Open politics comes to Serbia Opposition city halls: Pluralism regains foothold as Milosevic's future dims.

February 26, 1997

THE FIRST THING Zoran Djindjic did after becoming mayor of Belgrade by a majority of the city assembly was to restore the independence of a television station Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic had municipalized and incorporated into his Socialist (formerly Communist) propaganda machine. Under its former directors, Studio B is once again telling two million viewers the straight news and views of all parties. It is beholden to none, not even the Zajedno (Together) coalition that re-established it.

This is one of the causes that precipitated months of street demonstrations. The staying power of these citizens is responsible for the opposition taking power in 14 municipalities after their election victories were stolen by the Milosevic regime. Politics is working.

For Mr. Djindjic and his coalition allies, this is just a stepping-stone. The urbane and wily politician has stood for one thing in public life: the ouster of communism and its boss, Mr. Milosevic. To that end he has been opportunist, a non-nationalist who embraced extreme nationalism, alternately a liberal and anarchist, now seemingly a liberal again. His allies include true (albeit anti-war) nationalists and true liberals. For them to win national elections later this year will require hanging together, which seems improbable. One party has already left the coalition, which is now down to three.

Mr. Milosevic's game plan was to give up the Serb presidency after two terms, as the constitution requires, to become president of federal Yugoslavia, which lives on as Serbia and Montenegro combined. But sensing that he is down, his Montenegrin ally, Prime Minister Mile Djukanovic, has attacked that plan as "totally wrong." He considers Mr. Milosevic history. But Mr. Milosevic still controls the state television network reaching nine million Serbs.

Real politics, the clash of ideas and philosophies and personal ambitions, has yet to reach Serbia. What has transpired so far won't end the sanctions and opprobrium and restore commerce and jobs. But it is a start.

Pub Date: 2/26/97

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