With Milosevic in prison, premier gathers strength

Djindjic has support from citizens, Bush

April 03, 2001|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia - Two years ago, NATO went to war against Yugoslavia and Yugoslav opposition leader Zoran Djindjic went on the run, fearing not bombs but security agents operating under the thumb of Slobodan Milosevic.

Now, Djindjic is Serbia's prime minister, Milosevic is in jail and the discredited regime's dark secrets are seeping out.

And the way Djindjic sees it, Milosevic's legal problems will become graver as the former Yugoslav president is ensnared in his past abuses.

Yesterday, Djindjic said that in the next month or two he expects local prosecutors to gather enough evidence to link Milosevic with ordering political assassinations, and asserted that the murderous trail might also lead to Milosevic's wife, Mirjana Markovic.

"I think it was a family business," Djindjic said.

Since surrendering Sunday to face corruption and abuse of power charges, Milosevic's woes have mounted.

Yesterday police said they added a charge, claiming Milosevic incited his bodyguards to shoot at officers during the weekend stand-off. They also displayed an arsenal of heavy weapons allegedly seized at Milosevic's villa.

Milosevic has said he is innocent. Filing his own defense yesterday against a 30-day detention order while an investigative magistrate reviews the case, Milosevic responded to corruption charges but no more. He never stole any money for himself, he said, though he did covertly siphon money to pay for Serb fighters in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo - all scenes of atrocities.

With Milosevic behind bars, Yugoslavia's new democracy gathers strength trying to put the country back together after last fall's uprising that toppled the Milosevic regime.

While Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica commands the ceremonial role as head of state and is popular among the people, the real government power seems to lie with Djindjic.

The silver-haired Djindjic is the new face of democracy, Balkan-style. The former philosophy professor who speaks three languages has traded leather jackets and turtlenecks for designer suits and ties, and has moderated his nationalist views as he seeks to create a modern European state.

He mixes soothing talk with brass-knuckled politics.

On the one hand, he emphasizes his support of the International War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague in the Netherlands, where prosecutors want Milosevic to face war crimes charges in Kosovo.

If Djindjic has his way, he'd invite The Hague prosecutors to try Milosevic in Belgrade just as the Nazis were tried in their own country by an international tribunal after World War II. Sending Milosevic out of the country would be "too easy" for a people still coming to grips with the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

"Milosevic is a special case," Djindjic said at an interview with American journalists. "He was for some people a symbol for nationalist ideas. ... It would not be good for our identity to send him away."

Djindjic dismissed Milosevic's stand off with authorities as "a very cheap soap opera," yet he acknowledged the government was prepared to storm the former president's villa early Sunday.

Was he prepared to see the villa leveled by police? "Yes, absolutely." Was he steeled to see Milosevic killed? "Yes," he said. "We were prepared even to confront the army. It was a question of the credibility of this government.

"Our public opinion pressed us to do something," Djindjic said.

In the end, Milosevic surrendered and Djindjic got what he wanted, a strong government and a strong vote of confidence from the West.

Yesterday, the Bush administration agreed to certify that Yugoslavia is eligible to receive continued financial support since it met a U.S. congressional deadline to show it was cooperating with The Hague tribunal. Djindjic acknowledged that receiving the second half of $100 million in aid from the U.S. was "critical."

So is clearing away the remnants of the Milosevic regime.

Djindjic admitted that he wanted to move against Milosevic the day after the popular uprising Oct. 5, arresting the old regime's leaders, calling a state of emergency and creating new courts and police.

Instead, the new government moved slowly. "In the big picture it will be OK," he said. "We are fulfilling all conditions to be a normal country."

Part of gaining normalcy will be confronting the regime's past abuses.

The net seems to be getting tighter around Milosevic, with prosecutors apparently putting the squeeze on his former associates, most tellingly, Rade Markovic, former chief of the feared state security apparatus. Markovic was jailed in the lead up to the Milosevic surrender. "He started to talk last week," Djindjic said.

That could be very bad news for Milosevic, because Markovic could presumably tie his former boss to a series of politically motivated killings that spiked over the past few years. Djindjic said Milosevic's wife may also be implicated.

Among those killed were newspaper editor Slavko Curuvija and notorious paramilitary leader Zeljko Raznatovic, known as Arkan. Former opposition politician Vuk Draskovic narrowly escaped a murder attempt in which four of his associates were killed in a car crash.

"Who was the cause, the author of all that?" Djindjic demands.

He says he wants to see Milosevic's murderous network reconstructed by prosecutors so that it can be exposed. "We are not interested in his personality," Milosevic said. "We are interested in how the network worked."

To hear Djindjic talk of Milosevic in such a way is to realize how much has changed in Belgrade.

It was only a few years ago that the regime was hounding Djindjic, lodging a court case against him for challenging state authority.

It turns out the investigative magistrate who made sure Djindjic was let off relatively easily with a two-year probationary sentence, is working on a new case now.

The case against Milosevic.

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