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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 Nikola Samardzic

Serbia presently suffers from political schizophrenia that somewhat touches on the confusion, real or imaginary, of her epic hero, Marko Kraljevic. Feeling helpless and with nothing better to do this temporarily rebellious vassal set himself to demolish the Sultan's road. As it turns out, he was actually after better nestling himself in the arms of his mother to whom he appears to be pathologically close and the Sultan who is still his master. Serbia's ruling elite behaves about the same. As if when deciding to ignore democratic principles and impose yet another political Frankenstein it felt the need to establish a kind of political balance of institutions, the society and the international community. In this context, constitutional procedure and the very text of the Constitution stand for a point of agreement between the minority government left without parliamentary support, the raving Parliament immerged in the vulgarity of populism, the oligarchy nostalgic for the era of mass plunder and mass crimes, and the developed world seeing this milieu of cohabitation President Tadic opted for in a weird attempt to bring closer and reconcile the messages of October 5, 2000 and March 12, 2003 as the shortcut to peaceful and tame Serbia.

Whereas October 5, 2000 turned all constitutions passed in the authoritarian epoch senseless, on March 12, 2003 the Premier's assassins proclaimed the new populist, concentrative policy, a state-church-nomenklatura "symphony" and coming true of Serbian fascism often offhandedly seen as a marginal and insignificant phenomenon. It is only logical that such context resulted in the ongoing quasi-legal constitutional procedure contrary to the reality that annulled the "old," authoritarian constitution.

It was not only by chance that the new draft constitution emerged from the agreement with the policy responsible for aggression and crimes, mass violation of human rights, and persecution and murders both of political opponents and its own dissenters. If this policy's overwhelming presence in the parliament reflects popular will, one shall bear in mind that the parliament's very composition mirrors transitional traumas, national frustration, social insecurity and, perhaps, political irresponsibility. But that's another story. What matters now is that the parliament has missed the opportunity to become a political avant-garde. Instead, it became a stage for the basest political passions and under-the-counter dealing. The draft constitution is just a transparent veil covering the continuity that makes Serbia an unfinished state potentially dangerous for its own citizens.

Oligarchic rule in a country isolated from the developed world resembles slavery. Was such fundamental absence of political freedom on President Tadic's mind as he spoke in favor of this weird constitutional abolitionism? Were freedoms for all minorities and alternatives on his mind? True, he referred to the absence of democratic procedure that implies the widest possible public debate. But he spoke up too late.

The new constitution is a despicable proclamation of a new political slavery resulting from involuntary consent and the compromise that relativizes freedom and non-freedom, individual rights and collectivistic delusions, life and death. Political crypto-slavery derives from the majority's fear of an open society and market, economic and political competition, but also of ruling elites that are, consciously or instinctively, seen as permanent threats. This political slavery is probably just symbolic and temporary. Serbia will probably get rid of it and thus partially liberate herself from the worst political and human shortcomings of her own once her majority becomes capable of coming to grips with its earlier decisions, its true advantages and disadvantages, and upcoming challenges. By voting for the constitution of continuity, i.e. the one mirroring its authoritarian and criminal past, Serbia will most probably confirm that she has to hide herself behind the authoritarian, arrogant state out of fear of both the past and the future.

But unshackling is usually risky and uncertain.

In any case slavery implies discrimination. The constitutional procedure has excluded an entire ethnic community, Kosovo Albanians, Serbian officials have been treating with contempt and disrespect. On the other hand, the constitution anticipates the territory they live in as the majority and future status of this territory that is being negotiated with Serbia's consent and participation.

If the parliament's predominant discourse turned its democratic legitimacy senseless, the "purchase" of MPs, pressures, under-the-counter dealings and, in particular, non-acceptance of G17 ministers' resignations made it illegitimate. In other words, it executed a coup d'etat in tandem with the government. Occasional reshuffles of the parliamentary structure adjusted citizens' electoral will to the government's needs and, sometimes, to the needs of certain tycoons.

Be that as it may be, in the past six years Serbia failed to pass a democratic, liberal and pro-European constitution. Undemocratic parliament and authoritarian, corrupted government were neither ready nor willing for it. Particularly cynical are the arguments grounded on citizens' ignorance and attractiveness of the authoritarian, populist, "husbandry" policy unmoved by neo-liberal extravaganza. If citizens are still considerably attracted by the policy of violence and crime, all post-October 5 governments could have constitutionally removed it from the parliament. It is not only by chance that the draft constitution is in every respect a compromise with such policy and the values behind it. The ongoing constitutional procedure is actually a quasi-legalist substitute for the sequence of events that never took place. Ever since October 5 the interest group favoring Vojislav Kostunica has had less and less common ground with other partners and more and more good will for the Radicals and the Socialists. It has been advocating pseudo-legalism as continuity, and the basest political motives as untouchable popular will.

It's hard to imagine the turn of events after January 2001 had the then parliament seemingly democratic by its majority seized the opportunity of still revolutionary climate to annul the "old" and proclaim a new constitution. It's particularly hard to imagine that in the light of the series of coups that has been marking ever since the rule of Kostunica & Co. ("purchase" of MPs, non-acceptance of resignations by the vice-premier and ministers from the G17 Plus, etc.).

By comparison with the state of affairs and actual needs, and, in particular, the attained freedoms, the draft constitution restricts the rights of territorial and city autonomies. Lawmakers invoke in vain "the highest European standards" (as if there were higher and the highest standards). A European, democratic and liberal constitution would have been shorter, more concise and clear-cut, it would have paved a "European" way to Serbia's statehood and sovereignty and it would have transferred statehood properties to Vojvodina, the rest of Serbia, local autonomies and cities. The constitution's invocation of human and civil rights is of no avail - for, those rights are suffocated by authoritarian breath of the same centralism that has already demolished two Yugoslavias.

The provisions dealing with human rights are particularly disputable. For, instead from international conventions, those rights are derived from the very constitution, itself a product of political agreement and prone to adjustment to any future political realities. Definition of Serbia pinpoints her national character as if Serbia has not traveled her national way in the past 200 years. Instead of providing individual rights and freedoms, and the rights and freedoms of territorial communities, this constitution provides collectivism and discrimination. It even fails to consequently provide division of power.

Even well-intentioned criticism - voiced by experts and analysts, whose democratic motives are not open to question regardless of the fact that they have nestled themselves in the warm rot of today's cohabitation - indicate the constitution's serious shortcomings when it comes to democratic expectations, standards and needs. Democratic values do not solely relate to a formal freedom of choice. They imply development of civil individualism, they encourage dialogue on fundamental issues and cherish political egalitarianism. The parliament and the government were directly insulting citizens with their arrogant referendum campaign. The President was doing the same with his offhandedness and incompetence. The Premier has violated, among other things, the autonomy of the University by exerting pressure on the Rector and deans, who have no competence whatsoever in the constitutional procedure.

Reluctant, hostile and indisposed to reconsider the recent past, Serbia's ruling elite, i.e. the oligarchy of the politicians escaping democracy, the secret police escaping the law, the secret army escaping the state, the tycoons escaping justice and the church escaping Christianity, was neither able nor felt the need to offer a constitution that clearly charts a European and democratic future. It offered an authoritarian, arrogant and isolationist constitution. Isolationism saves it the trouble of learning from the experience of others that might introduce new ideas, inspire new hopes and awaken new optimism. Even curiosity leads to freedom, Serbia's sole, realistic and collective need that implies discontinuity with politics and the ruling elite. This will also make it possible to understand Serbia's need for a new identity. At least, travelers make up the biggest nation in the world.


NO 99-100

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