Milosevic Purges Media, Top Party and Police Echelons May Be Next
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Attacked by extreme nationalists for backing a U.S. peace plan for Bosnia, President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia has begun a purge of close associates to preserve his rule.
While the move has been limited so far to the state-run media, Belgrade is awash with rumors that next to go will be senior officials of his Socialist Party or security force commanders with ties to Serb nationalists in Bosnia.
``At stake, for Milosevic, is his new-found image of a peacemaker, and the stability of his power base,″ said Stojan Cerovic, a leading political analyst.
For years, Milosevic incited and equipped ethnic Serbs fighting in Bosnia and Croatia. But with his country battered by U.N. sanctions punishing it for inflaming the Bosnian war, he switched last year from backing rebel Serbs to supporting international peace efforts.
His endorsement of a U.S. peace plan that would bury the nationalist dream of a Greater Serbia incorporating large sections of Croatia and Bosnia apparently forced a showdown with extremists.
That plan gained momentum Thursday when the Bosnian Serbs, battered by NATO bombing raids, agreed to withdraw heavy guns threatening Sarajevo.
Control of the media and the propaganda apparatus is vital to Milosevic’s political survival.
Two weeks ago, the Socialist Party’s executive board fired Milorad Vucelic, the director of Serbian radio and television. Vucelic, a pivotal soldier in the propaganda war to convince Serbs of the nationalists’ cause, also lost his party job.
The head of Politika Television, Slobodan Ignjatovic, was fired next. And there were reports that the knives were out for Zivorad Minovic, the powerful head of the Politika news conglomerate.
Vucelic’s ouster was followed by the breakthrough in Geneva on Sept. 8 on the principles of a peace settlement for Bosnia.
Almost immediately afterward, a carefully orchestrated propaganda campaign was set in motion on state TV to convince people the accord represented a victory for Serbs everywhere.
News broadcasts since then have devoted up to 20 minutes at a time to reading telegrams from miners and workers, provincial Socialist Party chapters and other obscure groups praising Milosevic’s policy.
Sharp criticism by the party’s nationalist wing and by the opposition has been ignored.
Nationalists in Socialist ranks were enraged by Milosevic’s decision to confer with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke even while NATO jets bombed Bosnian Serb targets.
Milosevic is responsible ``for the crisis of our national policy, which has been massively creating a defeatist stance among our citizens,″ declared Mihajlo Markovic, an ultra-nationalist and the ruling party’s senior ideologue.
Vucelic, Ignjatovic and Minovic all are expected to be replaced by Milosevic loyalists aligned with the Yugoslav United Left (JUL), a newly created communist party headed by Milosevic’s wife, Mirjana.
She is considered his closest political adviser and believed to be behind the current purge.
``JUL members are rejoicing in the open hunting season declared by the Serbian president,″ wrote the independent Vreme weekly. It predicted that other Socialists belonging to the ``war lobby″ would soon be sacked.
Independent media speculated that the purge list would also include security forces commanders who organized the brutal Serb paramilitary units that fought in Bosnia and Croatia.
But an official familiar with Serbia’s police establishment said many senior officers have become ``irredeemably corrupt.″ They are blamed for a rise in organized crime, a huge burden for Milosevic, who hopes to restore links with the world market.
``The anticipated changes in the police are closely connected to the new international and domestic realities, the expected lifting of the sanctions and the need to attract foreign capital,″ Belgrade’s Telegraf weekly said.
``Milosevic’s `peace-loving’ policy now demands a police force that will be able to guarantee the safety of foreign investors.″