Daydreaming and Awakening
by Mirko Tepavac
‘It is hardest to awaken a person pretending to be asleep.’
When the ‘unfairly indicted’ Slobodan Milošević declaims pathetically in The Hague: ‘Where are those Albanians allegedly persecuted, arrested and killed during all these years?’, he is not the only shameless cynic. The same is true of all those here who pretend not to know anything about the mass graves stretching from Kosovo to Batajnica, the hundreds of thousands deported from Kosovo before and after the NATO bombings, and the human corpses repeatedly shifted around or ‘preserved’ in freezer trucks. This is why Milošević clings to his Hague rostrum, trying - not without some hope of success - to continue in his role as the unjustly removed leader of all Serbs and to remain an omnipresent factor in Serbia’s political life.
Meanwhile the patriotically minded Serbian party leaders, statesmen, ministers, lawyers, national ideologues, clerics and academics appear still to hope that his and ‘our’ crimes will somehow cease to exist, if the court in The Hague fails to offer us convincing proof of them. It is as if the assumption of innocence excludes the assumption of guilt, as if we spent Milošević’s long and bellicose decade on the planet of Mars, so have no idea what was happening before our very eyes, both to us and especially around us. It will turn out in the end that he is guilty only of having governed Serbia, and not for the massacres he committed in our neighbourhood. One wonders whether he will remain a great leader in our eyes, even if it turns out that he indeed killed his former close friends and political opponents.
Pretence and delusion
No one has yet proved their wisdom by pretending to be insane. The current Serbian government uses the excuse of an opinion poll showing that the majority is against cooperation with The Hague - but how can one overlook the great efforts invested in turning the public against the Hague tribunal and embittering it at the ‘conspiracy against the Serb people’? Unfortunately even the temperamentally passive Koštunica has done all he could in his successive posts to encourage popular distrust in the Tribunal. This will soon prove a real headache for him, however, since ‘deliveries’ to The Hague can be approved only by his own and his government’s decision. So it is far from ‘brave’ on his part to delegate the task to the excessively well-intentioned non-Serb Rasim Ljajić.
Delusion exacts vengeance. Europe has had enough of our pretences. If justice and truth are not sufficient reasons for collaborating with The Hague, if doing so is not something we ourselves need but merely a bothersome international obligation, and if war crimes do not as yet elicit public shame, then our motivation must at least be to protect our imperilled national and state interest. When illusions take hold, stupidity follows. Evasion is a frequent companion of policy, but it alone cannot constitute a policy. So long as war crimes are not condemned here, it is Serbia not Milošević and his guard that stands indicted before the Tribunal and the world.
Present as past
Dušan Mihajlović has recently stated that ‘the Mafia is back’ (as if it had ever gone!), which as a police minister of many years’ standing he should well know (one can trust him more now than when he was insisting that he had it under his control). The narco- and pharmaco-mafia; the warmongering and anti-Hague lobby (of which no one speaks any more, though it is ever more vocal); the war-profiteering and super-profiteering capital acquired on the battlefield rather than the market place; nationalist extremism; hostility to Europe and xenophobia - all these form an indivisible unity that can be overcome ultimately only through a consistent and radical determination targeting all of them together and all at the same time. They are natural allies, even if they are not (but most likely are) mutually connected: having survived the ‘long knives’, they remain rooted in the still intact structures of a corrupt state, police and judicial apparatus. Allied in this manner they are invincible. They are not simply a ‘shadowy power’, but a realistic and dangerous alternative to the confused current ruling coalition. When people lose faith, when they become disappointed and resigned, when so many citizens trust no one, conditions are created for them to put their faith in the worst. It must not be forgotten that ‘what has once been real, forever remains possible’.
This is why the nationalist excesses in Vojvodina are unfortunately not ‘isolated cases’, but a logical product of unbridled radical nationalism. The nice word equality, when applied to those who are unequal, legalises in fact the right of the stronger. (As the ancient Carthaginian writer Terence once said: ‘When two people do the same thing, it is not the same.’) Why do we deceive ourselves with ‘both sides are to blame’ in the Province where the Serb Radicals have become by far the strongest party - one fortified by former fighters for ‘new Serb states’ on foreign territories and by duped refugees from the areas promised to them by Milošević and Š ešelj - while most officials in the state, political and police institutions are their protectors, co-thinkers and voters. So long as Tomislav Nikolić daydreams about a Greater Serbia, what can non-Serbs in and around it dream about? And what will they see when they wake up?
‘The soldiers dance’ - on and on
‘Every tempest begins as a light breeze.’ These incidents will not really hurt Hungary, nor perhaps - let us hope - Magyar-Serb relations either, but they have already hurt Serbia. Their internationalisation is not the product of someone’s ill will, but derives from political relations in democratic Europe. They were internationalised by their very occurrence. Members of minorities are absent, moreover, from the Serbian government and assembly, and few if any are to be found in our police, military, judicial, customs or diplomatic services. When it comes to human and minority rights, a democratic government cannot but be generous. The old ‘national key’ [quota system] has been derided and rejected, but the door remains practically closed to the national minorities. It is telling that during the past fifteen years in which genocidal national chauvinism and ethnic persecution ran riot, the law against fanning national and religious hatred was not used even once. It was used neither before the fall of Milošević nor after the great October. Once again ‘the soldiers dance across the land of Serbia’.
State policy is not what is proclaimed, but what is done. All else is empty rhetoric. It is in the nature of maximalism to wreck any lesser solution. This is why ‘Kosovo and Metohija’ - which for us remains still and only our ‘southern Serbian province’ - is via facti and despite all our laments irresistibly moving away, with the ever more likely prospect that it will finally separate itself off without our having any say about it. This ‘most precious Serb word’, as the poet consecrates Kosovo, has already become one that Serbia can no longer afford. All that can now be achieved, especially for the unfortunate Kosovo Serbs, is possible only through reliance on the international community, the UN and the EU; yet we spend more time blaming them for everything than encouraging their good will and understanding. After all that Serbia has done there during the past decades, it cannot now achieve anything on its own. This is what happens when threats, curses and vows replace rational judgments and actions, and when it becomes unpopular - at times even dangerous - to tell unpalatable truths.
Serbia is not well. It is lagging far behind Europe and its neighbours. Serbia hesitates to do what it must out of fear of destabilisation, but hesitation only adds to its instability. It is not true that things are worse today than they were before October, but it is true that they are not as good as they could and should be. Those unable to foresee what can and must happen in the next five or ten years, and unwilling to face up to the demands of reason and reality, should find themselves some more innocuous job than conducting national policy. Serbia has given its trust, unenthusiastically but nevertheless, to Boris Tadić: he can do a great deal, if he proves able morally to rise above his presidential powers. He cannot do everything, but he can make his influence felt everywhere. Given the trust he has won at this political turning point, he is responsible not only for his own acts but also for his time.
This comment has been translated from Republika (Belgrade), October 2004. The author, born in Zemun in 1922, held several of the highest party and state posts in the former Yugoslavia, including that of foreign minister in the 1970s.