Nation versus individual - I
by Sonja Biserko
As in other countries of Eastern Europe, the concept of civil society that developed in Yugoslavia in the 1980s was linked to a desire to formulate an alternative political concept. In Serbia, however, civil society did not have the same power as in Poland or Czechoslovakia. This was due, in the first instance, to the fact that Yugoslav socialism with its ‘human face’ was widely accepted in Serbia; secondly, to the fact that after Tito’s death the Serbian elite became preoccupied with the Serb national question, rather than with the democratisation of society.
Immediately after Tito’s death a kind of pluralism of the public sphere began to emerge in Yugoslavia, as a result of the crisis of the socialist model and especially its economic aspect. Groups began to organise in the shadow of the Communist state, initiating a variety of actions, e.g. for abolition of the so-called ‘verbal delict’. Many books and journals began to be published. In parallel with this liberalisation, the Serbian elite was preparing itself for the reconstruction of Yugoslavia that was imposing itself ineluctably as a precondition for its democratisation.
The ‘anti-bureaucratic revolution’
Serbia’s response to growing demands for republican independence was to plan for war and then to wage it. It reverted, as a result, to national individualism and myths, i.e. to an ideology predating the idea of a universal socialist revolution. National homogenisation suspended all associations based on difference, and especially those linked to transition and democratisation. The ‘anti-bureaucratic revolution’ of 1989 destroyed the advances achieved in the second Yugoslavia, demonstrating that Serbia had always been its most conservative element.
The anti-bureaucratic revolution solidified the concept of a populist state nurtured by autocratic rule. Slobodan Milošević enjoyed full support in regard to this system of government, which at one time could be described as plebiscitary. Authoritarian states do not tolerate a multi-party system since, as Patriarch Paul said, it is questionable whether ‘the parties are sufficiently developed to permit an organic society’ (1) Mihailo Marković, the Praxis philosopher and one of the main ideologues of the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), advocated a ‘single-party pluralism’ - an idea that was later adopted by Mirjana Marković, president of the Yugoslav United Left party (JUL) and Milošević’s wife. We are talking, in short, of a model based on the negation of a modern, democratic state and society.
The first multi-party elections in Serbia took place at the end of 1990, after similar elections in other parts of Yugoslavia. Multi-party life in Serbia was in fact a simulation: numerous parties led by leaders expounding the same national concept. The tiny parties of liberal and hence anti-war orientation, such as the Civil Alliance of Serbia, later the Social-Democratic Union, and the League of Social Democrats of Vojvodina, did not get much support. Their significance, nevertheless, was great in that they represented the pro-European alternative.
The SPS enjoyed mass support until 1996-7 as the ruling party and the party of continuity. Two thirds of its supporters displayed authoritarian tendencies. (2) The Great-Serb concept, formulated by the circle around Dobrica Ćosić, drew its strength from a patriarchal and collectivist model of state and society, promoted in particular by the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC). Milošević skilfully used and promoted the SPC as an instrument for mobilising the Serb masses. However, it was only after he left and a new government was installed that the secular principle was increasingly abandoned at all levels of state and society, especially those important for shaping the national identity and the general cultural model among the youth. The importance of the Church became all the greater in that it performs this role in conditions of a destroyed society, an identity crisis and a general absence of human values in consequence of the recent wars. At the same time the values that the Church promotes run counter to the very foundations of modern society, since they are based on opposition to private property and market economy, elementary political and individual human rights. (3)
The Great-Serb concept
The Great-Serb concept has had a negative effect on the development of civil society in Serbia. The homogenisation of the Serb people on a nationalist basis prevented Yugoslavia’s reconstruction, which the Serbs viewed as a loss of their state unity. The manipulation of the Serb national identity under the slogan ‘first the state, then democracy’ blocked democratisation and prevented the necessary pluralisation of interests. The Serbian elite adopted instead the national programme articulated in the Memorandum produced by the Serbian Academy.
This document had an immense influence on the political and social climate in Serbia. The Serb national question was formulated as a state question, which meant that it could be solved only by the creation of a new state modelled on the first Yugoslavia. This approach rested on the premise that after any break-up of Yugoslavia, Serbs could not live as a minority in Croatia or Bosnia, meaning that Croat or Muslim national demands were experienced as anti-Serb. The Memorandum caused great anxiety in other Yugoslav republics, while in Serbia the leadership split. The president of the Serbian party Ivan Stambolić gave this assessment of it: ‘This is the point of our definitive split in Serbia, the introduction to a political battle to the end.’ This battle unfortunately ended with Stambolić’s murder in August 2000.
In view of the nature of this political programme, the question of the character and potential of civil society is posed. Viewed from today’s perspective, after so many wars and given that the Serbian government carried out a planned genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina and attempted a genocide in Kosovo in 1999, one wonders whether another scenario was possible, and if not why not? To tackle this subject properly it is necessary briefly to review the condition of civil society. Serbia was only recently an overwhelmingly peasant state that was only beginning to industrialise, with a high degree of illiteracy and a patriarchal society (which the subsequent enforced industrialisation replaced only temporarily, even conserving its collectivist and egalitarian utopian model).
Rapid industrialisation within the former Yugoslavia changed dramatically the social and educational profile of Serbia. Within less than four decades (1945-1981) six million Yugoslavs left their villages for the cities. The dominant political coalition at this time was between the political elite and manual labour. This coalition is still in existence in Serbia, based on values such as egalitarianism, authoritarianism, isolation and inertia. Civil society did not emerge here as in western Europe. Serbian society was marked more by social layers tied to the state, such as the military, the bureaucracy, etc. Serbia’s urban class has traditionally been very weak. The national question was as a result viewed primarily as a territorial question, i.e. one of territorial expansion. The numerous wars that characterise modern Serbian history testify to this fact.
This character of the urban class also defined its nature. It was never concerned with economic development. The prosperity of the state was measured largely by the size of its territory. The militarisation of society was a necessary consequence of such state priorities. Serbia’s militarisation intensified after Tito’s death. Serbia acquired a new strongman in Nikola Ljubičić, who had spent thirteen years running the Army. His position that ‘Yugoslavia will be defended by the Serbs and the JNA’ reflected the dominant understanding of Yugoslavia as a Serb state and of the JNA as the Serb army. Another general, Petar Gračanin, replaced Ivan Stambolić as state president. This points to the fact that the Army is an institution that has traditionally commanded the respect and confidence of Serbia’s inhabitants. This is true also of the Church. Neither should we forget the role of the military and police secret services. In traditional societies, the centre of power lies outside the institutions of the state, in informal groupings. Such groupings became active in Serbia as far back as the adoption of the 1974 constitution, when preparations began for Tito’s succession, and gathered around Dobrica Ćosić. Ćosić managed to bring together dogmatic Communists and the cultural, ecclesiastical, military and police elites. Their alliance remains in power in Serbia to this day.
In other states in transition, the civil sector made a decisive contribution to the transformation of an authoritarian into a democratic system. In Serbia the opposite happened. Homogenisation on a national basis filled the space necessary for the creation and action of civil society. The weakness of the democratic public sphere, on the one hand, and poor communication within society, on the other, meant that civil society was unable to resist the war propaganda. The media became instruments of mass manipulation.(4) At times of great historical crisis, underdeveloped societies like that of Serbia cannot but comply with state-sponsored solutions. The academic elite, moreover, played a crucial role by supplying a ‘scientific’ cover for the state’s propaganda - notably in the section of the Belgrade daily Politika called Odjeci i reagovanja [Echoes and reactions], which appeared for three full years (1989-1991) - in return for material and professional privileges.
It is necessary, in addition, to look at some other indicators that help us to understand Serbian society: it is populist and authoritarian, inertial and apathetic, and opposed the economic and democratic reforms at the end of the 1980s. Rejecting the economic reform promoted by the last federal prime minister of Yugoslavia Ante Marković in the late 1980s, Serbia embraced instead the slogan of ‘all Serbs in the same state’. The ‘anti-bureaucratic revolution’ heralded the nature of the changes within Serbia itself. Milošević succeeded in redirecting ‘fear of losing acquired social rights and fear of capitalism... into fear of losing national identity and fear of Serb national interests and Serbian statehood being jeopardized’. (5) On the eve of the war the Serbian wing of the SKJ [League of Communists of Yugoslavia] took a clear stance against the fundamental change of the economic system proposed by Ante Marković (who hoped it would lead to a political change too), and opted for a strong centralised government backed by the repressive apparatus, especially the Army. (6)
Initially in the early 1990s the ideology of the ruling party, relying mainly on the collectivist mentality of Serbian society, functioned by employing to great effect platitudes such as: ‘Serbia wins in war but loses in the peace’; ‘All other nations have won but the Serbs have lost’ in Yugoslavia; ‘Serbia has regained its statehood and dignity’ [by adopting a new constitution]; ‘Only a united Serbia can ensure the national prosperity of all Serbs’. (7) It was the collectivist ideology that at the end of the 20th century found its expression in a fusion of Serb traditionalism with Communism which provided the basis for the political programme and activity of the SPS. The technology used by the latter still remains dominant, albeit now with a right-wing label.
The media played a special role in the drive to de-humanise the alleged enemy - i.e. other Yugoslav nations - thus preparing the ground for their destruction, as well as in creating a general impression of Serbs being victims. This brutal propaganda prevented any significant revolt against the war, since the latter came to be perceived as a justified instrument of self-defence. The media also played a key role in preparing the new constitution, supposedly designed to ensure Serbian equality within the federation, but in reality to wage a war for the latter’s conquest. A campaign began on the theme of Serbs being under threat first in Kosovo, then in Croatia. Dobrica Ćosić emerged as a skilled propagandist with his thesis that ‘Serbs living in socialist Croatia no longer enjoy even the rights they had under Austria-Hungary... Is this the Serb fate in Croatia: in war, genocide - in a socialist peace, discrimination and assimilation?’ (8)
The start of the civil movement
In this atmosphere of national homogeneity and euphoria, to initiate an action for pluralism and the creation of alternatives - capable of leading Serbia into the transition and of helping its proper engagement in the required democratic transformation of Yugoslavia, as the only way to ensure either the latter’s survival or else its peaceful dissolution - was inconceivable. An anti-war movement was created at the start of the 1990s, but this did not acquire any great size or influence, except in regard to the drafting of young recruits. This movement subsequently acquired its institutionalised form in the Centre for Anti-War Action (CAA). But (apart from a few exceptions) it had a problem with defining the nature of the war. The notion that the war was a civil war, and that Milošević, Tuđman and Izetbegović were equally responsible, became dominant. This approach prevails to this day. The demonstrations of 9 March 1991 were essentially of an anti-Milošević - i.e. anti-Communist - character: a form of struggle over implementation of the concept that Milošević had taken over from the nationalist right. Since at this time Communism was falling apart throughout Europe, they were so to speak in tune with the times.
These demonstrations also gave birth to a student movement, which played an important role in de-legitimizing Milošević. This movement, however, was not an anti-war movement. In 1992 the support that Milošević had enjoyed from the Academy, the Orthodox Church and the Army was already declining significantly, thanks above all to the national issue; and his popular support was declining too, because of the economic situation and the dramatic fall in living standards. Milošević was plundering the country using special monetary mechanisms. During this time, in addition, Serbia was financing Republika Srpska (RS) - which otherwise would not have survived. As time went by Milošević, formerly an unchallenged national leader, found it necessary to conduct a policy that would secure his personal power. It turned out that this was far more important to him than the national project which had gained him mass support. The demonstrations against Milošević which became frequent during the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina were essentially in defence of that project, which he appeared ready to abandon under pressure from the international community.
The demonstrations were led by the informal power centre dominated by Ćosić and his circle. Whenever the situation became critical, they would assume command over events not only in Serbia but also in Bosnia-Herzegovina and parts of Serbian-controlled Croatia. This group made fateful decisions concerning the future Serbian state. Milošević was their instrument, just as even civil society very often was. During the demonstrations, the line of divide became blurred between those who were only against Milošević and those who were also against his war.
At this time the first NGOs started to appear, placing on the Serbian agenda the issue of human rights. The great waves of refugees, especially Muslims, some of whom passed through Serbia, found an initial support from such organisations. At the same time national minorities living in Serbia, especially Croats, Bosniaks and Albanians, became subject to ‘soft’ ethnic cleansing. The radicalisation in Serbia did not cause widespread public reaction, other than from the CAA, the Humanitarian Law Centre and the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights.
Following the massacre in Srebrenica in July 1995, the international community was forced to act in order to maintain its own credibility. The policy of genocide in Bosnia, which had been carefully worked out, was implemented from the very start of the Bosnian war in April 1992, was prosecuted intensively until July 1992, and culminated in the Srebrenica slaughter. Serbian society did not react against this crime, indeed it showed moral indifference towards all the sufferings of the civilian population. (9) Non-intervention on the part of the West, which despite all the signs pointing to genocide assumed a position of neutrality in regard to the conflict in Bosnia, amounted to de facto support for Belgrade and its policy of mass murder. It was this which allowed Belgrade to conduct genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina. In Serbia itself the crimes were rationalised, so that the protests against Milošević were inspired only by the economic situation. Even certain prominent anti-war activists argued that ‘Bosnia must be divided, because of the realities on the ground’.
Srebrenica became a moral issue for the world, but not for Serbia. The Dayton Agreement brought peace, but it also divided Bosnia in accordance with the ethnic principle. The provisions in the agreement which aimed to overturn the results of the war, particularly those dealing with the return of refugees (Annex 7) and punishment of the perpetrators of mass crimes, were not implemented in time to have an appropriate effect on the Bosnian Serbs. Once they realised that they had achieved their aims, they became the most ardent supporters of the status quo. The opposition and civil groups were mostly opposed to the Dayton Agreement not because of the injustice suffered by the Muslims, but because of the loss of 25% of the territory occupied by the Serbs, which they were now forced to return to the Muslims. Milošević at this juncture became, in the eyes of the world, a factor of peace and stability in the region. In effect, the Serb victory in Bosnia-Herzegovina played a decisive role in Serbia’s subsequent treatment of the Kosovo Albanians. Milošević skilfully tested the real intentions of the USA and the EU regarding an intervention in Kosovo. He foresaw the southern Balkans becoming a point that could destabilise the whole region and lead to a wider conflagration. In 1992 the American president Bush Senior had warned Milošević, in his Christmas Letter, that the United States would intervene if he moved against Kosovo. As a result the situation in Kosovo and Macedonia was to hibernate right up until the Dayton Agreement, which failed to take into account the legitimate demands of the Kosovo Albanians.
The mass demonstrations of 1996-7
In November 1996 mass demonstrations broke out in Serbia - in reaction to stolen local elections - and lasted for three months. These demonstrations will be remembered as a specific phenomenon in the political history of modern Serbia. They showed, however, that the elite (and not just the political elite) lacked the courage and vision to direct its energy towards changing the regime and its policy. In the absence of an alternative vision, it was the citizens who proved more mature, as is testified to by the duration of the protest. Although these demonstrations did not achieve their true aim of removing Milošević, they were nevertheless an important first step in de-legitimizing him and his regime. Yet they did not make significant progress so far as denouncing his whole political formula was concerned. Thus, for example, the students limited their demands to the establishment of a republican electoral commission and replacement of the university rector and the student pro-rector. The students did nevertheless give the demonstrations their tone, as well as their temporal endurance. It is unlikely that the protest would have survived so long without their energy.
The Zajedno [Together] coalition that led these demonstrations was unable during the three months they lasted to formulate any serious aims. Given that the demonstrations had been caused by the theft of votes, their demands were very modest. The simultaneous collapse of the Albanian state led the Serbian political elite to believe that this was its opportunity to solve the Kosovo question. In the meantime Kosovo Albanians, dissatisfied with the failure of the Dayton Agreement to take up their demands, became more radical. The attempt by some Western states to persuade the Zajedno coalition to make a statement on this issue failed, which shows that the coalition was not thinking in terms of taking power.
During the demonstrations of 1996-7, the student movement played an important role in that it enjoyed public sympathy and did not identify itself fully with the coalition. One part of this movement was controlled by the Democratic Party, which subsequently took it over and in this way renewed and modernised itself. It can be said with hindsight that Zoran Đinđić alone proved able to imbue the party with a spirit capable of meeting the need for real change. During the demonstrations it was Đinđić who initiated all important actions, which he continued to do also in the period after Milošević’s fall. It was at this time indeed that the movement to overthrow Milošević gained momentum. But the extent of the weakness and ineffectiveness of the civil movement is testified to by the fact that Milošević’s downfall became possible only after the NATO intervention, which not only humbled him but also led to his indictment. The start of legal proceedings against Milošević marks the true beginning of the post-Milošević era in the area of former Yugoslavia.
The NATO intervention weakened Milošević and in that way created a political vacuum, but the opposition did not have the necessary strength to threaten his position, because it took his side during the intervention. (10) The same is true of the civil sector, which subsequently tried to explain its stance by arguing that ‘Milošević was a small player in a dirty militaristic game in which we are all nothing but guineapigs.’ They gained support for this rationalisation from the European and American left, from various anti-globalization currents, and especially from all those united by anti-Americanism of one kind or another.
Repression in Serbia grew in proportion to the regime’s loss of legitimacy. This affected in particular the independent media. Naša Borba was suppressed in 1998. The new Information Law passed that year was used to discipline the media, so that the NATO intervention was covered in more or less the same way by all of them. This closed off completely the space for the civil sector’s activity.
The appearance of the youth group Otpor [Resistance] was the start of a social mobilisation for Milošević’s definitive removal. That action too gained support abroad. Most of Otpor’s activities were planned abroad, and many of its members were trained in neighbouring countries. Much of the financial support came from the United States and the EU, who also inspired and supported the convergence of the opposition around this project of Milošević’s removal. The disunited and weak Serbian opposition would not have been able to organise the non-violent overthrow of the regime. The civil sector, i.e. the NGOs and Otpor, played a key role in Milošević’s overthrow, and this would later influence their behaviour, in that much of the civil sector started to behave as if it were part of the government, to the great displeasure of DOS which - conscious of its weakness - viewed the civil sector as competition. The lack of cadres, however, led to transfers from the NGOs to governmental bodies, strengthening the impression that a section of the NGOs had taken power. (11) But this symbiosis of government and NGOs in fact served to marginalise the civil sector, a process aided by the decision of the international community to concentrate exclusively on building institutions. This decision was understandable in part, given the state of affairs inherited from Milošević. The great enthusiasm combined with lack of experience of both the new government and the civil sector meant that an opportunity was missed to investigate that inheritance, which was the precondition for breaking fully with Milošević’s policy and creating space for a more effective role of the civil sector.
If one analyses the period up to Đinđić’s assassination, however, one can see that such an investigation was not in fact possible, since the sole aim of 5 October was to remove Milošević, while maintaining continuity with his policies. Vojislav Koštunica, who became president of FRY, safeguarded this continuity in the name of respect for law. Zoran Đinđić, the main organiser of all the demonstrations that took place in the second half of the 1990s, managed to become the first prime minister of the DOS government and to direct the October energy towards reforms and the transition. He was aware that this demanded cooperation with The Hague. His courage in delivering Slobodan Milošević (and fifteen other indictees) to the Hague tribunal created the space for an alternative political concept. Premier Đinđić was one of the rare Serbian politicians who understood the depth of the crisis and the extent of the need for Serbia’s transformation. Summing up the last two hundred years of Serbian history, he said that ‘ever since the First Serb Uprising, Serbia has remained in a state of suspense, be it at the level of the individual or of the nation as a whole. Serbian history since 1804 shows that all the great conflicts have been between modernists and anti-modernists, reformers and those who feared all change. Up until now, it has been the reformers who have unfortunately ended up as losers.’ (12)
The support extended by the USA and the EU to the civil sector after the NATO intervention encouraged the establishment of many organisations that became active at the local level and that in effect joined the movement for Milošević’s removal. Small groups of this kind began to spring up during the NATO intervention itself, after the first human losses in Kraljevo, Čačak, Valjevo. Many of them have since then ceased to exist. Only a few have remained capable of sustained action, mainly in Belgrade and a few other large towns. At the time, civil initiatives at the local level - aided by the OSCE, the Council of Europe, NDI, Freedom House and others - made a significant contribution to educating people for running local government.
Demonising the civil sector
Serbian civil society could not do without such assistance, given the continued lack of internal support especially regarding the domain of human rights. This is why civil society became a ‘foreign import’, which as such became the target of campaigns, especially at times when the regime felt insecure. These campaigns highlighted in particular this foreign aspect, leading to charges such as ‘foreign mercenaries’, ‘Sorosites’, ‘cosmopolitans’, ‘traitors’, ‘Ustashe’, and so on. Personal attacks and half-truths were frequently deployed, suggesting involvement of the secret services. Nevertheless, international support for the civil sector brought the otherwise isolated and closed Serbian society into the process of globalization, which explains the extent of the odium felt towards that sector.
For the architects of the Serb nationalist project Đinđić, with his effort to Europeanise Serbia, became an irritant. His determination to make a clean break with Milošević’s system cost him his life. His murder remains unsolved, but its political background is clear. Within a few months of his assassination the ‘creeping coup’ had realised practically all its aims, despite efforts on part of the international community to maintain the course of the reform, e.g. through initiatives such as bringing Serbia/Montenegro (SCG) into the Council of Europe. The whole opposition, most of the more important NGOs and the media combined their efforts in an attempt to compromise and bring down Đinđić’s government. The early elections in December 2003 were won by forces that sought to postpone the transition and the democratisation of society until after the ‘national question’ had been solved.
The victory of the right-wing bloc meant a continuation of the political project from which Đinđić had tried to break. This is testified to by the fact that Koštunica’s minority government was formed with the support of the SPS.(13) Their coalition permitted the return to active politics of all former SPS leaders.
The multi-party system was introduced officially back in 1990, but Serbia is not as yet a pluralist society. Impoverished, frustrated and demoralised, it is unable to find a balance within itself by creating a modern state, and is once again turning to a strong state and government as a guarantee of social security and inaction. Serbia has not yet begun the process of democratic transition, which assumes reconstruction of all aspects of society: i.e. a fundamental transformation of the ideological, political, economic, cultural and spiritual spheres. Following the break-up of Yugoslavia and the subsequent wars, Serbia’s potential for transition - material as well as human - has been greatly depleted.
The defeat of the ethno-nationalist project has not led to its being re-examined. On the contrary, it continues to be defended and regenerated. The idea is that Europe will tire itself out, at which point ‘the Serbs must be ready to revise their defeat’. (14) The struggle to reinterpret the past serves not only to defend what has been done, but also to prevent a social dialogue within which that past could be confronted. The assassination of the prime minister was also a striking illustration of the violence that has characterised the entire past decade, present not only on the battlefield but also in Serbian political life. The trial of Đinđić’s assassins from the start involved an attempt to link the killing to criminals and the mafia. The murders of Ivan Stambolić and Slavko Ćuruvija and the attempted murder of Vuk Drašković meanwhile continue to haunt society, symbolising its inability to exit from the magic circle of political violence. This is why the attitude towards these murders, and especially that of prime minister Đinđić, remains of crucial importance for Serbia’s future.
The surrender of Milošević to The Hague was a point of differentiation within DOS, as well as within society itself. It was clear then that Đinđić had broken the consensus of non-cooperation with The Hague, whence the warning from Metropolitan Amfilohije that ‘they could not have honoured Milošević - or shamed themselves and the nation before history - more than by doing this on Vidovdan [St Vitus’s Day] and in such a manner’.(15) Đinđić’s murder led to a suspension of cooperation with The Hague, while the December 2003 elections signalled a come-back for the SPS and the Radical Party [SRS]. The fact that two men indicted by The Hague (General Pavković and Sreten Lukić) and two men on trial at The Hague (Slobodan Milošević and Vojislav Š ešelj) stood in the elections amounted to the ‘normalisation’ of crime. Those elections could be seen as a kind of referendum against The Hague.
The murder of prime minister Đinđić destroyed the alternative to the Serb nationalist programme that Đinđić had advanced and around which he mobilised the energy of the youth. His murder not only removed the most active mobilizer for Serbia’s Europeanisation, but also for the time being marginalised his followers and supporters. However, the attempt to present him as a criminal and his murder as an internal mafia settlement has failed. Đinđić remains a symbol of the idea of a European Serbia, which right now has no political bearer. The Democratic Party headed by Boris Tadić appears hesitant, although it continues to profit from Đinđić’s charisma. The removal of all those who were close to Đinđić, and the ban on the party’s internal democratic faction, suggests that the DP is uninterested in producing an alternative at a time when Serbia remains uncertain as to its place in Europe.
The rationalisation of crimes
The attitude to the crimes has crucially defined the civil sector too. In addition to the state institutions, the media, the opposition (SPS, SRS), the Academy, the Army and the police, the civil sector too has been pushed into rationalising and normalising the crimes. This was clearly shown in the polemic published two years ago by the weekly Vreme, when the so-called anti-war movement split on the issue.(16) The interpretation now upheld by the political and cultural elite involves a kind of compromise, which takes four different forms: euphemism, legalism, denial of responsibility, and isolation. (17) The Commission for Truth and Reconciliation, established by President Vojislav Koštunica in 2001, aimed to place the recent past into a broader historical context in order to diminish responsibility for the crimes of the present. He then turned to ‘legalism’, arguing that the Serbian constitution does not allow cooperation with The Hague. Another popular argument, given the existence of ample proof of crimes committed by Serbs, is that these were committed by paramilitaries, armed groups or bandits beyond state control.
It is difficult to deny the recent past, which is being daily reviewed in The Hague, particularly since key witnesses for the prosecution have included Serb insiders who took part in the execution of the project. Milošević’s strategy of seeking to discredit every witness has been adopted also by the Serbian media. Thus the television station B92 has carried Milošević’s trial live, but has tended to invite to the studio mainly defence lawyers, journalists and legal experts who have poured scorn on the work of the Tribunal and minimised the evidence adduced. Despite the growing number of indictees at The Hague, for the public cooperation is treated solely as a commercial issue. Thus for example Vojin Dimitrijević and Ivan Janković, both prominent within the civil sector, have been engaged by the state to contest the charges of aggression and genocide raised against Serbia by Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia before the International Court of Justice in The Hague. The verdict of genocide brought in against General Radislav Krstić in regard to Srebrenica dealt a heavy blow to their efforts, since only a few days before the verdict Vojin Dimitrijević had been insisting that it was a matter of a ‘mini-genocide, because only the men were killed’, and that ‘the definition of genocide had been widened in order to try Krstić also for genocide’.(18)
The pacification of Serbia has not involved neutralising its ethno-nationalism, which thanks to international circumstances has merely acquired a more perfidious form. Under its sway Serbia does not aspire to becoming a ‘civil society’ or to ‘the rule of law’, since according to the doctrine of ethno-nationalism there is no difference between state and society. The results of the 2003 elections confirmed that the political stage is dominated by two ideologies, one of the right and the other of the left, both of which are totalitarian and anti-modern. They are equally collectivist, populist, anti-Western, anti-market and deeply hostile to the notion of human rights. What unites them is the nationalist project. Đinđić’s assassination has stripped both of them bare: it has become clear that they are incapable of once again mobilising Serbia around any kind of national programme, including the unification of all ‘Serb lands’ on which they so insist. Thus Dejan Medaković argues that ‘it is impossible right now to agree on a national programme, because of party-political disunity’.
Left and right alike justify their weakness by arguing that: ‘Serbia is a victim of imperialist efforts on the part of the United States, concerned with restructuring the world and establishing a new world order based on US domination and pillage. [But the United States] found it difficult to subjugate Serbia, which, apart from the fact that it holds a key position in the Balkans, had at that moment acquired a capable and highly popular leadership headed by Slobodan Milošević.’ This according to Mihailo Marković. He insists that ‘Serbia stubbornly defended its sovereignty’, in keeping with ‘the Serbian people’s great socialist tradition, which led it to reject the ideology of liberal capitalism’. According to Marković, ‘Serbia found a middle way between real socialism and liberal capitalism’, ‘the path of a mixed society, market economy but also state regulation, plurality of ownership, democratic political pluralism, a relatively high level of social security and concern for education, health, science and culture, i.e. true socialism’.(19)
The inability to draw a balance sheet of Milošević’s war policy, and continued insistence on a world conspiracy against Serbia, aids the country’s isolation and prevents its integration into the European processes. Leading intellectuals remain convinced that ‘they have delivered to The Hague a man under whose leadership the Serb people and the Serb state have experienced the greatest ascent since World War II.’ (20) Statements made by leading jurists suggest that they simply do not understand the new international relations. They argue, for example, that the Hague tribunal ‘seeks to diminish the notion of sovereign national legislation’, and that ‘the trial of Slobodan Milošević amounts to the collapse of justice’. (21) A group of colonels and university lecturers believes that ‘Serbia stands in a semi-colonial position with regard to The Hague (and NATO and the USA too)’, and that ‘if it were to deliver the [indicted] generals it would risk becoming a Quisling state’. (22) They are especially furious with those who surrender themselves voluntarily and agree to deals with the prosecution ‘to admit an invented crime and falsely accuse their co-nationals’. They tell them they will not be amnestied, and will ‘lose the only thing they have, i.e. honour, the best examples of this being Biljana Plavšić and Milan Babić.’ (23)