I was having a lot of fun in the last ten to fifteen years watching how the same personalities performed the castling move between the positions of president and prime minister in Russia and Montenegro. I was having fun, because this proved how even the best institutions and principles can be used to serve autocracy. I was also having fun because these two are historically very close countries, so it was possible to nicely deliberate on the long-term processes. And I was having fun because it was their problem.
I am not having fun anymore. The decision of Boris Tadic to move to the position of prime minister shifted this problem to Serbia, as well. We are once again faced with the old metaphorical question: is democracy a weed that can grow in any social soil, or is it a tender plant which requires fully defined social conditions and a certain level of political culture? Such petty political games give a rather clear answer to this question.
Let us go a little further – is it only coincidence that this is happening in precisely these three countries? In their history, all three countries had different attempts to introduce parliamentary systems, but little success in doing so. There was insufficient tradition of the rule of law; there were no modern and dynamic social classes with democracy as their main interest; the church and Orthodoxy had a strong conservative social and ideological influence; the history of ideas was dominated by populist social ideologies of collectivist and egalitarian provenance; the system of values was patriarchal and hierarchal; the countries had a difficult time letting go of their imperial and greater-state projects, which maintained priority over the concept of development and modernization. Similarities are many, thus, this is more a case of parallel processes then that of a coincidence.
Let us move now to a specific question: why shouldn’t Boris Tadic be prime minister? It is true that no democratic Constitution in the world includes the provision that a person cannot hold one position today, and another tomorrow. However, such a provision is not included because it is taken for granted – because such political behavior violates the basic principles of democracy.
Throughout the history of democracy, different systems existed in which the focus of power rested on different levels of power. The nexus of power was most frequently in the parliament; in some countries (Great Britain, for example) it was in the government; somewhere in the hands of the president (US, or French Fifth Republic). These systems were named depending on the nexus of power. They could be parliamentary, cabinet or presidential. This, in turn, dictated further rules, procedures and responsibilities.
Throughout the history of democracy in Serbia, the Constitution dictated that the power be concentrated, for the most part, in the hands of the parliament. However, real life experience was completely different. Namely, power resided with the most powerful man. When Nikola Pasic was in the parliamentary opposition, he appealed on the power of the assembly; when he was prime minister, the power was in the hands of the government. First of all, shifting the focal point of the system in such a way violates the constitutionally prescribed relations between bodies of power. In the case of Boris Tadic, this was true in the previous period, in which, contrary to the Constitution, the president acted as if the system in Serbia was presidential, thus permanently violating the authority of the parliament and the government.
Shifting the nexus of power in such a way shatters another foundation of democracy – the division of power. Institutions are being robbed of their prerogatives, and the power is being concentrated in the hands of one man or his group, outside of the institutions. Such behavior leads the already unstable Serbian state into serious adventures. Additionally, it brings into question another pillar of democracy: the electoral system and the changeability of government, since such castling moves mask political change, create false dynamics, while the system and its institutions die away. This maintains the power of one man, who remains a central figure in every situation, thus strengthening clientelism as the basic social and political relation. Clientelism is the basis of a party state, which is totally opposite of the rule of law. In such a system, party and personal interests are above the law, which additionally undermines the thin layer of system, applied only superficially in Serbia during the last ten years. Especially dangerous is the fact that such actions ridicule democracy as such, and stifle any kind of trust in the system, thus opening the door to ever-vigilant authoritarian forces, just waiting to show what an iron fist truly is. And to have many feel relived at the same time.
What is surprising in this situation is also the self-destructive behavior of the Democratic Party. This party does not give heed to electoral results, and not only to the fact that Boris Tadic lost the elections, but also to the fact that the party did rather well. In other words, the party has new strong people, who achieved great results in Belgrade and Vojvodina, but it is destroying its own good results, by supporting Tadic, who lost the elections. And this is no longer only about Tadic, who is unable to see this, but also about the party, which lacks the strength to accept reality and the generation shift, which is incapable of change and unable to adapt to the new situation. And this is the most disastrous thing for any political organization.
Let us return now to Russia and Montenegro. They found themselves part of this comparative study rather unfairly. Namely, Montenegro has abandoned this charade, and, since Igor Luksic was appointed prime minister, apparently no longer plays such games. And now a key difference: the men who were replacing each other in power in Montenegro and Russia always won the elections! And this is a crucial difference. They won their mandates, but used this victory to trick the system, to ridicule and use it, to make it a fool. The idea to take the leading position in the government, after losing the elections (and losing in the largest cities, at that), appears highly problematic from the democratic point of view. It is also disastrous. I am not referring now to Boris Tadic. He loses nothing. It is the Democratic Party, the democratic Serbia, and the citizens who expected from this party to turn Serbia into a decent state – they are the losers. This new disappointment is something Serbia will have to pay dearly.
Translated by Bojana Obradovic