December, 21 1996 Vreme News Digest Agency No 272

Interview: Miodrag Perisic, DS Deputy Leader

Milosevic Is No Longer The Dayton Hero

by Perica Vucinic

Democratic Party (DS) deputy leader Miodrag Perisic spoke to VREME soon after he returned from the US where he appeared in public on several occasions and met with prominent members of the US administration, Congress and the Senate

"The topic for discussion was the future of Serbia based on recent events and that was the main reason for the visit," Perisic said. He seems pleased, like a man who did a good job and he says the moment was right for himself, DS leadership member Miroljub Labus and Radio B-92 editor in chief Veran Matic to go to Washington.

PERISIC: "They showed understanding for efforts to win democracy in Serbia mainly because we said at the start of the demonstrations that you can’t abide by the Dayton agreement without respecting democracy. We took that message to Washington. The reception we got showed that they have a different view of Serbia, that this is a turning point in their perception of what’s happening in Serbia. In the US, Milosevic is seen as a man who can deliver some things. Now we have something completely different: that myth about his control of the situation, control of the Bosnian Serbs, absolute control of Serbia, rifts among the opposition has definitely been shattered."

VREME: Does that mean the Americans no longer see Milosevic as the absolute guarantee of the Dayton agreement?

"It does and we were told so explicitly at a meeting with former ambassador to Belgrade Rudolph Perrina and undersecretary Peter Tarnoff. Milosevic is no longer the Dayton hero. On the contrary, he’s seen as a man who’s suppressing democracy, who isn’t implementing certain parts of the Dayton agreement on political freedom, human rights and democracy. Milosevic is no longer necessary."

That means the opposition is seriously accepting the Dayton agreement?

"Absolutely. Dayton is becoming important to us because if we accept it we can’t implement it just because the world is pressuring us as Milosevic did but because it is the only bridge to cross back into the international community."

While you were in the US, influential media said the opposition in Serbia is nationalist.

"We had some unpleasant questions on American national radio when Noah Adams asked us about our party stands, trips to Pale and support for Karadzic. That was cleared up and we didn’t get any of those questions in Congress and the Senate. Those talks were much more serious and practical."

What did you say in response to those questions. The public here is also interested about support for Karadzic and DS support to his SDS party campaign in Bosnia, Draskovic’s paramilitary formations at the start of the war.

"I don’t know if Vuk had any paramilitary formations. I know Zoran Djindjic was part of the final SDS pre-election rally in Banja Luka and that he went to Pale in February 1994 when there was a rumor about a roast bull for him but we didn’t want to respond. After that Labus and I went to Pale twice, the last time was almost official before the Contact Group got there. We tried to convince Karadzic and his people to accept the Contact Group plan because we felt that for both the Bosnian Serb Republic (RS) and Serbia it would be incomparably better for negotiators to come from the ranks of the Bosnian Serbs than to have Milosevic negotiate for them. Then they signed an agreement allowing Milosevic to negotiate for them in front of the Patriarch. I told the American media what I’m telling you now. It’s not very well know that we went to Pale several times to say that they had to say publicly they would respect human rights and really respect them and that they had to introduce democracy to set them apart from Milosevic."

During your visit, there were people who insisted on unity among the opposition. Is there a real danger of a rift?

"Whoever allows himself that luxury knows he’ll be politically dead. I don’t believe that can happen. That would be political suicide of the same kind as the people who thought they didn’t need anyone else for elections and who thought they could do anything, as if nothing had changed since 1991. Serbia has shown a new quality through these freedom walks. It has shown that the political chemistry has changed since 1991 and that only possible engagement for people is for primary values - political, social and human. In that sense, the Zajedno coalition can only represent those tendencies. The better the coalition understands that, the better it will be. Someone in the DS said it very simply: "People haven’t come here for Draskovic or Djindjic or Pesic, they’re here for themselves."

Today is the 28th day of protest. How much longer and how will this protest end?

"The local elections in Serbia were the lowest test for Milosevic: can there be a legal and peaceful transfer of power. He didn’t pass that test. In the past 29 days Milosevic produced and repeated everything that falls under the heading Brezhnevism. Today, we have a kind of Brezhnevism in Serbia which could be lethal to social dynamics and communication. We want none of that but on the other hand we can’t just disregard the political energy on the streets. We can’t afford a single compromise with Milosevic unless he recognizes the November 17 election results, frees the local media and unless he makes sure the republican government works with the opposition local authorities. The towns the opposition won must not be punished, they can’t be sabotaged and the republican government can’t impose sanctions on them.

Two scenarios are possible. Under the first, we have to show that we have a strong political network in Serbia and shut down life completely in Serbia for one day which would be a combination general strike and civil disobedience. Under the second, Milosevic will loose his nerve and send out his special police to deal with the demonstrators. I hope that won’t happen.

There are other options we’re thinking about and I can’t be more specific than to say that we would set up parallel republican bodies and federal authorities along with the Montenegrin opposition in "the free towns of Serbia". That would encourage the protesters because they would see that their energy can be articulated."

Be specific. If the international community’s arbitration commission says Milosevic committed election fraud and owes the opposition Belgrade, Nis, Kraljevo what will happen to the protest.

"The protest ends there because the first goal has been achieved. The first half is over. I see that as the constituting of new authorities in Belgrade, Nis, Kraljevo which has great symbolic value. On the other hand I see the line of Subotica, Novi Sad, Belgrade, Kragujevac, Nis, Kraljevo as the start of a campaign for early elections in Serbia. We can’t stand in republican elections without a local election win. Without that victory the opposition has no reason to run in the next elections but with it we have motivation. There would be no more protest but we would get back to work."

After a long time these protests have shown that solidarity has returned among the population. Where was it all this time?

"The dark glasses have come off and people are reaching out to each other as free people with the goal of freedom in their minds. That’s a new quality, both politically and socially. That is the future of Serbian politics although that optimistic tone isn’t masking the fact that there are going to be big problems here. Solidarity is the trait of a highly developed civic society and that means we are mentally prepared for it."