In a trenchant interview translated from the Pešcanik [Hourglass] programme of Belgrade’s Radio B92, Serbia’s best known civil-rights authority dissects the essential nature of the country’s current government

Srđa Popović: During the presidential elections Boris Tadić kept repeating: ‘both Europe and Kosovo’. Fine, but what if the two came into conflict, what would be the priority? This is something he wouldn’t tell us. Since [Vojislav] Koštunica too used to say: ‘both Europe and Kosovo’, one assumed that Tadić would prioritise Europe. But then [Vuk] Jeremić told us: ‘If we must recognise Kosovo, then we don’t need Europe.’ Koštunica was the same. They got rid of him as a political rival, and took over his complete policy.

Svetlana Lukić: Jeremić has said that there is a continuity of policy between this and the previous government

We can move a step further back. After the fall of [Slobodan] Milošević, Koštunica too spoke of continuity. The continuity thus dates back to the 1990s. [Ivica] Dačić has become deputy prime minister. [Zoran] Lilić and [Petar] Š kundrić too have made comebacks. This is true continuity. Now you see that Tomislav Nikolić has become a possible coalition partner. It is total continuity. We’re told: ‘But we’re living better, you must admit.’ Fine, but let’s see how this better life came about. By forcing abroad some 300-400,000 people, whose remittances to their families amount to an annual sum of $3 billion. Thanks to various donations, and the cancelling of our Paris Club debts, with sources ranging from the European Union to the IMF. By going deeply into debt, and by spending more than we produce. And now the international financial crisis has dealt them a trump card.

They are squandering the only legacy of the Đinđić regime. Serbia had only two state ideas: Yugoslavia and Great Serbia. Both collapsed. In 2000 we were a people who lived in these valleys, along these rivers, in the wilderness, and then along came Đinđić and said: ‘I have an idea: my idea is Serbia in Europe.’ And the people went for it. After that he was killed, but this greatest legacy of his brief government remained. Public opinion polls show that people see it as the way out. His assassination, which happened partly for that reason – because he was a Western agent, a spy, a traitor, a German agent, a mafioso, and so forth – set off a systemic change, beginning with what he had himself introduced, after which his greatest contribution, this new state idea, began to be whittled away too. Kosovo supervened here as a wild card. A constitution was passed that prevents us from ever recognising Kosovo, to be followed by a whole series of resolutions on Kosovo. Koštunica secured Tadić’s cooperation in all this. Tadić took part in it all. These moves were designed to create obstacles to our entry into the EU, to make sure we don’t join NATO, to make a gift of NIS [Oil Industry of Serbia] to Russia, and then to present all this as an objective reason for why nothing can happen. We would like to join the EU, but we can’t, because there are these obstacles. When in fact they were created by us.

I know a small number of parliamentary deputies. I told some of them that I cannot understand why none of them is willing to stand up and say: ‘Would you like to know how to get out of this situation? See that door over there? All you have to do is to walk through it, and you’ll be out. That door there, don’t you see? Recognise Kosovo immediately, for you’ll never get it back anyway, and even if you did, you wouldn’t know what to do with it. You know all this very well.’ ‘But we can’t, there is the constitution.’ ‘Well, change it’. ‘But we have passed resolutions.’ ‘Pass new ones, and you’ll no longer need the Russians – you’ll go straight into the European Union for sure, which we all agree is the only way out. You can claim ignorance, of course, but at least we’ll know you’re faking it – and the day will come when we’ll ask you why you wasted all those years, given that you could have got out through that door.’ Such tremendous psychological pressure has seemingly been built up that people who perfectly understand all this don’t dare to say it, preferring instead to behave like idiots.

Everyone is waiting for the verdict of the International Court of Justice, even though it cannot give Kosovo back to us. Kosovo was lost in 1990, when someone had the idea that you could rule by force over two million people who had no intention of being ruled by you. If you were to win it back tomorrow, you would only have a permanent rebellion, lasting for as long as a single Albanian remains alive. All this is well understood: that the whole story, and all the lies, all Jeremić’s diplomatic victories, are nothing but a show, an excuse offered to people who had come to believe in Đinđić’s concept, a pretence that we are confronted with objective new obstacles. The key objective obstacle, in reality, is that we don’t want it. Why don’t we want it? Because we haven’t given up the hope that Russia will help us realise Great Serbia. This is the phantasy that still enslaves their imagination. This apart, we are tied to Russia with many important links, one of which is that our war criminals find refuge there, another that Milošević’s family lives there, and yet another that our money is there. Also, we like the way in which Putin has tamed his civil society, how nicely he has instilled order yet retained public support. That’s what we are after, not that Europe in which the monopolies which keep our parties going will be abolished , our army reformed ,our money flows made transparent, and a revision commission forced upon us to supervise how public money is spent. God forbid, that would be a catastrophe!

Our public opinion is worn out and demoralized. Society, as a result, is sliding into the state that Vesna Pešić has described [in ‘Anomie’, Peščanik, 31 December 2008], and about which Peščanik has published two excellent essays, by Ralph Dahrendorf and Steven Lukes – the state known as anomie. Anomie is an inability to identify things. The state in which we live has no name, or rather its only name is anomie, which means inability to identify what is going on. Our society has fallen into this pathological state, because it doesn’t understand itself. What we have here is total lawlessness. We complain that our parliament doesn’t make laws, that the police is involved in crime, that people are assaulted in the streets. We are dealing here with something that is even more important and elementary, in fact – a total disregard for social norms. Moral norms no longer mean anything here. Only the very naive feel able to say no, that’s not fair. We no longer know what to expect from each other, and what we should insist on in everyday conduct. In our everyday life, we don’t have much to do with political parties, [Miroslav] Mišković, the police or the courts. But we do meet other people on a daily basis, and each day they let you know that they don’t care for your sociability, that there’s no such thing as society, that everyone is on their own, that they don’t care what you think of them, that you may think what you like but they just want to do their own thing. That’s the anomie that destroys you. It tells you that there is no such thing as compassion, that no one respects you as an individual or is interested in your idiotic belief in social decorum, and that we have come to feel comfortable with this state of affairs.

People feel that this is what the new way of life must be, that we’ll live like this forever. This weighs heavily upon them, and drives them into isolation – which is one effect of anomie. You shut yourself up in your home, the only place where you feel secure. Anomie sometimes leads to revolution – of which I see no sign, however. Or to ritual behaviour, empty of meaning. We celebrate our slava or the New Year, visit graves, attend church, fast – this fills our lives, gives it a form. But deep inside there is nothing in these rituals that touches intimately upon the individual’s life.

Svetlana Lukić: Jeremić stated at a reception in the Russian embassy that the two constants of Serbian foreign policy are Kosovo and Russia

This, I think, is what the government wants. Did not Toma Nikolić argue that we should become a Russian province? Tadić, as you can see, now thinks of him as a potential coalition partner. Tadić travels to Moscow, signs deals, has himself photographed with Putin. Regarding the continuity of this policy, you will remember who supported the coup against Yeltsin. During the Red Berets’ armed rebellion, where did [former army intelligence chief] Aleksandar Tomić and [former chief of staff] Nebojša Pavković go? They went to Moscow, to ask if they could carry out a coup – whether they would have Moscow’s support for one. When Milošević was brought down, who arrived to effect the transfer of power? It was [Russian foreign minister Igor] Ivanov. It’s OK to have an affair with the Russians, but when you wish to end it, they will kill you. It is not you who says when it’s over, it’s over when they say it’s over. If we wish to define this government ideologically, we might call it a Chetnik-Cominform one. The government is made up of Chetniks and Cominform people.

This alliance was put together as early as 5 October 2000. From then until the present day, the party represented by Koštunica and Toma Nikolić, the whole of the nationalist gang – that xenophobic brotherhood – has been in conflict first with Đinđić himself, and then with his legacy – which remains astonishingly resistant. Over the past eight years they have tried to separate us from the idea that he formulated – and that people at that moment accepted – and to bring us closer to their old policy and their old allies. At the same time, a full treasury has stimulated that evergreen of Russian state policy: imperial ambitions. They had never surrendered their sphere of interest, and have retained the hope that they will return there sooner or later. They have been searching among the former Warsaw Pact countries for the likes of our own government, so that they can discreetly sneak back in. Hence the affair with NIS. I think that we’ll find it difficult to wrench ourselves away.

At the basis of our ‘national reconciliation’ – that general homogenisation which seeks to turn us all into potatoes for the sake of creating a superficial and false consensus – there lies something that sticks like a bone in their throats: the whole story about the two Serbias. One cannot have two Serbias, we will level everything down. What is so sad is the great number of deserters. The inhabitants of the other Serbia have become discouraged, and are concentrating on making a living. If our cause cannot win, then – as [the writer] Marko Vidojković says – we’ll attend to our own affairs, make careers. This is because we’re not Protestants: we don’t feel any externally imposed need to act, but give up as soon as the desired outcome is not on the horizon. We’re not guided by the idea that: ‘No, I want to live so that I am not ashamed of myself; and that’s how I will live, regardless of what the result may be and whether victory is within reach.’ In doing that, you do have some influence on society. This is why I find it difficult to understand the LDP, with its desire to defeat the opponent in one move, to win straight away. As if one cannot have a party that is very important for society, that plays a very useful role, without ever coming to power. No, the only measure here is the immediate electoral result, and the electoral result must be financially rewarded. That’s no good. Concessions come next, and joining the mainstream. This is Boris Tadić’s main idea: to make everything the same, for which he relies on the fact that very few Serbs are Protestants.

In an article I wrote for the Peščanik website about voting for the lesser evil, I asked: ‘Are you sure that this is the lesser evil? Or is it something that’s offered as the lesser evil in order to win votes, but having won the votes it will prove to be the same evil.’ After the elections there was great dismay on the pro-European side, when all that happened was that the lesser evil turned out to be the same evil. The story about the lesser evil made people modest, content with less: more gullible, more pliant, more trusting, more easily dispirited and more prone to apathy. But I retain a trust in what is an essential part of the human biological essence – that they are sociable beings. I shall appear even more naive and argue that people, in my view, want to like one other, that they want to sympathise with others, and that they want to help each other. No one can survive alone. My only hope is that this will arise from below. What we need here more than any political party is a spiritual movement, a new church, one that would go round reminding people that above all they should love each other, and the rest will easily follow. You see how far I’ve gone.

Bosnian Institute News, 24.01.2009.

Pešč, 24.01.2009.

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Srđa Popović (1937-2013), jugoslovenski advokat ljudskih prava. Branio mladog Zorana Đinđića, Brigitte Mohnhaupt (Baader-Meinhof), Vojislava Šešelja, Dušana Makavejeva, Milorada Vučelića, Mihajla Markovića, Miću Popovića, Predraga Čudića, Nebojšu Popova, Vladimira Mijanovića (Vlada Revolucija), Milana Nikolića, Mihajla Mihailova, Dobroslava Paragu, Milana Milišića, Vladimira Šeksa, Andriju Artukovića, Beogradsku šestoricu, profesore izbačene sa Filozofskog fakulteta... Pokretač peticija za ukidanje člana 133 (delikt govora), ukidanje smrtne kazne, uvođenje višestranačja u SFRJ... 1990. pokrenuo prvi privatni medij u Jugoslaviji, nedeljnik Vreme. Posle dolaska Miloševića na vlast iselio se u SAD, vratio se 2001. Poslednji veliki sudski proces: atentat na Zorana Đinđića. Govorio u 60 emisija Peščanika. Knjige: Kosovski čvor 1990, Put u varvarstvo 2000, Tačka razlaza 2002, Poslednja instanca I, II, III 2003, Nezavršeni proces 2007, One gorke suze posle 2010.

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