Regime over the abyss

"There's more of us than you", protests in Belgrade

“There’s more of us than you”, protests in Belgrade, photo: Miroslav Petrovic

We are all far too familiar with the brazen face of the regime. When asked about a plagiarized doctorate, the regime responds: “This is the stupidest explanation of plagiarism I’ve ever seen!” When asked about the fall of the helicopter, the regime screams – “I won’t let you have Gasic!” To the questions about media freedom, it exclaims – the media has never been more free! And I’m not talking only about public appearances, but everyday behavior. The “concrete shoes” the president of the municipality of Subotica speaks of, intimidation and violence against journalists ordered by the president of the municipality of Grocka, sexual abuse by the president of the municipality of Brus, for which he was accused and then acquitted, the frenzied driving of an official car which cost a woman her life.

We saw another public display of the regime’s brazenness this weekend, in an interview with the Serbian prime minister. Invited to the studio allegedly to talk about her recent visit to the US and the plans of the Serbian government to negotiate with Kosovo, this person of dubious literacy spent 95% of the time talking trash about her political opponents, blathering about the filthy toilets at the Faculty of Philosophy in Belgrade, and chiding the critics of the authorities for rejecting the “culture of dialogue”. After that, practically in the same breath, she went into an argument with an interview of Professor Marija Bogdanovic, published in Vreme. (That’s what the culture of dialogue looks like, according to SNS – the dialogue is “cultured” as long as they’re the only ones with the right to speak.)

Although the prime minister is already known for her brazenness, until now, she managed to refrain from engaging in such explicit arguments with critics of the regime. Her task consisted primarily of repeating several phrases from the NGO newspeak (“creativity”, “innovation”, “digitization”), praising her mentor and declaring herself inadequate or unaware of issues that should be part of the basic domains of her job. Fights with her opponents and targeting unsuitable tweets were left to others, above all to the aforementioned mentor. The fact that the prime minister has now switched to offense, shows that the regime is in deep crisis and that the protests held every Saturday throughout Serbia have managed to shake it to the core.

However, last weekend, we had an opportunity to see a completely different face of the regime – the face of the person who photographed the protestors for the ruling party. More accurately, we didn’t see this face, because, when the cameras were turned towards it, the person in question put up a hood. “I care about my privacy”, the person said, confused, and ran away.

Why run away? The protestors are not violent, nor were they a danger to this person in any manner. So, it wasn’t fear. What was it, then? Hiding their face, talking about privacy (oh, the irony!), backing off, it all points to a familiar feeling – shame. The person is ashamed for being there, for doing the thing they were doing and for getting exposed.

In his article “Iran on the edge” from 2009, Slavoj Zizek wrote:

“When an authoritarian regime approaches its final crisis, as a rule its dissolution follows two steps. Before its collapse, a mysterious rupture takes place. All of a sudden people know that the game is over, and then they are no longer afraid. It is not only that the regime loses its legitimacy, but that its own exercise of power is perceived as an impotent panic reaction. We all know the classic scene from cartoons. The cat reaches a precipice, but continues walking, unaware that there is no ground under its feet. It falls only when it looks down and notices the abyss. When a regime loses its authority, it is like a cat above the precipice: In order to fall, it only has to be reminded to look down.

In Shah of Shahs, a classic account of the Khomeini revolution, Ryszard Kapuscinski located the precise moment of this rupture. At a Tehran crossroad, a single demonstrator refused to budge when a policeman shouted at him to move, and the embarrassed policeman simply withdrew. Within a couple of hours, all of Tehran knew about this incident. Although street fights continued for weeks, everyone knew the Shah was finished.“

The current regime bypasses relevant public institutions wherever possible – which is also a sign of mistrust. Instead of the police, the regime relies on parapolice units. The person we saw on the cellphone video almost certainly belongs to one such unit. The shame of this person – seemingly incompatible with the usual brazenness of the regime – says that the game is over and that everyone knows it. This incompatibility is only an illusion, because the prime minister’s newly adopted aggression says the same thing – it is a panic reaction of a regime that has just lost its legitimacy. Both the arrogance of the prominent regime officials and the shame of the field operative, say the same thing – the regime has lost the ground under its feet and now all we have to do is remind them to look down.

Translated by Marijana Simic

Peščanik.net, 18.02.2019.