Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Prison Cells and Radical Moves

According to Dnevnik, Novi Sad daily, Slobodan Milošević (Slobodan Milosevic), former president of Serbia, now on war crimes trial in Hague, is seriously considering one of the most important moves of his political career. That career didn't end with his arrest and spectacular handover to Hague three years ago. From his prison cell he maintained clout over his supporters in SPS party.

That clout, however, seemed to diminish with years, especially after he had to share Hague prison with another Serbian political leader – Vojislav Šešelj (Vojislav Seselj) of the extreme nationalist SRS party. Šešelj's decision to voluntarily surrender to Tribunal didn't diminish his popularity or popularity of his party, which had nearly won last parliamentary elections in Serbia.

SPS, once the ruling party, is now reduced to relatively minor status with 22 out of 250 seats in Serbian parliament. To make things worse, the only way for SPS to get out of the shadow of SRS and re-establish some clout in Serbia was through helping Koštunica (Kostunica) and other parties of his "pro-Western" bloc form minority government. Koštunica later defended this, previously unimaginable, deal by claiming that SPS was "reformed and had nothing to do with the old party that had had power in Serbia in 1990s".

It seems that Milošević tends to agree with Koštunica. According to Dnevnik, former Serbian strongman disapproved of the candidates picked for Parliament seats. None of them belonged to the most loyal of Milošević's supporters or those who had helped him organise his spirited defence in Hague. He is contemplating expressing his displeasure in most spectacular way possible – by formally leaving SPS and joining Šešelj's SRS.

This move, if it happens, would undoubtedly strip away last vestiges of power Milošević had over his former supporters in Serbia. It is difficult to see how this would affect SRS. The only force to profit from this move would be Koštunica. SPS, now formally without Milošević, is going to be more digestible for foreign diplomats and aid donors.

In the short term, the biggest winner would be Šešelj. With his former patron, ally and rival now humbled to the status of his supporter, he would become the most powerful of all ICTY detainees. And between the walls of Scheveningen prison this amounts to something.


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