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Interview with Goran Svilanovic, President of the Civic Alliance of Serbia
"...I 'woke up' in uniform"

JURIST Exclusive, July 5, 1999

[Editor's Note: The Civic Alliance of Serbia is one of Yugoslavia's primary opposition parties; its leaders and supporters played a major role in the Belgrade street protests against the Milosevic regime in 1997. This interview with party President Goran Svilanovic was conducted by e-mail; the questions were posed by JURIST's Director, Professor Bernard Hibbitts, Associate Dean for Communications & Information Technology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.]

JURIST: President Svilanovic, thank you for agreeing to be interviewed by JURIST: The Law Professors’ Network. Could you tell us about your political background, and how you came to lead the Civic Alliance earlier this year?

Goran Svilanovic: I worked with [former Civic Alliance leader] Vesna Pesic from 1993. I was involved in different projects of the Center for Antiwar Action (CAA), which she used to lead. These projects, like "SOS Hotline for the victims of the discrimination", always dealt with the protection of ethnic minorities in Yugoslavia. To this day, we are both members of the CAA Steering Committee.

During the preparatory process for the federal and local elections in 1996, Ms. Pesic asked me to help organize ourselves by joining the legal team of the Civic Alliance. Soon after that we joined the Zajedno Coalition, and the legal team of the Civic Alliance become the legal team of the Zajedno Coalition. I represented the Zajedno Coalition in cases in the Supreme Court of Serbia and the Constitutional Court of FRY, as well as in the lower courts. Together with Prof. Vesna Rakic Vodinelic, who was leading the team, and Prof. Vojin Dimitrijevic, I also represented the Coalition during the communication with the mission of the Personal Representative of the OSCE Presidency, Mr. Felipe Gonzalez.

From mid-1997 I was spokesperson of the Civic Alliance and from 1998, vice-president.

At the session of the Assembly of the Civic Alliance scheduled for the 28th of March, 1999, it was planned to elect me as President of the Civic Alliance, Mr. Konstantin Obradovic as a Vice-President and Ms. Vesna Pesic as the new President of the Assembly. Everything was prepared, invitations were sent, but unfortunately, the state of war was declared on the 24th, and I was drafted on the 28th. Instead [of being] at the party assembly I "woke up" in uniform. On April 1st, the Presidency of the Civic Alliance met and proclaimed me as President. This procedure was extraordinary and therefore in July or at the latest in September we will have a session of Assembly to elect a President and Vice-President as well as a President of the Assembly, as originally planned.

JURIST: How is the Civic Alliance different from the other opposition groups in Yugoslavia, e.g. Vuk Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement and Zoran Djindjic's Democratic Party?

Goran Svilanovic: Since its foundation, the Civic Alliance of Serbia has had a very high profile as an antiwar, anti-nationalistic and reform-oriented party. We have paid a very high price for this attitude, with a relatively small number of supporters at the polls, but on the other hand the Alliance was always very much respected by other opposition parties. Others respect us for never trading with the regime, never trading with our principles, and for always defending our political position very courageously. In keeping with that position we strongly opposed the war adventures in Bosnia and in Croatia, as well as the latest adventure in Kosovo, accusing the regime of organizing paramilitary forces which committed war crimes. We have always tried to explain to the people that nationalistic policy leads to disaster.

The Civic Alliance is also known as a party that was formed mostly by high-ranking intellectuals, many of them professors at the University. We were always supportive of coalition-building among opposition parties in Serbia. Finally, the Civic Alliance was one of three parties (together with the Democratic Party and the Serbian Renewal Movement) making up the Zajedno Coalition that won local elections and brought hundreds of thousands of supporters into the streets to defend their electoral victory when the regime tried to illegally change the results. The Civic Alliance is also connected with the highest number of NGO's in Serbia, particularly those dealing with human rights issues.

The disadvantage of our party is that it was always a little bit too intellectual-oriented and has not been able to gain more popular support, although it was successful in gaining sympathies and respect. Another disadvantage was that we were insisting on human rights standards, pushing very hard for a "rule of law" state, which made some people say that we looked more like an NGO than like a political party. On the other hand some observers have said that because of the Civic Alliance's intellectual potential, "It is not a party, it is a government waiting to come into power".

JURIST: You were actually drafted into the army during the recent war with NATO. Given your profound disagreements with the Government, why did you agree to serve? What did the soldiers and officers you served with think of the war? Were they aware of what was going on in Kosovo?

Goran Svilanovic: This is the question I am regularly asked these days, partly because of the reasons you mentioned, and partly because of the fact I was the only party leader that was drafted during the war.

It was, of course, my personal decision to reply to the summons to serve. Even before, a year ago when I was drafted for a period of regular service in the Army, I replied. Then and now I want to explain that opposing the regime does not mean ruining institutions that should continue to exist after the regime collapses. One of the institutions that has been devastated by the regime is the Army. The fact that it was involved in four wars with humiliating results (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and now Kosovo), and that part of it may have been involved in war crimes, has made people blame the Army for what Milosevic's regime actually did.

I think that people should try to distinguish between institutions of the state and the regime. The regime has actually succeeded in ruining almost all of the institutions, namely, parliament, government, and political parties. This is one of the problems of this country. It looks like we have elections, but elections are stolen; it looks like we have a parliament and government, but all decisions were always decided by Milosevic and several people around him. Institutions have served only as a facade.

While in the Army I explained that it is not true that all political subjects were unified around Milosevic, and that we could make a difference between defending the regime and defending the country. I think that people greatly appreciated the fact that in an interview given to the Belgrade weekly NIN at the beginning of the war, I said openly that I opposed Milosevic's regime and that I was not in the Army to defend him, but to try to help innocent people who were frightened by the bombing.

I served around Belgrade and was not involved in any actions or fighting. My impression is that not many people generally, or soldiers particularly, knew what was going on in Kosovo before and during the air strikes, unless they were directly involved. On the other hand people do know that horrible things must have happened to make hundreds of thousands of Kosovo Albanians flee Kosovo.

JURIST: Do you think that the International War Crimes Tribunal was well-advised to indict President Milosevic for war crimes?

Goran Svilanovic: Neither the political nor the criminal case is over, therefore it is hard to say whether this decision was correctly timed. The fact is that Milosevic was not indicted after the wars in Bosnia or in Croatia, namely after the Dayton agreement was signed. He used this grace period to strengthen the regime in Serbia and to continue producing conflict in Kosovo. It was openly said by Ms. Arbour that she had not presented the evidence before but only now, and that implies political influence over the latest decision. Some powers had the evidence before, but did not want to present them to the Court. They should explain why did not they present the dossier.

JURIST: Is Kosovo lost? What should the Yugoslav government be doing to improve its relations with Kosovar Albanian leaders who will control an autonomous region and possibly lead it to full independence?

Goran Svilanovic: The current Yugoslav government can do nothing about that. It is neither willing nor able. It doesn't even have credibility to do that.

If serious political and economic changes occur in the coming year, there is a chance to establish dialogue between the democratic governments of Serbia and FRY and the local population in Kosovo. If at that moment there are Serbs in Kosovo this dialogue will have one purpose; if there are no Serbs, the purpose will be completely different.

JURIST: It is reasonable for foreign governments - in particular the United States - to make reconstruction aid to Yugoslavia conditions upon a change in government?

Goran Svilanovic: The Civic Alliance is opposed to the isolation of Serbia. It would be the greatest present to Milosevic's regime if Serbia were isolated. Milosevic would be able to continue his governance no matter how people live in the country. Look at the cases of Cuba, Iraq and so on.

We believe that sanctions should be gradually lifted, and that FRY should be accepted into the OSCE on a quid pro quo basis. One condition should be organizing fair elections under the auspices of the OSCE. Once in the OSCE, Yugoslavia should be asked to obey the rules of the OSCE.

I am aware of the counter-arguments, but want to remind everyone that Milosevic did not lose the elections during the isolation and war in 1993, but during the period of relative stability and economic improvement one year after the Dayton agreement was signed, at the end of 1996.

JURIST: How should opposition parties like the Civic Alliance persuade the government to hold elections as soon as possible? If elections are called how can their freedom and fairness be guaranteed? If the government is not willing to call elections soon, is your party membership willing to help mobilize the people to bring the government down through popular protest?

Goran Svilanovic: The Civic Alliance, together with other parties that have formed the Alliance for Change, has already organized a very successful rally in Cacak and is planning to organize a series of public protests in Serbian cities. These meetings should relieve people in Serbia from fear, on one hand, and should push government towards change, including the organization of fair elections, on the other hand.

JURIST: It has been suggested that two pillars of a liberal democracy are a free press and free speech in the universities. What steps would your party take to restore the independence of the media and re-establish academic freedom in Yugoslavia?

Goran Svilanovic: Our party was particularly targeted by the Law on Universities. Out of eight members of the Party Presidency, four were fired from the Law School in Belgrade at the end of 1998, including myself. The Law on Information devastated the media picture of Serbia. These two laws, as well as many many others that were brought in by the "Red and Black" coalition during 1998, will be changed, either by a transitional government before the elections, or by a new one afterwards.

Liberation of the media will be one of the preconditions for elections. Without opening of the central and local media, there can be no elections in Serbia. In one sentence, there will be no Milosevic-run elections in Serbia any more.

JURIST: Thank you very much for answering our questions.

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