The previous strong commotions in the Serbian political arena seem to puzzle the public. The SPS is forming a coalition with the DS, The DSS is fading and disappearing of the political map, the Radicals are dividing, on no other grounds then joining the European integrations. What is going on?
These events and their consequences can hardly be understood outside the context of all the processes and turbulences of 5 October 2000. This context could be described as:
A Historical Defeat
During the 1990’s nationalism as an ideology had brought Serbia a deep historical defeat. Economic devastation, exodus of youth, criminalization of society, international isolation, a moral mortgage on genocide and war crimes had all culminated symbolically in military defeat, the loss of Kosovo, the October overturn and the extradition of the main author of this policy, Slobodan Milosevic, to international justice.
The ideology was defeated by the results of its political practice. It remained present only as a bitter nationalistic resentment, a reaction to a narcissistic wound, an illusory, a posteriori “defense of dignity”, expressed by a mere denial of well known facts. A political demonstration of this resentment is the defiance of raising “the three fingers”, a sign in which only yesterday we constructed our own historical defeat, it should claim that “it is not true, we didn’t do anything, we didn’t learn anything, we are not responsible for anything, we didn’t give up anything, we would do it all over again.”
This is how Serbia entered the new millennium in “a natural state”, devastated economically, morally, politically, but also without a clear vision of the future and a new state concept, in the jaws of a defeated ideology. At this point in time, Serbia could hardly have been regarded as a state (paradoxically, but psychologically understandable, the promoters of this defeated ideology regularly refer to Serbia as “The State of Serbia”). After its defeat Serbia could only be defined as “this piece of land in the South-East Balkans, in the river basins of Sava and Morava inhabited by a people who call themselves Serbs”.
Moreover, by this historical defeat Serbia has, almost incidentally, discredited and lost the only two state concepts which it ever had: the concept of the Great Serbia and the concept of Yugoslavia (with the dominant position of a largest nation in it).
Djindjic – a new state concept
Therefore, Serbia finds itself, after the defeat, in a state of all-encompassing anomy, without a clear state concept, on a historically open plain, devoid of content, with damaged and exhausted human resources and in denial. On the other hand, an intensive political activity dominates the international political scene and it is induced by the European Union by its plans of expending towards Easter Europe and the Balkans. This political energy is overflowing all across the borders, including the borders of a “vacated” Serbia. Zoran Djindjic summarizes this energy and tries to emanate it into the void, into the exhausted Serbian space contrasting the powers of the nationalistic resentment.
Using this energy he manages to achieve a success that is not proportional to his political strength measured by his personal approval rate and the strength of his party. Djindjic started to transform Serbia from a minority position, without real support from the inside, almost against the popular opinion. This meant “treason” for the nationalistic Serbia, succumbing to the “dictate of the West”, therefore “those who bombed us” and at the same time it was a proof of the “undemocratic practice” of Djindjic and his government. Despite all that, Serbia started to change, irreversibly, so it appeared. Rejoining the abandoned international institutions, initiating market economy, a vision of a European future, gradual growth of the standard of living , realism, (hesitant) ideological distancing from the past, cooperation with the Hague tribunal (most importantly through Milosevic’s symbolical and “shameful” extradition), attempts to fight crime and smuggling – the key word of the period was reform.
However, the most important achievement of Djindjic’s government was the creation of a new state concept. A vision of Serbia as a member of the EU; a bold, new, clear and realistic vision of the future, acceptance of different values and different ideology instead of the one that was defeated.
Paradoxically, those were the exact achievements with which Djindjic’s signed his own death warrant. Serbia was not ready for a change of this sort. His death sentence and execution was settled by the still living powers of “continuity” which quieted down, disguised themselves and recognized each other afterwards. They regrouped and consolidated around their old nationalistic (now rancorous) ideology and particular political interests, whose main parts were the fear of facing responsibility for the Serbian historical defeat, but also for looting, war crimes and the abuse of power during the nineties.
The Assassination – A Pyrrhic victory
Djindjic was murdered. However, this seems to be a Pyrrhic victory. The public recognized the killers. Serbia had had enough experience with political assassinations to recognize the conspirators and murderers through their motives, handwriting and modus operandi. The means by which Djindjic was stopped caused an awakening in the Serbian public. Instead of being quickly forgotten, like his killers expected, Djindjic’s popularity unexpectedly began to rise year by year after his death. Djindjic was recognized posthumously through recognition of his adversaries and killers. The layers would say – by unintentional argument ad contrario. “If he was bothering the killers, he deserves respect.”
The government formed on his grave could not have had real support. The fact that it included the murdered prime minister’s party (which purged itself following the wishes of Djindjic’s sworn enemies) caused the Democratic Party and especially its supporters to feel unease, uncertainty, bitterness and shame. As if Dindjic’s party itself had inexplicably pardoned certain people for the assassination of its president.
Kosovo or Europe
The nationalists overestimated “the success” attained by Dindic’s removal. In an atmosphere of shock, resignation and apathy which swept over Serbia after the assassination, the new government started to systematically revoke the effects of Djindjic’s reforms, both institutionally and regarding staff. However, this was not enough. The basic obstacle for a complete rehabilitation of the old regime and its ideology was the sole remaining but also the most important legacy of Djindjic’s administration – a pro-European vision of Serbia’s future. In order to completely destroy Djindjic’s political testament, his adversaries had to destroy this vision.
By overestimating their power they thought they could achieve this by facing Serbia with a choice: Kosovo or Europe. After Kosovo declared independence, Kostunica thought that the moment came, that the Kosovo trauma is enough to secure a final defeat of both Djindjic’s state concept and all the pro-European forces – and he announced an election date. He was hoping that the Democratic Party, frightened by the noisy cursing, vowing and protests, will once again stop following Djindjic, denouncing this final legacy of his governance.
It was an error in judgment. The European vision has taken too deep a root in the Serbian public. This remains the sole positive and substantial message on the Serbian political scene. The empty and unreal promises about setting up Serbian authority in Kosovo looked like stirring up well-known illusions, promoting self-isolation, self-destructive defiance to the whole world and well known Milosevic autism with the same well-know consequences. The whole substance of this message could fit in just three, obviously false words which were repeated ad nauseam – Kosovo is Serbia.
Contrary to this slogan, the pro-European option offered a perspective of foreign investment, cutting down unemployment, access to the European funds, Serbia’s political rehabilitation, a return to the political common sense and establishing elementary self-respect.
A New Demarcation Line
The extreme dilemma that Kostunica, making an error in political judgment, had posed for Serbia – Kosovo or Europe – was solved in a way which was unexpected to him. The final showdown which Kostunica presented as a matter of life and death was resolved in a victory of the pro-European forces. The nationalistic Serbia suffered its first major defeat.
This happened because for the first time the electorate was asked a question which the voters recognized to be relevant to their lives, which offers a realistic vision of the future, a new state concept, and which at the same time resolves a historical Serbian dilemma; Europe – yes or no. The question of this magnitude cuts through the fog of ephemeral interparty conflicts and the feeling of party loyalty. This could explain the election results which many did not expect. As is usually the case – life prevailed.
The Repercussions for Party Life
In this kind of situation the “populists” remained true to themselves, to what they see as their historical mission, sentencing themselves to a “dignified” irrelevant anachronism and silent disappearance.
In other parties the defeat of the nationalists caused an instinctive fleeing of the rats. “Realism” had won, and what followed was the Serbian habit of voting for the winner. There is an attempt to hide the unprincipled side shifting from the supporters by apparently insisting on the old nationalistic rhetoric, but actions speak louder than words. This is how the SPS, by joining the DS in an unthinkable coalition, still swears invokes Milosevic, but votes for joining the European Union (“which bombed us and recognized Kosovo’s independence”). They present themselves as sworn enemies of an “anti-Serbian” Hague tribunal, but more or less silently accept Karadzic’s extradition. It is a lifesaving flip-flop.
The Radicals are attempting for the same realpolitik maneuver. If you can’t beat them – join them (at least seemingly). However, the years of practicing a slavish loyalty to an authoritarian leader, Vojislav Seselj – who has nothing to lose anymore and who in The Hague, like a gambler (“va banque!”), endures in defending the Great Serbia, wars, crimes and hatred of Europe – will not allow them to do the same maneuver as the SPS.
Apparently, this is how we should understand the division in the Radical Party, and not as a personal conflict between Tomislav Nikolic and Vojislav Seselj or as a “struggle for power”. The two key figures in the Radical Party, the president and his deputy who operatively runs the party, are suggesting diametric explanations for the defeat of their ideology and policy – whether to somehow survive in different circumstances or to maintain in defeat, “defending dignity”, “the only thing we have left”.
A further deterioration of the Radical Party could easily be anticipated. Their supporters are loyal to patriarchal, authoritarian values. The leader is to be followed without protest. They would “give their life for him”, as we could hear recently. “The Radical have the most disciplined electorate”. For this kind of voters the divide in authority is deeply traumatic, because it breeds doubt and asks for decisions to be made. And this is a responsibility that a Radical voter, trained to listen and follow orders, cannot bear. He would rather give up on the whole thing.
Apparently we are witnessing the final demise of nationalism as an ideology and a practical policy.
Translated by Ivica Pavlović