A crisis triggered late last week when Yugoslavia's prime minister quit to protest the hand-over of former President Slobodan Milosevic to the U.N. is close to solution, key politicians here said in remarks reported Sunday.
A quick resolution of the political dilemma would be good news for Yugoslavia's democratic reformers and for their Western backers. Swift agreement on a new Yugoslav Cabinet would prevent possible disruption from early elections, which might otherwise be required, and would enable technocrats to focus on making good use of the $1.28 billion in international aid they were offered Friday in the wake of Milosevic's transfer to the United Nations war crimes tribunal in The Hague.
Central to the expected deal would be the addition of the small People's Party of Montenegro to the Cabinet. Yugoslavia has two republics, Serbia and the much smaller Montenegro. The People's Party has been associated with democratic reforms in Montenegro, but it broke with the ruling coalition there over the issue of Montenegrin independence.
Montenegro's government is now controlled by pro-independence parties, but the People's Party favors the survival of Yugoslavia. A more prominent role for the party at the national level could help ease tensions between the two republics. A drift toward separation might well continue, but efforts to keep Yugoslavia patched together would get a boost.
Predrag Drecun--the People's Party's No. 2 figure and now a leading candidate to replace Zoran Zizic as prime minister--said Sunday on independent B-92 Radio that naming someone from his party to lead the federal government would be a "reasonable" solution to the crisis.
"In the People's Party, there are many people who would do that job even better than myself," Drecun said. "But for the People's Party, this is a big political reward. I think that in this situation, this solution would be the best compromise."
Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, in an interview published in Sunday's Vecernje Novosti newspaper, said that "one or two representatives of the People's Party" will be in the new Yugoslav Cabinet because that party "is the new coalition partner."
Djindjic said the new Cabinet is also certain to include Zizic's Socialist People's Party, a much larger Montenegrin party.
"Neither we nor they are angry," Djindjic said. "It will be just a small repainting of the same facade."
Djindjic also expressed satisfaction with the transfer of Milosevic to The Hague and the immediate diplomatic and political aftermath of that decision.
"The positive effects are great," he said. "It is an end to agony. The negative ones are really minor."
The 18-party Democratic Opposition of Serbia coalition--which controls the Serbian government and ruled at the federal level in partnership with Zizic's Socialist People's Party--has scheduled a meeting today to discuss the formation of the new federal Cabinet.
Then, on Tuesday, Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica is scheduled to meet with representatives of Montenegrin parties on the Cabinet-building effort. The makeup of the new Cabinet is expected to be announced in about 10 days.
Drecun, the apparent front-runner for the premiership, said the new Cabinet must try to reconcile the views of the international community--which wants the Yugoslav federation to remain intact--with the policies of Serbian reformers and the stands taken by the pro-independence government in Montenegro.
If some common ground can be found, elections for the Yugoslav parliament now scheduled for 2004 could be moved up somewhat and the country could address its problems "in a more quiet, democratic way, without tensions," Drecun said.
"I think all this would end in such a way that Yugoslavia will survive in some redefined form," Drecun said.
One suggestion widely heard here is that as part of a compromise to redefine relations between Yugoslavia's two republics, the country's current name would be dropped and instead it would be called "Serbia and Montenegro."