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NO 119-120

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Helsinki Charter No. 119-120

May - June 2008




By Sonja Biserko

The outcome of the parliamentary elections this May indicates that Serbia enters a phase in which a state issue /Kosovo/ is no longer decisive for citizens' electoral choice. The "Together for Europe" coalition won the elections when it evidently opted for Europe by signing the Stabilization and Association Agreement and when FIAT announced a contract with "Zastava" automobile industry in Kragujevac. Rationalization of the Serb electorate just hints at normalization of the political scene. By insisting on patriotism the political class wasted the legitimacy it now has to seek in economic and social domains. A socially responsible state is nothing but a catchword for the nostalgic era of the socialist Yugoslavia.

The two-decade ideological confusion does not only source from the war Serbia has wagged against Yugoslavia but also from fundamental misunderstanding of the present time. The divides between capitalism and anti-capitalism, the left and the right, communism and anti-communism only testify that Serbia is at a loss to understand the tectonic changes of our times. The fall of communism marked the end of a bipolar world and at the same time laid bare the deep processes affecting the world's political map. Serbia is not the only country at a loss. Leading world powers also seek their places on that map. The problem with Serbia is that is has turned archaic over the past two decades and thus incompetent for communication with its neighbors and the world in this new era.

The new era implies redefinition of all values on which Europe (East and West alike) rested and a search for a new value hierarchy ranging from profit to social justice. The universal concept of human rights is a frame within which a better balance between the profit in a liberal economy and workers' rights will be sought. It is civil society that will be a major link in the process of shaping a new value system appropriate to each and every society's level of development.

Entrenchment in the past and blaming communists for the defeat of the Greater Serbia project are the tests the Serb elite has not passed yet. That opened the door to the ethno-right which has taken Serbia to racism, anti-Semitism, anti-Europeanism and the patriarchal regime of a petty town mentality over the five years of Kostunica's rule. Vojislav Kostunica totally laid bare Serb Nazism and helped the world and neighboring countries to gain an insight into Serb nationalism. The comeback of the petty town mentality underrated of the achievements of the earlier era and hindered preparations for the society's democratic transformation. The constant tendency for "disciplining the people" and the constantly nourished "collective consciousness about the tyranny of one and only power" objectively threaten the so-called pro-European government as well. The maintenance of centralism - the shadow centralism in particular - may wear out the latest electoral outcome and turn it into nothing but a missed opportunity unless the new government would not take stock of the past - not only of war crimes but also of the overall policy that ended up in crime.

Transitional justice also implies that the ideologized public sphere is cleansed from anti-communist, anti-Europeanism and anti-globalism. It necessitates both understanding and critical reconsideration of the once Yugoslavia that would take into consideration the political context of the time. From today's perspective, it is impermissible to interpret 1948 only as the Goli Otok tragedy. The year 1948 is much more than that. The historical 'no' to Stalin also denoted the right to independent development that resulted in many advantages later on. Interpretation that boils down 1948 just to Tito's spite and autocracy reveals fundamental misunderstanding of a historical moment. Today, historian Veselin Djuretic advocates Serbia's "unreserved reliance on Russia" and Russian military bases in Serbia. This is why he and like-minded people interpret the year 1948 from their specific angle: for them, that year marked the end of a Yugoslavia they would have liked it to be. Ex-Yugoslavia's disintegration would not have been possible without reliance on Russia - and that's what Djuretic et al. unambiguously reveal. Likewise, glorification of 1968 and the Praxis Group - without scholarly distance and reconsideration - perfectly fits into the same matrix: a natural vertical that connects 1948, 1968, 1989 and 2001, the later two having to do with Slobodan Milosevic. The year 1989 is the year of his rise and the year 2001 of his fall and extradition to The Hague Tribunal. As chance had it, all those years were related to St. Vitus Day. And this gave birth to the thesis about St. Vitus Day as Serbs' doomsday. But the bottom line here is that only dogmatism and Stalinism had the problem with "Tito's Constitution of 1974" - the trauma of the Serb elite that would not accept decentralization and confederalization of Yugoslavia.

In this context, the new government's attitude towards criticism voiced by liberal-democratic forces in the society - actually, its attitude towards democratic principles and human rights in general - will be most indicative. The experience with Kostunica, his denial to sign the SAA with the EU and torching of foreign embassies were major lessons for the EU when it came to Serbia's pro-European orientation. Once it wasted all the opportunities for conditioning, the EU decided to expand the context and make it possible for Serbia to accede it. However, the EU turned a blind eye to its own standards only temporarily and primarily in the matters of cooperation with the ICTY and recognition of Kosovo. Serbia's accession to the EU will be conditioned by its recognition of Kosovo - and for the EU such a demand will not be negotiable. Therefore, continuation of Kostunica's policy of Kosovo's partition is counterproductive and fatal for the Serbs south of the Ibar River. They are left to die out silently. No decision about collective move from Kosovo has been taken. Instead, the Serbs in enclaves are encouraged to sell off their property and move either to North Kosovo or Serbia. That's the policy Dobrica Cosic defined in his book "Kosovo" when indicating that "concentration of Serbs will prevent further disintegration of Serbia." So, the Kosovo myth remains both as a paradigm of great suffering and a blank check for any new sacrifice and tragedy - this time the sacrifice of the Serbs south of Ibar.

The outcome of the May elections does mark the change of winds, in citizens' disposition in the first place. Despite the fact that the media have been maximally instrumentalized to mobilize the public for the Kosovo issue, citizens of Serbia reached their own upper limit by casting ballot for the European future. The outgoing Premier has mislaid his own place in the history of Serbia, as columnist for the Politika daily, Ljubodrag Stojadinovic, put it.

In his parliamentary address the new premier, Mirko Cvetkovic, said all member-parties of the ruling coalition agreed as one that the incumbent Serbian government would never recognize Kosovo's independence and would take all legal and diplomatic steps to maintain it within Serbia's borders. The phrasing itself rather differs that used by the outgoing minister for Kosovo and Metohija, Slobodan Samardzic. Nevertheless, it implies that the Serb question is still open, while its solution is just postponed for better times.

The Assembly of Serb Municipalities was formed in Kosovska Mitrovica on June 28, 2008, despite the fact that the international community opposed the act. Slobodan Samardzic was the main protagonist. The entire Kostunica's cabinet response to Kosovo's independence declaration had been aimed at undermining new authorities in Kosovo. The Serbian side had turned down Ahtisaari's plan - it had even isolated Serb policemen from the Kosovo police service. The real Serb plan for Kosovo is partition in the proportion 12:88, meaning that Belgrade wants for itself five municipalities in the North. To attain this goal Belgrade will be maintaining a low-intensity conflict by infiltrating security services throughout Kosovo. The Serbian Orthodox Church is a pillar of all Belgrade's actions.

Russia, which blocked a new resolution by the Security Council, has a major role in Belgrade's plans for Kosovo. Russian Ambassador to Belgrade Alexander Vasiljevic Konuzin's interview with the Danas daily issue of July 5-6, 2008 testifies that partition of Kosovo is still on the table. True, he said division of Kosovo was out of question but emphasized, "If Belgrade and Pristine decide otherwise in direct negotiations, we are ready to take it into consideration."

At the same time historian Veselin Djuretic takes that installation of Russian military bases in Serbia (at Mt. Kopaonik) would significantly counterbalance the American Bondstill. According to him, the Serb Assembly in Kosovo should request Russia to implement the military agreement signed in 1999 and, instead of envisaged Serb soldiers in Kosovo, send some 10,000 Russian troops to the enclaves that had been under Serbia's control before NATO aggression (Glas Javnosti, July 7, 2008). The energy agreement with Russia subjugating any Serbian government in the long run is the only strategic legacy of the Kostunica era.

It remains to be seen what will be the new government's attitude towards actual situations in Kosovo. Its rhetoric is only more moderate for the time being.


NO 119-120

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