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Cablegate: Who's Running Serbia

VZCZCXYZ6360
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHVB #0203/01 0650905
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 050905Z MAR 08
FM AMEMBASSY ZAGREB
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8685
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RUFOADA/JAC MOLESWORTH RAF MOLESWORTH UK
RHMFISS/CDR USEUCOM VAIHINGEN GE
RUFNSAA/AFSOUTH NAPLES IT

UNCLAS ZAGREB 000203

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

SIPDIS

ZAGREB SENDING FOR BELGRADE
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM KBTS KPAO SR MW KV
SUBJECT: WHO'S RUNNING SERBIA

REF: ZAGREB 184

Summary
-------

1. (SBU) By keeping Serbians fixated on Kosovo, Prime Minister
Kostunica has retained control of Serbian politics despite President
Tadic's reelection last month. Kostunica's hard-line nationalist
response to Kosovo is obstructing Serbia's path to EU integration by
paralyzing the government and exposing deep political rifts. Some
leaders of pro-EU parties, however, have finally begun to challenge
Kostunica by trying to shift the focus back to Serbia's European
path. End Summary.

Kostunica Emboldened
--------------------
2. (SBU) Kosovo has been and remains a deeply emotional issue among
Serbs, as both polling and anecdotal evidence suggest. However, the
February 21 protest in Belgrade -- a serious GOS undertaking in
every aspect including arranging free nationwide transportation and
a school holiday -- has been the only sizable public rally against
Kosovo independence in Serbia since February 17. Kostunica's
manufactured massive protest and the ensuing government-sanctioned
attacks on embassies on February 21 in Belgrade was the latest
evidence that PM Kostunica has effectively neutralized his rivals by
keeping Kosovo the preeminent national issue. With President Boris
Tadic and all other Democratic Party (DS) officials keeping their
distance (Tadic and Foreign Minister Jeremic were in Romania),
Kostunica shared the stage with only his coalition partner Velimir
Ilic of New Serbia (NS) and the opposition Radicals (SRS). After
the rally, rather than repudiating the deadly violence committed by
Serbs both in Serbia and northern Kosovo, Kostunica and hard-line
nationalist allies blamed the "legal violence" committed to Serbia
through Kosovo's independence as a catalyst for the havoc (reftel).


3. (SBU) In addition to the rally's success, the slower than
expected pace of countries recognizing Kosovo, as perceived by the
GOS, has further emboldened Kostunica and other hard-line
nationalist leaders. Contacts at the UN Office in Belgrade, who met
with Kostunica on February 28, told poloff that Kostunica appeared
upbeat and expressed optimism that the number of Kosovo recognitions
would "not reach critical mass." Foreign Minister Jeremic, who has
generally been in lockstep with Kostunica on his diplomatic
offensives against Kosovo, echoed this during a gathering of
regional leaders in Bulgaria on February 28, saying that Kosovo
would only be recognized by about 40 countries "once the dust
settles."

Tadic Inert
-----------

4. (SBU) President Boris Tadic won 2.3 million of his citizens'
votes just last month, but has thus far refused to fight Kostunica
over the core principle that secured his reelection: Serbia's future
in the European Union. Tadic and his advisers insist that Serbia's
path to the EU remains open, even though Kostunica has ruled out any
steps towards integration while the EU deploys its mission in
Kosovo. Addressing the DS executive board on March 2, Tadic
insisted that Serbia could have both Kosovo and the EU, stressing
that he would both defend Serbia's "territorial integrity" but
"never abandon the policy of...European integration." Tadic also
said that the DS would not leave the government.

5. (SBU) Tadic's efforts may be limited out of fear of retribution
from Kostunica and other hard-liners. According to contacts in
Deputy Prime Minister Bozidar Djelic's (DS) cabinet (protect), Tadic
will likely continue to remain quiet in refuting the DSS on Kosovo
and pushing EU integration. Djelic's senior advisers told poloff,
March 3, that Tadic is concerned that if he speaks up too much
against DSS and current Kosovo policy he could be impeached by a
DSS/SRS majority in Parliament for not upholding the Constitution.

Unity on Kosovo
---------------

6. (SBU) Kostunica has called for continued unity among the
governing parties on Kosovo at the expense of the government's other
priorities. The DS-DSS-G17 coalition agreed at formation in May
2007 that the government would maintain five governing principles:
Kosovo, EU integration, combating corruption and organized crime,
increasing standard of living and full ICTY cooperation. Tadic won
reelection last month based largely on delivering on EU integration,
also the G17 Plus' central issue. For months, Kostunica has
stressed Kosovo as more important than the EU or any other issue.
Since January 2008, Kostunica has vowed to block any movement
towards the EU, including the interim political agreement offered on
January 28, because of EU plans to deploy the EULEX mission to
Kosovo. On March 2, DSS spokesperson Andreja Mladenovic said "the
DSS calls on all parties not to split the country over the issue of
EU association. Instead, we must all assume a joint position that
Serbia wants to join the EU together with Kosovo and Metohija as its
integral and unalienable part."

Conflicted Priorities
---------------------

7. (SBU) DSS insistence that Kosovo must remain the top, and perhaps
the only, issue for Serbia has exposed serious rifts within the
governing coalition. DSS officials have dismissed any instability
within the coalition due to a common Kosovo policy. DSS Vice
President Milos Aligrudic told Belgrade daily Vecernje Novosti on
February 29 that the GOS was stable due to its united Kosovo policy.
He said he expected decisions on EU accession to be resolved
"later." DSS spokesperson Andreja Mladenovic told the press, March
2, that "it is of the greatest importance that we preserve this
policy and thus maintain Serbia's state and national unity," and
noted that all major parties had supported the Serbian Constitution
in October 2006 which "says Kosovo is Serbia."

8. (SBU) DS and DSS officials both cite the government's "five
principles" but Kostunica has successfully brought two of them --
Kosovo and the EU -- into direct opposition. Former Tadic adviser
and Kosovo negotiator Leon Kojen told poloff February 29, that these
"conflicted" priorities resulted in the "bad marriage" of the DS-DSS
and dysfunctional government. Even Kosovo Ministry adviser Edislav
Manetovic (protect) told poloff, February 28, that Serbia's EU track
was "currently held hostage" because of different DS-DSS priorities,
and he acknowledged splits "even within DSS" on Kostunica's
tactics.

G17, LDP & (Some) DS Ready to Change the Subject
--------------------------------------------- ---

9. (SBU) As reported in reftel, some Serbian leaders have begun
speaking out against Kostunica's fiery rhetoric. Officials in the
three pro-EU parties (G17 Plus, LDP, DS) have publicly accused
Kostunica of obstructing EU integration. In bold, pragmatic
comments, G17 Plus Vice President Ivana Dulic-Markovic told a Novi
Sad daily on February 27 that the GOS could fall if Serbia did not
make progress towards the EU, starting with the interim political
agreement. "Our position in the fight for Kosovo will be stronger if
we have friends in the EU and if we are economically prosperous. If
these politics of the government continue, I am afraid that we will
be left without Kosovo and without the EU," Dulic-Markovic told
Gradjanski List. Dulic-Markovic said that the GOS was solely
focusing on Kosovo and that the GOS "has forgotten about" the other
four government principles. She blamed the DSS for "obstructing"
Serbia's path to Europe and urged the DS work on EU integration
noting Tadic had been elected by a majority of Serbians to do so.
On March 2, Economy Minister Mladjan Dinkic (G17 Plus) said on a B92
program that Kostunica had employed "Milosevic-like" strategies to
stoke anti-US and anti-Western sentiments over Kosovo. Dinkic
called Kostunica's strategy of entering the EU only with Kosovo
"unrealistic" and the DSS-NS pre-election campaign, "Kosovo is
Serbia," was the party's only and entire platform. Like Milosevic,
Dinkic argued, Kostunica has used the plight of Kosovo Serbs to
dominate Serbia's political scene "however, this time it will not
happen." In response, DSS spokesperson Mladenovic told the press on
March 4 that the DSS would no longer speak with G17 Plus and that
Serbia will continue its "single state policy."

10. (U) The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has repeatedly invited
"all democratic forces" to join together for a pro-EU coalition. On
February 8, the LDP issued the statement blaming Kostunica for a
"silent coup" obstructing Serbia's EU integration. On February 11,
the LDP "reminded" Tadic and the DS that Kostunica is "the main
obstacle to the European future of Serbia." On February 22, the LDP
cited the rally and violence in Belgrade and called for "joint and
resolute action" by a pro-EU coalition to "save Serbia's future."

11. (SBU) Though Tadic has not led the way, some in the DS are
working on changing the subject. Deputy PM Djelic's advisers
(strictly protect) told poloff, March 3, that Dinkic was
coordinating his rebuttals against the DSS closely with DS leaders.
The DS will become more vocal on changing the public debate and tone
over the next month. In a sign of this shift, Djelic told the press
on March 3 that Serbia still aims to sign a Stabilization and
Accession Agreement (SAA) with the EU this year. His advisers
insist they are realistic, however, telling poloff "differences"
within the governing coalition would prevent an SAA but that work on
EU integration can still be done in the meantime. Djelic's staff
cited recent progress on financial and visa facilitation agreements
between Serbia and the EU, and said their aim was for Serbia to be
eligible for EU candidate status once Serbia signs the SAA. Djelic
said publicly, March 3, "nothing prevents Serbia from starting the
implementation of the SAA so as not to lose precious time." Post
has cautioned DS officials not to promise Serbians an SAA like they
did during Tadic's reelection campaign and suffer the consequences
of not meeting expectations. In addition, Tadic's domestic policy
adviser, Nebojsa Krstic, told the press on March 4 that the DS was
considering "a referendum on a European path" in the event the
DSS-NS and the SRS insisted on blocking an SAA.

Comment
-------

12. (SBU) It is a dark time for Serbia's European future. Although
the pro-EU forces in Serbia realize their imperative -- getting EU
integration back on track -- Kostunica continues to successfully
drown out their voices with nationalist furor on Kosovo. The United
States must keep supporting pro-European efforts here, but it is
incumbent upon these pro-EU forces, especially President Tadic, to
build upon their majority base of 2.3 million citizens and move the
political discourse in Serbia past the myth of Kosovo in Serbia and
onto the promise of Serbia in Europe. End Comment.

MUNTER

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