A political opposition group that has been organizing demonstrations against President Slobodan Milosevic put forward a prominent economist today as a candidate to head a prospective transition government once the Yugoslav leader is ousted from power.
The nominee, however, may not quite share his supporters' sense of certainty. Dragoslav Avramovic, a widely respected former Central Bank governor who was invited to attend last week's Balkan summit in Sarajevo, acknowledged that everything depends on first actually getting rid of Milosevic, who shows no sign of going anywhere despite having presided over four lost wars in this decade. Avramovic said he also would have to think some more about taking over a proposed transitional "government of experts," which is envisaged as a bridge between Milosevic's rule and new democratic elections.
"My wife would kill me," he said at an opposition news conference when asked if he would accept such a post.
The event seemed to illustrate the quixotic nature of opposition politics here and the major challenge that Milosevic's foes face in getting their own act together.
Although public repudiation of Milosevic and demands for his resignation have proliferated following Yugoslavia's disastrous defeat in the Kosovo war in June, divisions among key opposition politicians have prevented them from capitalizing on the government's weakness. They have been left groping for some common ground, some rallying point for their efforts to channel the widespread discontent.
A coalition of small parties, the Alliance for Change, has been staging anti-Milosevic rallies in several towns in Serbia, Yugoslavia's dominant republic, and plans to try to force a major confrontation with his government by early September. The largest opposition party, Vuk Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement, refuses to join that effort. It wants to avoid a clash and focus instead on luring away Milosevic's supporters from the government and his Socialist Party of Serbia.
Moreover, Draskovic and one of the leaders of the alliance, Zoran Djindjic, are bitter personal rivals dating back several years to a political deal gone bad. In discussing the alliance and its recent suggestion of a "nonaggression pact" to mute mutual criticism among opposition groups, officials of the Renewal Movement hardly bother to disguise their disdain.
A spokesman for the Renewal Movement, Ivan Kovacevic, told reporters the offer reminds him of "that anecdote about an elephant and a mouse running over a bridge, when the mouse said, 'Wow, what a mighty noise we are making.' "
But while opposition parties remain split over other matters, they agree on the need for a post-Milosevic transition government and see Avramovic, who belongs to no political party, as the most likely person to lead it. In an interview, a top official of Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Party said Avramovic could "bridge the gap between an authoritarian and a democratic system" and help "bring Serbia back into the international community."
But he seems an unlikely savior. Wearing a purple shirt and shorts and carrying a shopping bag, the 79-year-old former World Bank official appeared today beside a nattily suited Vladan Batic, president of the Christian Democratic Party of Serbia and coordinator of the Alliance for Change, at a news conference apparently aimed at floating his stewardship of a transitional government.
As one of two Serbs invited to Friday's Sarajevo summit attended by President Clinton--Milosevic was pointedly excluded--Avramovic said he stressed that it was "absolutely vital" for Yugoslavia to restore its capacity to produce electricity and generate heat before the onset of winter. But he said he was told, by Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright among others, that the country could expect no help from the West until Milosevic was gone.
"We can't afford much more suffering as a country," Avramovic said. "A very large proportion of our population have now lost hope for the future of their children."
"We have to have a new government, a transitional government of experts," Batic said. "But the first thing is Milosevic has to go. Without that there is no transition government. Nobody would recognize it."
Batic said the alliance wants Avramovic to head such a government because he is highly regarded for his success as Central Bank governor in 1993, when he managed to tame hyperinflation here by pegging the Yugoslav dinar to the German mark.
Although Batic said later that Avramovic had "already accepted" the candidacy in principle, Avramovic said only that he had started thinking about who might participate in a transition government and denied having agreed to lead it yet. "I have to think twice," he said. "I have to get the approval of my wife. It's as simple as that."
Batic said his coalition plans to hold anti-Milosevic rallies in 50 Serbian towns during August, then stage a massive demonstration in Belgrade in early September to which "all of Serbia will be invited." He said the group then plans to synchronize daily demonstrations all over Serbia with a general strike and a blockade of roads and bridges in an effort to force Milosevic from power.
Milosevic would not be able to crush the protests by force, "because a huge part of the police and army are with us," Batic asserted. "They will not shoot their own people."