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Cablegate: Serbia's Civil Society Fears Violence, Uncertain Political

VZCZCXYZ7262
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHVB #0181/01 0630917
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 030917Z MAR 08
FM AMEMBASSY ZAGREB
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 8646
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS ZAGREB 000181

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

Zagreb Sending for Belgrade

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM ASEC SR
SUBJECT: SERBIA'S CIVIL SOCIETY FEARS VIOLENCE, UNCERTAIN POLITICAL
ENVIRONMENT

REF: 07 BELGRADE 1744

Summary
-------

1. (SBU) Serbia's NGO and civil society leaders are concerned about
potential aggression against them in the aftermath of Kosovo's
declaration of independence and following the February 21 attacks
against diplomatic missions in Belgrade. Prominent NGO leaders are
concerned that the campaign in the tabloid press against them could
lead to them becoming the next target for violence. They expressed
fears that growing uncertainty in the political climate would
further diminish Serbia's toleration for dissent, stamping out
alternative voices in civil society. Despite these concerns, NGOs
continue their work but remain cautious. End summary.

NGO Leaders: Security a Concern, but Work Continues
--------------------------------------------- ------

2. (SBU) Serbia's NGO leaders are concerned for their safety and
for those in society who advocate tolerance of Kosovo's
independence. While there have been no incidents of physical
aggression targeting human rights defenders in the aftermath of
Kosovo's declaration of independence, verbal threats are on the
rise, and NGO leaders are worried there is still a potential for
violence following February 21 attacks against embassies. Head of
the Lawyer's Committee for Human Rights (YUCOM) Biljana
Kovecevic-Vuco told poloff February 26 that NGO leaders did not feel
safe but were trying to conduct normal business, albeit with a lower
profile. Sonja Biserko of the Helsinki Committee told poloff
February 25 that overall, "things are calming down," but that of
course no one can anticipate what will happen in the coming days or
weeks. She said the window for "something serious to happen" had
closed and she did not feel physically threatened.

3. (SBU) Other NGO leaders expressed more serious security
concerns. Youth Initiative for Human Rights (YIHR) head Andrej
Nosov told poloff February 25 that YIHR had received "more threats
than ever" over the past couple of days via emails, phone calls, and
SMS. One such threat following a February 22 "Justice for Kosovo -
Change for Serbia" position paper posted on YIHCR's website stated
"we are going to kill you." Natasa Kandic of the Humanitarian Law
Center (HLC) told poloff her offices were attacked February 21 when
protesters threw a road flare at her building. She said the police
failed to provide security for the center despite direct requests to
Police Director Milorad Veljovic. Though fearful of future attacks,
she still continued working from her office.

An Uncertain Political Climate
------------------------------

4. (SBU) NGO leaders expressed concerns that growing political
uncertainty in Serbia was restricting a free civil society. Kandic
warned of the radicalization of the Serbian political environment
following Kosovo's declaration of independence. Andrej Nosov blamed
the Serbian government for the February 21 violence and for
fostering political uncertainty. "Following Kostunica's statements
at the rally, he and those associated with him are no longer
democratic forces in this country," he said. Singling out a
February 20 statement by Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) leader
Ivica Dacic that the government should ban all political parties and
NGOs that recognize an independent Kosovo she said, such comments
"radicalize a population already in the grip of nationalist fervor,
and seek to marginalize voices of civil society and the NGO sector
that promote the protection of human rights and justice for
victims."

Democratic Party Silent
-----------------------

5. (SBU) NGO leaders complain that the Democratic Party remains
mostly silent in face of such verbal attacks on civil society.
Nosov told poloff that the DS had not had a consistent,
comprehensive strategy for the past year, and therefore could not
effectively develop or direct messages of support for civil society.
Nosov doubted the leadership of the DS had the capacity, the
understanding, or full recognition of the seriousness of the current
situation to actually do something about it. Dusan Bogdanovic of
YUCOM echoed this sentiment, adding sharp criticism toward Tadic.
"Tadic himself is a puppet. Thanks to his intellectual impairment,
he is unable to grasp the gravity of the current situation," he
said. He added it was doubtful Tadic and those in the DS close to
him would come out with a tough stand against the hardliners,
fearing their own skeletons would be dragged out of the closet.
Bogdanovic cited irregularities during Tadic's previous appointments
in the Telecommunications and Defense Ministries that could come
back to haunt him. Kovacevic-Vuco said Tadic was unsure the DS
could win a majority in parliamentary elections when they are
called, and therefore did not want to rock the boat.


NGOs Unite Against Ilic's Hate Speech and Threats
--------------------------------------------- ----

6. (U) NGOs in Serbia are coordinating to respond to this
government sanctioned hostile environment and are now speaking out.
The NGO alliance "Group of 44" released an open letter February 29
blasting Infrastructure Minister Velimir Ilic for inciting violence
against political opponents. The letter specifically noted Ilic's
comments that Serbian authorities "cannot prevent those coming from
Kosovo from beating those who run the campaign that Kosovo is not
ours." The letter said Ilic had called "for violence against
political opponents," specifically the Liberal Democratic Party.
The NGOs said that "never in Serbian history, not even under
Milosevic, had Serbian authorities called for violence against
political opponents." NGOs demanded that President Tadic
"unambiguously" reject calls for violence and asked for Ilic's
prosecution. The Group of 44 includes the Helsinki Committee for
Human Rights, Civic Initiatives, YUCOM and others.

Comment
-------

7. (SBU) While human rights NGOs and others in civil society have
long voiced concern about Serbia's diminishing toleration for
dissent, they are increasingly worried about their own security and
ability to openly operate. Post will remain in close contact with
the NGO community and will continue to evaluate the most effective
means to strengthen our partnerships to achieve our common goal of a
secure, democratic Serbia. End comment.

MUNTER

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