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NO 125-126

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Helsinki Charter No. 125-126

November - December 2008


Social and Political Misdirections


By Ivan Torov

Who rules Serbia today? The government, the Head of State or the opposition sparing no effort to spoil for the ruling majority?

Such a question would be indecent, the say the least, in a democratically ordered state. Since Serbia is miles away from that order it is only understandable that everyone has "his own" answer to the dilemma. Everyone - from (un)biased analysts, through vain and subjective politicians to witty caricaturists and satirists.

After the establishment of the coalition government with ex-finance minister Mirko Cvetkovic at its helm, the double issue of the Charter for May-June 2008 argued with good reason - though some might have taken it as premature - that the outcome of the elections and the newly established balance of political power in Serbia were a splendid doorway to the President's (Tadic's) rule. Eight months later all reservations about this assessment turned superfluous. The moves taken after the formation of the "socially responsible" coalition between Tadic, Dacic and Dinkic proved that the caricaturist picturing Cvetkovic as an inferior coffee waiter was in the right. True, after the first hundred days in power the government scored itself with an A for "colossal" attainments in all transitional areas. However, its hasty self-grading could not have dispelled the general belief that it was slow-paced, irresolute, disinterested and without (its own) clear-cut strategy for Serbia's development. The "A" was soon erased as it turned out that its moves were actually made by someone else, behind the scenes, whereas the government - probably itself frustrated by this dualism - manifested incredible inability for analyses and prognoses, ignoring even the basic fact that the soaring global recession was already knocking at Serbia's door. It became even more evident than at the beginning of its mandate that the government had not been formed to rule and act as an epicenter of domestic and foreign policy but as an asylum to house Dacic, Krkobabic, Dinkic, Ugljanin, Ljajic and Canak, and satisfy their appetites and ambitions, and to make several parallel and mutually uncoordinated cabinets instead of one. Of course, there was a reason behind all this: to make the government invalid and turn it into a mere transmission of some other power centers. Tadic's ensuing concept of "historical reconciliation" between the Democrats and the Socialists - other coalition partners never joined - strengthened the impression that the government is, so to speak, an ideal center for assemblage of until then confronted ideologies and systems. And the control over their loyalty became much easier and efficient.

Regardless of its ideologically diverse composition, so conceived government is actually just a bit more sophisticated and, let's say, democratic copy of Milosevic's system of rule. Serbia's ex-ruler could have afforded to be the head of two states, a premier, a leader of the biggest party, whatever; he was the one who had the final say about everything. Zelenovic's, Bozovic's and Marjanovic's cabinet were just tools in the hands of a supreme master. His change of offices made no difference - it was only the power that moved to some other location. True, the difference between him and Boris Tadic is considerable - but it is not essential. Milosevic was firstly fastening his rule through one-party monopoly, then through ideological manipulation and finally through brute force. Tadic has never done anything of the sort. Circumstances simply played into Tadic's hands. He won presidential elections and his party triumphed over Kostunica in parliamentary elections: so, he was in the position to choose his partners and practically rule sovereignty at republican level, in Vojvodina and in most local self-governments. The declaration on reconciliation gave him a free hand to remove the obstacles such as ideological differences and the legacy of past and decide, at least symbolically, on his partners in power. So a slice of the cake went to obscure figures such as Dacic, Krkobabic, Lilic, Bajatovic, Ugljanin.True, the slice was meant to provide them pleasure and even sense of triumph for being rehabilitated by the Democrats, but not to make it possible for them to jeopardize Tadic's untouchability.

So, Serbia is ruled by a head of state mostly invested with protocolary powers and any attempt by the ideologists and propagandists for the establishment to deny this political fact with some story about division of power looks not only unconvincing but also comical. Not even Premier Mirko Cvetkovic exactly bothered to hush up that "constant consultation" with the President of the Republic about "all major issues" make the bottom line of his premiership. And his ministers, too, can hardly deny that for every decision they need to go for "opinion" to the building in Andric Venac. Unofficially, of course. Boris Tadic is practically a head of state, a premier, a police minister and a foreign minister, he distributes moneys from the budget, puts forth economic measures to curb the crisis, he commands the army and, as someone put it, edits major media. At the same time, he is a chief negotiator in all governmental dealings with the world, he "suggests" when, how and with whom "to start the showdown with corruption, and decides which "hoodlums from our own ranks" should be arrested first.

He decides the fate of the Horgos-Pozega highway and determines Corridor 10 as a top priority. Well, few months later when informed that the global crisis knocks at Serbia's door he energetically and in "social democrat" manner, concerned with the fate of impoverished strata of the society he added a campaign for "defense of work places" to the list of his priorities. It is common knowledge that he had a final say in the green light given to the EULEX mission and in the "government's decision" to practically make the Serb Oil Industry /NIS/ a gift to Russians - despite the warnings that it would be a scandal of the century - without any guarantees that the South stream gas pipeline will run through the territory of Serbia. And when he said that once in three months he and the Premier would be analyzing the work of every ministry and minister, praise or "reconstruct" them, he actually sent a clear-cut message to all and sundry, and mostly to "uncontrollable" Minister Mladjan Dinkic who dared disturb the Slav Orthodox Serb-Russian harmony, that there would always be adequate replacement for everyone. It goes without saying that everyone - a head of state in particular - had the right to speak his mind about everything, including most delicate state and social issues. That's the point of democracy. But when "speaking one's mind" crosses the line and turn into a command or order beyond the competence of the President, a democracy gets all the characteristics of "democratic," enlightened dictatorship. For the time being this threat is just announced. And when a "protocolary head of state" realizes that circumstances allow him to interpret his constitutional duties by the balance of power at Serbia's political scene, the real question would be, "Why not change the Constitution and replace parliamentary system by the presidential?" And the explanation why nothing of the sort is being done is simple: the President whose duties would be precisely laid down in the Constitution would be quite precisely accountable to citizens for his doings and not-doings, whereas the President who takes over the competences non-existent in the Constitution can always find some formal or legal excuses. He can always say something like, "I am not the right address." If the Constitution provides one thing and the President does another, he willy-nilly compromises the entire constitutional system and turns democratic rules of the game into a curtain covering all sorts of petty partisan and leadership calculation and moves. And this particularly refers to the partocracy such as Serbia.

Serbia is now faced with bleak reality: it has a strong President with almost all the power concentrated in his hands and a weak and vulnerable state. Whereas the head of state takes that no major decision can be made without him, the government (in charge of domestic and foreign policy under the Constitution) is slow-paced and confused - the President's service bureau accountable to him rather than to the Parliament. As for the Parliament, it is a circus of primitivism and a test field for blocking the state, actually an arena for the great part of the opposition to test its destructive power and for ruling parties to test their "democratic" impotence. There is no mention of the Constitutional Court as if it is non-existent, the police and the state security are for the umpteenth time a booty of coalition agreements, and the judiciary wonders whether a new, Tadic's guillotine is prepared for it instead of Milosevic's. The head of state and leader of the Democratic Party practically resumes Kostunica's course: he is turning all institutions into a window-dressing for his untouchability and righteousness.

It is only logical that in such ambience it hardly occur to anyone - at least not until everything ends in absurdity - to raise the question of accountability in the event Serbia enters 2009 without a budget, valid passports for citizens, guarantees for people's savings, or if prognoses by economic experts that the state, by the will of the ruling elite, presents its sovereignty to another, powerful state come true. Who shall pay the cost of Serbia's growingly arrogant denial of European integration as it wastes all its energy, will and money on delusion that by courting Moscow, playing Santa and spiting Brussels and Washington we shall safeguard both Kosovo and national dignity? Milosevic has tried that once and we know how it ended. And who will be taken responsible for the fact that Serbia once again became a factor of regional instability and in almost no time marred its relations with closest neighbors, its best economic partners, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro and Macedonia, for its renewed international image of an unreliable partner, for its glorifying Rod Blagojevic's larceny, Miladin Kovacevic's bullying and recognizing Iranian mullahs apostles of human rights? And all that on the account of the defense of Kosovo.

Politicians come and go, consequences and bills, unfortunately, remain for people and citizens to foot.


NO 125-126

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