Democratic leaders in Yugoslavia look to country's future

2 or 3 years needed for democracy to take root, head of party says

War In Yugoslavia

April 25, 1999|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- Out of power and mostly out of sight, pro-Western politician Zoran Djindjic has not yet run out of ideas.

Even as war rages overhead, the leader of this country's Democratic Party is seeking to keep his eyes on a future prize for Serbia -- democracy. And he's also engaged in what might be the toughest profession in town.

"It is my job to be a democratic politician in the Balkans," he said in a telephone interview.

The West is giving war a chance to end Kosovo's crisis and transform Yugoslavia. But Djindjic says that what the country really needs is peace and prosperity to help democracy take root.

"We need only two to three years of peaceful development, and democratic forces can prevail," Djindjic said.

His prediction is a small sign that some here are attempting to look beyond the brutal and depressing pace of current events. Yet with schools closed, the independent media silenced and support for Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic soaring, it's difficult to detect even a pulse among the tiny band of Yugoslavia's pro-Western, pro-democratic politicians, academics and journalists.

In hibernation

But the democratic supporters, who all publicly oppose NATO's war against Yugoslavia, haven't yet been totally routed. They're more or less in hibernation, trying to piece together the wreckage of their movement.

"You cannot solve any problem with bombs; you just make things worse," said Veran Matic, director of independent radio station B-92, which was closed by authorities during the war's opening days.

"You are making it difficult for democratic moves, and there are casualties," he said. "The movement we built the last 10 years is destroyed."

But it could rise again, and those who were at the heart of the pro-democratic forces appear determined not to repeat past mistakes.

In the winter of 1996-1997, pro-democracy demonstrators took to the streets for 88 days of marches to force authorities to accept election results that boosted the opponents of the Milosevic regime. With signs, whistles and uncommon endurance, the demonstrators braved the cold and tried to make history. Night after night, Djindjic, a silver-haired, telegenic philosopher turned politician, exhorted the crowds.

"It was an unfinished walk," Djindjic said of the demonstrations.

In the end, the authorities appeared to buckle. Djindjic and his Democratic Party were installed as the leaders of Belgrade's city hall. Other partners in a political coalition named Together claimed other spoils.

Coalition divided

Yet Milosevic, as wily a Balkan politician as there is, managed to split his opponents, wreck the coalition, and retain the levers of power. Within weeks, Djindjic and his party were out of city hall.

It's hard to imagine how he might come back, much less how Yugoslavia will reverse its history and emerge as a stable, peaceful European democracy.

But Djindjic has a plan.

"We must have three conditions to have progress," he said. "First, economic development. Poor people are not for democracy. You must have independent people for democracy.

"Second, democratic changes must happen within the society. Third, demilitarize the region. Make an agreement between Balkan states about ending conflict.

"These three conditions must be together," he said.

The deceptively simple plan would obviously be devilishly difficult to piece together. But Djindjic is not the only one with ideas for the future here.

Vojislav Kostunica of the Democratic Party of Serbia said that if the West really wants to help Yugoslavia, it should send money, not bombs, and reintegrate the country into the international community. Only by opening the country will it change, he said.

Isolation creates problems

"The isolation of Yugoslavia has created greater problems, and it is what keeps the region the way it is," he said. "Now, we have a completely destroyed economy and infrastructure."

NATO's war, he said, has been counterproductive.

"The people are united against something that threatens them," he said. "They're not uniting with Milosevic. Most feel hatred for the so-called NATO nations. They do not feel love for Milosevic. But if things develop the way they are now, Milosevic will be stronger."

Matic, though, said the pro-democratic movement will be re-born. But the task it faces in gaining power is enormous.

"Lots of people are still here who were involved in demonstrations," he said. "But there will be disappointments. Western democracy was an ideal for people who were walking."

But Western democracies are now bombing Yugoslavia. Still, they remain the ideal for the small group that may be out of sight, and out of mind, but is not yet out of hope.

"It will be very hard to build democracy," Matic said. `Very hard."

Pub Date: 4/25/99

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