Draskovic fired

The Yugoslav deputy prime minister is removed from office for criticizing Milosevic.

Published April 28, 1999 10:30AM (EDT)

Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister for Foreign Affairs Vuk Draskovic was removed from office late Wednesday afternoon by Prime Minister Momir Bulatovic. His firing comes in the wake of three days of sharp criticism by Draskovic aimed at the Slobodan Milosevic machine.

Draskovic's three days of dissent began Sunday evening, in a live interview on Studio B television, which is controlled by Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement. The 52-year-old deputy prime minister told Serbian viewers that they were being lied to by Radio Television Serbia. He criticized terminology often used in RTS broadcasts, such as "criminal NATO aggression."

"Aggression is never friendly," said Draskovic. He told viewers not to deceive themselves in expecting Russia to help Serbia, and ridiculed the importance of the proposed Russian, Yugoslav, Belarus alliance. "Nobody is going to help us," Draskovic said.

Draskovic urged Serbs to face reality: that public opinion had turned against Serbia, and that it was impossible to defeat NATO or the new world order. As a possible solution to the Kosovo crisis, Draskovic said that United Nations troops should be allowed to operate in Kosovo as a peacekeeping force with a security council mandate.

It wasn't immediately clear whether Draskovic was speaking on behalf of his party or the federal government. Then, at a press conference on Tuesday, Draskovic unleashed a torrent of stinging criticism aimed directly at the country's ruling parties, the Serbian Socialist Party (SPS) and the United Yugoslav Left (JUL). "This isn't a war for SPS or JUL," an impassioned Draskovic said. "This is a war for the entire country." He said that the army had showed up at Studio B on Monday evening. "Censors, out from Studio B!" he railed. "Nobody loves this country more than me."

He criticized the "senseless orders" concerning Draconian war-profiteering laws. "People are going to jail for small things, because they had three or four pigs." Nor did he spare local journalists. "Journalists, I accuse you of not being brave. We have the right to speak and criticize."

Yugoslav dissidents thrilled to Draskovic's frank criticism. They hoped it might herald a new realism about the war, and openness to dissent, on the part of the Milosevic government. There were early indications that wasn't the case: News of Draskovic's impassioned news conference, for instance, was noticeably absent from Wednesday's papers. A local journalist said, "We werent allowed to publish it."

At a noon news conference Wednesday, Federal Minister of Information Milan Komnanic said that the Serbian Information Ministry, which is controlled by Vojislav Seselj's Serbian Radical Party, had ordered media to not carry Draskovic's "announcements." And a few hours after that press conference, Draskovic was fired by Bulatovic.

Draskovic accepted his removal with dignity. "As the president of my party, I will continue to fight for defending our state from NATO aggression," he said at a hastily organized evening news conference. "Don't link today's decision with a possible breakdown of national unity. We have our differences, but when it comes to one fact, Kosovo is Serbia, we have no differences. All Serbs are united in protecting our state and I believe we are approaching the days of the end of this aggression against our country," said Draskovic, whose party controls 45 seats in the federal government.

Draskovic, a one-time journalist and prominent novelist, had been a leading opposition figure to Milosevic since 1991, until he joined his government as deputy prime minister last January. Since the onset of war March 24, Draskovic, a moderate nationalist, became an international spokesman for the Serbian cause. Where Milosevic was perceived as a distant, unemotional leader who rarely addressed the public, Draskovic held regular press conferences and spoke from the heart. He advocated inclusion in Europe, as opposed to his political nemesis Seselj, who promoted an isolationist, radical nationalism. Draskovic's removal from office marks a return to his longtime political outsider roots, and will likely restore the credibility he lost when joining the government in January.

In 1991, he led large-scale protests against state-run television, which culminated in the removal of four editors but did not succeed in changing the content of the programming. In 1996, his Zajedno coalition ("Together" in Serbian) won municipal elections across Serbia, which were then overturned by Milosevic. Draskovic emerged as a leader of the protests that shook Serbia for three months and brought the country to a standstill. Demonstrations were held 24 hours a day, and Milosevic was forced to capitulate and reinstate the municipal elections.

But when the elections were reinstated, the opposition movement ran out of steam. SPS and JUL subsequently weakened the power of municipal government, and Draskovic lost a measure of credibility. He lost more in January, when he joined Milosevic's government, which he had criticized as corrupt and ineffectual. But he defended his decision as a strategic one, to work for reform from within. His experiment in working from within was a little over 2 months old when NATO bombing began, and changed the internal dynamics of Yugoslavia permanently. "We came to power to change things, but didn't have a chance," Draskovic said at his Wednesday press conference. Although he threatened to hold street demonstrations if the government took over Studio B, at Wednesday's press conference he said he would not do so.

Those who were encouraged by Draskovic's honesty, and hoped it heralded a new realism about the conflict with NATO within the Milosevic government, are disappointed by his firing. But he has likely regained some of his stature as a top figure of opposition to Milosevic. At the war's end, if Milosevic is removed from power, Draskovic could emerge as a leading political voice in a new Serbia.

By Alex Todorovic

Alex Todorovic is a Belgrade writer.

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