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NO 145-146

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Helsinki Charter No. 145-146

November - December 2010

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By Sonja Biserko

Criticism in public sphere preconditions a democracy. But every critical public sphere needs to be governed by democratic principles and realities of a social context. Otherwise, criticism becomes futile. Take, say, the dissident movement in Serbia in 1960. Its criticism of the then regime was an abstract, dogmatic leftism offering no fundamentally new values. Its activity put an end to the economic reform, as Academician Mihajlo Markovic used to say. Had it not, the economic reform would have stratified the society, he explained. Soon after, a part of that movement sided with the opponents of the 1974 Constitution and Yugoslavia's federalization. So it actually created the atmosphere for the country's brutal disintegration in 1990s. The crucial question from today's perspective is - was the Yugoslav system of the time just totalitarian or liberal as well? Achievements in the domain of culture in the entire territory of ex-Yugoslavia, implying the freedom of expression, were valued worldwide. The point is - would such achievements be possible in a totalitarian system? And, would a totalitarian system allow unrestrained activity of dissidents such as Dobrica Cosic? Cosic's actions were subversive vis-a-vis Yugoslavia. In Serbia, he figured as a parallel governance and had his books circulated in millions of copies.

Former dissidents are those who nowadays claim monopoly on social criticism and consider themselves a privileged class. And what is it they criticize? They negate any alternative because it is allegedly also politically corrupted. Their criticism targets the incumbent government and communism. They have no program ("abstract democracy" is again in play). Actually, it's all about specific narcissism: they take they could "do everything better" and make Serbia "a better place to live in" due to its alleged democratic tradition and so on. When they realize that can never be, they blame the "inapt people." The other blade of their criticism defends the same people by blaming, of course, the present government and democracy as a Euro-Atlantic projects that disintegrate "Serbhood." With this blade they insist on the West's conspiracy against Serbia as the root of all domestic troubles. This dogmatic left - itself solidly affluent - monopolized the left without providing a single solution to the problems facing Serbia today.

Both blades of such criticism are ideological and abstract, showing no understanding for the realities. This criticism is futile and mirrors a weak intellectual sphere mostly ruled by revanchism. If fails to provide a frame for defining a context and social capacity, and for taking stock of the policy that brought Serbia to stagnation. Only against such larger backdrop could one identify the problems that are older than parties (Democratic Party included) that try to solve them out of context and by inertia.

Such criticism cannot answer the growing social injustice born out of the policy of 1990s and abortive transition that brought the entire society to the verge of collapse. Responsible social criticism identifies new forces, new movements and new trends. Social criticism is meaningless and marginal otherwise. Moreover, it can breed radical catalyzers of social discontent such as Tomislav Nikolic's Progressists.

Progressists in power is more or less taken as a fait accompli. Critics from both sides of the dogmatic specter actually provoke their raise to power like they did in the case of Slobodan Milosevic: some by siding with them openly, others by advocating the thesis "we shall come to our senses only once we touch the bottom."

Nikolic cannot seriously answer a single question on which he builds his popularity. Human resources of his party are inadequate for the radical reforms he publicly advocates. He has no program other than coming to power. Coming to power on the waves of social radicalism threatens with fascization. His potential coalition assembles all conservative circles in all parties without exception - from Democratic Party to Socialist Party of Serbia. Their "common denominator" is reliance on Russia. All right-wing forces in the country make their potential. Serbia will be dangerously split as it was on October 10, 2010, when the Pride Parade served as an excuse for uninhibited violence. That was first, serious trial of strength. The state responded because it itself was jeopardized. But that was not enough. A state must restrain violence systematically by coping with its origins as well.

In the next elections Serbia will be making a choice between the option that has not achieved much because its responses have been circumstantial only and the one that can hardly be expected to achieve anything. Democratic Party is still not a party with vision for Serbia's realities - it still manifests inadequate understanding for the necessity for a radical change. Therefore, in the pre-election year the incumbent government has to valorize the alternative that painfully emerges with huge assistance from EU and capitalizes on it. What also preconditions democracy is the legal frame that emerges painfully, too, in the face of too many obstacles. The state's biggest responsibility, but also that of the society, are implementation of laws and creation of a new climate. Not only the state but also tycoons have monopoly on economy - and that's Serbia's crucial problem. Monopolies choke individual initiative and the growth of small and medium-sized business as the only viable options for Serbia and the entire region. Serbia has no potential - financial or human - for large industries, which can be developed with abundant foreign investment only. The media have also failed as factors of transition because they have been in the function of status quo. The government that has control over considerable number of media outlets (national broadcaster RTS and Politika daily in particular) has to make them serve the society, its true interests and priorities.

Expectations that accumulated social problems could be solved overnight are unrealistic because solutions necessitate a large front for social change. Political actors are still not up to defining strategic goals of the society consensually. As long as there is no consent informal centers of power will be destroying the society and its institutions.

Serbia's crisis is an outcome of ruined ethics in economic sphere too. Institutions that have been totally devastated in the past three decades and the greed of individuals and groupings that have privatized all state resources thanks to their closeness with the regime generated economic catastrophe and demoralized the society. Democracy is unsustainable in such economic circumstances.

Given the global proportions of the crisis, ethics and moral must become top priorities in the search for a new economic paradigm. Only resumption of fundamental values - that cohere every society - can result in a functional society, capable of coping with any new challenge.


NO 145-146

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