War In The Balkans: The Balkan Question

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The Independent Online
Is Serbia a democracy?

Slobodan Milosevic is an elected leader, not a dictator, as he is often wrongly described. He may have come to power in 1987 through the League of Communists of Yugoslavia, as Tito's old party was called, but he was freely elected president of Serbia in 1990 and has been re-elected several times since.

For all that, Serbia is not a Western-style democracy and it would be hard to see Mr Milosevic's ruling party being dislodged by a mere vote. Government opponents are invariably pilloried as traitors or CIA spies in the state media, and it would be difficult to support publicly an opposition party and retain a job as a teacher or a worker in a state industry. The army is closely tied to the leadership and might well intervene if the regime was in real danger.

In some ways, the present system echoes older Balkan practices. Democracy in 19th-century Serbia under the Obrenovic dynasty was also "controlled" and it needed a change in dynasty in 1903 to the house of Karadjordjevic for the opposition Radical party to come to power.

Between the world wars it was the withdrawal of the monarch's favour rather than the losses at the ballot box that resulted in changes of government and in 1929 King Aleksandar suppressed all the parties when he declared a royal dictatorship.

At the end of the Second World War there was brief revival of genuine multi-party politics throughout Yugoslavia but that was quickly scotched by Tito who had all the parties in Serbia and Croatia quashed and their leaders arrested or silenced by 1946.