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INFO   :::  Projects > Archives > Promoting a Social Climate Propitious to Transitional... > Helsinki Charter No. 171-172 > Text




In the search for identity

By Sonja Biserko


Reluctantly and against the grain on the one hand and faced with grim realities (economic collapse) and EU demands to finally cut the Kosovo knot on the other, Serbia entered a new phase in its relations with Kosovo: it gave up on it and begun searching for a formula for Serbs in the North instead. There is nothing unusual about the fact that the entire enterprise is now in the hands of those who are the most responsible for Serbia’s collapse: only they could explain to citizens why things must be done as they must. And they deserve to be supported in their endeavor because Serbia cannot move with the times unless it gives up Kosovo.

There is no telling, however, what happens with Serbia itself once this takes place. No doubt that a fixed date for EU accession negotiations would be a breakthrough. But developments that would follow depend on the incumbent regime’s policies for some crucial problems that plague Serbia. What is the Serbian the regime is after? Populism of the Serb Progressive Party and sweeping the truth about the recent past under the carpet are no guarantees for the country’s recovery. On the contrary, recent developments at local level (methodology of seizing the power, unprofessionalism and petty town mentality) and the way in which the Progressists fight against corruption give rise to anxiety. This is a party of no vision: its only vision is to make ends meet with the assistance from EU.

Serbia’s constitution is anti-modern: it hardly differs from the one of the Milosevic era (1990) that preluded Yugoslavia’s disintegration. This is the constitution that disintegrates Serbia proper. A constitution defines a social order, a political system and prevalent values. This one has not opened the door to reforms of the state and the power, protection of property and human rights, the rule of law and democratic functioning of judicial and political institutions. And without these reforms Serbia can hardly improve its image in the region and worldwide.

One of key problems facing Serbia – after the wars and the defeat leaving the society completely devastated and demoralized – is the problem of its new identity and the values upholding it. Against the backdrop of general confusion in all spheres of social life, the process of identity building demonstrates inconsequence, inauthenticity and fabricated truths.

Serbia defines itself as a multiethnic society – which it actually is with its numerous ethnic, religious and other minorities. But these minorities are not integrated into the society. Neither is there a policy for minorities inclusion nor these minorities have their say in the process of identity building. Multiculturalism (regardless of its limits, especially when strictly defined) is a response to traditional, national egoism and all limitations of a national (one-ethnic) culture and state. Serbia is closed to cultural pluralism because there is no rule of law and a civil society that would force politicians to respect high standards of human rights. Neither is Serbia a democracy – for democracy implies rejection of nationalism and racism.

What marks the process of Serbia’s identity-building is not only confusion and distortion of the past but also narrow-mindedness for others. Serbia celebrates its national holiday on February 15, the date that associates its 19th century constitution in force for two weeks only. Serbia has renounced anti-fascism, the legacy of the modern Europe, and taken up rehabilitation of advocates of retrograde ideologies. Now that the process of rehabilitation of Tchetnik leader Draza Mihailovic is almost over rehabilitations of Nazi collaborators, Nedic and Ljotic, are being announced. Mihailovic was not only a collaborator – he was a racist as well since his program for “homogenous Serbia” had generated atrocities against Bosniaks, Croats and differently-minded Serbs. Serbia’s new president, Tomislav Nikolic, holds the title of a Tchetnik “duke.” Only a handful of civil society organizations have raised their voice against it.

Serbia has also renounced the legacy of the “first” and the “second” Yugoslavia both of which had marked its history in the 20th century – and it has renounced them as “fatal” for the Serb nation. It had spared only the above-mentioned figures whose “Greater Serbia” ideology was in action in 1990s. And such message that is put across to minorities in Serbia and all neighbors in the region generates tensions and anxiety. A review of some historical chapters would not be a problem in itself – but some facts cannot be wiped out just like that: and these facts relate to the very character of the WWII, to Nazism and fascism. Identification with these ideologies obstructs Serbia’s democratic transformation in the long run because these ideologies are based on racism. In spite of all, the public scene brims with activism of right-wing extremist groupings that are supported by the state and some leading political parties. The sum and substance of Serbia’s representatives’ visits to the so-called non-aligned world also reflect the general confusion: this is where they usually play on ex-Yugoslavia’s image and the legacy of Tito’s non-aligned policy.

Interpretation of the 1990s wars is a problem in itself as it boils down to the thesis that it was the West that disintegrated ex-Yugoslavia by supporting secessionist republics. ICTY has been denied as an anti-Serb institution from the very beginning. Acquittals of Gotovina and Haradinaj were used as an extra argument that the Tribunal’s decisions should be ignored. Though it has adopted a parliamentary resolution on Srebrenica, Serbia now strongly campaigns not only against the same resolution but also against Serbs’ responsibility for the war in, say, Bosnia. Shortly after his inauguration, President Tomislav Nikolic said that there had been no genocide in Srebrenica. This is what other politicians in power are claiming as well. Regional relations are tense because of Serbia’s interpretation of the 1009s wars and problems arising from them.

Nationalism and the topics that distanced citizens from politics block Serbia’s political scene. The media scene lives on scandals and sensationalism that totally discredit political elites and the very sense of politics. Only a grouping that would authentically define Serbia’s vision and tell citizens the truth about everything could possibly mobilize the public for changes. Cheap populism and, above all, campaigns against corruption in the media, are already on the wane.

A fixed date for EU accession negotiations will generate political energy only if all pro-European forces join hands to attain the goal – accession to EU – and initiate social transformation with enthusiasm and faith in a European Serbia.

It has been ten years since the assassination of Premier Zoran Djindjic. He was the only Serbian politician who really knew how to think a European Serbia. Even ten years after his murder Serbia still wanders. Should it move towards EU that would be for Hobson’s choice rather than because of a vision of Serbia in Europe. However, everything considered, that would be a breakthrough.



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