bosnia report
New Series No: 45-46 May - August 2005
Serbia in the thrall of dogmatic thinking - the outcome of a failed project - Part I
by Sonja Biserko

Serbia is in deep trouble. During the past five years its successive leaders have been put on trial at The Hague for crimes against humanity including genocide (Slobodan Milošević ) or murdered by its own security forces (Ivan Stambolić, Zoran Đinđić). The leaders of its largest party are either likewise at The Hague (Vojislav Š ešelj) or might soon be (Tomislav Nikolić). Its unreconstructed military and security establishment, tainted by war crimes and corruption, remains protected by its current prime minister (Vojislav Koštunica). Its church is arguably the most backward in Christendom. Its society, instructed by what passes for an intellectual elite, lives in a state of denial of its recent past. The vast majority of its young people has never been abroad to experience a world it has been informed is hostile. It is a country inhabiting a dreamlike terrestrial and temporal space, with uncertain frontiers and a mythologized past. It is treated with apprehension by its neighbours and with deep misgivings by the West. In a situation that would discourage all but the bravest, a small number of committed democrats and patriots continue to analyse what has gone wrong in Serbia, to expose crimes committed in its name, and seek to educate the young about their country’s true potential. They deserve the help and gratitude of all who dream of a peaceful and democratic Europe.


That Serbia was the generator of the wars in the area of former Yugoslavia is now widely accepted. So too is the fact that Serbia’s military enterprise enjoyed the support of the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA), the Serbian interior ministry (MUP) and, in particular, the secret services which played a key role in its organisation. Despite its military superiority Serbia was unable, however, to overcome the resistance of the other Yugoslav nations, which proved to be morally superior and to harbour aspirations in tune with the dominant world processes. Serbia unfortunately refuses to acknowledge these facts. As the evidence showing Serbia’s responsibility grows, so too does its insistence on the supposed guilt of the ‘secessionist’ republics Slovenia and Croatia, and on the alleged world-wide conspiracy to ‘weaken Serbia’.

The disintegrative processes in Yugoslavia developed in parallel with its democratisation. Democracy alone did not lead to the country’s break-up. But it was certainly not conducive to Yugoslavia’s transformation into a monolithic federation as advocated by Serb nationalists and the military establishment. The desire for republican autonomy was evident already in the 1960s, and was legitimized in the 1974 constitution. Allegedly fearful of Yugoslavia’s break-up, it was actually the Serbs with their ‘preventive’ measures and their quick adoption of the idea of a ‘state for all Serbs’ who, having made no attempt to solve the existing problems through national or international institutions, precipitated Yugoslavia’s dissolution. The Serb population in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina inevitably became involved in setting up the new pan-Serb state. The Serbian interior ministry (MUP) and security service (DB), together with the JNA, armed and trained sections of them to rebel well in advance of any Croatian or Bosnian decision to leave Yugoslavia.

The aims of Serbia’s war policy

According to Serb nationalists, the 1974 constitution was the main cause of Yugoslavia’s break-up, because it turned the country into a confederation. In contemporary perspective, however, as the 25 countries of the European Union prepare to ratify the union’s new constitution, Yugoslavia’s 1974 constitution appears as a forerunner anticipating a constitutional solution to the problem of complex state associations. It has been said that the EU constitution ‘advocates a political philosophy of its own transnational pluralism, rather than an extended interpretation of the nation state.’ For, ‘if the EU is to affirm itself as a democracy, it must forget the usual way of thinking about constitutions. In order to achieve this it is necessary to make three conceptual shifts: to aspire to mutual recognition of the identity of all its members, rather than seek a common identity; to promote a union of projects rather than a union of identities; to work for a horizontal division of power between states, rather than a vertical one between the states and the union.’ (1)

Serb nationalists were not ready to accept the effort which such a complex state demanded of them. Instead of negotiations and consensual solutions, Serbia spent the last decade of the twentieth century waging a war for the re-composition of Yugoslavia’s territories. A return to the pre-Communist anti-democratic tradition was viewed as Serbia’s manifest right to go back to the year 1918 (or 1941) and refashion a second Yugoslavia from the position of a historical triumph that was taken for granted. Serbia continues to press ahead with this project to this day, albeit now by different means: through ‘peaceful and diplomatic activity’; through the labours of the Serbian Orthodox Church, which behaves de facto like a para-political organisation; by adopting administrative measures designed to prevent the return of refugees; and by marginalizing the country’s national minorities, excluding them from political decision-making and from cultural and educational policies. We are dealing here essentially with a strategy of waiting for a new and more favourable international situation.

Serbia’s war policy was its answer to the unstoppable process of Yugoslavia’s decentralisation and democratisation: i.e. to the growing autonomy of the other republics. Serbia rejected the last attempt - at the Hague conference organised by the EU - to preserve the Yugoslav state framework. The wars in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and later Kosovo were halted through the intervention of the international community. The Croatian state was recognised only after Vukovar, Dubrovnik and other Croatian cities had been badly damaged and a Serb ethnic enclave, the so-called Republika Srpska Krajina, established on Croatian soil. The war in Bosnia was halted only in 1995, following the greatest massacre in Europe since World War II: the execution of over 8,000 civilians at Srebrenica. The Dayton agreement ratified the ethnic division resulting from the genocidal policy conducted against the Bosniak people. Milošević’s attempt by similar means to establish a new situation also in Kosovo, which would have seriously endangered the stability of the entire Balkans, ended with NATO intervention. A new strategy of partitioning Kosovo is now in play, advocated (as in the case of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina) by Dobrica Ćosić. Ćosić has indeed published a book Kosovo (Belgrade 2004) which, according to him, tells ‘the story of Serb suffering in Kosovo and also something about the struggle for Serb rights’. This book is essentially designed to prepare Serbian public opinion: its promotion throughout Serbia was used to send out the message: ‘Let’s partition Kosovo, and thus free ourselves of Kosovo!’(2)

Serbia’s wars have had grave consequences for the region as a whole. The results of the ‘All Serbs in the same state’ project have been disastrous not only for Serbia’s neighbours, but also for the Serbs. Though not precisely established, the number of dead overall is reckoned at up to 200,000. The total number of refugees and dispossessed in Croatia is around 513,000. In Bosnia-Herzegovina there were 1,262,000 displaced and around 1,200,000 refugees in 1995. In Serbia itself a large number of people belonging to the national minorities have left under pressure: around 60,000 Croats, 50,000 Hungarians, 300,000 Albanians. Around 300,000 Serbian citizens, mainly young people, have left the country, first for fear of the draft and later for economic reasons. Most of the 800,000 Albanians deported from Kosovo at the time of the NATO intervention have returned, but a significant number has not. A total of 4.4 million people were forced to leave their homes, i.e. 20% of the total population of the former Yugoslavia. The indirect economic cost of the war has been estimated as $125 billion for the region as a whole.(3) There has been, in addition, a criminalisation of most of the region, which has become a synonym for traffic in human beings, drugs and arms.

Following the collapse of communism the socialist federations - Czechoslovakia, the USSR, Yugoslavia - fell apart, lacking the democratic potential essential for the functioning and transformation of such complex state associations. In the resulting vacuum, above all in regard to individual national identities, nationalism played an important mobilizing role in the period of transition and democratisation; but in certain cases it also stimulated conflict. The Serb national programme triggered off the Yugoslav wars, because Serb nationalists believed that the time had come for the Serbs finally to fence off their national (in the ethnic sense) state. The scenario for destroying Yugoslavia was worked out in detail. This is visible from the speed at which events moved, leaving the other republics little time to organise themselves and find the right response. The eruption of Serb nationalism, which was skilfully manipulated via the media, served to mobilize the Serb people as a whole, starting in Croatia. Serb Communism ended tragically in a radical nationalism that defended a collectivist ‘sovereign’ way of life. Eric Hobsbawm predicted back in 1990 that nationalisms would revive, in the form of reactionary populism, as resistance to liberalism.

Ethnic cleansing in pursuit of an ethnic state

The trial of Slobodan Milošević at The Hague has established a precise chronology of the war’s events, and has laid bare its aims, its architects, and the ideology of Serb nazism. Milan Babić, former president of ‘Republika Srpska Krajina’, who took an active part in implementing the Serbian project in Croatia, showed convincingly how the programme had been carefully prepared within the institutions of the system, such as the Army, the police, the Academy and the media. The trial at The Hague shows clearly that ethnic cleansing was the aim of the war rather than one of its consequences. It served, as academician Jovičić explains, ‘to bring together all Serbs within the same state’, which means that ‘Republika Srpska’ and ‘Republika Srpska Krajina’, formed ‘through the struggle of the Serb people’ in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia respectively, were supposed to join Serbia and Montenegro in a state that according to him was to be called the ‘United Serb Lands’. One of Milošević’s defence witnesses, the historian and academician Čedomir Popov, denied that there was a plan to create a Greater Serbia; however, when asked by Geoffrey Nice what was to be the name of the state that would unite Serbia, Republika Srpska and (the now vanished) Republika Srpska Krajina, he replied that it would be called Serbia.

Numerous similar admissions by defendants at The Hague, including above all Bosnian Serb leader Biljana Plavšić, , are being strenuously denied and denigrated in the Serbian media, in a campaign that seeks to diminish the importance of these confessions by presenting them as due to pressure or deals with the court.

When searching for an answer as to why Serbia opted at the end of the 20th century for the creation of a Serb ethnic state, which could not be realised except through ethnic cleansing and mass war crimes, one must bear in mind among other things the singular Serb military tradition that goes back to the birth of the modern Serbian state. An active presence of the Army in political life has been a permanent feature of the modern histories of both Serbia and Yugoslavia, representing one of their salient features. On the one hand, the Army has been the main pillar of the Serbian regime and the official state ideology; on the other, it has often acted as an autonomous and creative participant in formulating national aims. The history of Serb militarism is inseparable from that of Serb authoritarianism. During the last three decades of the 20th century, the Army played a prominent role as an active guardian of the regime and its ideology (socialism), a role which overlapped with the interests of the Serbian national elite. The Army’s role was not limited to this, however, and it often behaved as an independent political force.(4) Without its support Serb nationalists would not have had much chance of success. The alliance between them was possible because the JNA traditionally relied on Serbia (as did the federal bureaucracy).

The alliance between the Army and the Serb Orthodox Church

The enormous repressive apparatus created by the former Yugoslavia was above all the expression of Yugoslavia’s sui generis geo-strategic position. Its internal cohesion was maintained by constant insistence on external enemies waging a ‘special war’ against it, and by glorifying the successes of the socialist system. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War left Yugoslavia in an exposed position: in the eyes of the international community, Yugoslavia practically overnight ceased to be a geo-strategic priority. Its incompetent leadership did not know how to deal with this situation. The fact that Serbia was unprepared for the change aided the formation of an alliance between its elites and the conservative and dogmatic state apparatus. This alliance prevented a peaceful transformation of Yugoslavia, despite the fact that the country possessed all the preconditions for it: its economy was already in part a market one, and its experience with the West was already considerable, especially in terms of institutional relations (it had observer status on the Council of Europe; it enjoyed special ties with NATO; it was on the brink of an association agreement with the EC, etc).

With Milošević’s arrival in power, the Serb Orthodox Church (SPC) was returned to public prominence in order to facilitate implementation of the Serb national programme. The Church played a very important role here, by fanning ethnic nationalism and hegemonic aspirations in the popular masses and by manipulating their religious and patriotic feelings. Its full support for Slobodan Milošević played a key role also in mobilizing anti-Communist social layers. Following Milošević’s removal and the arrival of the new government, the process of the SPC’s return to a prominent place in public life accelerated further, leading to the practical abandonment of secular principles at all levels of the state and society. The SPC thus acquired a key role in forming the Serb national identity and the cultural model for young people in general. The importance of the Church was enhanced by the fact that its return to prominence took place in the conditions of a destroyed society, an identity crisis and a vacuum of accepted values caused by the recent wars - wars for which the Church itself bears considerable responsibility. The values that the Church promotes are in opposition to the very foundations of modern society: as, for example, with its resistance to private property and market economy, or to elementary democratic and individual human rights. We are faced with the establishment of a populist state nurturing an authoritarian system of government, to which Slobodan Milošević contributed greatly by destroying the pre-existing institutions and promoting forms of popular political activity outside them (e.g. mass rallies). In the context of a general social disintegration and externally imposed pacification of Serbia that neutralised the power of the Army, the SPC was encouraged to assume the task of uniting the Serb nation in Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo and Macedonia.

The Russian element - i.e. reliance on the illusion that Russia would act to defend Serb interests - also played an important role in the perceptions of the Serb nationalists at the time when they were preparing the war. Serb nationalists believe that Russia’s loss of super-power status has prevented it from engaging more actively in the Balkans. Russia, or at least part of the Russian elite, for its own selfish reasons fanned Serbian hopes in Russia’s return as a world power to the international scene, and encouraged Serbia to persist in its resistance to the international community. Russia’s irresponsibility is most visible in the fact that NATO bombing would not have lasted so long, or indeed would not have happened at all, had Moscow put pressure on Serbia in good time. Serbia has always sought in Russia, i.e. an Orthodox civilisation, its historical support. That Serbia is mentally part of that world is apparent in its attitude to market economy and European values. Over the past fifty years Serbia’s relations with Russia were affected by Tito’s break with Stalin in 1948,(5) and by its attitude towards Khrushchev and Gorbachev.(6) The Russian link became visible, however, with the arrival in power of Vladimir Putin in Russia and Vojislav Koštunica in Serbia. The Russian Church and the Russian security services are very influential in Serbia. Little attention has been paid to their activities, which helps nurture the historical myth of special Russian-Serbian relations.

Contesting the borders

Yugoslavia’s transformation into a loose federation or a confederation was not acceptable to Serb nationalists. They accepted Yugoslavia as a solution to the Serb question,(7) provided it was organised as a centralist and unitary state under Serb domination. Such a Yugoslavia, however, was not acceptable to the other Yugoslav nations. Ever since the initial formation of Yugoslavia, Serbs have strongly resisted the federal idea and Yugoslavia’s functioning in accordance with the principle of consensus (involving all the republics and provinces) - a principle that became the foundation stone of the 1974 constitution. Once a Serb-dominated Yugoslavia became impossible, Serb nationalists began to turn increasingly to the idea of Greater Serbia as the historical alternative to Yugoslavia. Its creation involved territorial expansion at the expense of Croatia (involving a third of the latter’s territory) and Bosnia-Herzegovina (two thirds). This project, propagated by Dobrica Ćosić and his circle, won broad support among the Serbian elite at the end of the 1980s and the start of the 1990s. Without that support the appearance of Slobodan Milošević would not have been possible.

By de-legitimizing the 1974 constitution as a Communist product, the Serbian elite sought to de-legitimize the republican borders in order to establish the premises for creating a Serb ethnic state. Moreover, the Serb interpretation of the 1974 constitution influenced the attitude of the international community towards the war and Yugoslavia’s break-up, thereby greatly extending the agony of the whole region. It contributed to the international community’s hesitation to recognise the new states, and inclined it to accept at Dayton an ethnic division of Bosnia-Herzegovina. By accepting the idea of ethnic borders, the international community objectively facilitated Milošević’s war policy.

Financing the war

The predatory nature of the war and a widespread criminality were facilitated by the disoriented repressive system, which found common ground with the Serb nationalists in division of the spoils and defence of the state. A military-industrial complex, disproportionately large in relation to the number of Yugoslavia’s inhabitants and its relatively weak economy, was engendered by the country’s defence strategy, with arms exports becoming a main source of income for it. The arms industry, which was under direct JNA control and concentrated mainly in Bosnia-Herzegovina, manufactured infantry and other light weapons, but also modern tanks, artillery and electronic equipment. At the start of the 1980s the Yugoslav economy entered into recession, but the military-industrial complex remained profitable. Extensive arms exports then continued under Milošević’s regime, i.e. after the break-up of Yugoslavia. This is why some very valuable factories, such as those producing aircraft and tanks, were transferred from Bosnia-Herzegovina to Serbia at the start of the war. The relocation of these production lines financed Milošević’s war effort.(8) The International Crisis Group produced in 1992 an extensive report on the export of weapons by Serbia and RS to Saddam’s Iraq.(9)

The hyperinflation in the 1992-94 period was an important source of enrichment for Milošević and his circle, and probably the best indicator of the predatory nature of the war and the regime. The basic reason for the inflation lay in the theft of state reserves - and particularly reserves in hard currency - with which the regime financed the war against Bosnia-Herzegovina and kept going the Serb entities in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. An important link in the chain was the Federal Customs Office (SUC) headed by Mihalj Kertes, Milošević’s trusted friend, which alone had the right to accumulate foreign currency and domestic cash reserves. This supplied the financial mechanism for the purchase of equipment for the Serbian Army and police from 1994 until 2000. Considerable sums were placed in off-shore accounts, with the full cooperation of the state security service, as was explained in a report for the Hague tribunal by financial expert Morten Torkildsen.(10)

International sanctions, and the UN arms embargo imposed on all parties in the former Yugoslavia, punished the weakest side in the conflict (Bosniaks) and created the space for an untrammelled black market, with consequent undreamed-of possibilities for personal enrichment of those close to the regime. Milošević’s own financial manipulations,(11) as well as those of his loyal collaborators (12) and the state security (DB), provide the main backdrop to the Balkan war: redistribution of wealth. War profiteering left behind a legacy that is now impeding post-war reconstruction in the region, and simultaneously contributed to the creation of a new financial elite there, thus maintaining continuity with the previous regime.(13)

The ‘alliance of elites’ and its chosen one

The end-of-century conflict between Serbs and the world persisted after 5 October [2000: fall of Milošević] , despite the great desire on the part of the international community to re-embrace Serbia. No other country in transition won such favourable conditions for membership of the Council of Europe, or such treatment, as Serbia. The EU put out the red carpet, in the hope that the new democratic government would make a clear break with Milošević’s regime. The international community thus missed the opportunity, at a time when new energy had been generated, to make a strategic distinction between the various political actors - and in particular between Vojislav Koštunica and Zoran Đinđić. Consequently it did not give sufficient support to the political forces of discontinuity represented by Đinđić. The misconception that Koštunica was a democratic leader lasted too long, as did the expectation that his Commission for Truth and Reconciliation (14) would lead Serbia to confront the past. Koštunica never condemned Milošević’s war policy, and never said anything positive about the Hague tribunal. He never distanced himself from the project of Greater Serbia; on the contrary, he used every opportunity to treat Republika Srpska as another Serb state only temporarily separated from Serbia. His first visit to Bosnia-Herzegovina as president of FRY was conceived as a symbolic act of non-recognition of Bosnia-Herzegovina as a state, and specifically of Sarajevo as its capital city. Without drawing a clear line, above all by distancing oneself from crime, it will be impossible to integrate Serbian society. The same conservative forces that first created and then removed Milošević, working in alliance with the mafia which has become deeply entrenched within the body of the state, continue to obstruct change and the adoption of new values, on the pretext that this would destroy traditional forms of social solidarity - the very ‘Serb essence’ - and the country would be sold off to foreigners for the benefit of international financial circles.

It was only the assassination of prime minister Zoran Đinđić that destroyed the illusion, built up by the West after 5 October, of Serbia’s democratic potential and its leading role in the Balkans. This is why any understanding of the situation in Serbia since Milošević’s departure must begin by defining the nature of 5 October. A deep frustration and dissatisfaction among citizens on the one hand, and on the other an agreement between the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) and Milošević’s innermost circle (the Army, the police, his closest partners) forged between 25 September [election day] and 5 October 2000, led to an ‘alliance of elites’ that secured Milošević’s smooth removal. The choice of Vojislav Koštunica as DOS’s presidential candidate, however, was part of a consensus reached between the Serbian Academy, the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Army that was then accepted by DOS. The aim of the alliance was to prevent Serbia from deviating from the basic course of the national policy set by Milošević.

5 October thus ensured continuity with the policy of the previous regime, especially in regard to preserving the national project; by doing so it preserved the existing criminalised and repressive state and para-state structures. The relationship of forces thus prevented the drawing up of any balance sheet of Milošević’s inheritance. Because they failed to confront the crimes of the past, the new leaders lacked the moral credibility that would have permitted them to tap vital new sources of energy after 5 October. This led to all kinds of ‘rationalisation’: from denying the crimes - and the very existence of the Greater Serbia project - to shifting the entire blame onto the Communist regime.(15)

During the thirteen years of Milošević’s rule, a political and economic system was created that still remains dominant, whose nature is nationalist and oligarchic. Milošević promoted the oligarchic system through a symbiosis of state, social and private interests. This is reflected in the existence of three forms of property - state, social and private - permitting simultaneous administration of both state and private property (it is often the case that government ministers are also company directors). The arbitrary rules imposed upon the economy, affecting in particular monetary and banking policies, serve well-defined state and private interests and lead to limitless corruption. Since Milošević’s departure, Serbia has been a stop-gap state. The oligarchy accepted the new government in order to secure international normalisation, not reforms of domestic political or economic relations. Zoran Đinđić’s government had high ambitions, but lacked the necessary support, since the adoption of a new constitution and institutional reforms would have affected the existing relationship of forces. Needless to say this has precluded any possibility of reforming the police and the judiciary.(16)

The elections and the challenge of Zoran Đinđić

Viewed from today’s perspective, premier Đinđić and his government will be remembered by their attempt to direct the energy released by 5 October towards the necessary reforms and transition in Serbia, and to assume real power. The results of his government’s two years are not negligible; they are even impressive, in view of the systematic determination on the part of those maintaining the politics of continuity to block every reform measure. The government nevertheless managed during that brief period to take a number of concrete steps aimed at an essential transformation of the country and at overcoming its international isolation. Đinđić’s role in promoting reforms was to a large extent his own choice and challenge. He began to formulate an alternative by pressing the 5 October change-over into the service of reforms, and to distance the country from the policy of war and war crimes. Unfortunately, however, he did not have the necessary political consensus for this.


Following his murder there was an involution, an open return to ethno-nationalist politics, a rejection of any form of real confrontation with the past or cooperation with The Hague. The process of full restoration of nationalism was confirmed in the elections of 2003. The difference this time was that the aims and power of the oligarchy were internationally legitimised, since a fresh isolation of Serbia cannot be expected. The process of Serbia’s democratic transition was thus brought to a halt. There is no longer any strategy for the state and society to break with ethno-nationalism. Not a single key aspect of Milošević’s national war programme has been meaningfully challenged. On the contrary, ethno-nationalism has once again become the dominant political ideology - e.g. in the insistence on partition of Kosovo. This alone signals the victory of ethno-nationalist ideology within Serbian society. Official attitudes towards Montenegro, Vojvodina, Kosovo and RS continue to nurture the idea of pan-Serb unification. The attitude towards Montenegro is especially important, in that it involves actions on the part of the Serbian Orthodox Church that seek to provoke conflicts (even civil war) within Montenegro - and in Macedonia too, which is still not treated as a foreign country.(17) The notion of ethnic borders - which means refusing to accept the existing borders - remains intact in the minds of the Serb elite.

Without a modern vision

Serbia’s rejection of lustration, de-nazification and other such experiences linked historically to transition is preventing the country’s social integration on modern foundations, i.e. on the basis of the rule of law and responsible government. The absence of a modern vision of Serbia has led to a revival of Chetnik ideology and Serb conservative thought, whose two basic features are the claim to territories envisaged by the Serb national project, and the promotion of a system of values based on rejection of the West. The rehabilitation of the Chetnik movement and ideology amounts to a negation of the anti-fascist Partisan tradition upon which the Communists based their power, and therewith of all AVNOJ [Anti-fascist Council of National Liberation of Yugoslavia] decisions - including the established borders. This has involved the mass production of appropriate literature and a broad media campaign. In creating this spiritual atmosphere, Serb nationalism is turning increasingly towards the ideological inspirations supplied by the ‘organicist’ conservative thought propagated by the late Orthodox clerics Nikolaj Velimirović and Justin Popović, the Nazi sympathiser Dimitrije Ljotić and the Quisling regime of Milan Nedić. The Serb Orthodox Church is playing an important and indeed leading role in this revival, as the most authoritative advocate of this ideology.

War criminals as national heroes

The rejection of all talk of Serbia’s responsibility for the war and the war crimes has opened a space for portraying those indicted by The Hague as national heroes. Their great popularity, indicated by the electoral success of those parties which placed indicted war criminals(Slobodan Milošević, Vojislav Sešelj, etc.) on their electoral lists, is not surprising. The best known names of the Serb cultural and intellectual elite describe Western demands, especially in regard to The Hague, as ‘a specific form of colonialism’; and as bringing ‘colonial democracy’ to the region, i.e. an enforced and artificial form of social order that is ‘not a result of the country’s natural evolution’ or of ‘its own internal conditions and customs’. The refusal to acknowledge any responsibility nurtures the thesis that Europe ‘constructed Yugoslavia’ and is now ‘de-constructing it’.

There is a great danger that if this trend continues, ethnic cleansing and war crimes may become a significant factor in the creation of a new Serb national identity, given that the past war is treated as a legitimate means for realising national aims. Educational institutions play a particular role in forming this Serb identity, by legitimizing war crimes in the state school text books. One of the greatest achievements of Đinđić’s government lay precisely in a reform of education that is widely seen as liberal. Under his government Serbia joined the European process of higher education reform, based on the Bologna Declaration. Koštunica’s government, however, ended such reforming efforts.

Glorification of the war and its main heroes, Ratko Mladić and Radovan Karadžić, is a feature of practically all cultural events in the country. Thus at the International Book Fair held under state sponsorship in October 2004, a novel by Radovan Karadžić - published by mysterious means - became an overnight hit. The book sold out within a few days, and its promoter-cum-publisher was interviewed daily on TV. The influential professor of the Belgrade law faculty Kosta Čavoški, who is president of the Committee to Defend Radovan Karadžić, spoke on the occasion of the book’s launch. A play based on the book is now being prepared. Apart from condemnations voiced by a few publicly derided individuals, no one has raised the question of the wisdom or morality of such an enterprise, clearly prepared and welcomed by Serb nationalists.

The incorporation of war criminals into the national mythology was recently approved by the director of the state-owned publisher responsible for printing school textbooks - also a professor at the faculty of philosophy in Belgrade - Rado Ljušić, who stated at a recent meeting in Gacka (Bosnia-Herzegovina) that the pillars of the Serb national identity are three historic personalities: Karađorđe, vojvoda Mišić and Ratko Mladić. The meeting was broadcast in full by state television. The SPC too actively promotes war criminals as national heroes. Prominently displayed in the window of its bookshop in central Belgrade are two books by Radovan Karadžić, with his photograph on the jacket. Mention must also be made here of the latest in the series of such events dedicated to glorifying indicted war criminals: the appearance of the novel The Iron Trench, allegedly penned by Milorad Ulemek ‘Legija’ of the notorious Red Berets, who are responsible for the most monstrous war crimes. The book was published in 70,000 copies and sold out in a few days. This publishing venture is just one in a series of strategic moves aimed at forming the mind of the younger generations, who are growing up with the myth of Legija as a national hero. The novel offers a simplified explanation of the Serb defeat as caused by ‘a conspiracy of the great powers, which have swooped down upon Orthodoxy and especially the Serbs, who after World War I were the mother of the Balkans’.

The insistence on the heroism of Ratko Mladić and others like him is part of the criminalisation of state and society that is continuing despite Milošević’s departure . Continuity of personnel, via individuals like Mladić and Karadžić, is one expression of political continuity.

Defeat, identity crisis and burden of the past

This state of mind in Serbia represents a limiting factor in constituting a democratic society. Not one of the issues that inspired the wars has been taken off the agenda. The question of state borders remains open. Once the questions of Montenegro and Kosovo have been solved, the issue of minorities will become a fresh test of Serbia’s readiness finally to give up the ethno-nationalist project responsible for the Yugoslav wars. The absence of any active policy in regard to minorities, despite the fact that Serbia passed a relevant law in 2001 (mainly in order to satisfy the conditions for joining the Council of Europe), suggests that Serb nationalists have opted for a minimum programme of maximum ethnic consolidation of Serbia. The growth of inter-ethnic conflict, especially in Vojvodina, and its subsequent internationalisation, did not lead the government seriously to confront the problem of minorities. More generally, the effort to create an ethnic state excludes minorities from political decision-making.(18)

Apart from the defeat, its identity crisis, and the heavy burden of its inherited past, Serbia is beset by other problems rooted in the war. These include criminalised state institutions and a criminalised economy. The new financial elite, which developed under Milošević and through intimacy with him, is obstructing the much-needed transformation of the Serbian economy. Resistance to institutional change or the creation of a proper legal framework perpetuates the system of grey economy which already in the former Yugoslavia used to provide a substantial source of income. The war has facilitated illegal activities such as trafficking in drugs, people (including migrants), arms, and un-taxed goods (alcohol and tobacco). The war economy bequeathed to the so-called democratic government a criminalised inheritance, which remains a basic problem for post-war reconstruction. The most successful businessmen of the 1990s, who (especially during the time of sanctions) gained informal monopolies thanks to their intimacy with the regime, still retain them. Given that Milošević survived by corrupting practically the entire population, the establishment of a legal framework and the struggle against corruption do not enjoy broad popular support, since the price would be paid by nearly all citizens.(19)

The criminalisation of politics and the politicisation of crime through the symbiosis of organised crime and the state continued after 5 October. Đinđić’s attempt to purge the Army and the police was brutally stopped. Operation ‘Sabre’, which his government launched immediately after his assassination, had already been prepared beforehand with the aid of American and German experts. During the 40 days that it lasted, ‘Sabre’ gained the upper hand against organised crime and won broad support. However, a part of DOS headed by Koštunica, Miroslav Labus and Mlađan Dinkić started a campaign against the government, and were supported in this by the SPS and the Radicals. Defamation of the government by means of scandals and affairs forced early elections, the result of which revealed Serbia’s meagre democratic potential. The international community supported the elections and the overthrow of Đinđić’s government, expecting Group 17 Plus (which until its entry into the government had acted an an expert NGO) to win. This stance of the international community revealed once again its elementary ignorance of the Serbian political scene - and at such a decisive moment for Serbia! The elections destroyed the (anyway feeble) liberal orientation. The return of Milošević’s forces was inevitable: the SPS joined Koštunica’s minority coalition government.


The security services as ‘creators of reality’

Đinđić’s assassination, which tragically put an end to reforms in Serbia, seems to have led to a sobering up on the part of the West, particularly in those countries involved in Serbia’s reconstruction. Although reform of the security apparatus was supposedly the new government’s priority task, no purge ever took place, among other reasons because of the stance adopted by DOS politicians, including Koštunica. Efforts to reform the MUP and the DB were resisted from the start: like many people from the DB itself, the mafia did not wish to see any purge of the secret service. It is becoming increasingly clear that purging Serbia of corruption and crime will be an exceptionally difficult task. The struggle against corruption is essentially a struggle for revival of the rule of law, something that for the time being is not favoured by the new financial elite. The involvement of the MUP, and above all of the DB,(20) in various criminal activities became manifest immediately after 5 October. The special operations unit known as the Red Berets, thanks to its role in Milošević’s departure, became ‘untouchable’ - until Đinđić tried to discipline it, and paid for this with his life. Miodrag Ulemek ‘Legija’, one of those charged with his murder, had become a powerful figure under Milošević: he and his unit had played an important role in the realisation of war profits during the war and under the sanctions, and also in conducting ethnic cleansing.

Following Milošević’s departure, the Army quickly found protectors in the new government and above all the newly elected FRY president Koštunica, thus avoiding a proper purge of its upper ranks. The fact that General Nebojša Pavković, head of the general staff and a close collaborator of Slobodan Milošević, remained in his post for over a year, together with the heads of the military intelligence services KOS and VOS, suggests that the Army too remained untouchable, especially for the inexperienced DOS politicians. In regard to The Hague, the Army’s strategy is to sacrifice low-ranking officers, with those most responsible continuing to enjoy immunity. Its strategy also involved taking its distance publicly from the secret police and from the various paramilitary formations. Pavković thus quickly condemned the DB as a criminal body, and insisted that the MUP was not operating in accordance with the law. He spoke of unidentified ‘illegal groups’ fighting for control of the police. These attempts, however, failed to clear the Army of its involvement in war crimes, especially KOS whose ideological profile has remained unchanged over the past fifty years. KOS has changed its name into BA [Security Agency], but remains a closed organisation outside civilian control.

Changes in these services are proceeding slowly because, on the basis of their privileged status, they have become part of the new financial elite. Through their channels in the media they continue to manipulate public opinion by planting lies and instigating ‘affairs’. This has deformed society to such an extent that it is no longer able to experience remorse or any sense of responsibility. With such a role, these services have become so to speak ‘creators of life’. The dissemination of theories about an alleged anti-Serb world conspiracy, conducted in particular by foreign agencies such as the CIA, has ensured that self-pity has become the only emotion of which the majority of Serbian citizens are capable. The imposition of this interpretation of the recent past prevents any dialogue about it and makes alternatives impossible.

Not even the discovery of mass graves in Serbia itself, however shocking for the Serbian public, produced any significant change. This discovery was in fact a preparatory step towards sending Milošević to The Hague; his presence in the country evidently continued to influence the domestic mood. Only a small number of his sympathisers, however, took to the streets. Premier Đinđić displayed exceptional courage when he annulled president Koštunica’s decision and ordered that Milošević be transported to The Hague. But despite the assertions that Milošević’s arrest would cause a political crisis, the majority of the population saw it as a commercial move by the government that would secure foreign financial aid.

The adoption of a new constitution, though it is a permanent subject of debate, is not likely to happen soon. The constitutional issue tends to come to the fore, moreover, whenever the country faces an important problem for whose solution it is not politically ready. It should be recalled that Serbia acceded to the Council of Europe with its present constitution, and that Đinđić’s reforms mean that there are no constitutional obstacles to aligning domestic laws with those of the EU. For the moment there is no political consensus around the character of a new constitution, nor is there any public debate about it. The national elite has not renounced Kosovo - whether the aim be to keep it as a whole or to partition it in some way - and it is impossible to draw up a new constitution without specifying the country’s borders. There is also the question of Vojvodina, which affects every important aspect of the minorities issue. Two regional problems would open as well: the Serbian south and the Sandžak. Both are linked to minority rights and regional questions. The logic of Yugoslavia’s dissolution is now at work within Serbia itself, which hinders change.



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