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
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
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
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.