In the Shadow of Miloševic

Two years ago the world cheered as Slobodan Miloševic's opponents united to overthrow his dictatorship. Opposition to Milosevic, however, appears to have been the sole glue holding them together. Those protest leaders, now in power, have been at each other's throats ever since.

Vojislav Koštunica, the current president of what remains of Yugoslavia and the `mildish' nationalist who out-polled Miloševic two years ago, holds a high-profile job with numerous ceremonial duties but little real power. So he decided to compete head-to-head in Serbia's presidential elections of September 29 with the reform candidate Miroljub Labus, a vice-premier in charge of finance. Because Koštunica did not win 50% plus one of the votes of all registered voters in the first round, he faces a run-off with Labus on October 13th.

Intelligent speeches, spirited debates and clever slogans were conspicuous by their absence in this election. Violence was also absent, but insults were not. For example, Zoran Djindjic, the hyper-pragmatic prime minister of Serbia who supports Labus, called Koštunica a lazy drone. Such language is lamentable, but it is still a big step forward from the Miloševic era, when both regime and opposition commonly dubbed their opponents as traitors, spies, or Western mercenaries.

Look beyond the insults and you see that Koštunica and Labus have similar moderate programs. Labus favors faster economic reform and is readier to accept Western demands to cooperate with the Hague Tribunal. Koštunica is also for privatization and decreasing the role of the state, but he is more worried about corruption and favoritism during the sale of state firms. While he claims to be pro-Western, he prefers that extraditions of indicted Serb war criminals to the Hague conform to Serbian law.