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Cablegate: Gasoline On a Fire: Serb Leaders' Rhetoric Inflaming

VZCZCXYZ4750
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHVB #0184/01 0631402
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 031402Z MAR 08
FM AMEMBASSY ZAGREB
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 8660
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS ZAGREB 000184

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

Zagreb Sending for Belgrade

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM ASEC SR
SUBJECT: Gasoline on a Fire: Serb Leaders' Rhetoric Inflaming
Situation

Summary
-------

1. (SBU) In the wake of Kosovo's declaration of independence,
Serbian leaders within the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) and New
Serbia (NS) coalition have publicly incited and enflamed the
delicate political situation through continued statements condoning
violence as a legitimate response to Kosovo's loss. Even in the
week following the attacks on diplomatic missions in Serbia, DSS-NS
ministers, specifically Velimir Ilic and Slobodan Samardzic, have
only passively condemned the violence directed towards the
international community, while Ilic has also directed rage-laden
rhetoric against domestic opponents. Above this hardline
nationalist chest thumping, a few leaders within the Democratic (DS)
and G-17 Plus parties have shown the guts to speak out against
inflammatory statements, but they have yet to gain any significant
traction. Post has become increasingly vocal in singling out those
individuals who incite violent behavior and has demanded that they
be held accountable. End Summary.

Ilic: Condoning Violence and Targeting Opponents
--------------------------------------------- ---

2. (SBU) New Serbia leader and Infrastructure Minister within the
coalition government, Velimir Ilic continues to carry the banner of
hardline nationalist rhetoric. Since Kosovo's declaration of
independence, some of his remarks have condoned violence. Most
recently his statements have targeted democratic opposition leaders,
falsely blaming them for instigating the riots. On February 18,
after the first riots against diplomatic missions, Ilic attempted to
legitimize violence as a means to express Serbia's outrage about
Kosovo when he told the press that, "breaking windows is democracy."
On February 22, responding to the attacks against embassies the
night before, Ilic said to a rally in Central Serbia that, "Some
ambassadors, considering what they deserve, fared really well."

3. (SBU) Taking a different tactic to distance himself from the
violence, on February 28, Ilic said that "traitor groups," including
the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), had organized the February 21
riots in order to overshadow the peaceful and dignified national
protest, according to B92. When asked if people who did not share
the government's position were safe in Serbia, Ilic said, "We cannot
protect people who are conducting operations, stating that Kosovo is
not ours, from getting beaten up by someone who has come from
Kosovo." Following the LDP's accusations that the minister was
spreading hatred, Ilic said, "the LDP condemns everything that
smells like Serbia," adding, "it is shameful that such a political
option even exists." Contacts in the LDP told poloff on February 29
that the party would file a libel suit against Ilic.

Samardzic: Violence a Response to Western Actions
--------------------------------------------- ----

4. (SBU) As point person for the coalition government's Kosovo
policy, Kosovo Minister Slobodan Samardzic, DSS, described violence
against UNMIK as an expected reaction, given the West's support for
Kosovo's independence. On February 20, Samardzic told B92 that the
destruction of police checkpoints along the Serbia-Kosovo border was
a direct reaction by the Serb population in Kosovo. "I believe
that it is legitimate. It may not be nice, but it is legitimate," he
said. After the attack on the U.S. Embassy, Samardzic told
international media on February 24 that the "basis of all violent
acts was the violation of international law" with Kosovo's
declaration of independence, which began "a chain of events." "The
United States is the main culprit ... for all those violent acts,"
he said. On February 25, Samardzic issued a statement saying he
wanted to "continue to calming and stabilizing the situation" in
Kosovo, but did not directly condemn the violence or his previous
remarks.

Individual Leaders in DS and G17 Begin to Speak Up
--------------------------------------------- -----
5. (SBU) Several DS and G-17 ministers have begun to refute the
hardline nationalist rhetoric but their statements are still
sporadic and uncoordinated. Defense Minister Dragan Sutanovac said
on February 22 that the violence in the city was "one of Belgrade's
saddest days." Sutanovac said "nationalist politicians" had fueled
the riots. On the night of the attacks, Sutanovac personally went
to B92, which was a target of attacks, to help guarantee its safety.
On February 28, Economy Minister Mladen Dinkic (G-17), publicly
protested against the DSS -NS Kosovo policy and stated that he could
not "tolerate the battle for preserving the country's sovereignty
being turned into widespread collective hysteria." In response to
the DSS policy of not engaging with countries that recognize Kosovo,
Dinkic said, "Are we in a concentration camp here? We cannot allow
things like this." On March 2, Dinkic spoke out against the DSS's
provocative statements, stating that DSS officials were "abundant
with idiotic, foolish comments as if they were competing for a boss'
sympathies." A G-17 contact told poloff on February 29 that Dinkic
would become more vocal in the weeks to come, but acknowledged that
the party was not coordinating or enlisting others.

Comment
-------

6. (SBU) The unapologetic, and at times inflammatory comments by
hardline nationalists, led by Ilic and Samardzic, continue to incite
the delicate political situation in Serbia. Though numerically
small, the DSS and NS maintain the upper hand in the political arena
as a result of the near silence from the DS. The recent comments by
both Sutanovac and Dinkic are evidence that some democratic leaders
are beginning to find their voice and courage to speak up, but they
have yet to coordinate their messages, limiting their effectiveness.
Post has begun singling out hardline nationalists and demanding the
government hold them accountable for their words and the actions
that they trigger. Post will continue this effort and will continue
to encourage democratic leaders to speak up against incendiary
remarks and the nationalists that promote them. End Comment.


MUNTER

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