The national Communist Party struck back Wednesday at its worrisome renegade, Slobodan Milosevic, casting a vote of no confidence in a Serbian member of the ruling Politburo who is one of Milosevic’s leading supporters.
The vote against Dusan Ckrebic was seen as a serious reversal for Milosevic, the Serbian party leader who has surged to prominence in national politics by championing demands for greater Serbian control over Kosovo, an autonomous province within Serbia that is dominated by Albanians.
The Milosevic forces had hoped to dictate new rules for Yugoslav Communists, envisioning a landmark meeting of the Central Committee that would bring the downfall of the party’s present ruling elite.
Instead, Milosevic was forced to accede to the party leadership’s capacity for self-preservation and compromise, a performance described by other party leaders as “embarrassing.”
One immediate result was that Milosevic postponed indefinitely a mass rally of his supporters that had been scheduled for Saturday in Belgrade.
The Central Committee did allow for changes in the Serbian constitution that would bring greater Serbian control to the security and judicial system in Kosovo. But Milosevic failed to win a wholesale change in the Kosovo leadership, most of which remains intact.
The Central Committee responded to demands for a housecleaning, voiced by Milosevic and others in the face of a deepening economic crisis, by agreeing to a proposal by the Yugoslav party leader, Stipe Suvar, to replace about a third of the Central Committee’s 162 members.
However, the changes will be brought about by administrative action rather than as the result of any spirit of reform. About 30 members will be eased out because they also hold positions in the government administration. Others, Suvar said, will leave for “reasons of health or because they are in conflict with their environment.”
This process is to be carried out over the next six weeks, party sources said, as the party apparatus in the six republics and two provinces reelect their own Central Committees and choose delegates at the federal level.
15 Votes Short
The final act in the party’s three-day meeting was the secret-ballot vote of confidence on 10 members of the 23-member Politburo. Only Ckrebic, one of two Serbian representatives, failed to muster a majority of support, garnering 68 of the needed 83 votes.
In the turbulent moments that followed, Ckrebic submitted his resignation. However, he was restrained by Milosevic, who urged that the resignation not be accepted immediately.
The Milosevic proposal carried, suggesting that Milosevic might yet fight back, rising once more on a tide of Serbian nationalism.
That threat was an obvious concern of many delegates from the other republics, always alert to threats of Serbian domination in Yugoslavia’s fractious federation. Serbs make up a third of Yugoslavia’s 23 million people, and there was a clear sense in the meeting that many Central Committee members wanted to see Milosevic checked.
Depending on Demonstrations
The Communist leadership also appeared concerned about Milosevic’s methods, which have depended on mass demonstrations to pressure the authorities.
Although Milosevic-supported demonstrations have not spread beyond Serbia and Kosovo, as well as the other autonomous province of Vojvodina, other leaders want to be sure that such a political tool is not employed on a wider basis. In Vojvodina, virtually the entire government administration was replaced recently because of one protest.
Milosevic’s support has been grounded in ethnic and nationalist feelings in Serbia, but he also has capitalized on the nation’s economic crisis, which is characterized by frozen wages and high inflation. Also, he has criticized the nation’s leadership for its failure to solve the crisis.
Thus, the Central Committee meeting, in addition to dealing with the general threat posed by Milosevic, was concerned with the secondary theme of allaying the widespread discontent in the country over economic conditions.
Declarations of support for economic reform took up much of the three days of lengthy speeches as the Communists carefully lined up on the side of the party’s optimistic vision of a newly energized, market-oriented economy, the basic outlines of which have been under discussion since 1986.
Two of Wednesday’s speakers were scathing in their assessment of the party’s performance in the session.
Joze Slokar, a representative from the northern republic of Slovenia, said he was unsatisfied with the party’s token housecleaning. He predicted, however, that it will bring no real change.
‘Losing Battles for Years’
“We have been losing battles for years,” Slokar said, “and still the same commanders are in the saddle. . . . Our present leadership includes great fighters for programmed inflation. Now the same people are fighting for a market economy. How can this be?
“Some provinces and republics are on the brink of bankruptcy, and yet the same people remain in power. Maybe that’s why all Yugoslavia is on the brink of bankruptcy. We have heard the same prattle for two days and nothing has changed. I am a father and a grandfather, and I am ashamed in front of my friends and family.”
Stefan Santo, a member from Vojvodina, said he, too, was embarrassed.
“Our attitude here is: Let’s finish this; the people will calm down if one-third of the Central Committee is made to go. I am embarrassed because this means we have not done our job. . . .
“My feeling over the last two days is that I have heard all this for the last three years. Some of what I’ve heard, I’ve heard at least 10 times, and could recite it better than they could read it. . . .
‘No Evidence of That’
“We should ask if the new Central Committee is capable of doing any better job than the last one. In the last two days, I have seen no evidence of that.”
The Central Committee will meet again today, and possibly for two or three days more, to debate the economic reform plan. Western economists believe that while the major elements of the reform are a positive step, it is not likely to provide quick relief for the economic problems.
In addition, the economic crisis could continue to play into the hands of Milosevic and his supporters if the warning they received Wednesday does not discourage them from regrouping for another assault on the power structure.
The national party’s leaders, who will be watching attentively, indicated Wednesday that they are ready to fight back.