In recent interviews both Vojislav Koštunica and Tomislav Nikolić have tried to persuade foreign investors that they have nothing to fear if they come to power. The general argument is that political differences and poor diplomatic relations are not good reasons for businessmen from those countries which ‘are not our friends’ to avoid Serbia. A quite specific and interesting argument was advanced by Koštunica in rejecting the charge that his policy and that of the Radicals were leading to self-isolation: no state conducts such a policy, and the concept does not appear in any political dictionary; only an individual can isolate himself, never a state.
The concept does exist, of course: it is autarchy. There are also many examples of it in practice – we need only recall the socialist world in all its variants, including Hoxha’s Albania and Ceauşescu’s Romania. As for autarchic collectivism and individualism, the latter is practically impossible, as those who like Robinson Crusoe know well, while the former is possible, since a community may indeed be self-sufficient. So these arguments make no sense.
What is important, however, is that both Koštunica and Nikolić realise that self-isolation is bad for Serbia. Also that severing economic ties with the countries that have recognised Kosovo, or will do so, is not in Serbia’s interest. But the question that is avoided in these generalised arguments, and excursions into political theory and history, is as follows: will political hostilities affect economic cooperation? Is it possible, for example, to kill members of peace-keeping troops in Kosovo and at the same time make profitable deals with foreign businessmen? Or, more generally, does justification of the use of violence brings economic consequences?
A direct reply is avoided, just as at the time of Slobodan Milošević’s rise some twenty years ago. He promised both: political hostilities against our neighbours and the Western world, and Serbian economic growth. There was talk of advantageous economic relations with the Soviet Union, later with both Russia and China. Also, as Nikolić now repeats, with the Third World, the non-aligned countries. Yet it was clear already then, at the time when Milošević refused to talk to the American ambassador for over a year, that Serbia’s key partners were the very countries that were being accused of political enmity: Germany in particular, Serbia’s most important economic partner by far, a country whose currency – the Deutschmark – was in Serbia a synonym for money.
Why should economic cooperation not suffer because of political hostilities? The argument openly made at that time is only alluded to today. The idea is that foreign investors, in other words capitalists, are interested only in profit and do not give a damn whether soldiers from the UN peacekeeping force were being tied to trees, which is what happened then, or being killed like today. Why should Western capitalists care about the torching of embassies and UN vehicles, not to speak of vehicles belonging to NATO forces, when they can make profits? If we make it possible for them to make money, then we can both go to war and be economically strong and reach the Swedish (or whichever) standard of living. It was so then and it is now.
The only problem is that political hostilities increase the risks of investment, and of economic enterprise in general. This has two consequences: economic cooperation declines, while the profit must be greater for those investors who incline to risky enterprise. Or, as one can see in the case of even friendly economic exchange with Russia, the price of property must be low enough to ensure a profit in line with the increased risk. This was true in Milošević’s era and is true now too, precisely because capitalists all over the world have profit in mind, not friendship.
It would be useful to go back here to the practicability of a policy of self-isolation. It is understandable that the Socialists and the Radicals reject this idea, because they wish to say that at the time when they were in – or supporting – the government, Serbia’s isolation did not come about by its own will, but by the will of the international community which imposed sanctions on Serbia. The DSS says the same, albeit not so loudly. Serbia’s recourse to violent methods does not mean that it is seeking self-isolation: isolation is the policy of its enemies in the international community. If Serbia suffers because of this and its citizens grow poorer, this will be as a result of the policy of these enemies, not because Serbia has used legitimate means to protect its own political interests. Serbia’s economic collapse in the 1990s thus has nothing to do with the bombardment of Dubrovnik and Sarajevo, or with the ethnic cleansing and genocide in Srebrenica, but with a hostile policy on the part of NATO and its political leaders.
This rhetoric aims to prevent the public from realising why violence is today being used against the international forces in Kosovo. The reason is the same as under Milošević: it is a matter of electoral tactics and a strategy for retaining political power. In order somehow to remain involved in government, the DSS uses violence in order to secure some success for itself in the elections. And in order to survive as a political party, the DSS must prevent Serbia’s integration into the European Union. For, tactically speaking, failure in the coming elections would open up the question of the very political purpose of this party, while Serbia’s integration into Europe, from a strategic point of view, would make its existence unnecessary. As a result, and in the absence of other means, there remains only violence, since there is nothing to lose.
The Radicals’ political position is the same. Although this is a much larger party, it finds itself in the same blind alley. If the violent means now being used fail, and Serbia does opt for Europe, the Radicals face at least a change of leadership. Whether the party would survive such a reorganisation without losing much of its influence remains to be seen. It is very likely that it would follow the fate of the Socialists, and would at all events lose its current political weight.
This, then, is the purpose of all the glorification and use of violence and all the demagogy about a cynical and pragmatic West, with its politicians and capitalists. Given that Milošević already tried out all of this, it is to be hoped that the Serbian public has learnt something about the relationship between political hostilities and economic cooperation. If not, it will be necessary again to confront the ultimate consequences of the use of violence, and to test Koštunica’s assertions that states do not incline to self-destruction. Which is false, of course, and which this country with its experience of civil wars and conflicts – its own and others – ought to know.
For Serbia’s realistic perspective is not autarky but anarchy. At the beginning of Milošević’s ascendancy, there was a belief that violence in Kosovo would not lead to violence in Belgrade. This illusion was of short duration. The same is true for today. Those who today hail the use of violence against international forces will tomorrow justify the use of violence against domestic traitors. Who, as Nikolić has told us, should not be pitied. Or, as a Russian commentator might say, have got and will get what they deserve.
This is the ultimate prospect of the use of violence for electoral purposes. The elections, therefore, will not determine merely which parties will form the government, and Serbia’s economic outlook, but whether violent means to solve political conflicts will finally be discarded. This is no longer a matter of some other country, town or ethnic group, but of Serbia’s own internal life. If the right choice is not made, self-isolation or autarky will not be so great a problem as the other that Serbia will be facing: Belgrade tomorrow could look like Kosovska Mitrovica today.
Translation from Bosnian Institute