Serbia’s Transition: Reforms Under Siege
Serbia’s Transition: Reforms Under Siege
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Report / Europe & Central Asia 2 minutes

Serbia’s Transition: Reforms Under Siege

The 3 August 2001 murder of former State Security (DB) official Momir Gavrilovic acted as a catalyst for the emergence of a long-hidden feud within Serbia’s ruling DOS (Democratic Opposition of Serbia) coalition.

  • Share
  • Save
  • Print
  • Download PDF Full Report

Executive Summary

The 3 August 2001 murder of former State Security (DB) official Momir Gavrilovic acted as a catalyst for the emergence of a long-hidden feud within Serbia’s ruling DOS (Democratic Opposition of Serbia) coalition.  Inflamed by Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica’s closest advisers, the ‘Gavrilovic Affair’ has driven a wedge into DOS that could spell the end of the coalition in its present form.  In so doing, Kostunica’s Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) has been exposed more clearly than before as a conservative nationalist party intent on preserving certain elements of the Milosevic regime. 

The open quarrel may force entirely unnecessary elections that could prove harmful to the reform process.  The crisis is also likely to block the already slow work of the Serbian parliament in its current session.  At the same time, it has presented the government with a clear opportunity to make its work more transparent and accountable.

Kostunica’s DSS led the attacks against a group of reform-oriented, relatively pragmatic politicians centred mostly around Serbian Premier Zoran Djindjic and his Democratic Party (DS).  The severity of the DSS attack dealt a heavy blow to the coalition and changed the face of Serbian politics.  Although the two sides may soon patch up their differences, the fallout from the events surrounding the ‘Gavrilovic Affair’ will be widespread and could affect the pace and extent of political and economic reforms, as well as Yugoslavia’s cooperation with the international community and its neighbours.  So too the lack of civilian control over the Yugoslav Army (VJ) has become more apparent.  In regional terms, at stake in the current struggle within DOS are the continuation of FRY funding for the Army of Bosnia’s Republika Srpska, Belgrade’s stance towards UNMIK, and the question of further cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). 

Since the nineteen-member DOS coalition defeated the regime of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in the September and December 2000 elections, internal DOS rivalries and disputes have hindered Serbia’s reform process. The pro-reform faction centred around Djindjic, while the more conservative and nationalist elements grouped around Kostunica.  The differences seemed manageable until Gavrilovic’s murder, but since then, political feuding triggered by the murder has shaken the foundations of the governing coalition and exposed Kostunica and the DSS as significant obstacles to continued reform.

Hoping to support the emergence of democracy in Yugoslavia, the international community has rushed to accept Kostunica.  But apart from the arrest and transfer of Slobodan Milosevic to The Hague, international leverage on Yugoslavia to comply with international goals for regional stability and peace has been manifestly ineffectual.[fn]See ICG Balkans Report No.112, A Fair Exchange: Aid to Yugoslavia for Regional Stability, 15 June 2001.Hide Footnote   The DSS has yet to formulate a vision of a modern economy or society, except in terms of state-building and nationalist goals that are unlikely to deliver either internal development or regional stabilisation.  Since early August, the DSS has tried to force early (and quite unnecessary) elections; dealt what could have been a terminal blow to the DOS coalition; brought a number of other reform initiatives into question; and emerged as protectors of Milosevic’s legacy in several essential respects.  Even now, the DSS is – under the guise of legalism – pushing measures that could lead to an increase in regional organised crime, cigarette and petroleum smuggling, and worsened relations with UNMIK.

In sum, the ‘Gavrilovic Affair’ has thrown the problems involving reform, elections, and the fate of DOS into newly sharp relief.  This report describes the affair, puts it in context, and examines its implications in the light of international community priorities for Serbia, FRY and the region.

Belgrade/Brussels, 21 September 2001

Subscribe to Crisis Group’s Email Updates

Receive the best source of conflict analysis right in your inbox.