Between Russia and Europe

Serbian citizens do not know what to think about 5 October [2000], an event that was indeed ambivalent. Was it a revolution, a change of government or a coup? Who was defeated by whom? The root of this ambivalence lies in Milošević’s two-headed regime. The various Yugoslav republics took various positions on the fall of the Berlin Wall and the fall of Communism. Milošević complained that the western republics, Slovenia and Croatia, had surrendered themselves to nationalists. He, by contrast, postponed multi-party elections as long as he could, then had a great idea, the best idea he had ever had, which was that he could adopt a mutually contradictory position. He would stick by his [Communist] party, in order to keep control of state property, the media, the economy, the police and the army; but he would also adopt nationalist ideology, and in this way occupy the entire political space. So no one could remove him, as other Communist regimes had been removed, from nationalist positions. He decided he could play both roles, be both Red Riding Hood and the wolf. The opposition too consequently became ambivalent. One could not tell what they were opposing: whether they were against socialism, like Koštunica, or against nationalism; whether they were against the war or what. As a result, when Milošević fell it was also unclear what had been defeated: his war policy, his militant nationalism, or the red star. What had actually happened? It was not clear.

DOS, which came to power, was likewise an ambiguous formation. What was DOS? Was it Koštunica, who had removed Milošević in order to become plus royaliste que le roi? Or was it Đinđić, who had organised it all and was now busy seeking to change the system? Koštunica insisted on legality, on continuity with the existing legal system, on the perpetuation of Milošević’s apparatus. This too was confusing. People then said: ‘It doesn’t matter, what matters is that we are rid of Milošević.’ Later on it turned out to be of the greatest importance how to interpret 5 October; that it was very important who had been defeated and who had won. The conflicting interpretations – Koštunica’s and Đinđić’s – later on led to a frontal political conflict between the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) and the Democratic Party (DS). This soon acquired extra-legal forms. I think that it was extra-legal when Đinđić tried to throw the DSS deputies out of parliament. But the response to that was not just extra-legal, but also violent; because suddenly things started to happen like the murder of Gavrilović, armed rebellion, and finally the assassination of Đinđić himself, which put an end to the ambiguity.

The assassination is very important for understanding the nature of 5 October, because it ended its ambivalence. This is proved by the consequences of the assassination. Đinđić, who was one of the least popular of political leaders, became an idol. DSS, on the other hand, became identified as a party pursuing Milošević’s policy; one ready to use brutal violence, in which the executioners were men once employed by Milošević. The people who used to do such things for Milošević were doing them again. A lot of people saw this, gave the credit to Đinđić, and started to withdraw their support from DSS. When the fog finally lifted, it turned out that Koštunica was the same as the Radicals (SRS), that he formed a coalition with the Socialists (SPS), that he was flirting with the Radicals. And if that was so, then why should you be in DSS when you could go to the proper place, to the people who were selling this option more openly on the political market? I think that the murder contributed to the rise of the Radicals, which led to a decline in Koštunica’s popularity, because it was no longer possible to pretend that he was a civilised nationalist. The assassination thus greatly clarified the political scene, it even prevented the Democratic Party from behaving in an equally confusing fashion.

We see that not only did DSS obstruct the trial of Zoran Đinđić’s assassins, but DS too had nothing to say, although it was obvious that DSS was trying to protect the people charged with the murder, to discredit and suspend the special court; that it was against the laws on protected witnesses, and was secretly meeting with Legija. How come that DS had nothing to say about that? Đinđić was their party leader, his killers were on trial. Is it possible that they could enter into a coalition with the very people who were obstructing the trial? This was a defeat of DS which, in my view, caused the appearance of the LDP, because there were people in DS who could not swallow all this. That was the line of division, a fraction came into being, and the Democratic Party had to decide whether to throw them out or answer their questions. They decided to throw them out, which I think will cost them dearly, and is already doing so. Now that the situation has been clarified, the number of supporters of the LDP is growing, because the centre position allegedly occupied by Koštunica has become untenable. Koštunica understood this and drew closer to the SPS and to Milošević’s former coalition partners, the Radicals. DS too tried to position itself in the centre and to hold that place, but the problem is that the centre cannot hold. DS too will lose support as Koštunica did.

There are two realistic and consequential political options in Serbia today, which are those that could be called extreme, since they occupy opposite poles: it is either the West or the East. This is why I think that the LDP will continue to gain, and that the rest is nothing but illusion on the part of some people who think that we might gain something without giving anything in return. That we can not deliver Milošević, not cooperate with The Hague, but still join the EU, even if not NATO. It is becoming increasingly clear that this is a delusion, which only continues the paralysis. And it is clear that this is causing fear, because the conflict between these two positions – far apart as the Radicals and the LDP – is frightening, despite the imbalance of forces, because it is not obvious that it can be resolved without a great upheaval.

We had a criminal political order, the whole state was a criminal association, but they were amnestied by Koštunica, who said that there had been elections, that one president had left and been replaced by another, and that Milošević was still leader of the strongest opposition party and so deserved respect. In my view, however, it was more of a court conspiracy, and what happened was a coup. I agree with the SPS that it was a coup. The votes were never counted, while Milošević surrendered power after the chief of staff accompanied by Koštunica and [Russian foreign minister] Ivanov came and told him: ‘You, Mr President, have lost the elections. Please, surrender power, and Mr Koštunica guarantees that you will never be sent to The Hague and that you will be treated with respect, and Mr Ivanov is here as the great power that will guarantee this deal.’ This is what I think happened, and that Milošević was in fact removed by the treachery of his own entourage, because he went too far in his madness and began to endanger them all. This was most evident during the seventy-seven days of NATO bombardment, when they all thought: ‘This man is crazy, NATO will come in and turf us all out, let’s get rid of him and make a semblance of change, so that we can preserve whatever can be preserved.’ This is why Koštunica emerged as an ambivalent candidate.

This was visible already in the slogan advanced during the elections: ‘Hold your nose and vote!’ A large number of people who were well aware of it all held their noses and voted , because they thought the most important thing was to get rid of Milošević. It turned out, however, that the whole regime, that whole criminal state, was too heavy an object, like a heavy chest that cannot be shifted in one go, without first being rocked. It was rocked on 5 October, but did not fall. On the contrary, it swayed a little, then re-stabilised. This reduces us to despair: we look at the chest, we rock it and rock it, but all in vain.

The line that I see as constant is the ambiguity of Milošević’s position, the ambiguity of an opposition that does not know what it is opposing, the ambiguity of 5 October when we did not know who had won. After the assassination, we did know who had won; and when this became clear, people saw that the ambiguity had been there from the start and that they had to opt for one side or the other. This is the situation in which we still find ourselves: i.e. two mutually exclusive options are in play, one being Milošević’s policy without Milošević, the other that which Đinđić chose. There is no third way. One looks East, the other looks West. Small states are determined by their external orientation; this choice is more important than any internal policy decision. If you opt for Putin, then you are in Putin land: right now, this is Putin land. What is happening here is what is happening in Russia, the Russia that supported Milošević, the Russia visited by Aca Tomić at the time of the Red Beret rebellion, the Russia which guarantees the 5 October agreement between Milošević and Koštunica, the Russia that is a safe haven for all war criminals. It is this Russia, then, which will not allow the evil West to take away 15 per cent of our territory and to which we shall be grateful forever. This is the greatest turn caused by Đinđić’s assassination.

You can deduce from effects something about their causes, something about their motives and aims. If you look at what has happened since Đinđić’s assassination, then you can be sure that this was the aim of the murder. The murder did not happen accidentally and the changes that followed were not accidental. Đinđić wanted Serbia to join the EU and NATO; now Serbia does not want to join the EU and NATO. Đinđić was against a national coalition government, Koštunica now heads a national coalition government. Đinđić wanted nothing to do with the Radicals, Koštunica works together with the Radicals. Đinđić did not want a coalition with Milošević’s party, Koštunica has formed a coalition with Milošević’s party. But hang on, there’s some logic in these events! However – and this is another of Milošević’s legacies – there are so many things like this happening here, mostly quasi-events that keep you going round and round on a merry-go-round from which you can never get off, because you are forever confronted with some upheaval that holds people’s attention. It is as if the house had fallen down, and instead of saying that the house has fallen down, you said that this brick has fallen down, and this brick and this brick. But when a house is falling down, why count the bricks? It was Milošević who discovered that whenever there was a problem and he found himself in a corner, then he would create some new scandal, and then everyone would be dealing with this scandal until he came up with a new one. This has been going on for so long that people are getting dizzy.

This is how I interpret electoral abstinence. The situation is inscrutable, most important things happen outside our reach. The Democratic Party cannot have the post of prime minister, although it has won a majority. What do elections mean then? They mean nothing. The fact is that someone has prevented it by invisible means, otherwise why would the victor accept it. Some other play must be taking place behind drawn curtains. For there exists, you see, a real power which is not institutional, which is dealing the cards. So it is not surprising that people do not feel like voting. Why should I go to vote when, even if I win, my victory will remain on paper? Something else will happen in reality, something that Vojislav Koštunica with his 5 per cent wants, and not Boris Tadić with his 25 per cent.

We are a confused society, we do not know what has been happening to us over the past twenty years, though terrible things have been happening to us. And this appears like a natural phenomenon, something occurring of its own volition, even though everyone invokes their votes and the electorate. Votes cast by uninformed people, people who do not know what is going on, are meaningless. Most people in this country are living in a dream, a dream organised by emotions, not by reason. And we live like that, we live as if we are dreaming. We do not think, we do what we like, without knowing why we like it and whether it is good for us.

We are a highly disturbed people, our thinking is short-term. One and the same thing may be desirable in the short term, bad in the medium term, and catastrophic in the long run. People converse here, and I see that they do not understand each other, because some think in the short term and others in the medium term. Both are right, they simply cannot agree on the time-scale. Those who are against the EU keep saying: ‘When shall we join? Perhaps in twenty years. Never mind if it’s twenty years, the most important thing is to get there in the end.’ And the others say: ‘If it will take twenty years, then we shouldn’t bother.’

The East-West dilemma has existed as long as Serbia has. Even at the time of Communism, we had pro-European currents in the single-party system. And as soon as the multiparty system emerged, the old trends revived. Politics for us means that we have the populists and the Europeans, and that they carry on this same everlasting debate – with, alas, the same outcome. The Europeans always lost and were frequently murdered, just as Đinđić was murdered. This has come to be seen as our eternal fate: that all we know is how to act out the same play with a new cast. We act out the only play we know. This time, however, something most propitious for us has happened, which is that not only are some people in Serbia interested in Europe, but has become interested in us and tried to help us. The populist majority sees this as the greatest deception: ‘They wouldn’t want us if it weren’t in their interest. But what kind of interest they can possible have? Are you a big market? Do you have oil? What is that they’re trying to grab, by pulling us into the European Union? Maybe tomatoes?’ When the first railway was going to be built in Serbia, people likewise said: ‘But what will they try to smuggle in with it?’ Everyone is now looking at us with pity. What we experience as hostility is their attempt to do something with us. But they can see that we won’t have it. What can they do? Nothing can happen without us.

Let me end on an optimistic note. I think it is good that two options and just these two are emerging. One is reliance on Russia, isolation, a life of poverty in a so-called natural economy. The other option, backed to date only by the LDP and some dissatisfied members of DS, stands for modernisation, entry into , cosmopolitanism. These two options will become ever more mutually exclusive, as a result of which elections will become more rational. It will become clear what the only two paths are, and that there is no middle way. I think that the DS will experience what Koštunica experienced when he wished to play the centre; and that this means not only decline but also splits. The unhappiness of the people who favour the Western and European road is palpable. They cannot understand why Tadić is so blindly and submissively sticking to Koštunica, who has in fact fully sided with the Radicals. DS is increasingly seen as an interest group: ‘Do you want to manage a company, run a ministry, have the post of president?’ They are increasingly viewed in this light.

[It is said to justify Tadić’s behaviour that ever since Đinđić’s assassination DS has feared Koštunica.] This I understand, given the way in which Koštunica has purged DS of all those members who wished to remain faithful to Dinđić’s orientation. He made it clear to DS: ‘I shall either treat you as my enemy or you’ll purge them.’ And they got rid of the whole lot. This was their first defeat, when they showed themselves unable to deal with blackmail.

Peščanik, Radio B92, 05.10.2007.

Translation from Bosnian Institute

Pešč, 22.07.2008.

The following two tabs change content below.
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.

Latest posts by Srđa Popović (see all)