of the Kosovo war in June 1999.

So, on the face of it, Serbia appears to have weathered the storm following the assassination of its energetic and reforming prime minister Zoran Djindjic last March.

Tentacles of crime

However, despite the good news, especially on the international front, Serbia still feels like a country in deep crisis, politically and - with one in five officially below the poverty line - economically too.

Vojislav Kostunica
Kostunica alleges that people close to Djindjic are themselves linked to organised crime
Many Serbs believe anti-reformist, extreme nationalists would have come to power if the government had not held together in the wake of Mr Djindjic's killing.

Following the death of Zoran Djindjic police arrested some 10,000 people. Several hundred are still in custody. Forty-five have been charged with conspiracy to kill the premier.

What has emerged from this is the extent to which the tentacles of organised crime reached to the very heart of the Serbian state.

What has also become clear are the overlapping links between organised crime, parts of the Serbian secret police, its former elite police unit, the now disbanded Red Berets, extreme nationalist groups and those connected to war crimes.

You can't say that the media are not responsible for what happened
Vladimir Popovic
government spin doctor
The police swoops since the murder have clearly damaged a part of these networks but the question is how much?

The political climate is bitter, with accusations and counter-accusations flying thick and fast, sometimes between members of the government itself.

Writs

Opposition circles in Serbia - especially the party of the last Yugoslav president, Vojislav Kostunica - have alleged that people around Mr Djindjic, notably Cedomir Jovanovic, now one of Serbia's deputy prime ministers, had close links to the criminals that the government accuses of killing Mr Djindjic.

Zoran Djindjic
The media is being blamed for promoting Djindjic's death
Mr Jovanovic, usually known by his nickname Ceda, has admitted contacts with one mafia boss but says they were in good faith and in the interests of the state.

Meanwhile, two of Mr Kostunica's advisors, including the former head of Yugoslav military intelligence, have been arrested on suspicion of being involved in the plot to kill Mr Djindjic.

The government has been stoutly defended by its official spin doctor, Vladimir "Baby" Popovic, who has been issuing writs against several journalists and Mr Kostunica. He says they have defamed him and caused him "mental anguish".

B92, a radio station which won high praise at home and abroad for refusing to be intimidated by Mr Milosevic, is now one of the main targets of government ire
He is also accusing parts of the media of creating "a lynching atmosphere" which led to the murder of Mr Djindic, by alleging that he had his own links to the mafia.

"There were 7,000 articles in the press which said that Zoran Djindjic was a criminal, a cigarette smuggler and that there was no criminal activity that he was not involved in," Mr Popovic said in a recent interview with Serbian state television. "You can't say that the media are not responsible for what happened."

Out of steam

The journalists who have been attacked by Mr Popovic accuse him of intimidation.

B92, a radio station which won high praise at home and abroad for refusing to be intimidated by Mr Milosevic, is now one of the main targets of government ire.

Dejan Anastasijevic, one of Serbia's top investigative reporters at Vreme, a weekly magazine now under attack from Mr Popovic, says that this government has run out of steam and can no longer pursue a reformist agenda.

The reason, he says, is that too many of its ministers and senior officials either have too many unsavoury links of their own or had links to the secret police during Mr Milosevic's time.

He says that one of the main problems facing Serbia is that organised crime is "deeply embedded" in the heart of the Serbian state, especially "in the security apparatus, the judiciary and the political parties". If all of this came out, he says, "there would be massive damage and the whole system would collapse".

Some say that all of this is nonsense. Zarko Korac, Serbia's deputy prime minister, concedes that while major difficulties lie ahead, the damage inflicted on organised crime has been "pretty substantial".

The economy and unemployment are major problems, he says, but otherwise the trends are "generally positive".

Tim Judah is the author of The Serbs: History, Myth and the Destruction of Yugoslavia published by Yale University Press.



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