Hooligans and neo-Nazis

Srđa Popović: The comments voiced in recent times on the phenomenon of so-called groups of hooligans say nothing about what it is that generates the hatred that moves them, for it is hatred. We no longer see this hatred, because we have been living under its shadow for the past twenty years. I noticed this in my law practice: once Milošević came to power, application of the law against spreading national, religious, etc. hatred was suddenly suspended, which made it legitimate. Milošević, as you will recall, and most of us remember his speeches, was always enraged, angry, always full of venom against someone. First against the Albanians, then the Muslims, then the Croats, followed by the Americans, the international community, Solana. His hatred targeted one and all – we have been hating here without a break for the past twenty years.

After 5 October 2000, this was continued by the Radicals. Every sentence pronounced by Tomislav Nikolić and Aleksandar Vučić shows hate. This changed somewhat recently, when it was replaced by something which I would call collecting wrongs. Lists are constantly made up of the wrongs done to us since time immemorial. It is constantly stressed that this is due not to our own mistakes, our own poor choices, but to a superior evil force usually called the world order, before which we are helpless, of course. The combination of wrongs and a sense of impotence stimulates aggression and desire to get one’s own back. Koštunica does this thing somewhat differently – he is more like a wailing woman, crying constantly over our unhappy fate. Svetislav Basara caught this very well not so long ago: Koštunica asks what law we have broken, that this should happen to us. We have here a mixture of persecution mania and an equally crazy sense of self-importance.

Why us? It is because we are special that the whole world is trying to do us wrong. But why? Because we are special. This sentiment, when combined with impotence, produces rage which is constantly being fed. They took Kosovo from us, we couldn’t do anything about it; they bombed us, we couldn’t defend ourselves; they introduced sanctions against us, there was nothing we could do. So that, when you look at what happened to Đinđić, you begin to think that maybe he was killed because he spread hope rather than dejection. Because he said forget conspiracies, it’s silly to think like that; or, this isn’t nationalism, it’s a sense of inferiority. He had many such ideas which, being positive and constructive, must have felt disturbing. And on the other side we have resentful nationalism that turns into negativism, every success being experienced as problematic. The only thing that makes such people happy is spite, as displayed on 11 September; and I bet that their heart leaps with joy each time a flood, an earthquake, some catastrophe occurs, for God is punishing our enemies. In addition to Koštunica, the wailers include, of course, also Matija Bećković, Mica Danojlić, Brana Crnčević, Dobrica Ćosić. These are people who experience every misfortune as a personal triumph – didn’t we tell you, you see, it can’t be done, we’re helpless.

What made me notice Koštunica for the first time was his habit of calling people who are not Serbs foreigners – foreigners, always foreigners. I once had the opportunity to see the New York Times style handbook for their journalists – it bans use of the word foreigner. Why? Because its stresses otherness. This is why you’ll never find there the seemingly innocuous word foreigner, but always a Frenchman, a German, etc. Everyone is something, they can’t be defined negatively. Here, however, those who are not Serbs are defined only negatively – they’re not ours. This is why we have Naši [Ours] – because of foreigners. And it seems logical that these Naši go on to kill foreigners. For sure, the rage and anger that forms in this way within people is still not hatred. It turns into hatred when directed against a specific group, a minority, any minority. Here hatred comes to include also those like yourself, Peščanik, who say – let me use Đinđić’s words again – no, no, it’s no one else’s fault, it is the price we pay for being stupid. They are traitors – those who defend the Hague tribunal, those who find some logic even in the air raids, and in the fact that the governments of nineteen states felt they were necessary; who argue that Kosovo’s independence is a consequence also of our long-term wrong policy. Hatred is directed against everyone who points this out, who shows that Serb crimes did happen. I have just passed the post office and saw a big graffito on it: Lazarević Hero! Everyone who challenges them on this is immediately seen as being on the other side, and so deserves to be hated. To focus attention solely on the dozen [neo-Nazi hooligans] who have been arrested, and on the two organisations which will be banned, is to limit oneself to the symptoms. What is it that produces hatred, what has been generating it during the past twenty years? We hate each other very actively here, and in large numbers.

There is also another group which should be mentioned, the one that seeks to relativise everything, which likes to make everything equal. This is the story about two extremisms, according to which you from Peščanik are extreme for going to Pančevo and holding a public meeting where you talk of this and that, and those who want to beat you up for doing so are also extreme. For is this not the same sort of thing? I remember Olja Bećković on the B92 programme ‘Sunday Impression’ being very surprised: ‘what do you mean by hate speech?’ As if it were an invention. People who talk about the appearance of fascistic phenomena in society are always asked: ‘what fascism, where, what are you talking about?’ It is now clear, however, that talking about it made sense, and that something should have been done. After all, the police knows these hooligans, has filmed them many times, knows each of them individually. We know this, because when a young Frenchman unfortunately died, they found his killers in record time.

There is a group of people who refuse to confront these matters, and who thereby exculpate all such individuals, free them from responsibility: those who torched mosques, vandalised the American embassy, and who rioted when Karadžić was delivered to The Hague. Everyone knows who these people are, just as everyone knows that the Radicals are their political wing. I cannot guarantee this, because I lack the proof; but I am sure that a proper investigation would quickly establish organisational and personal ties – we see on most such occasions Vučić pacing the streets. It is another matter that in front of the cameras he bows down and tries to behave like a gloomy old woman who does nothing but cry – but that has to do with PR. For when you listen to him and his Radicals performing in the assembly, you see that this is an aggressive and hate-filled, xenophobic and angry squad.

I think that what’s not properly taken on board is that the anger and rage of these people, rooted in various deprivations, frustrations, humiliations and perceived humiliations, are turning into an emotion which will sooner or later seek out a sacrificial lamb, move against select groups – homosexuals or anti-fascists, perhaps Peščanik or the United States. This image may appear too clinical, but it is realistic.

You are dealing with people who don’t dare to direct their anger and frustration at the powerful in the society, those who could hurt them. People keep saying about the hooligans that they are merely children, that it’s normal they should feel bitter about ‘them’ bombing us, that theirs is a normal reaction to Serbophobia. How many times have Toma Nikolić and Koštunica told us this? They thus encouraged them, and now wash their hands of them. Storm troopers have that role: to create waves, to be made use of, after which they are rejected. These children were used for that purpose, they were told to go there, set fire to that mosque. No one has explained why the police under Koštunica did not react to the attack on the mosque, but waited for it to burn down before intervening. Nor have they explained why the US embassy was not protected before the mob gathered in front of it, though they knew it would do so. Koštunica sent them there, and kept the police back. It’s all too obvious, and I think that this is allowed to happen because Boris Tadić does not dare to confront an enemy who remains all too powerful, or to call him to account. So has he concentrated on a few young people, and handed them over to the relevant authorities. There is little else he can do, for the source of our sickness is still with us, and continuous to be very active , being neither properly investigated nor properly resisted.

Aimless drift

During his presidential campaign, the word which Boris Tadić most often used was stability. This meant that he would establish stability between two different ideologies, two different policies, two visions of Serbia that are absolutely incompatible. He insisted that there were not two Serbias, that he did not notice that the Radicals were fanning fascism in this country, and he did not believe that Koštunica was a xenophobe or that he was consumed by an ideology of resentment. Tadić saw none of this, and tried to level it all up. He failed in this, of course. He knows and the other side knows that neither side has as yet enough power to eliminate the other. This means making deals, sometimes making moves that satisfy one’s own members and voters and at other times sending messages of peace to the other side, making concessions to it. This has led to a complete paralysis. Tadić is someone who cannot do anything significant, for it would disturb what he calls stability, but what I would call quiet decay. He is conducting this policy of quiet decay comforted by the feeling that the EU and the Americans see him as a positive solution in relation to the alternative. And so the lesser evil continues to rule here.

I once attended, in 1990, a conference together with Stojan Cerović and Kosta Čavoški. We disagreed about everything, of course. When we left, I asked Stojan if he had noticed which words Čavoški used most. He said, no. I said it was ‘suspicion’, ‘suspicious’, ‘questionable’. This paranoid personality has caused much damage with his crazy ideas about ever-present conspiracies. Koštunica, his close friend and co-author, fully agrees with him.

Tadić’s trouble – maybe it is unfair to look at it in this way – is that he gives the impression of being an actor sent to play the role of Serbia’s president. You probably know the story by Zmaj Jovan Jovanović about a boy who climbs on a stool and keeps making speeches until they tell him to get down. He reminds me of that boy – he is totally unconvincing. Maybe this is due to the fact that one cannot see anything on account of his constant change of course, so that all you see is an aimless drift.

The nature of 5th October and its consequences

Svetlana Lukić: Someone has noted that, speaking of the anniversary of 5 October [2000], people always say ‘in these nine years’. These years appear to have fused together, as if the policy had always been the same.

Srđa Popović: Yes, that is often said. But, wait, which nine years? Before and after Ðinđić’s murder [12 March 2003], was that the same? No, of course not. As for 5 October, I have talked so much about it that I have little more to say. A battle over its interpretation is still being fought. I have come across three views so far. One is that it was a revolution. This view is held in the main by the people who were on the streets, who had the illusion that they had won. Some half a million people think that they are victors. But they are not. During that time something quite different was going on behind the scenes, which often happens in such revolutions. There are the masses capable of destroying an order, but who would profit from it is quite another matter. The decision is made elsewhere, behind their backs and outside their view. There are thus people who think it was a revolution. This is what Zoran Ðinđić thought too. They believed that it was a break with Milošević’s regime, after which nothing would remain the same. This is why Ðinđić was killed.

There is another version of the events, that held by Koštunica. He did not wish to give up either Milošević’s project or his ideology, and he refused to admit that Milošević had done anything wrong, except that he was a Communist. So this Communist lost power in regular elections, and was replaced by him, Koštunica. The Communists became the opposition, seeking to win back power, of course, but they would also cooperate. In other words, there was full continuity.

There is a third view, held mainly by members of the SPS [Milošević’s Socialists], and which I share, according to which 5 October was a palace coup. It could never have happened without the cooperation of the people from Milošević’s inner circle. And while the masses were making revolution in the streets, they met with Milošević and told him he was finished, he had become an obstacle, they would carry on with Koštunica, it would be the same as before, so he should not worry, he would not be sent to The Hague. And then Ðinđić messed it all up by sending Milošević to The Hague, which is why he had to be killed. These are then three views of the same event, which remain at odds with each other, unable to agree on what really happened.

An acquaintance of mine, a member of the city party committee at a time when I was on trial for enemy propaganda, said to me the other day: ‘ it’s all the fault of you left-wingers’. Astonishing, isn’t it? Former Communists are today the most ardent anti-Communists, and accuse everyone else of being a card-carrying party member. This is the kind of political chaos in which we live. But parallel things are happening, connected with the creation of a new middle class in particular, there is the pillage, the wealth accumulation, the transformation of political power into personal wealth which corrupts politics, and politics being then used to creates new wealth. Ours is, as they say, a captive state, being in their hands, and there are no clear signs of it ending with a political resolution. Most people, I think, see them as a single whole, people who play in different kits but only friendly matches, after which they go for a beer and look after their income. Vesna Pešić spoke well about this on one of your programmes, about what a captive state means and how difficult change is once this happens. A social layer has been created that has seized all the instruments of power, economic and political, and which now happily collaborates at the expense of all of us. It is very difficult to change such things. It is they, in my view, who are provoking violence in society, because people feel that they are but an object of rule, that they are sheep, that they are unemployed, hungry, and poor, and that they are powerless – they see no way of changing things institutionally. Such situations always lead to violence. With no Albanians, Croats and Muslims around, we now hate each other.

Serbia, Russia, Communism and Fascism

I think that intimacy with the Russians is very dangerous, because Russia has an autocratic regime, one that has the same problems as we have, with their nationalism, their xenophobia, their lawlessness, their captured and enslaved state. Everything that is wrong with Serbia is there, infinitely magnified.

I remember the terrific enthusiasm for things Russian between 1945 and 1948, and how we spent many years afterwards trying to leave their embrace. There is much talk now about the Soviet Union’s contribution to Yugoslavia’s liberation, which is undoubtedly true. There is no doubt that the Soviet Union was an anti-fascist power – it would be quite wrong to deny the fact that they made a great contribution to the defeat of fascism just because they were Communists. Those who make no distinction between Soviet anti-fascism and fascism lose sight of the fact that the world would look quite different today if Hitler had won. But the fact that the Soviet Union made a great contribution to that victory does not exculpate the Communist practice and ideology.

I took part recently in a conference about fascism and anti-fascism, which was attended also by some people who have appeared in the past on your programme. I did not wish to sow confusion, but I told them later that they had unfairly equated Communism with anti-fascism, because Communists were not the only anti-fascists. Their reply was that they were the only ones here in Yugoslavia. Fine, but that is not of the essence – anti-fascism was not something reserved only for Communists. And then you find that Nedić, Ljotić and all those fascist collaborators are being rehabilitated because they were anti-Communist. This political way of thinking is unbelievably primitive, but is ideal for mass consumption – one can play around with it in every way.

I remember well the appearance of Gorbachev. I was travelling a lot then to the United States and they were enthusiastic about Gorbachev. I did not fully share their enthusiasm. I thought that the system could not be reformed, that Gorbachev was either insincere, or was only trying to consolidate the system by sacrificing what had to be sacrificed. He did not see that in doing so he would bring about the collapse of the Soviet Union and of international Communism. The system could not be reformed – the moment you start it is all over. What effect did it have on us? It caused also the disappearance of our own Communist system. What kind of Communist was Slobodan Milošević? He was a power-hungry dictator, a criminal, a thug, a psychopath. He was no Communist – he was beyond ideology.

Excerpt from an interview given to the radio show Peščanik, 9th October 2009

Translated and adapted by Bosnian Institute, 01.03.2010.

Peščanik.net, 08.03.2010.

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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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