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NO 111-112

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INFO   :::  Helsinki Charter - PAGE 2 > Helsinki Charter No. 111-112 > Text


Helsinki Charter No. 111-112

September - October 2007


Eight Session of the Central Committee of the League of Communists of Serbia: Twenty Years Later


By Sonja Biserko

Not even twenty years after the Eight Session of the Central Committee of the League of Communists of Serbia, this crucial event that preluding ex-Yugoslavia's bloody disintegration has not been reviewed with relevant criticism. The Serbian media but also key players - with few exceptions - have referred to the Eight Session as "a showdown in the family" (between Milosevic and Stambolic), assessing that the ensuing developments would have been the same, more or less. Such assessment is only logical when one takes into account the official interpretation of ex-Yugoslavia's disintegration, based on the West's and secessionist republics' complot. This premise made not only the starting point of Slobodan Milosevic's defense before the tribunal in The Hague but was also proclaimed the official truth by all state institutions, and political and intellectual elites. Its promoters are academicians who have defended it with all their might when taking stand in The Hague. All in all, the Eight Session has been treated as a minor event in Serbia.

The Eight Session was a putsch realized with the assistance of military plotters who had previously harmonized their actions with the then political and intellectual elites. The latter had planned ex-Yugoslavia's transformation into the state dominated by the Serb majority. Or, as Milosevic put it in 1991, "We must think as one if we want Serbia to dictate developments as the biggest republic." Seeing Milosevic as the man with most appropriate personal traits and profile for the task, Gen. Nikola Ljubicic and his circle picked him for the project already announced in the Memorandum of the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences /SANU/. Actually, the Eight Session was a major watershed in Serbia's ideology and policy since it installed ethno-nationalism as official policy.

To understand Milosevic's role and the historical significance of the Eight Session one has to place them into a wider political context. That was the time when reactions to the Yugoslav crisis were being crystallized: Slovenian and Croatian responses on the one hand, and Serbian on the other. Many of numerous affairs shaking the then Yugoslavia - in Kosovo, Croatia and Bosnia, in particular - were planned in Belgrade. The financial scandal involving the Agrokomerc Company (and its director Fikret Abdic) was probably the most illustrative of all. The scandal was meant to discredit Hamdija Pozderac, vice-president of the SFRY Presidency, a notably pro-Yugoslav politician and next in the line for the presidency (in the midst of the scandal he died all of a sudden). Later on, Fikret Abdic was used as a tool to provoke the Muslim-Muslim conflict, which considerably undermined the anyway weak position of Muslims-Bosniaks. Yet another case had far-reaching consequences. In the Paracin barrack, private Azim Kelmendi killed four soldiers of different ethnic origin, and only one of them was a Serb. However, in Serbia the murder triggered off an unprecedented anti-Albanian campaign - for, that was the time when the Serbian leadership was drafting amendments to the Constitution and planning to abolish Kosovo's autonomy.

Shortly after he came to power Milosevic begun to "discipline" the media, i.e. to establish full control over them. An editorial agency tasked with staging campaigns day in day out - firstly against Albanians and Croats and then against the rest - was established. Old wounds were reopened, the WWII genocide and the so-called cultural genocide against the Serbs in Kosovo were used to mobilize the Serbs, particularly those in Croatia and Bosnia.

For their part, academicians and the great majority of the intellectual elite begun to publicly side Milosevic and harness their authority for anti-Yugoslav propaganda. Historians were launching misleading interpretations of the Serbs' endangered position. Firstly in the Literary Papers and then through other media as well, academicians were orchestrating the thesis about "Serbia's striking regression in Yugoslavia" - regression in the domains of economy, civic liberties, democracy, ethnicity, statehood and last but not least - "the grandiose culture of the Middle Ages." Serbia was singled out as the only loser in Yugoslavia - for, as they put it, the Serbs were the only European nation, which an ideology not only deprived of the entire Middle Ages but also annulled its liberation wars. Consequently, Serbia's entire economy after the WWII was "subjected to various forms of exploitation and inequality."

The first joint venture of the SANU and the new Serbian regime was the SANU conference "Pressing Constitutional Problems and Constitutional Amendments." Constitutional amendments were publicly debated at all levels. The Association of Serbian Writers, the Sociology Society of Serbia and the Philosophy Society of Serbia submitted the Contribution to the Public Debate on the Constitution. The paper asserted the necessity for a change of the 1974 Constitution it labeled the major origin of the Yugoslav crisis. It was introduced and elaborated by Dobrica Cosic. According to Cosic, a well-thought-out, decisive and thorough reform of Yugoslavia's entire social, economic and political order that will turn an individual - "a free citizen rather than a sovereign state as a 'bureaucratic kingdom'" - into the basic political factor was the only way to overcome the crisis of Yugoslavia's existence. By relying on the Serbs as the majority nation and neglecting the interests of other republics, the paper was actually after majoritarianism - the principle adopted later on by all relevant factors in Serbia, including the United Yugoslav Democratic Initiative /UJDI/.

When other republics refused to consider the amendments to the SFRY Constitution, Serbia's entire political and intellectual elite focused on changing the Serbian Constitution. The Belgrade Law School played a significant role in the ensuing constitutional debate. However, when autonomous provinces Vojvodina and Kosovo said no to the constitutional change, the Serbian leadership went for non-institutional means. And in that law professor Ratko Markovic play a key role. "Entire Serbia is a convention, a spontaneously convened constitutional assembly in permanent session, where people directly - without any mediators or interpreters of its wishes - writes its own constitution as an act of its self-definition," wrote Markovic. Such interpretation of popular will bypassed both provinces. For, as Markovic put it, "constitutional power is embodied in people rather than in some constitutional body," and "the people comes before any constitution."

In Kosovo, the constitutional change provoked mass protests against the curtailed autonomy. Ever since, Kosovo has been under the regime of extraordinary measures. At the protests in Novi Sad (called "yoghurt revolution") demonstrators clamored for resignation of the entire Vojvodina leadership. And that was a prelude to the crusade against Yugoslavia. Annexation of Montenegro ensued and then a failed crusade against Slovenia. To punish it for the failure, Slovenia was expelled from Yugoslavia. The Serbian leadership reasoned that the act would facilitate the showdown with Croatia and Bosnia. Serbian ethnic territories were rounded off relatively soon after the 1991 war broke out. And the booty was supposed to be kept for good once the UN peace forces were allocated on the terrain.

By its methodology the anti-bureaucratic revolution was Bolshevic and undemocratic. Milosevic went after all federal institutions, paralyzed them and turned inoperative and thus totally degraded them. Having installed "the people" as a political factor ("the people happened"), Milosevic introduced non-institutional methods that turned republican and then federal institutions senseless. The ideas underlying "anti-bureaucratic revolution" were formulated back in 1970s over debates on constitutional amendments. In 1970s the above mentioned law professor Kosta Cavoski formulated the people's right to "resistance and rebellion," while his colleague Mihailo Djuric was "predicting" thorough disintegration of the state but of the Serbian nation as well. That was the time when the thesis about "administrative" republican borders took root (the thesis Kosta Cavoski re-launched later on). Professor Radoslav Stojanovic announced that Serbian nationalism would mushroom in the event of the adoption of a new constitution.

The Serbian political class and elite's perception of the 1974 Constitution as the origin of the Yugoslav crisis still makes the starting point of the present-day interpretations. The crusade against Yugoslavia now has its epilogue in The Hague tribunal. Many sentences remained incomplete because of Serbia's inadequate cooperation with the ICTY. And this is particularly evidenced by the fact that political context was not taken into consideration in certain trials (such as the trial of the Vukovar troika). However, when one bears in mind all the limitations of international justice against the actual international constellation, the documents on ex-Yugoslavia's disintegration make up a capital compilation. Besides, court justice does not have a final say about the developments in the territory of ex-Yugoslavia. Fundamental research that will, for sure, lay bare the character of the Eight Session is still to be conducted. Serbia's reaction to the ongoing developments in Bosnia-Herzegovina testifies that it has not given up territorial aspirations in the neighborhood. Any attempt by the UN High Representative to consolidate Bosnia-Herzegovina is seen in Serbia as an attack at its booty that must be defended with all might. Adoption of Montenegrin constitution, the first civil constitution in the region, was perceived in Serbia as a direct threat to the Serbian minority in Montenegro. Serbia's frustration over the Kosovo status culminates as the prospects for compensation - Republika Srpska in return for Kosovo - seem weaker despite Russia's ample support.

By force of circumstances, Serbia was on the winning side throughout the 20th century. And it hugely benefited from that fact that it dominated Yugoslavia in the first place. Now, for the first time in modern history, Serbia is on the losing side, a cold-war loser. Serbia has sided the Russia that opposed Gorbachev by the end of the cold war. By endorsing a "Putin's Serbia" now, Serbia ignores the fact that Russia is an imperial power by definition, and that is a losing position in the long run. Also, it ignores that Russia looks after its own interests only. Continual confrontation with Europe - actually, its irreplaceable partner - is not in Russia's interest. Russia just wants to restore some of its glory. And that's legitimate, if possible. Against such backdrop, Serbia is nothing but an instrument.


NO 111-112

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