I was carefully watching Putin when he was visiting Serbia. Usually, we just look at his pictures – hunting, fishing, horseback riding, half naked, half divine. But, when he was here, he appeared somehow reduced. Boredom could be seen in his face. Tadic tried to entertain him – our flags are similar, our languages are similar, our churches are similar – all this connects us. However, Putin remained cold. He did not take the bait. I did not hear him tell any kind of coherent political story. He kept insisting that he came for business reasons, and then he went to see a soccer game. There, he met with his buddies motor bikers; he sat with them during the game. Bleachers were filled with the so-called hooligans who caused disturbances during Gay Pride Parade in Belgrade; there were twenty thousand of them, welcoming Putin with slogans written in Russian. They wanted to show that Putin would not only win on our elections, but that he is already our president, not Boris Tadic. It is obvious that for this reason Tadic did not sit next to Putin during the game. Prime Minister Cvetkovic did.
During his visit to the Parliament, Putin said that we had many parties, and that in Russia they would never be able to do anything if they had so many parties. However, he did not mention his party, United Russia. No one knows what political ideology his party represents. Thus, he left us without any political messages worth mentioning.
Few days ago, I came across an article published by Ivan Krastev, a very good political scientist. In that article, Krastev claims that there is no ideology in Russia today. According to him, the old authoritarianism, which was based on revolution and the appropriate philosophical ideas (laws of history, rule of workers, etc.), no longer exists. This ideology is gone, and what we have today, Krastev calls authoritarianism 2.0, or new authoritarianism. I have the overwhelming impression that some form of new authoritarianism exists in our country as well. It consists of the state and parties similar to corporations, i.e. being without any kind of ideology. If they are corporations and if a corporative spirit rules, we are all like one single organism, like in a corporation with a boss at a top. So our situation resembles despotism.
The West is not able to take a standpoint on this new authoritarianism, Krastev claims, because it is not being exported abroad in the way communist authoritarianism was, when the West was forced to protect itself from this threat coming from communist countries. The lack of ideology in new authoritarianism leads to a situation where there is nothing to strike at, because only through ideology and political program can one start any kind of struggle.
For example, blank resignation letters in the Serbian parliament were justified with the claim that, if they did not exist, a flea market would arise, where parliament seats would be on sale. MPs would be sold like cherries, corn or any other merchandise.
This is a system based primarily on interest. And, of course, if people gather in parties for the sake of interest, then the party leader must feed them by doing them favors. If you fail to satisfy their interests, and, of course, your own, then what is the point of that party. However, a society cannot be based on bare, pure material interest. If this happens, the society starts to rot. So we no longer have a situation where, opposing the West, the free world, is some kind of Marxist totalitarianism or authoritarianism. Today, we have a simple society where individuals run after their own private interests.
When you have such a degree of social demolition, where each individual runs after his or her own private interest, then a possibility to formulate any kind of public interest no longer exists. In this situation, parties only juggle words in order to demonstrate that some kind of strategy exists, but, if you look more closely, no one has any idea what they are talking about. We always mention poor Boris Tadic and his Democratic Party, which is a social democratic party, but, apart from the issues of Europe and Kosovo, we have no idea what their political ideology is, or why people would choose to attach themselves to this particular party and fight for victory of that particular political ideology. This lack of political ideology followed by attachment to parties on the basis of interest alone, led to the situation where political parties are in serious danger if there are no blank resignation letters, because a dissipation of interest may occur, and MPs may be bought and sold.
It would be hard to imagine that a British laborite could become a member of the Conservative party, or vice-versa. In Britain, generations are linked to a certain political ideology, which is not a metaphysical category, but a corpus of values and principles. However, the creation of political ideology never took place in Serbia – in actuality, we do not have any kind of political pluralism. We have several companies, corporations, which have their employees, and these corporations fight to win the biggest possible share of the political market, because this is the way to win public companies and other institutions, hospitals, theatres, executive boards – everything becomes tradable.
Ethnic-religious identity is currently some kind of functional ideology in Serbia. This means – I am an Orthodox Serb. Since there is no political ideology you can fight against in a normal way, as a worker, a citizen, using the appropriate political means in the fight against another political group, against its ideology, in actuality you have to fight against some ancient Serbian identity. This became evident during the fall of former Yugoslavia. This is what Zoran Djindjic criticized in his last lecture: From nationalism to patriotism. Nationalism relates to static, old identities, which might have had a function before, however, in a modern society, such static, unchangeable identities simply have no meaning, i.e. they are a burden in times when speedy reaction is expected. One must be able to speedily reorient oneself in order to solve a problem. But if you have these rigid identities, you are not able to deal with real problems the majority of normal countries has.
We saw that, for the registration of the population in Montenegro, a popular tennis player, Novak Djokovic, was used. They put up billboards with his photograph, with the slogan – Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid, say who you are, you know who you are. And the President Tadic and Patriarch appear, just to remind people, if they accidentally forgot – you know who you are, say it freely, you are an Orthodox Serb. And then follow Zukorlic and Ceric, who send similar messages to Bosniaks – you will say you are Bosniak, and your religion is Islam. Look at how these national identities are being positioned more and more firmly. Of course, they should not be destroyed; it is natural that Serbs and Croats exist, but these should be civil, political nations. You fight for your state, for your citizens, not for ethnic background. It is ancient, rigid, unchangeable category and for this reason, it is moved to the background in the Western society, while the civil state is put up front.
So, these thieves have created a system where parties are some kinds of companies, fighting for power on this fake political market, which in fact does not exist. There are also some advisors to the President Tadic, like, for example, Mladjan Djordjevic, who is in charge of this idea of Serbism. He was in Podgorica, preparing the campaign together with Metropolitan Amfilohije. President Tadic went to Montenegro to attend the opening of a Serbian consulate. He took the opportunity to climb some mountain, from where, allegedly, some of his ancestors came from. However, he says – no, no, we are not interfering with your internal issues, this has nothing to do with this registration. Note how suddenly people who follow pure material interest, start saying big words. You could see this with Putin. What did he visit? The Sveti Sava Temple – don’t you dare touch Orthodoxy. That former KGB member is probably an atheist – what God does he believe in? Then you read all those articles about Russia, that he has several gangs which have, at their disposal, all these vast resources of Russia. This is the new authoritarianism, and now the question remains: how to deal with a society which is left with nothing but pure and bare interest? People lost all hope, because the only option they are offered is to enter this game and gain nothing, or simply die of starvation.
If you are reduced to this pure material interest, then this ideally agrees with the Church and ethnic heritage, but a large piece of puzzle, which could resolve this entire issue, is lacking. We are referring to Serbia entering normal political pluralism, where we would know what each party represents, whose political interests it represents. But we simply don’t have that. All we have is an animal kingdom where everyone is a freelancer, attacking each other, biting each other.
Our politicians even managed to turn Europe into something entirely operational. Something without value. We will all claim to be for Europe, but we will all do the opposite, concerning the judiciary, institutions, financing of parties… Anything pertaining to any kind of elementary order, we will forget it, because European standards and values interfere with our pure interests. So there is nothing to look at anymore. The only thing we are left with is Serbian God.
I still have no idea how one exits this new authoritarianism. The author who wrote about it, Ivan Krastev, said that there is one functional exit, but that it is false. Back in the Soviet Union, people had no passports and were not able to travel. In new authoritarianism, everyone fights for the Schengen WhiteList, Russians included. Krastev claims that open borders go hand in hand with the new authoritarianism, adding that about 2 million highly educated Russians left the country. We don’t even have to talk about this in Serbia. Everyone who had the chance left, since there is no democracy, no chance, no future. These two million highly educated Russians who left their country, in some way enabled this quasi-democracy and this new authoritarianism to survive. Everyone who was in favor of democracy was simply exported abroad.
Vojin Dimitrijevic noticed that no one in Serbia reacts to the stories about Kosovo anymore, and we were not able to sustain the European story either. I believe that many of our politicians do want Serbia to become a member of the European Union. However, due to this terrible negative selection, which happens in such authoritarian societies, and which has been in place for ages, we have lost the capacity. We are not hindered only by systemic corruption, but also by the inability to solve some elementary problems. We lost the capacity to act. The interests and this negative selection bringing in only people you can make use of, led to a situation where people are not able to carry out even the most simplest of tasks.
When public opinion polls include control questions such as – would you choose someone who is not a democrat but who would improve you economic position – people answer affirmatively. So, we would elect an authoritarian leader, if he could improve the economic situation. This phenomenon is well-known in Latin America. Elections in Latin America have no purpose, a very small percentage of people vote, and when they do vote, they do so without hope. This is why there are so many desperados, extreme revolutionary movements, or populists. Everyone in Latin America knows that elections bring nothing. The situation is the same here. Elections will bring nothing if we can’t find a way to exit this interest zone, to change the situation where you have plain people on one side and those who have their own political companies on the other. If we don’t exit this, I don’t know what we will do. Even if someone really wanted to bring order, he would not be able to. If someone has bought the judges, bought this one and that one, what kind of leader are you? What means to change the state do you have at your disposal? Even if I believed you really wanted to do it. But if everything is bought, if the state has been sold and bought, how will you carry out your best intentions, as you have nothing to work with. This is a problem now, ordinary citizens no longer have the capacity to fight for anything, they are blackmailed, and the capacity is starting to decline in politics as well – when someone wants to make a change, he or she no longer has the means to do it, because, in actuality, the state does not exist anymore, it has been sold.
Now, add this decreased operability to the national rigidity I spoke about. There is no more dynamic political ideology; everything is reduced to maintaining old nationalistic illusions: we will no longer use wars, we will use peaceful and diplomatic means, we will put one foot in Bosnia, we will do our best in Montenegro… What will happen if 70% of Montenegrins suddenly “come to their senses” and say they are Serbs? Will that state collapse? What I am trying to say is that when you can’t have rational, modern politics, through modern political parties, you have to keep swearing – we will never give up our national dreams. This – never – goes hand in hand with loosing capacity and loosing the elementary capability to regulate a country. And then, this never really becomes never.
From Pescanik radio show, 08.04.2011.
Translated by Bojana Obradovic
Vesna Pešić, političarka, borkinja za ljudska prava i antiratna aktivistkinja, sociološkinja. Diplomirala na Filozofskom fakultetu u Beogradu, doktorirala na Pravnom, radila u Institutu za društvene nauke i Institutu za filozofiju i društvenu teoriju, bila profesorka sociologije. Od 70-ih pripada peticionaškom pokretu, 1982. bila zatvarana sa grupom disidenata. 1985. osnivačica Jugoslovenskog helsinškog komiteta. 1989. članica Udruženja za jugoslovensku demokratsku inicijativu. 1991. članica Evropskog pokreta u Jugoslaviji. 1991. osniva Centar za antiratnu akciju, prvu mirovnu organizaciju u Srbiji. 1992-1999. osnivačica i predsednica Građanskog saveza Srbije (GSS), nastalog ujedinjenjem Republikanskog kluba i Reformske stranke, sukcesora Saveza reformskih snaga Jugoslavije Ante Markovića. 1993-1997. jedna od vođa Koalicije Zajedno (sa Zoranom Đinđićem i Vukom Draškovićem). 2001-2005. ambasadorka SR Jugoslavije, pa SCG u Meksiku. Posle gašenja GSS 2007, njegovim prelaskom u Liberalno-demokratsku partiju (LDP), do 2011. predsednica Političkog saveta LDP-a, kada napušta ovu partiju. Narodna poslanica (1993-1997, 2007-2012).