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NO 93-94

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INFO   :::  Helsinki Charter - PAGE 2 > Helsinki Charter No. 93-94 > Text


Helsinki Charter No. 93-94

March - April 2006



By Ivan Torov

At the time the battle against Slobodan Milosevic's regime was still on, representatives of the so-called alternative, civil Serbia - non-governmental sector, independent media and some political organizations in the first place - were constant targets of the attempt to knock down the last national-socialist creation in Europe. That was a long, often distressing and usually unequal fight. And yet, this sector's perseverance inspired hope that Serbia could change its mien in foreseeable future.

Occasional rises and moments of triumph were mostly the products of tenacity, even fanaticism of the people who would not give way to the terror of the regime that - in order to survive - mounted nationalism, went on the warpath and committed war crimes. And there were falls, too. They mirrored the movement's understandable inhomogeneity but, above all, its unpreparedness to simultaneously struggle on two battlefronts: to undermine Milosevic's regime and, at the same time, establish true, efficient communication with political and other movements in Serbia, willing to topple Milosevic but perceiving some civil, anti-war and anti-nationalistic Serbia a bigger threat than the so-called red-black coalition. Though sporadic alliances and coalitions gave the impression that differences in perception of the state's future were marginal and would be removed with Milosevic's ouster, as Serbia's "liberation" from Milosevic was gaining momentum and drawing nearer to denouement, the cracks in the ranks of "comrades in arms" were bigger and bigger, and more frequent.

The sum and substance of that (for a time) veiled conflict was actually the understanding and interpretation of the warring, nationalistic policy. The very fact that the nation's "unquestionable leader" had come to power thanks to the "gifts" of the Serbian nationalistic policy - from the infamous rally in Kosovo Polje, the Serbian Academy of Arts and Science's Memorandum on "jeopardized Serbia's interests in the SFRY" to the Eight Session of the League of Communists of Serbia that practically enthroned Milosevic as a "chosen" implementer of Serbian nationalistic and political elite's expansionistic platform - indicated that any future struggle against Milosevic would be far beyond a simple replacement of failed socialism by upcoming elements of European capitalism and its democratic forms. Or not just that, at the very least. The initial years of nationalistic euphoria (homogenization) when "the people have happened" and later on, when ex-Yugoslavia's disintegration became more and more dramatic and traumatic, resulted in a specific situation: while "fathers of the nation," writers and other nationalistic fiddlers saw Milosevic as "a gift from the gods" and "God's elect," the newly created political elite - its most extreme nationalistic circles in particular - converted communists actually wanted more from their "leader." What they wanted form him was "the final resolution of the Serbian national question." Kosovo was just a starting point in the promotion of the consensual policy of having all Serbs unified in a single state. Having assessed that he was strong enough and backed by powerful military and police apparatus, Milosevic met their wishes and started up four wars. But this did not gratify the expectation of the rest of the Serbian nationalistic oligarchy. Actions of sorts against "the omnipotent master" emerged at the onset of his "warring feast." Neither were March 9, 1991, the St. Vitus gathering nor even fierce and intense protests against the 1996-97 rigged elections manifestations of any anti-war sentiment. They were nothing but attempts to have Milosevic's power somewhat limited or at least distributed.

Any expert observer would tell you that programs and ideologies of over 90 percent of Serbia's political parties and movements of the time were nationalistically hued - a fact that by itself testifies that Serbian nationalists couldn't have cared less about the wars plaguing the territory of ex-Yugoslavia, so many destroyed towns, the slaughterhouses of Vukovar, Sarajevo and Srebrenica, and the toll of hundreds thousands human lives. They couldn't have cared less about the prospects of Serbia becoming a pariah for a long time - the image she can hardly get rid off to this very day. While a part of the Serbian elite spoke about harmful wars - as they harmed Serbia the most - the other that has taken the helm after the heinous murder of Serbia's first democratically elected premier Zoran Djindjic, used to sit back in a comfortable gallery and watch all those sufferings at the close of the 20th century, while waiting for someone other to accomplish its program and ideological goals. They were patient enough on the watch for the opportunity that eventually came over when the DOS coalition and Zoran Djindjic in the first place decided that their image of "traitors," "fifth columnists" and "marionettes" would hardly help them to win the September 2000 elections and finally overcome Milosevic. This is why the DOS coalition opted for Vojislav Kostunica, leader of the tiny Democratic Party of Serbia and figure that, according to many at the time, symbolized "high principles" and a mixture of "moderate" nationalism and the so-called national civic course. Many - including, unfortunately, your author - thought that was the best, so to speak, transitory solution given that too many sound arguments indicated that Serbia, once she breaks with a national-socialist dictatorship, would not plunge in the "adventure" of building purer, civil society of the European type. Seen from today's angle, that was probably the biggest mistake of "new, post-Milosevic" authorities represented in the heterogeneous DOS coalition that lacked both strength and political will to face up the remainders of Milosevic's rule in the wake of October 5. Were there not for Zoran Djindjic and his courageous move to extradite Milosevic to The Hague (which he paid with his life later on) one would have thought Serbia had experienced nothing crucial.

However, everything the DOS failed to do played into Kostunica's hands. October 5 lent him wings. A marginal figure was invested with a "new face," actually with a dimension channeling Serbia to a deeper and deeper crisis ever since. Having convinced himself that his grandeur exceeded "a puppet-like transitional solution," he turned his coat, his appetite became keener, and he begun playing many visible and clandestine games. On March 12, 2003, when the Premier was gunned down, the "Alternative Serbia" that has at least recognized Djindjic' vision of a modern European state regardless of his shortcomings (Machiavellianism, overlarge pragmatism and flirting with the Church) lost any opportunity whatsoever to attain some of its goals. Serbian nationalists used the "Alternative Serbia" - which, true, played an invaluable role in the showdown with Milosevic - as a window display legitimizing them to the world as some new, modern alternative. They acknowledged and "respected" her as long as they took her handy. Now that Kostunica holds sway, they restored Milosevic's rhetoric and technology of stigmatization, intimidation, defamation and, as it seems, persecution.

The latest polemic on (non) existence of "this" or "that" Serbia is nothing but an attempt to profit on new circumstances - with Djindjic gunned down, the anti-Hague lobby boosted, tricks played with the international community, facing wars and war crimes denied, Serbia's economic and social plummeting, the syndrome of self-isolation and self-sufficiency restored, relations with Montenegro aggravated and Kosovo once again turned into the arena for Belgrade's petty politics skirmishes - and have anti-war, anti-nationalistic and civil institutions firstly marginalized and then eliminated at long last in order to make room for a new, so to speak, collective, conservative and even Middle Ages illusion. Actually, that's an attempt to return to the past. Those who have actually won Serbia's colors are now seen as a potential threat by the regime going for ideological acrobatics and some magic formula to connect opposites: a modern and democratic Serbia on the one hand, and the values and moral of the Middle Ages Orient. The legacy of the French Revolution is renounced, Dositej Obradovic, Vuk Karadzic and many other advocates of Serbia's Europeanization are anathematized, the "Serbian nation is more distanced from evil and vice than Western civilization" syndrome is revived, and the controversial Bishop Nikolaj Velimirovic becomes the "source" of Serbia's new cultural matrix. Under the newly adopted law on religious communities, the Serbian Orthodox Church is practically bestowed the status of a state or at least parallel branch of power, the red carpet is rolled out to theocracy as basic philosophy of life, while priests are more immune and privileged than politicians and judges. Actually, the law tends to inaugurate St. Save a forefather of Serbian nationalism. Unless duly curbed, a trend as such could be proclaimed the state policy. Anyway, the lightness of equalizing partisans and Chetniks indicates that the logic of the newly passed law on rehabilitation could soon result in proclaiming Draza Mihailovic, Milan Nedic and Dimitrije Ljotic - whose followers (authentic nationalists) are nowadays entrenched in power - national heroes and innocent victims. As matters stand over here, the Church oligarchy uses its unpleasant experience of the communist era as a perfect excuse for extreme arrogance, intolerance and even hate speech. In brief, it turns into a power exempt from law and almost above the state and nation. And with the state eager to hastily return the Church's expropriated property - as the recently converted parliamentary speaker, Predrag Markovic, put it - the Serbian spiritual power can easily and quickly turn into the state's biggest economic and financial profiteer.

So, Kostunica the Untouched pursues his mission. What only jeopardize him in a way are the non-governmental sector and a handful of independent media outlets. But he easily solves this problem too through his time-tested legalistic acrobatics. Actually, he has replaced the term legalism by colligation determining nothing but the attempt to stay in power at all costs - he would not refrain from blackmails, trades, anathematizing people and manipulating the media in his hands. It goes without saying that the fact that no major political grouping, including the Democratic Party and the Socialist Party of Serbia, would not topple him as they leave all Serbia's hot potatoes to him plays into his hands. What we are having now, therefore, is a typical phenomenon of the Milosevic era: Kostunica's cabinet rules sovereignly in spite of its poor ratings. It holds under all major levers of power - the army, the police, secret services and major media (Radio & Television of Serbia, Vecernje Novosti and tabloids) - and carefully controls the arrangement of its cadres. A feudalized government is Kostunica's ideal tool for overcoming any possible grudge of his coalition partners. He counts on the Church's full support as he finances many of its activities. Rather disputable outcome of the recent competition for broadcasting licenses and the good bargain reached with a number of outstanding journalists over their independence give the impression of a "balance" undisturbed even by the overt attempt to impose the belief that "it's high time that Kostunica's colligation includes all Serbian political forces, the Radicals and Ugljanin alike, except for Nenad Canak." The newly appointed Management Board of the Public (governmental) Broadcasting Service, the Radio & Television of Serbia, once again incorporated the failed diplomat, academician Stipcevic, and obscure figures such as ethnologist (and member of the Serbian Radical Party) Dragomir Antonic, the spokesman of the Serbian Orthodox Church and ex-footballer, Dusan Savic, known for parroting that the stick is the surest peacemaker. The fact that Tijanic was reelected acting director probably best mirrors Kostunica's perception of a public broadcasting service and explains, for instance, why media cadres, advisers and negotiators in most complex issues such as Kosovo and Montenegro are constantly recruited from the New Serbian Political Thought magazine and why the latter persistently advocates the thesis that Serbia must realize at long last that she has to live with - good nationalism. The bad one was allegedly consumed by Milosevic.


NO 93-94

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