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NO 165-166

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Helsinki Charter No. 165-166

July - August 2012




By Sonja Biserko

EU, NATO and US - but Russia too - are taking stock of Serbia’s new regime. It might be too early for them to judge the new government and the President of Republic. However, they are trying to determine their orientation and, especially, attitude towards Kosovo. Expectations are high considering that everybody sees Serbia as a country on the verge of economic collapse that, in addition, may or may not renew the arrangement with IMF.

The new government’s performance has been hardly promising so far. This particularly refers to the Governor of the Central Bank deposed under summary procedure for being “a party cadre” /DS/ among other things. And he was replaced by a high official of the Serb Progressive Party. No one is even touching on departization so much argued for in the election campaign. Truncation of Vojvodina’s autonomy had been on the priority list even before the start of the election campaign. And even one of coalition partners, United Regions of Serbia, citizens had voted for because of its regionalization program, sided with the Progressists when it came to Vojvodina and replacement of the already formed self-governments throughout Serbia: with the assistance from Serb Renewal Movement and scores of minor parties.

Of greatest concern, however, is the attitude of the newly appointed Minister of Defense. His visits to Washington and Moscow were meant to demonstrate political equidistance. There are no indications whatsoever about the future course of the army reform, supervised and assisted by NATO until recently. Nikolic and Vucic, today’s president and defense minister, used to argue for Serbia’s neutrality and against its membership of NATO. Russians had threatened with recognizing Kosovo in the event Serbia joined NATO. And now Minister Vucic has placed all intelligence services, police and military, under his control: an act without precedent. And his focus on corruption is rather weird: fight against corruption is certainly not is his job description.

A meeting between Tomislav Nikolic and Atifete Jahjaga, president of Kosovo, is now announced for late September. The general public is consensual about Kosovo being a lost battle. On the other hand, this is not something Serbia would decide on its own. The issue depends on Russia in the first place – Russia has been keeping it open while keeping its own interests in mind.

Of great concern are the Progressists’ endeavors to smash the Democratic Party. Democrats themselves are pretty to blame for such developments. The party’s dissolution would endanger Serbia’s future. Serbia has no potential for creating another party of same significance in a short run. This is why major parties need to reach a minimal consensus on how to counteract further destruction of Serbia’s political body. The Progressists could never be efficient unless they have a strong and consolidated Democratic Party as opposition.

Any estimate about the new regime’s potential should take into consideration some limiting facts – this regime or the parties participating in it are heavily burdened by the recent past, which questions their credibility in Serbia and in the region alike. Transitional achievements have been considerably limited in the past twelve years. Twenty years after the outbreak of ex-Yugoslav wars some deeper layers of communism emerged anew: authoritarianism and dogmatism.

In principle, Serbia has opted for democracy. But how does it perceive democracy? Does it perceive it just as a majority rule or a “package” the developed world takes for granted: separation of powers, minority rights and rule of law? Does it recognize that “popular will” is limited by laws and constitutional rights? If not, democracy is nothing but a fašade in the service of certain circles.

Political struggles imbued with intellectual contents are benchmarks of dramatic, historical U-turns. Serbia’s intellectual content in 1980s was the Greater Serbia project. Milosevic’s ouster was not followed by a debate on the democracy Serbia was after and reforms it was capable for. What it got instead was the most conservative and anti-modern value system promoted by the Kostunica cabinet and the Serb Orthodox Church /SPC/. Rounding off a Serb ethnic state was in its focus. Or, as Dobrica Cosic puts it, “We /Serbs/ must congregate inasmuch as possible so that they could separate us no more.”

A modern Serbia does not suit certain groupings. It is unacceptable to the newly emerged financial elite that control all its resources. Just proper taxes imposed on those elite would create preconditions for modernization. Modernization is also a threat to bureaucrats heavily weighting the public sector and standing in the way of individual entrepreneurship. Neither are the ruling political elites interested in modernization – for modernization implies professional criteria in the selection of cadres (instead of the buddy system) and a legal context favorable to individual entrepreneurship.

Modernization is generally advocated by smaller parties – Liberal Democratic Party in the first place, constantly demonized for it. Only pressure from the grassroots, therefore, could make modernization in Serbia a reality. For the time being Serbia has no such a grassroots potential.

Many analysts argue that Serbia will start moving forward only once it finds itself at the verge of collapse – and that verge is practically at hand. The Progressists won the election on the economic crisis, unemployment and the growingly stratified society. But their populism cannot answer Serbia’s needs and concerns. Short of proper answers they insist on anti-corruption, fuel anti-Americanism and struggle against alleged terrorism. These three manifestations of populism earmark Serbia as an illiberal democracy.

Incapable of releasing the country’s ‘inner’ energy, political elites are looking for alternatives to European Union. Hence their frequent visits to Russia (in early September Nikolic will meet with Vladimir Putin for the second time since his election) and announcements of all sorts of economic arrangements with it, including a joint project in arms industry. The problem is not in Serbia’s – and the entire Balkans’ – dependence on Russia’s gas but in Russia itself facing similar or even bigger problems in the development of its resources, human resources above all. Russia is focused on maintaining its status of a great power, the status resting solely on its natural resources. However, Russia also badly needs modernization that would make it by far more influential at the international arena.

Serbia’s neutral foreign policy orientation is unrealistic. Not a single neighboring state has opted for neutrality as a concept of its security and defense policies – because, among other things, military neutrality costs more than a membership of an alliance. It would be only logical for Serbia to rely on the region in the security matters.

Serbia was incapable of launching a comprehensive political and intellectual debate on its own future after the ouster of Slobodan Milosevic: the debate implying a realistic estimate of its place and national interests. Now, for the first time in modern history the Balkans is in Europe’s sphere of interest, which opens up sweeping vistas to its economic and political development, and security. Serbia should take that course too. But the question is: are the Progressists capable of such fresh advance and willing to make it.


NO 165-166

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