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NO 115-116

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Helsinki Charter No. 115-116

January - February 2008



By Nikola Samardzic

In post-conflict and neo-conflict Serbia anti-communism could be interpreted in the light of transformation of communism that relates not to local circumstances only. Two decades after the collapse of East European communism it is hard to determine a linear transformation with common denominators of individual shifts towards economic and social transition, and political pluralism. Each case emerges, more and more, as a specific one. Reforms were not linear but were conditioned by historical heritage and actual circumstances. And regardless of their content, quality and progress one may conclude that in the meantime communism has disappeared from European and probably the world politics, that it has been pushed to the margins, which also wear out as time goes by and retreat faced with the wave of globalism. Does it make sense at all to discuss anti-communism and do the negligible remnants of anti-communism deserve any attention?

I do not want to overestimate the significance of those issues, particularly at the time of tectonic disturbance caused by Kosovo's independence declaration, itself a pretext for the official Belgrade's derangement. Discussions about communism and anti-communism that are usual parts of the structure of domestic politics and its mental confusion reveal predominant currents in that politics with surprising precision. There is a reason for it. Almost the entire Serb politics emerged from the populist wave, permeated with the Kosovo myth and officially raised in 1987 by Slobodan Milosevic and Dobrica Cosic, its torchbearers and symbols. In the decade that followed the opposition was restrained by the official paradigm, notably convincing in the general context of belligerent aggression and international isolation. Whenever the nomenklatura invoked the Kosovo pledge - in 1988, 1998 and 2008 - the opposition kept silent. Another major consideration is that the nomenklatura managed to survive in the past two decades. It survived not only wars, isolation and NATO intervention but also the October 5 coup when it used its own candidate as an institutional frame for its temporary withdrawal at reserve position. Vojislav Kostunica, who defeated Slobodan Milosevic by razor-thin margin in the presidential elections of September 24, 2000, himself originated from the social and intellectual milieu that upheld political unity of unreformed political structures, governmental and para-governmental services, the army, the Church and organized crime. For the nomenklatura, Milosevic's extradition to The Hague was a harder blow than the October 5 overturn, itself promptly buffered by Russian diplomacy. It responded to it be a number of coups the biggest of which was the assassination of Premier Zoran Djindjic on March 12, 2003. Having interwoven their personal interests with those of the nomenklatura, Western ambassadors, American Ambassador William Montgomery in the first place, obstructed the investigation into the murder and contributed to the fall of the first democratic government. And by publicly encouraging the delusion about the so-called democratic bloc they practically helped the old order to revitalize in the period 2004-08.

Does that mean that Serbia has returned to the communist epoch? Does anti-communism, in that case, imply the attitude towards the revived chauvinism, distortion and political manipulation of the Eastern Orthodox Christianity, emancipation of unreformed secret services, collectivistic culture, unfinished transition and prospects for its continuation? Does such anti-communism have anything to do with major domestic issues such as cooperation with the ICTY, Kosovo and Serbia's future position vis-a-vis EU, NATO and Russia?

In the context of discussion about today's criticism of communism, trustworthy researches emerging from the need to explain the violent disintegration of Yugoslavia indicate a deep shift if the Serb nomenklatura before the political avalanche, wars and division of the country. Sometimes subsequent developments throw a better light on preceding ones regardless of generalizations the times impose by themselves. The second Yugoslavia as a whole failed to peacefully leave the communist era behind and dedicate itself to reforms implying inner reshuffle and European integration. The then European Community and the United States were incapable of backing up enough the alternative option. The consequences were awful - despite the fact that Yugoslavia had inner strength such as a higher degree of human rights and freedoms, permeability of borders and living standard, all of which made it different from the countries of real communism in the Soviet bloc.

The collapse of communism was signaled by the serious economic crisis that paralyzed Eastern Europe in early 1980s. Yugoslavia was facing a failed "economic stabilization" the federal government imposed through severe restrictions based on the obsolete mercantilism. Nomenklaturas were preparing themselves for reshuffles and the ideas about reforms, encouraged by the Soviet perestroika, were translated in the attempts to transform party and political monopolies into economic ones. Nationalism was another alternative in this sense. The Memorandum of the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1986, emerging from a clear real-communist milieu, raised the Serb question in Yugoslavia as if inner, administrative borders were the only disputable issues it had to cope with. Milosevic utilized that platform. He firstly condemned the Memorandum in order to add some ideology to his sectarian, showdown in the party in 1987. By this very act he pushed the defeated party into the sector of reformist policy that begun to crystallize on the pole opposite to the Serb, Sovietphile populism and other nationalism the Serb movement was additionally encouraging. Instead of profiting from reformist and integrative potentials of Yugoslavia as a whole, Serbia built its own Berlin Wall in Gazimestan in 1989 - the same year the original one was dismantled.

Reform processes, democratization and economic liberalization in the first places, were noticeably slow-paced in Eastern Orthodox countries. Their conservative and collectivistic cultural heritage encircled the core of mutual readiness for cooperation between nomenklaturas and clerical circles. None of the Eastern Orthodox churches had been reformed by the model of the Roman Catholic Church, particularly after the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). After the civil war (1946-49), Greece remained deeply divided between communists and conservatives, and was painfully - and not exactly convincingly - creating a political center as time went by. Its accession to the EEC in 1981 was directly conditioned by the Cyprus crisis (1974) and its strategic significance in the East Mediterranean that called for appeasement with Turkey. Though ostensibly premature, its integration into Europe was a strong driving force of its economic and political development. A number of controversies - apart from those related to the status of the island's northern part - followed Cyprus's accession to the EU in 2004. Though democratic and economic standards in Rumania and Bulgaria were also questionable, their accessions helped NATO in 2004 and the EU in 2007 to approach the borders of the former Soviet Union. Occasional transitional tremors in Rumania and Bulgaria were indicating strong socialist resistance. Transitional failures of Serbia and Montenegro - despite the conflictual context that had not prevented Croatia from pursuing reforms that took it to the threshold of European and Euro-Atlantic integrations - can also be ascribed to collectivistic and egalitarian characters of their cultures, and not political only.

Vitality of communism - that provides grounds for anti-communism - also rests on the success of the leftist totalitarianism, the character of which was not always marked by the struggle for liberation but which, together with Western allies, won the World War II. It also turned out that the number of the victims of communism - by the outcomes of persecutions and economic consequences - begun to surpass that of the victims of Fascism and Nazism. Italian fascism had been less cruel than the regimes in the Soviet Union or Mao's China. Even after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the Tian'an Man Square massacre that once again discredited the Chinese model, communism managed to survive - most convincingly through populisms offering new Utopian answers to the challenges of globalization and the triumph of liberal democracy in the first place. In politics in particular, communism survived in China and some "runaway states" such as North Korea.

The survival of anti-communism rested on communism's duration and transformations. Among other things, anti-communism fed on feeble attractiveness of communism. The Bolshevik Revolution was a major event in the 20th century. Communism in Russia contributed to shrinking of its borders. From 1917 to 1920 five states separated from Russia - Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. The Bolshevik communism responded to the process with aggression formalized in the Molotov-Ribentrop pact signed in 1939 and annexation of Baltic States. The victory in the World War II enabled the Soviet Russia to establish its reign in eastern and major parts of Central and South East Europe. As this process was violent and its economic and political consequences catastrophic, communism - as an idea and form of governance - begun associating Russia as a backward and Barbarian state.

If communism was fatal to Russia's reputation, alliances with Russia were fatal to communism. Soviets did not manage to maintain their East European occupations despite the fact that the collapse of their concept took four decades and even longer. Yugoslavia separated from Soviets back in 1948 and North Korea, when the war broke out, turned a Chinese satellite in 1952. In 1954 Soviets withdrew from Austria, and in 1955 from the maritime base in Finland. In 1956 Poland and Hungary rebelled against the Soviet regime, while Czechoslovakia tried to get away from it in 1968. To prevent people to emigrate from East Germany, Soviets build the Berlin Wall in 1961 - the wall that still symbolizes an abortive idea.

Anti-communism, too, had its totalitarian forms. Anti-communism was a platform Adolph Hitler used to persuade Germans to start the World War II. For him, the Soviet Russia was an arch opponent, probably because of certain similarities between violent and intolerant characters of the two regimes. Germany and Russia were connected by deeply rooted anti-Semitism, a traditional component of European culture. After the World War II anti-communism contributed to the Cold War and political persecutions in the United States. Anti-communism channeled the American foreign policy to problematic and controversial decisions: Vietnam, Nicaragua, Chile, Afghanistan, Salvador, Iraq. Kissinger took that the United States should not sit back and watch the triumph of communism in Chile "due to its people's stupidity" after Salvador Allende won the elections in 1970. The United States have helped despotic and undemocratic regimes as anti-communist. Anti-communism also produced the support for political Islam. It was not by mere chance only that Afghanistan remained a neuralgic point of international relations. By contributing to frustrations of the Islamic world the collectivisms of which were closer and closer to communism, the American anti-communism by itself gave reason for serious questioning of American supremacy worldwide but also of lasting values of American democracy and culture. The same happened to the post-communist Russia the failed transition of which was its only actual success.

As time went by, communism - and anti-communism in its footsteps - also transformed ideological contents. Notions of conservativism, liberalism and nationalism have changed too in the past 200 years. As of 1989 structural changes have taken place in East Europe, former countries of real communism, affecting more or less Russia that developed a sort of state capitalism with supervised oligarchic monopolies. A new institutional frame was established and a new political culture begun to emerge. Communism was left to its own history the last chapter of which was finally closed.

However, residues of communism testifying of its transformations are manifest in considerable part of the East European region, including ex-Yugoslavia and, in particular, its Eastern Orthodox sector that is culturally more prone to collectivism, authoritarian mentality and tribalism. Populism in Russia and Serbia, new nationalisms and the growing influence of clericalism indicate strong interdependence between political structures and political codes stamped in collective identities manipulated by elites. Political culture played an important part in the societies in which an imposed collectivism, plus poverty and isolation, lasted longer than one biological generation. Political elites were under double pressure in the process of transition.

Intent to join Western economic, political and security structures, those elites had to meet the criteria of supranational institutions such as the EU and NATO. They had to pursue restrictive economic policies and open their markets. They had to ignore social pressures on meager budgets, particularly at initial stages of transition. Liberal democracy dispelled all delusions about eternal social justice. The elites thus lost their political strongholds in societies. In the attempt to bridge over the gap in legitimacy, they took on populist rhetoric and symbols understandable to the majority of their electorates. Most important among those symbols were those related to ethnicity, piousness and "national interest."

As of mid-1980s Serbia's nomenklatura began to follow that course by adjusting the contents of the existing order to the new era and new challenges. Regardless of the catastrophic outcome of that policy and the 2000 change of regime, the nomenklatura succeeded. The new, ruling populism, emerging from a number of silent coups, retained the same political matrix and reestablished the continuity of traditional Serb policy. In this context it would be worthwhile to investigate whether that policy really suffered a mortal blow in 1944-45 or was given just another chance for adjustment. And, whether communism in Serbia - after two transitional waves in 1989-99 and 2001-08 - persisted on the other side of its own existence. The official Serb policy's tendency to direct anti-communist rhetoric against the nomenklatura that was opposing populism and indicating future reformist potentials until its withdrawal in 1987 is among its interesting absurdities. What is also interesting is the integrative power of the renewed populism that - in order to uphold the nomenklatura and its institutions - adopted the legacy of provincial clerical-fascism, the legacy usually treated as negligent.


NO 115-116

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