Milosevic's Divide and Mis-rule

BELGRADE: Slobodan Milosevic may be the most despised man in Serbia, but leaders of the country's opposition can barely hide their hatred for each other. Indeed, as Vuk Draskovic, the leader of the largest opposition group, tried to hijack last week's massive protest of 100,000 in Belgrade (a rally he had previously shunned), security men from Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement and Zoran Djindjic's Democratic Party openly scuffled. Forging a united front against the regime seems as remote as ever.

The feuds and incompetence of the Serbian opposition are the main reasons why Milosevic still rules. Since the expulsion of a quarter-of-a-million Serbs from Krajina by the Croatian Army in the summer of 1995, less than one-third of the electorate has backed him. But the vanity, greed, and perpetual scheming of the opposition's leaders has left them easy prey for Milosevic's schemes of divide-and-misrule.

Because of this political failure, many fear that Serbia faces civil war. Yet the abyss can be avoided. While the Serbian police force is huge and well-armed, it is ill-trained and psychologically ill-prepared to suppress mass demonstrations. In the Army, only the top generals are unconditionally loyal to Milosevic; most of the officer corps is embittered at the lost Kosovo war and at Milosevic's dismissive treatment of them, particularly their low pay.

Last but not least, it is not obvious that Milosevic is prepared to resort to large scale violence within Serbia. As opposed to his dealings with non-Serbs, this wily authoritarian's preferred methods of domestic political struggle are unscrupulous manipulation of friend and foe, bribery, propaganda, and electoral fraud. Almost sixty years-old and in power for more than a decade, he is unlikely to change. After all, although many believed that his indictment by the Hague War Crimes Tribunal, announced during the bombing of Serbia, would make him fight to the bitter end, he yet accepted unconditional surrender.