The circus is back in town

When a president looses 4 wars, makes 4 republics and a province leave the federation, becomes accused of war crimes, causes hyper inflation, steals more than a billion from the country’s budget and still proclaims that he is his country’s savior, what are his chances of getting a second 4 year term in office (never mind the fact that the constitution allows only one)? Well, if the country in question is Yugoslavia, and the president is named Slobodan Milosevic, those chances are not as bad as you might think.

Serbia’s national assembly began its regular session yesterday. To everybody’s amazement, one of its main opposition members, Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) managed to get the government to discus the terms of the elections (both federal and local) with them (when would the elections be held, what voting system would be used…). The catch? After voting on that, members of the ruling coalition didn’t vote for another one of SPO’s requests – for an independent commission to be created to see into an assassination attempt on SPO’s leader, Vuk Draskovic. The results of them not voting were already known – members of the SPO left the assembly and gave the government a well-known excuse – “the government wants to talk about the elections, but doesn’t have anybody to talk to”. And if there are no elections, Slobodan Milosevic and his party can’t loose, so they will stay in power for another year.

But what will happen in a year? Well, at the same time the assembly was opened, the official of Serbia began talks with the officials of Montenegro (the other member of Yugoslavia, and the only democratic one) on redefining the Yugoslav Federation. In other words, they want to turn the federation into a confederation (which means that each member has more independence), and by doing that, create a whole new country, with a different constitution. And if Milosevic has his way, that constitution won’t limit the number of terms it’s president could serve – which means that he could stay in power for as long as he wants.

You might think that the government of Montenegro wouldn’t accept that kind of a constitution, but you would be wrong. About a week ago, government run Radio Television of Serbia (RTS) began a continuing series on past connections between Milo Djukanovic (Montenegro’s president) and the mafia in Italy, Albania and Montenegro itself. RTS is known for distorting the truth, but this time it seems they got it right. It now looks like Milosevic and Djukanovic (of course, not directly) made a deal. Milosevic won’t interfere with the way Djukanovic runs his country, but Djukanovic would in turn let Milosevic do whatever he wants with the constitution. That way, status quo would be preserved – free Montenegro, a pseudo democracy in Serbia, and all of the politicians, be they democrats or communists, getting all the money.

RTS isn’t only used as a hidden weapon of persuasion. Sometimes, it does whatever its bosses want by brute force alone. For example, when it began live broadcasts of the national assembly five years ago, there were only raw video and audio feeds from the assembly, with a separate channel that showed everything, including the times when the assembly was empty. Then, a commentator was added to fill in the space when the MPs were on a break by retelling what each of the members said. After some time, the commentator was also used when the things talked about were not for everyone to hear (wars, taxes…). And from now on, every time an opposition member comes to the microphone, a commentator interrupts him and starts his account of the session so far. Two opposition members in a row? It doesn’t matter – the commentator will retell his story twice, or even three times, if the opposition is persistent. There is only one sentence that can best describe what has been happening in Serbia so far this week – “The circus is back in town”.