Draskovic losing Balkan diplomatic game

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The Independent Online
BELGRADE - After almost two weeks in prison, Vuk and Danica Draskovic, leaders of the opposition Serbian Renewal Movement, are fast becoming the forgotten political prisoners of the Balkans, writes Marcus Tanner.

Mr Draskovic, 47, lost consciousness several times at the weekend, after the police reportedly beat him severely following his arrest on charges of instigating a riot outside the Yugoslav parliament where a policeman was killed. Last week he was rushed to a Belgrade hospital for a brain scan. Doctors and lawyers who visited him in Belgrade central prison say he is being tortured. They claim he was deliberately denied correct medical treatment and that his life was is in danger.

The authorities are shrouding his condition in secrecy. When the couple were rushed to hospital yesterday for a check-up, plainclothes guards ringed the building. Armed police barred Mr Draskovic's lawyers from seeing their client.

The academics rant nightly about encroaching fascism in the headquarters of Belgrade's Writers' Club. But there is no sign that ordinary Serbs will answer a call to take to the streets this weekend to protest against the brutal elimination from Serbia's political life of the country's foremost opposition activist. The passivity of the Serbian public is matched by apparent indifference from the international community. The United States, Denmark and Sweden have sent protest notes. But some Western diplomats in Belgrade say the notes are little more than a smokescreen masking indifference.

As a nationalist supporter of a 'Greater Serbia', Mr Draskovic arouses little sympathy among international activists who used to raise rang alarm bells about repression in Eastern Europe. But he is the victim of a recent diplomatic about-turn, as the West courts President Slobodan Milosevic as a statesman who holds the key to a lasting peace.

In Geneva a summit of former Yugoslav leaders takes place this week with Mr Milosevic, Franjo Tudjman of Croatia and Alija Izetbegovic of Bosnia. The meeting could be decisive. There is talk of an all-embracing peace plan for the former Yugoslavia, not just for Bosnia, but also including Kosovo and Croatia. There is pressure to keep Mr Milosevic sweet. Weighed against the prospect of a lasting deal, the state of Mr Draskovic is a minor distraction.

The authorities could release Mr Draskovic after 28 June, a day when opposition parties planned to stage a mass rally. But Mr Milosevic may decide to keep his bitterest political enemy him under lock and key for longer. When the 30-day detention is up, the courts may press charges against Mr and Mrs Draskovic commanding a prison sentence of 10 to 15 years. Proponents of this theory hold that the spectre of the Draskovics rotting in prison would be useful to Mr Milosevic - as an awful example to the rest of the Serbian opposition.

Leaders of the new Committee for the Defence of Political Freedom have appealed to the United Nations not to deal with Mr Milosevic until the Draskovics are released. The appeal seems bound to fall on deaf ears. But some Western diplomats think currying favour with Mr Milosevic is a miscalculation. 'There is a view that Mr Milosevic will deliver a peace deal, whereas past experience shows he never delivers anything,' one said.

(Photograph omitted)