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Thursday, July 8, 1999 Published at 23:50 GMT 00:50 UK

World: Europe

Analysis: The battle in Serbia

Anti-Milosevic demonstrations are increasing

By Balkans Analyst Gabriel Partos

The end of the conflict in Kosovo has led to a return to normal politics in Serbia.

Kosovo: Special Report
Since late June, opposition parties have held several demonstrations, demanding President Milosevic's resignation.

But what chance is there for a change at the top?

There is no doubt that Mr Milosevic has emerged much weakened from defeat in the conflict with Nato over Kosovo.

Nationalist project

[ image: Tensions are high between pro- and anti-government factions]
Tensions are high between pro- and anti-government factions
It was his tough crackdown on the Kosovo Albanians that cemented his hold on power in Serbia 10 years ago.

And now that Belgrade has, in practical terms, handed over control of Kosovo to the international community, his Serbian nationalist project has suffered its most catastrophic defeat.

True, Serbian state-controlled media outlets have portrayed the Serbian military withdrawal from Kosovo as a victory.

They have tried to gloss over the plight of Serbian refugees from Kosovo who have now become the victims - albeit on a much smaller scale - of a reverse form of ethnic cleansing.

Continued control over a substantial part of the media is a crucial source of strength in Mr Milosevic's struggle to stay in power.

Network of patronage

There are other important factors of support in the network of patronage that makes up the Milosevic couple's post-communist state.

[ image: The army command remains loyal to Milosevic]
The army command remains loyal to Milosevic
These include a police force that has been much inflated in size and has taken a substantial share of the budget; as well as an informal chain of command which ensures political control over the judiciary, the civil service, and what is left of the state-run economy.

The mainly-conscript army is under-financed and largely apathetic; but its general command has been repeatedly purged and is packed with Milosevic loyalists.

The opposition has few assets in terms of control over institutions.

But over the past two years - since President Milosevic was forced to recognise the opposition's municipal election victories - it has made inroads into local government.

It can also get its message across - at least in areas where the local media are under its control.

Rallying the masses

However, the opposition's main strength - at least potentially - is its ability to mobilise people to go out onto the streets.

[ image: Demonstrations like this have yet to reach Belgrade]
Demonstrations like this have yet to reach Belgrade
That's what happened for three months starting at the end of 1996 when the authorities tried - unsuccessfully - to invalidate the opposition's local election victories.

This time the anti-government demonstrations have attracted substantial but not huge crowds.

It may need more time for these protests to gather momentum; and it may also require the focus of a large crowd in Belgrade where the opposition have not yet held a demonstration.

The leader of the centrist Democratic Party, Zoran Djindjic, has said it will take a couple of months before the protests become an immediate threat to Mr Milosevic.

Need to unite

The Democratic Party is the leading force in the Alliance for Change - an umbrella group that represents the opposition's awareness that, without unity, it has no chance of unseating Mr Milosevic.

[ image: Zoran Djindjic: Protests do not yet threaten Milosevic]
Zoran Djindjic: Protests do not yet threaten Milosevic
But the Alliance for Change is a collection of relatively small groupings; and even the Democratic Party is not represented in the Serbian Parliament because it boycotted the elections of 1996.

For the opposition's challenge to succeed, it would probably need the support of ex-Deputy Prime Minister Vuk Draskovic's conservative Serbian Renewal Movement.

But Mr Draskovic and Mr Djindjic have been sworn enemies since their alliance collapsed two years ago; and so far Mr Draskovic has taken a largely neutral position in the emerging challenge by Mr Djindjic to President Milosevic's position.

True, Mr Draskovic has shown signs of support for anti-government demonstrators - but not for those affiliated to the Alliance for Change.

Divided and overruled

[ image: Protesters sign a petition calling for Milosevic to quit]
Protesters sign a petition calling for Milosevic to quit
Serbia's opposition has been notoriously fractious over the years, and its disunity may well be Mr Milosevic's main source of strength.

His position is also helped by a largely apathetic population that has been demoralised by defeat and worn down by years of economic privation.

But the parlous state of the economy gives the opposition perhaps its best chance for success.

The international community has made it clear that Serbia will receive no reconstruction aid as long as Mr Milosevic and other indicted war criminals stay in office.

If the opposition can get this message across to the people, it may stand a good chance in the battle for power.

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