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INFO   :::  Projects > Archives > The Helsinki Charter: Promoting Serbia's Europeanization > HC No. 135-136 > Text





By Sonja Biserko

Serbia's crucial dilemma - yes or no to Europe - is once again high on the elite's agenda. Ever since President Tadic decided to submit Serbia's application for EU candidacy, Serb elites from the so-called (and more powerful) conservative bloc and those coming from a more liberal and pragmatic one have been confronted over the issue. However, the problem is much deeper than that: the nation has wasted its energy on a defeated national program, while failing to take stock on past mistakes. Such mental state can hardly bring forth new ideas or a new vision. Serbia cannot cope with new challenges without a new political context that implies quite novel value parameters.

The conservative bloc's offensive for early parliamentary elections associates the one in 2002 and 2003 when Premier Djindjic started moving towards EU and preparing a showdown with organized crime and the anti-Hague lobby. However, this bloc propagates a rather shallow agenda today. Its populist rhetoric might win it the election but can in no way form a stable government. The Saric narco-clan affair is most indicative: after the Saber operation that smashed the "Zemun clan" a new clan emerged under the "umbrella" of the then government. And evidently, it could not have operated without a backing from some political structures. And Belgrade, more than evidently, tries to put all the blame on Montenegro and criminalize it further. The media campaign against Montenegro associates the one at the time of Montenegro's independence referendum.

Almost all Serb elites - rightist and leftist alike - immanently oppose EU. They never discuss the sum and substance of EU but just mechanically repeat empty phrases. It goes without saying that EU cannot provide solutions to all problems, notably now that it critically reconsiders its future course. However, refraining from a community as such and refraining from a proactive reconsideration of the country's economic, political and security prospects testify of autism and inability to discern one own interest. Being against one side and for another - or opposing both - leads nowhere in the search for a new paradigm. One should search for a proper measure that can counteract the problems blocking the entire region.

The Balkan region is in the center of today's crisis - it has laid bare all the contemporary problems in their most extreme forms: from racism, genocide and ethno-nationalism to imposition of new values and models on newly emerged states. However, it is on the example of the Balkans and of Serbia in particular that constructive answers may be found. The fact that the international community has been trying to solve the Yugoslav crisis for too long testifies of numerous obstructions the offered models have been meeting.

Speaking of Serbia, it still seems reluctant to give up its territorial claims. After the October 2000 change of the regime the international community expected Serbia to emerge as a regional leader. These expectations turned to be ungrounded. For, "the leadership" Serbian politicians have been invoking has always had territorial and paternalistic undertones. Serbia's elites would not acknowledge that the Balkans has entered the final stage of state making and that the international community, rather than invidividual countries, has a final say about new borders. The Balkan question has been on the agenda since the Ottoman Empire first and than the Austro-Hungarian Empire begun to disintegate: from the Berlin Congress (1918), through the Versaille Treaty (1919) to the Badentaire Commission (1991) that finally produced a formula for the establishment of new states in the Balkans (by taking into account AVNOJ decision and the 1974 Constitution). This longstanding historical process ended in Kosovo's independence. Until it acknowledges this new reality Serbia cannot be a relevant and equal factor in the region.

In addition, Serbia's predominant "ideology" is anti-communism that, in fact, boiled down to anti-Titoism rather than to anti-socialism: socialism itself permeates the infamous Memorandum of the Serb Academy of Arts and Sciences and has provided the grounds for Serbia's opposition to the 1974 Constitution. Therefore, any reference to Josip Broz Tito is negative - Tito is identified with decentralization, which allegedly caused the Yugoslav crisis. The wave of anti-communism as a ruling ideology inundented any analysis of the fatal consequences of Serb nationalism. With Vojislav Kostunica as a premier, this only further nazified Serbia. Restoration of regressive ideologies is not characteristic of Serbia's political scene only: unfortunatelly, it took place, as a rule, in all post-communist countries. In the transition from socialism to democracy, nationalism imposed itself on the vacuum left after the collapse of the socialist value system. Democracy to which all allegedly aspire is still no more than a wording. So far, Serbia has not settled for an option alternative to nationalism.

Yugoslavia, particularly the "second" one based on federalism and national equality was erased from the collective memory. Renunciation of the "second" Yugoslavia - as an anti-fascist legacy at least - distorted the perception of the present. Serb elites' attempt to impose figures such as Milan Nedic, Dimitrije Ljotic and, in particular, Draza Mihajlovic as models of morality blocked a proper insight into present-day realities and values. Serbia nothing but replaced leftist populism with a rightist one. The surge of rightist radicalism undermined its anyway meager democratic potential. The incumbent government's endeavor to put an end to violence - a logical outcome of extremism - produced some results, though mostly thanks to the support of and the pressure from EU.

As it seems, having Vojislav Kostunica as a democratic leader and normalization of Serb nationalism falls under Serbia's maximal capacity. Serbia's problem has not been defined within the society itself. Hence, the society's ambivalence about Serbia's place in Europe. Propagandists and masterminds of Serb nationalism (Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences, Serb Orthodox Church, University, the media, political elites, etc.) would not allow any alternative and would go any lenght to choke it. Therefore, they still see Kostunica as the most acceptable political leader. As Kostunica's electoratal base is pretty small, the Serb Progressive Party had to be formed: to ensure him a larger electorate.

Against the backdrop of unintegrated society and non-existent insight into domestic and international context, it is hard to harness social energy for changes. Against the backdrop of non-existent moral dimension, political life boils down to banal nationalism.

All major advocates of the Greater Serbia project had their say about Serbia's EU candidacy and possible membership of NATO. So, Dobrica Cosic for the first time ever accuses President Tadic though almost until yesterday he used to be his "everyday" adviser in state matters. Actually, Cosic accuses the President, the government and the parliament of "a risky, sectarian, short-sighted national and state policy" that legitimized Vojvodina's autonomy and thus "politically charted Vojvodina's separatism" and tolerated the internationalization of the "Sandzak issue" thus enabling a legitimate Ottomanization of the Balkans, i.e. of Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. And all that was done, says Cosic, shortly after Montenegro's secession and against the backdrop of the Serb problem in Montenegro and broken diplomatic relations with this "brotherly" state.

Cosic and his circle oppose Serbia's Europeanization, which implies characterization of the Srebrenica crime. In his view, Europeanization is "advocated by immature politicians, corrupted intellections and some media."

Srebrenica constantly reminds Serbia of its moral obligation and, at the same time, testifies of its moral insensibility. The debate on a Srebrenica resolution was a sobering one as it laid bare the proportions of Serbian elite's frustration and denial to face up the recent past. President Tadic initiated the adoption of a resolution, obviously aware that it was an unavoidable obligation. And the conservative bloc put him on the target for this action. Cosic accused the democratic coalition of having yielded to "jihad- fundamentalist Bosniak lying propaganda about Serbs committing genocide in Bosnia and Srebrenica." Hence, "We unconscientiously and irresponsibly equalize our war crimes and alleged 'holocaust' of Muslims, add and multiply our crimes and hush up Bosniak and Croat - whereby we turn our descendents into members of a genocidal nation equal to Nazi Germany," said he.

The very debate on Srebrenica - actually the debate on whether or not a the term genocide should be used in it - testified the extent to which the elites managed to relativize not only this crime but also all other crimes committed in the territory of ex-Yugoslavia: all the referential points of crime such as Sarajevo, Vukovar, Dubrovnik, Zvornik, etc., are either denied or belittled. So, Prof. Vojin Dimitrijevic put forth a phrase boiling down to "condemnation of the gruesome crime in Srebrenica characterized as genocide by all international courts." This would avoid a characterization of our own, says Dimitrijevic. However, the sum and substance of such a resolution is to come public with "one's own" characterization.

The global recession is still on and it's hard to tell when the most powerful economies will start recovering. Apart from being the biggest crisis affecting the European monetary union since its establishment in 1999, its banking dimension could easily cause serious problems in South East Europe, especially in Albania, Macedonia and Serbia. Without the support from EU and international financial institutions, Serbia cannot survive a new wave of financial difficulties.

The coalition government, Democratic Party and, above all, President Tadic, therefore, need to make fresh advances that would secure them fresh support from citizens. In brief, they need to be more straightforward in their pro-European policy rather than keep parroting about "Serbia being Europe." They need to stage a forceful awareness-raising campaign about not only economic, but also moral dimension of that policy. This is the only way to prevent further disintegration of social tissue and mobilize the society as a whole for a creative vision.



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