It appears that the loneliest people in Serbia at the moment are the Ombudsman Sasa Jankovic and the Commissioner for Information Rodoljub Sabic. Their persistent attempts to establish some form of control over state authorities, or, at least, convince politicians in power that it is necessary for Serbia, its citizens, and the desired democratic progress, that they do not cross the boundaries set by (“their”) Constitution, resemble a little bit a Quixotian struggle against windmills.
All of this raises sympathies in one part of the public, but, all in all, does not overly upset our masters of political and state power. It appears that politicians even find them useful – as a kind of simulation – in the Serbian model of democracy, that everything is subject to criticism and control, without any revengeful repercussions, while, behind the scenes (in the deep shadow of party and government offices) a totally opposite process is taking place: facts and reality are irritably ignored, the Constitution is grossly violated by the terror of the parliamentary majority, the law is being tuned to the needs of politicians, officials and tycoons who crave power, and government regulations take precedence over the law, even the Constitution. And all this is filled with unrestrained outbursts of intolerance, arrogance, conceit and the logics of “who is the master and who is the servant”, that is – who holds the power here.
If someone had even believed, at the beginning of the mandate of yet another mammoth ruling coalition, marked by the untouchable trio Tadic-Dinkic-Dacic and a feudal division of positions and power, that in 2008, after a several year long devastating adventure with Kostunica, Serbia finally got a truly democratic, pro-European government, he or she did not need long to realize that, in reality, this was another, rather big, illusion. The ruling coalition, primarily the Democratic Party, won the last elections with the promise that the road to Europe had no alternative, but, in time, the so-called pro-European orientation started loosing power and plausibility, while acquiring the features of somewhat shy, yet firm continuity with the period of “patriotic cohabitation” between Tadic and Kostunica. A specific ideological mixture was being created – a pattern of rule which differed from Milosevic’s only by the fact that, in the process of piling up the levers of power and authority by suppressing, or rather destroying the institutions of the state, the government did not use brute force and violence. And when, after a short break from Kostunica’s model of the so-called democratic nationalism, Kosovo once again became the dominant, one could say, only topic the government was dealing with, it became completely clear to the holy ruling trinity (DS – G17 plus – SPS) that a new formula must be found in order to maintain the illusion of some sort of adjustment to European values. It also became clear that a system of governing had to be established which would place the newly formed coalition in a position where no one and nothing could impede the promotion of its version of political absolutism, with, let’s say, a democratic guise. As the feudal structure of power, due to its limitations and rigidity, prevented the crisis in Serbia – primarily economic and social, but also political – to move from ground zero, it soon became clear that the basic preoccupation of Tadic’s crew need not be the recovery of the country and the road to the EU, but, instead – what is to be done to protect even such an inefficient government from all, even the most harmless criticisms that, as its mandate progresses, it is losing its bearings.
In the first phase this was achieved by the so-called historical reconciliation of democrats and socialists, that is, Tadic and Dacic, which, in fact, opened the door to the rehabilitation of the politics, parties and ideology prior to October 5, introduced silent amnesty for many crimes, robberies, affairs and scandals, a devastating privatization, while, at the same time, shutting down any debate on investigating the responsibility for the total downfall of Serbia and its environment, lustration and discontinuity with the catastrophic politics from the not-so-distant past. When (after a certain period) the potential of “reconciliation” exhausted itself, a new phase was entered. The epic and mythological story of Kosovo and the Kosovo identity was renewed. This story, together with the newly emerged global economic crisis, served as the main alibi for the fact that Serbia, even a full decade after Milosevic, remained unable to take a step out of its lengthy internal nightmare. Sadly, this story remains alive today, and its intensity has not waned. The renewed patriotic rumble is very effective in covering the sounds of failure and defeat of the ruling nomenclature – from the economy, Kosovo, to the failed pro-European expectations. To make things even worse, the logic which is being promoted is – no failure is so big and so tragic that the following one cannot be even bigger and more tragic.
In the meantime, it became crystal clear to the ruling parties that they “need” to create a protective circle in the legislative system and the system of state institutions, which would prevent the reverse effect that lost battles could have on the stability and rating of those representing the state authorities. Through the so-called judiciary reform, a mechanism was created which made the position of judge and prosecutor dependant on executive power, and, at the same time, subject to control and influence. If there were good intentions to rid the Serbian judicial system of past burdens and, through general reappointment, carry out a certain kind of lustration, the method used to realize the “reform” created a new institutional chaos. Since the parties had the last word, in reality everything came down to the fact that many of those who, out of loyalty to the Milosevic-like pattern of rule, had been degrading their profession, were reappointed, while their critics were not. The epilogue of the “reform” is, however, closely monitored by competent European institutions, but the question remains as to how much the government cares about the already present objections that something went seriously wrong with the “reform” of the judicial system in Serbia.
When, according to the “reformists” themselves, the task was “successfully” finalized, the authorities moved to another strategic field, which, in every (un)democratic society, seriously influences the behavior of authorities.
With the last years amendments to the Law on Public Information, which were carried out arrogantly and were imposed with extreme pressure, and, in particular, with the draconian penalties for “insubordinate” and “unsuitable” media, the goal was very quickly reached. Partly through the fear of the threatening financial whip of the authorities, partly through already established systemic control of the leading electronic and printed media, partly through crucial influence of marketing agencies owned by people belonging to the center of power, and, most of all, through the devastating effect of self-censorship, the media scene in Serbia became an easy prey to the regime, as well as a subject of many manipulations. In fact, the media today are, without any doubt, the strongest tool of the government. Media criticism has become listless, investigative journalism has practically been banished, and many leading media have renewed the fashion (from the past) of glorifying the regime matrix of behavior as the only relevant, correct and patriotic. In the meantime, the moral and professional downfall of Serbian media reached such a (devastating) level, that even the most recent ruling of the Constitutional Court, that the majority of the amendments to the Law on Information are unconstitutional, will not be of much help. Judging by the speed, and, one can almost say, unscrupulous manner these amendments were imposed, the time to rectify them in the parliament will take at least five times longer, and even longer to eliminate the damage and put the media back at least to where they were in the fall of 2009. That is, those who survive in the meantime.
However, getting compromised by the judicial and media “reform” did not affect the readiness of the ruling coalition to persevere in creating an environment, which will, first of all, eliminate all potential obstacles to its self-proclaimed credibility, and then use this mechanism it created during the next regular or extraordinary parliamentary elections. Thus, the sequence of moves was, one could say, impeccable.
With unprecedented arrogance and autocracy, the authorities fell upon Jankovic and Sabic and all of those who recognized the unconstitutional encroachment of the authorities into the privacy of citizens (only one step away from unhindered wiretapping), those who recognized, in the amendments to the Law on Anticorruption Agency (passed with ample assistance of “independent” MPs), a unique opportunity to legalize the practice of one-party systems to have the same people in the executive and in the legislative branches of power, as well as some other forms of power (piling up positions), thus striking a hard blow to the newly formed Agency, those who recognized that (party) fixers appoint, on the basis of the Law on Prevention of Discrimination, and on the occasion of elections for national minority councils, suspicious personalities (mildly put) to leading positions in the system of public acquisitions, and that a person conforming to party standards is appointed Commissioner for equality, despite the protest of the majority of NGOs and the reasonable suspicion that this person is not only in a conflict of interest, but also in a serious conflict with the sector she should be protecting from government intrusion.
All of this will, of course, be subject to European “revision”, and it is possible that something may be changed, by a foreign intervention, in domestic jurisprudence, maybe even in the way the authorities behave. However, neither Europe, nor the Constitutional court of Serbia, which, after several years long abstinence, started working, and is already paralyzed by the huge number of constitutional appeals by judges who were not reappointed, no matter how hard they try, will be able to remove the bitter impression that this government (which, incidentally, the same way as earlier governments, believes itself to be the most democratic in the history of Serbia), has no patience to endure any type of control, and even less will to build a system of self-control. Actually, this government is exhibiting all symptoms of sick ambition to control absolutely everything, and use different tricks to compromise, marginalize and underrate institutions which have the constitutional responsibility to restrain the autocracy of the regime. And, unfortunately, all of this is done in an arrogant and aggressive way, as if both Serbia and the world will seize to exist after this government is gone. The government, which is, in essence, very week and inefficient, but survives because of homogenous interests of its numerous parties and leaders, is successfully using the advantages it is offered: a weak, rigid and anachronous opposition, numb media and NGO sector, instrumentalized judiciary, confusion in the public due to Kosovo… If – the government reasons – Kosovo is already lost, and the membership in the EU is a carrot on a very long stick, it is completely natural that controlled Serbia and uncontrolled power are the most important issues at hand.
Even more important than the devastating assessment that the state is, once again, treading in the mud of multiplied party-leader autarchy. However, all of this will, sooner or later, end badly. For Serbia and its citizens, of course. Parties always have (backup) exits in case of emergency.
Translated by Bojana Obradović