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NO 99-100

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INFO   :::  Helsinki Charter - PAGE 2 > Helsinki Charter No. 99-100 > Text


Helsinki Charter No. 99-100

September - October 2006



By Sonja Biserko

As regards the process of transformation of erstwhile one-party systems in Europe, one may assert that Serbia is a sui generis case. Namely, Serbia tried to use monumental changes in late 20th century Europe, notably those taking place in the Communist countries, to veer Yugoslavia once again to a centralist concept, or to leave Yugoslavia with territories deemed the Serb ethnic ones. To coalesce the public and prime it for the war, and not an overhaul of Yugoslavia into a genuinely democratic federation, the Serb elite (political, intellectual and clerical) launched propaganda aimed at homogenization of the Serb people on the following ticket: first the resolution of the Serb national issue, and then a turn towards democratization. Embracing of such a concept thwarted pluralization of society, and also of the emergence of an alternative political option. Serbia is yet to renounce its centralist concept with regard to its internal organization, as demonstrated by the new constitution adopted by the Serb Assembly in late September 2006.

Regardless of its 1990 formal acceptance of a multi-party system, after very tumultuous 15 years, Serbia is still in the initial stages of its democratic transformation. Namely in the last 15 years nearly all political parties had been advocating and espousing the national ideology, barring the Civic Alliance of Serbia, Social-Democratic Union, and the League of Social-Democrats of Vojvodina and several minority parties which consistently championed the civic, pro-European option. The latter made up the only, smallish block of political alternative vis a vis the prevailing concept of resolution of the Serb national issue, wars and Kosovo. Ultra militant nationalism and the wars have used up and depleted the human potential, while corruption, isolation and self-segregation have plunged Serbia into a state of general anarchy.

Democratic institutions, division of power, and advocacy and championing of liberal-democratic values of the West, notably human rights, multiculturalism, globalization and similar, are only the formal guidelines of the social-political scene in Serbia, for the prevailing political culture in Serbia is still steeped in patriarchal and authoritarian mind-set, and bereft of a developed spirit of tolerance and of individual civil responsibility. Programs of political parties are based on anti-Communism and total denial of experience and even of achievements of the previous social order. In practice those parties run along the principles of centralism and leadership, and frequently resort to Stalinist methods, notably in personal showdowns.

Socialist Party of Serbia is declaratively a left-wing party, while in practice it acts as an extremely conservative party having embraced in the early 90's methodology of the Stalinist strong-men who wielded power thanks to their factual control over the represive apparatus, (notably army and the police), and the massive, popular support rendered to the ultra-nationalistic, xenophobic and anti-Western policy espoused fervently by the SPS. Having in mind deep roots of the Communist idea in Serbia, Socialists presented themselves as the principapl heirs and advocates of Communism, notably of its social, that is egalitarian component. They only rejected its concept of national policy, that is the idea of Yugoslavia as a federation of 6 equal republics and the idea of Serbia as a factual although not a formal federation : Vojvodina, narrower Serbia and Kosovo.

Democratic Party of Serbia, the Serb Radical Party and the Serb Renewal Movement (later New Serbia) occupied the more radical, extreme, part of the right-wing political spectrum and entreched themselves there. Despite their principled advocacy of some European values, they have been and are nationalistic, clerical and even chauvinistic parties. By resorting to populism (notably the SRP and the SRM) those parties are feeding the masses with the idea of economic egalitarianism, all the while being bereft of a clear economic concept.

What is also characteristic of those parties is their markedly anti-Liberal and anti-human rights stand, for, according to them such ideas tend to break up the community. In advocacy of their retrograde ideas they are whole-heartedly backed by the Serb Orthodox Church. Those parties treat the society as an organic community, as is visible in their treatment of minority communities. During the wars in Croatia and Bosnia those parties urged ethnically cleansed territories. In Serbia proper they sideline the minority issue, notably after Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, a politician who had publicly declared himself a follower of the ultra-conservative nationalistic, right-wing tradition (Nikolaj Velimirovic and Dimitrije Ljotic) took office. Numerous anti-minorities and anti-Semitic incidents in 2003 and 2004 were perpetrated by ultra right-wing groups, that is Obraz and similar groups affiliated with the afore-mentioned parties and the Serb Orthodox Church.

5 October 2000 developments, that is, ouster of Miloševic, were just a small step in the direction of the expected changes. However DOS, an 18-party coalition, soon began to manifest internal tensions and weaknesses, and essentially split into two factions over the two options: pro-European one and the nationalist-Conservative one. The rupture came about when the issue of co-operation with the Hague Tribunal topped the agenda. Thus that issue became the essential watershed between the two aforementioned options embodied by the two leading DOS personalities, Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic and the then SRY President, Vojislav Koštunica. Arrest and subsequent hand-over of Slobodan Milosevic led to the parting of the ways between the two politicians and resulted in assassination of Prime Minister.

Reform-minded Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic tried to define the European Serbia and in that regard, flying in the face of enormous difficulties in given circumstances, he made a considerable progress. In a very short period of time he managed to mobilize a large part of the Serb society, notably the young, and on the basis of the concept of the European Serbia succeeded in gearing their energy towards transition. But his assassination laid bare the character of Milosevic era legacy and of group interests behind that killing, most specifically the military-industrial complex bent on keeping Serbia in total isolation, the alliance of tycoons closely affiliated with the military industry, who had acquired their economic power before the collapse of the Second Yugoslavia, then mafia (drugs and oil smuggling, human trafficking), and all of them in collusion with conservative forces in the state structures and the Serb Orthodox Church.

In 2003 elections all those structures backed the bid Vojislav Kostunica for Premiership, while he even publicly declared that his goal was a break with the policy line toed by Zoran Djindjic. Co-operation with the Hague Tribunal was severed and the groundwork for a political comeback of the SPS and Radicals was laid. An enormous pressure was piled on Democratic Party to get rid of Djindjic's aides and the newly-elected DP president Boris Tadic was tasked with meeting out that demand. Cohabitation(1) between DPS and DP, that is between Kostunica and Tadic, marked the next three years of political life in Serbia. That alliance, with the support of academic circles and part of civilian, pro-government sector, insisted on portraying the Radicals as the greatest danger for Serbia, all the while creating the image of the said alliance as the only alternative. Thus it obtained legitimacy for their own parties, and also for their co-operation and possible coalition in the eyes of both the local electorate and the international community. On the other hand, in parallel, Vojislav Koštunica kept in life his minority government by garnering parliamentary support of the SPS and the SRP, the key levers of Milosevic regime. The above served to genuinely blackmail the international community, and to sideline the political alternative whose alleged radicalism, according to the conservative block, also helped radicalize the Serb Radical Party.

Until the year 2000 the Socialist Party of Serbia managed to monopolize the left-wing space of the political spectrum. In that regard little has changed, for that essentially conservative and dogmatic party, and above all a radically nationalistic one, in fact discredited the left in Serbia for a long time to come. Its left-wing nationalism enjoyed the full backing of the right-wing nationalism of so-called democratic parties, hence no wonder that the SPS backed Kostunica-led minority government. By the way the Socialist Party of Serbia was a spawning ground for cadres taken over by Kostunica, while membership and voters of DPS are most frequently the most fervent followers of Milosevic regime, having simply recognized in the DPS the true heir of the basic contents of Milosevic policy. Both parties availed themselves of the opportunity, by dint of rhetoric, mostly reduced to sheer anti-Communism, to present part of former structures, in a new guise, the one of a democratic alternative. DPS relied on the SPS both for personnel reasons, but the former is of general character, because of the absolute power of the SPS during Milosevic era, and its employment of and control over the whole bureaucratic apparatus, built in several decades. No new government for a certain period of time shall be able to function without cadres of the former SPS. That issue of continuity of administration is a common denominator of all the post-Communist regimes.

Such a deft manipulation of the international community, along with blocking of any attempt to form any alternative, served the following purpose : to bring about finalization of the national project. Assessment of ultra nationalists was based on the assumption that national emotions as the basis of nationalism, were used up, and that it was no longer possible to mobilize the society through a national ideology. The fact that contrary to all expectations the funeral of Zoran Djidnjic, was attended by several hundred thousand people, notably the young, clearly indicated that the national blueprint was totally exhausted. Hence hysteric reactions of the conservative block and its need to demonized and criminalize Zoran Djindjic. The latter in fact aimed at preventing the emergence of any alternative. In view of the foregoing stranglehold on the alternative was strenghtened. The conservative block namely thought that the project was not finished, and that it should be wound up by other means, notably diplomatic ones. In that design the conservative block was greatly helped by benevolence of the international community, that is its insistence on keeping Montenegro in the state union with Serbia. Until the referendum Kostunica-led government treated Montenegro as its top, both internal and international priority. Kosovo, as usual, served to keep the national tension running high. For three decades Kosovo policy aimed at its division. That is, division of Kosovo was the most serious and the only state strategy, notably after NATO intervention.

An almost overnight adoption of Constitution, without a single day devoted to the public debate thereof, also aims at finalization of an exclusively territory-minded project. This time around at play is a definite suspension of historically founded autonomy of Vojvodina, economically the most developed part of Serbia. The importance of the act of stripping Vojvodina of its historical autonomy and of its subjugation of Belgrade for the sake of the nationalistic policy of Belgrade power-holders, is best indicated by the following words of the most influential ideologue of the Serb national policy, Dobrica Cosic: "We lost Kosovo, but we got Vojvodina, which is a terrain of higher quality. " The essential strategic objective of the new Constitution is cementing of centralism and suspension of any specific feature of Vojvodina. Centralization of Serbia, enthroned by Milosevic-promulgated Constitution in 1990, should be legally perpetuated by the new Constitution. Of special concern is the fact that the text of the new Constitution resulted from an agreement with the Radical Party. In fact that agreement met with the key demands of the Radical Party, namely that the primacy be accorded to the national and not the international law, and the one related to status of Vojvodina. Thus DP and DPS, instead of banning the Radical Party, did more for its legitimacy than anyone else in the post-5 October period. Hence it came as no surprise when in the wake of that agreement in a spiteful and rebellious gesture, before the eyes of domestic public and the whole world, that party re-elected as its president the Hague war crimes indictee, Vojislav Šešelj. After such a show of respect for the Radical Party, manifested by DPS and DP in their joint drafting of the first post-Milosevic Constitution of Serbia with the Radicals, the salient issue is who shall be able tomorrow to deny the Radical Party.

However, regardless of the media blockade, numerous negative responses in Vojvodina to such a manner of constitution adoption, the latter being seen by some even as an attack on the specific features of Vojvodina, indicate that the < constitutional coup > caused quite a stir among the public at large. The latter also confirms the existence of an alternative in Serbia. Such a hasty and in a way "covert" adoption of constitution was a big mistake of the ruling coalition, for the society was anew mobilized quite suddenly on the most important topic of society and the state. Numerous reactions, notably in Vojvodina, suggest that citizens are for the first time presented with an opportunity to deal with internal political topics.

Namely it became clear that citizens, like on several occasions in the past 15 years, were more mature then their elite (during demonstrations in 1996/97, 5 October 2000, Djindjic's deathi). The above should be taken as an indicator that citizens are ready for an alternative. But the question is what is an alternative in Serbia today?

In the political scene there are now two clear options : the one espoused by the Serb Radical Party and the one articulated by the LDP, SDU, CAS, the League and the Group of 8 NGOs. The rest is a spectrum of political protagonists who by and large bow to group interests and sporadically rely on national emotions for want of convincing arguments. Among them the only party with a potential is Democratic Party which under the leadership of Zoran Djindjic, ten odd years ago, underwent an an internal transformation, that is, modernization. One cannot dispute the fact that Djindjic used national arguments too, but in parallel he clearly led his party essentially towards Europe. His death, and the cohabitation-style policy of his successor at the party helm, Boris Tadic, have frozen the party, made it hibernate and currently it does not look like the party with a clear pro-European vision, though it has the best cadres. The latest concession made not only to the DPS but also to the Radical Party and Milosevic's Socialists, is a clear testimony of absence of a clearly defined policy alternative in the top leadership of this party, and in parallel one of the strongest blows dealt by that leadership to its very party.

Radicals make up a party which from its inception was either in factual, or in formal coalition with Slobodan Miloševic, and its President, Vojislav Šešelj was a spokesman of Milosevic war policy. Though that party was markedly war-oriented, and even today is an open advocate of Greater Serbia, DOS missed out on opportunities to tackle its discreditation and thus lessen its clout. For a short period of time, after 5 October it was discredited, but experienced its revival after assassination of Prime Minister Djindjic. It is now the most powerful party in Serbia. By dealing with corruption and engaging in populist rhetoric, this party managed to impose itself as an protector of a broad range of transition-time losers. DPS and DP attached importance to it, by making it a key factor in adoption of the 21st century constitution of Serbia. Thanks to DP and DPS the Radical Party of Serbia is at its height now. However, only elections shall show how much trust have the people placed in that party and how true are assessments that it would gain votes of one third of electorate. Having in mind the fact that the ruling coalition parties are constantly manipulating the strength of Radicals, in order to intimidate democracy-minded citizens of Serbia, and above all the international community, it is only judicious to have some reservations about assessments related to the < true > hold of the Radical Party on the Serb electorate. The true picture is likely to emerge only after elections. But one thing is certain : unreserved respect accorded to the Radical Party by DP and DPS in the process of constitution-related negotiations made the Radical Party the biggest winner of the referendum campaign. Inability of pro-democratic parties and individuals, as well as the media (< DANAS >) to comprehend the above, is indicative of a markedly low level of political maturity of the Serb political elite.

Liberal Democratic Party, with its highly dynamic leader Ceda Jovanovic, managed to impose itself as a party speaking openly and with clearly alternative program stands about the key problems: about the Hague Tribunal, about Kosovo, Vojvodina, war crimes. In a very short period of time, his direct speech, that is the radical truth thereof, and also precisely defined program for modern, European future of Serbia, have coalesced masses of young people unafraid of hearing the truth and for whom the acceptance of truth is a prerequisite for liberation not only of their generation, but also of the Serb people as a whole, from collective responsibility for the past. They want a clear and decisive distance-taking of the present-day Serbia from Serbia's policy during Milosevic era, and from all its components too. Because of such a stance of theirs they are subjected to a systematic and aggressive media demonization and frequently to crack-downs on the LDP members and followers. Therefore it is a very encouraging fact that the party managed in a very short period of time to pass the census in many municipalities in local elections and that its popularity is steadily rising.

What is phenomenon of Ceda Jovanovic indicative of? Firstly, that citizens are desirous of changes, but at the same time that the old and the ruling structures, , military-industrial complex, the church, and conservative elite do not want changes. Hence their ample use of all repressive means at their disposal, and prevention of communication between citizens and political alternative via their near-total control of the media. LDP has become the fulcrum of political alternative rallying, though that development was largely contributed to by part of the civilian society, notably Group 8 NGOs. That group took an anti-referendum stance because of a blatant breach of democratic procedure. It kicked off its election strategy based on raising the key issues of internal arrangement of Serbia.

Various combinations which are at play as regards next elections indicate a likelihood of DPS and DP coalition, which can only prologn the agony of Serbia. That coalition is markedly detrimental from the standpoint of strengthening a political alternative, for it helps blurr the difference between the pro-modern and pro-European policy (presented by DP) and conservative, nationalistic, even anti-European policy line toed by DPS, which is to a large extent the policy of continuity with the one pursued before the year 2000. That coalition would be also detrimental because, according to some independent surveys, DP electorate shows inclination towards LDP and vice versa. Therefore the coalition between DP, Croup 17 plus, (possibly SRM) and a grouping affiliated with the LDP, may in a serious way articulate a key alternative in Serbia. To turn this coalition into an alternative both DP and G 17 Plus need strong both internal and external incentives. Coalition between DPS, SRP and SPS looks natural, and it should not be thwarted, for its emergence is the only way of making the political scene in Serbia position itself in the right way. The least sound would be to encourage coalition between DP and DPS. In view of the fact that the majority of parties don't have a clear stand on European integrations, but also by taking into account their different, though in nuances, stands on the Hague Tribunal and EU, the international community should also help a democratic block both in short-term and long-term sense. Coalition between LDP, SDU, CAS and the League of Social Democrats of Vojvodina may play an important role in Serbia as a moral corrective, notably of the Democratic Party, boasting the largest human potential. The role of LDP-SDU-CAS-LSDV, like the one of the Greens in Germany, may be of essential importance in the facing up to the recent past, for without establishment of "a moral minimum" in Serbia, a genuine stability in the Balkans shall remain only a pipe dream.



(1) In principle cohabitation in all democratic states is a normal, perhaps even a desirable form of co-operation between the legislative and executive power, if so implied by the election result. But in the case in question we are facing cohabitation between the two irreconcilable policies-since Serbia is still the state of war, that is, has yet to resolve its war legacy, hence it can not pursue a normal policy.


Belgrade, October 2006

Sonja Biserko


NO 99-100

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