bosnia report
New Series No:49-50 December - March 2006
Serbia is in a hurry!
by Cedomir Jovanovic

Speech at the founding congress of the Serbian Liberal-Democratic Party, 5 November 2005


Our citizens are ready to make this country successful, wealthy and happy. This is not just their need, but their right too. Today we are founding the Liberal-Democratic Party in order to make it possible for our citizens to live the life they deserve.

The future not just of our generation but also of many that will follow depends on the realisation of this undertaking. This is why the LDP must prove capable also of understanding Serbia’s problems. By supporting the LDP’s programme the citizens will demonstrate their political maturity.

Serbia is led today by the most backward and the least capable, even though we find ourselves in a race in which half the world is seeking to catch up with the other half in happiness, wealth and prosperity. Millions of Chinese, Romanians, Indians, Bulgarians, Croatians, Hungarians see each tomorrow as a chance to live better. We, on the other hand, live under the threat that tomorrow will be worse than yesterday. They are moving forward while we are falling behind.

Serbia’s characteristics have been tragic for a long time. We are Europe’s most elderly society, with the greatest percentage of young people wishing to leave. We have the poorest citizens, with the most decayed industry and a non-functioning system of education, health and social welfare. Our leaders do not bother even to speak about this. Their priorities are national projects that belong to the past. They offer icon lamps instead of computers, customary right instead of modern democracy, feudalism instead of free market. Our ‘Serbia is in a Hurry’ campaign has shown the marked contrast between our programme and that which is common to the majority of the three hundred parties which hold our society hostage to their incompetence. We are committed to change this.

There can be no compromise in this political struggle. The LDP is an ice-breaking party, ready to offer - and capable of realising - solutions to Serbia’s grave problems. We have already started work on a constitutional redefinition of Serbia, focussed not on the state but on society, in order to make our country a community of free individuals in politics, economy and culture. We build our social values on education not on tradition. We wish people to live from their work rather than suffer as a result of collective idleness. We envisage a health service in which the doctor is not a social worker and the patient a social casualty. We build the meaning of our social policy in the battle against poverty and in enabling our people to work rather than live off the state’s charity.

We see many challenges in the region, but no threats. It is this that inspires our policy. The world offers us a chance that we wish to seize as soon as possible.

The LDP wants to be a positive leader. One that embraces change, and states clearly that Serbia’s modernisation means the total abandonment of a political tradition made up of populism, conspiracies, fake patriotism and so-called unity.

We are ready to change Serbia in accordance with the changes in our area and the circumstances in which we live. We prefer the stock-exchange to the kolkhoz. There is no progress without dialogue, competition, purpose and ideas. Stability can be secured only through development, democracy, economic reform, privatisation, adoption of European standards, confronting the past. Through action and work.

Let us be done with commenting on, and describing, Serbia in the twenty-first century. Let us be done with dreaming, and with frowning upon the new values that we need to establish. Many see the LDP as a symbol of the only true opposition to the system of values belonging to Serbia of the past. This is a great obligation. All that we have been doing since 5 October [2000] represents a vision of Serbia of the future. They tried to bring us down by calling changes lawlessness, the highly praised programme of privatisation plunder, the declaration of war against crime cooperation with criminals. They believed they had succeeded when Zoran Đinđić was murdered and Serbia’s official policy ‘cleansed’ of every one of his ideas and all his supporters.

Milošević’s policy has returned to Serbia, albeit without Milošević. Everything done against Zoran Đinđić yesterday, against us today and against someone else tomorrow has been done and is being done for this very reason. This is why we stand by the Special Court, an institution exposed to the most violent pressure because it is trying to establish the full truth about Zoran Đinđić’s murder. No one can be safe in Serbia until this truth has been established.

The fact is that between12 March 2003 and today the democratic, civil, European Serbia has been living without its own political option. Our desire is to bring together once again the people who hold modern, European, civic and liberal ideas. To offer Serbia this option, to give it an alternative.

This is why we are forming the LDP. In order to share our energy and vision with those who have not surrendered, as well as those who have grown weary, disappointed and confused.

We are at the threshold of final decisions. It depends on us whether we shall make them ourselves, or whether they will be made in our name by the USA, the European Union or the UN Security Council. Unless Serbia looks at itself with a clear gaze and speaks openly about the problems it perceives, it will have to accept the response of all those who do not wish Serbia, through its own weakness, to become their problem. As things are, our state and society are hostages to problems deriving from the more recent or distant past. Problems that threaten to become the burden of current and future generations.

The essence of a modern national identity does not lie in Serbia’s conflict with itself and the rest of the world. Because we view our history, reality and future rationally, we do not allow that our problems should be resolved through conflicts.

Serbia has been trapped by a false history that imposes false solutions, snared by a falsely projected reality, disabled by an irrationally posed future. This is why we wish to turn Serbia into a modern community of free and independent individuals.

Our liberalism is an expression of citizens’ needs neglected by a state that prefers to be its own aim. Our task is to protect their freedoms so long as the state threatens them. So that citizens do not depend on politicians, or on traditional institutions such as the academy, the church, the army and the mafia - the tricksters who offer continuation of conflict in order that all should remain the same.

Today we are paying the bills that have come in. Although they are not ours, it would be irresponsible to pass them on to the next generation. Regardless of organised resistance within a system that has not been transformed - and will not be, unless we enter it in as uncompromising manner as we did in March 2003. That is why one of the preconditions for implementing LDP policy is the return of every honest policeman, prosecutor and judge to the positions they occupied during Operation Sablja. Only a Serbia organised in this manner will be able fully to confront the problems of its past and find a lasting solution to them.

The question of war crimes

Why can they not recognise the essence of Srebrenica and indeed all other war crimes committed in the name of Serbia and its citizens? Official Serbia’s continued relativization of these crimes obliges us by contrast to concretize them. These crimes were committed in the name of a policy. That policy has been defeated if we are speaking about the status of its protagonists; but it has not been defeated if we are speaking about its concept.

Adoption of a clear position on Srebrenica and The Hague means accepting responsibility. Accepting responsibility assumes also defining the guilt. Since the anti-Hague brotherhood that governs Serbia today refuses to accept responsibility for the crimes committed, it is we who must tell the truth. It will not be done by the government or its loyal opposition. We must do all we can to persuade Serbia to understand and accept the truth - a truth that has been turned into a phrase, a commonplace, like many others which have turned Serbia into a land where anything can be said because nothing is taken seriously. Our organisation should not just talk about its aim - it must also be able to realise it. This is specially important in view of our knowledge that the crimes were not committed by odd individuals. Let’s count them, and we shall see that we are speaking about hundreds and thousands of ‘patriots’. Can we speak about them as individuals? Can we describe a military commander as an individual? Presidents as individuals? No! We must call genocide by its name. Otherwise we shall be the Nazis of the 21st century. Because the image of Srebrenica differs from the image of Auschwitz only in that it is in colour.

Extremism as a concept has triumphed in the form of a ‘nationally-minded policy’ which - by the will of a deformed political, religious, cultural and scientific elite - has been articulated in the view that state building must precede the creation of a democratic society. This option led logically to wars, crimes, destruction, sanctions, the murder of political opponents, plunder of the citizens, falsified elections, the general agony of a non-existing state and a destroyed society.

On the one side there exists a brotherhood based on blood and wealth, acquired at the price of universal poverty and misfortune. On the other side we find all normal people.

On 5 October the chance presented itself for Serbia to acquire a reforming government that would begin to solve the living problems of its citizens, face down organized crime, start the painful process of confronting the past and establishing responsibility for the crimes and grave infringements of human rights. On 12 March 2003 the hope that this would happen was lost. This unfinished business is our first duty.

What elsewhere in the world is treated as abnormal is normal in Serbia. People remain hypnotized by the message that others and not we are responsible for all that is wrong. The truth is that the road to Europe leads by way of The Hague. But not in the sense that the crimes should be discussed only in the courtroom. We must start talking about them also in Serbia. Crimes are proscribed and punished at The Hague, but here in Belgrade we must proscribe and punish the policy of crime. This is why cooperation with The Hague - in the form of the delivery of Milošević - was in 2001 decried as a ‘coup d’etat’, while today it called ‘voluntary surrender’. This is why the essence has always been what matters to us: society before the state.

We must change Serbia’s political philosophy and political orientation alike. The citizen lies at the centre of our policy. The quality of freedom must be measured by the ability of the individual to determine his own life and realise his own personal needs, provided these do not infringe upon the rights of others. We are speaking about the right to political autonomy and market economy, the right to free love in a society in which no one should be able to control someone else’s privacy.

The question of Vojvodina

We do not seek a solution for Vojvodina in the 1974 constitution. We refuse to be bound by the model of a socialist social order that vanished at the end of the last century. We believe that the people of Vojvodina must be free to decide what happens in Vojvodina. We believe that the people who through their work have made Vojvodina the best part of Serbia will find the best solutions. It is because we care for this part of Serbia that we wish to create the best possible conditions for those who live there. The people of Vojvodina must have the executive, legislative and judicial powers to be able to decide how to live.

The choice between constitutional continuity and discontinuity is one of the most serious political decisions. This is not a technical but an essential question, for a society that wants to change. For a change to be real, it must be made clear that we are not talking about reform of the existing constitution, but about creating a completely new one. A constitution that will be ahead of its time. A constitution for a Serbia of the 21st century. Everyone must take part in this, and not just the political elite or the parliamentary majority. Serbia needs a new constitution that will mark a new start, creating conditions that will enable society to begin to change. It is absolutely necessary to achieve a clear break with a past in which individual freedoms were neither protected nor guaranteed. Otherwise there will be no fundamental social change. The government must be submitted to restrictions, placed in a framework of rights, made responsible to the citizens. This was the promise given on 5 October and it must be fulfilled.

The question of Montenegro

We have been unable to define the borders or extent of our own state, either in this new century or in the two previous ones. Given this, do we have any right to interfere in the resolution of Montenegro’s state question? We seem to have forgotten that those who now raise the Montenegrin issue are the very same people who buried Yugoslavia - the state of all Serbs, Montenegrins and the nations closest to them - and made Serbia appear alien to all the rest.

As an official participant in our negotiations, the European Union has left to Serbia and Montenegro full freedom and initiative. But the moment Serbia and Montenegro once again become a European and a world problem, the freedom and initiative will pass to Brussels and Washington.

The borders between us will vanish like those surrendered by the Europeans. This is why we must not allow the referendum to divide our society or that of Montenegro. The citizens of Serbia and Montenegro have in practice been offered two models. One constitutes a final solution, the other a permanent state of tension. This latter model is advocated by official Serbia, seeking to profit from conflicts which at this moment are merely ideological but which could become real and dangerous within Montenegro. This is why they speak of the need to solve an alleged national question of our people. rather than treating it as a democratic issue. Solving the national question in the established mode would mean repeating the mistakes committed throughout the 20th century, based on blind beliefs and illusions rather than on reality. To pursue that course would deny us a place in Europe and the world of the 21st century.

Serbia is being placed in a demeaning position so far as its relations with Montenegro are concerned. Why should Serbia not organise its own referendum? It is evident that on this issue much of Serbia would agree. Two hundred and seventy thousand Montenegrin citizens who enjoy voting rights in Serbia, and who would like to vote on the same day also in Montenegro, present a greater problem for Montenegro than for Serbia. But Serbian citizens are not being offered a clear policy, or asked the question that the democratic option has posed to the citizens of Montenegro: the question of what kind of future they would like to live in. Why are the citizens of Serbia denied the right to decide their future in a referendum? It is because the Serbian government of the day ignores the interests of society. This is the way in which FRY was created in 1991, it is the way in which the union of Serbia and Montenegro was formed, and it is a repetition of the same mistake that had such negative consequences that the political logic defies rational understanding.

Montenegro will undoubtedly realise the project of its independence. It is important for Serbia, far more important than it is for Montenegro, to be Montenegro’s partner in this project, to make the project its own. To lose not a day more, because in 2006 Serbia will lose far more than Montenegro. The idea of a Montenegrin referendum is Montenegro’s own idea, but we must formulate the manner in which Serbia should redefine its own position towards the union. We must openly state today that no one in Montenegro should be thought of as Serbia’s enemy because they think differently. This is the only way for us to be democrats. As long as we insist on the national context, we display in fact a lack of democratic capacity. The current Serbian leaders seem to be telling us: ‘Let us first make our 19th-century Serbia, then we shall democratise and make your Serbia of the 21st century.’ We are in a great hurry on this issue too, but the haste must rely on a clear plan. This very plan must be the basic challenge for a civic and democratic Serbian and Montenegrin society. Agreement over a union of Serbia and Montenegro must match the clarity of the European constitution, in the sense of ending the confusion in which we have lived for the past fifteen years. However, our state and our church refuse to accept this.

The question of Kosovo

Contemporary Kosovo is a territory with an Albanian majority, supervised by the UN and NATO. After existing for years on wars, plunder and imaginary victories, Milošević’s Serbia capitulated in 1999, surrendering Kosovo for the sake of Dedinje. This is why Kosovo is today governed by Brussels, Washington, NATO and Kosovo’s own institutions.

The Kosovo question is an European issue. A common future for Serbia and Kosovo can be realised solely through their individual membership of the European Union, as a common framework for the national unity of all Balkan peoples. It is necessary to confine the history of the Balkan conflicts forever to the past. For this history never to be repeated, it is necessary to condemn the past and its makers, its executors and its spiritual leaders.

Serbia failed to integrate Kosovo during the past century. The Kosovo Serbs live unhappy lives in their respective ghettoes. True, the Albanian majority will not prosper by confrontation with their remaining Serb neighbours and their historical inheritance.

The road to Kosovo leads by way of Brussels. The road to Brussels of Serbia and Kosovo leads by way of their historic agreement - on a Kosovo free of police and army terror, on a Kosovo freed from apartheid. Kosovo’s freedom rests on the freedom - and the constituent, personal and collective right - of every individual. Belgrade should help the Albanians and Serbs of Kosovo in this regard.

The official policies of Serbia and Kosovo have something in common: well-defined aims - but without any mechanism leading to the realisation of these aims. The basic question is whether the local Albanian society is able to accept Serbs as partners in the creation of a Kosovo society, and on the other hand whether the local Serb society is ready to participate in this work alongside the Albanians. In both cases it is a matter of interest. Serbia’s conservative forces do not have this kind of interest: they find in unresolved questions a justification for their survival in power. On the other hand, there is a question for the Albanian community too: does it have a real interest in inviting Serbs to participate in the enterprise.

The answer as to whether Serbs should be a part of Kosovo society must be ‘yes’. There is no doubt, moreover, that with a careful policy the Kosovo Serbs could once again come to view the Prishtina university, the Prishtina police station and the Prishtina hospital as their own. For this to happen, they must be active participants rather than observers or stage extras. It is vital that, within the framework leading to independence, a space be opened up for participation of the Serb community. It is vital that the Serb people be given a constituent status. This policy would signal the beginning of a historic reconciliation. Agreement would mean the creation of a normal society. Serbs should be partners with Albanians in the creation of a normal Kosovo society. They must be equal. If the Kosovo Serbs were allowed to decide on their status consensually in the same way as the Albanian community in Macedonia was, they would be able to view their future in Kosovo differently from how they do at present.

Belgrade must face also the truth that Serbs have a better and more prosperous existence in Timişoara, Ljubljana and Zagreb than in Serbia itself. The queues stretching in front of the Croatian embassy [in Belgrade] are as long as they used to be in front of the embassies of Canada, USA, Australia and New Zealand. Young people are swapping their Serbian citizenship for the citizenship and passport of Croatia. The same will happen in front of the embassies of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Albania or the Republic of Kosovo unless Serbia returns to the good old path of modernisation and democratisation.

The belief that Serbia’s problems - and Serbia as a problem in its own right - should be solved in some undefined future is being stubbornly nurtured in Serbia. But Serbia has no time. We are in a hurry. Serbia’s problems are a burden imposed by politicians who survive on the basis of its poverty, ignorance and impotence. The state, incapable of the reform that would enable it to compete with in European neighbours in optimism and advance, has become a problem for its citizens. Serbia has lost serenity and competitive spirit. Faced with problems, it retreats rather than moving forward. It is establishing borders in a world without borders. It has got stuck in the late middle ages, pre-modern and pre-industrial, in the epoch of a global corporate capitalism that adapts on a daily basis to life’s rhythm and needs, and which to us is growing increasingly distant and unreal.

The Serbian transition is in many ways at the starting point. The aims of the economic transition are to create a market economy and ensure high rates of growth and employment. Both goals demand reform of the institutions and a change of economic policy. Serbia’s economy is backward, at the level of both production and institutions. The large-scale unemployment speaks of the inefficiency of the labour market. The unconvincing growth of production speaks of problems in the corporate sector and the commodity market. The shortage of money and expensive credit speaks of the poor performance of the country’s financial markets. The private sector is still small and poorly structured, while the state sector is unreformed and inefficient in many ways. The competitiveness of the Serbian economy is reduced, as reflected in the relatively low level of exports, which remain limited to a few products and sectors. Finally and perhaps most importantly, the institutions of a market economy either do not exist or do not function freely and effectively.

This state of affairs is all the more irksome given that Serbia’s economic potential is far greater than what has been achieved over the past few years. In view of its low starting point and the possibilities opened up by the transition and by European integration, the Serbian economy should be able to realise a relatively high rate of growth in stable macroeconomic conditions. Instead, macroeconomic stability remains under threat, while growth rates vary greatly from one year to another.

In addition, true institutional changes - and changes in the real sector - remain to be implemented. They are being postponed and their importance relativised because the government does not have a majority; but also because the political and business elite which has consolidated itself during the past year or so prefers the existing state of affairs. The opposition, on the other hand, criticises the government from populist positions. Stimulus to reform does come from the International Monetary Fond (IMF) and the European Union. The IMF cannot influence the situation in Serbia directly, however, nor can it disengage from its programme with the Serbian government, because the resulting costs to both sides would be greater than any eventual gain. The EU cannot influence short-term movements either, other than in relation to the liberalisation of foreign trade - which will form the most important part of the negotiations that have just begun on the stabilisation and association agreement. Everything else by and large has only long-term effects.

In other words, the need for a radical transition is as great as it was in 2000. It is more important than ever that it should follow the course of liberal policy and economy. It is vital to avoid surrendering to populist rhetoric. Parties that offer populist programmes will ditch them as soon as they come to power. For a country like Serbia, where false promises are customary, it is of great importance that a policy of truth should prevail, and that any promises made should be kept. This does not mean that such promises should be modest. On the contrary they must be radical, since only radical solutions can achieve rapid and sustainable progress, both in production and in institution-building. Populists promise prosperity, the LDP the potential for work and progress.

Serbia is not the only country in transition in which collectivist beliefs and institutions are of great importance. This is because both the formal and the informal bodies inherited from the past relied on collectivism. That represents a barrier to establishment of the rule of law - which can only be on the basis of individual responsibility - as well as to establishment of a market economy, since the latter too relies above all on individual profit and responsibility for expenditure. Lastly, collectivism is a barrier to democratisation, since it limits political competition and favours parties and coalitions that offer various forms of authoritarianism - or at least paternalism - rather than furthering democratic responsibility and democratic political conduct. Hence, it is necessary to advocate liberal democracy. This is not a matter of ideological position, or of addressing a certain social group or layer. Liberal democracy can be embraced by socialists and conservatives, entrepreneurs and workers, neo-liberals and advocates of a welfare state. What matters is support for a system of rights and responsibilities that lie at the foundations of European constitutionalism, rule of law, autonomy of civil society and a democratic political system. It lies too at the base of economic freedoms, economic advance, free enterprise and every kind of innovation. It is found indeed at the base of every successful transition and developmental policy in general, not only because it frees human entrepreneurial, business and professional abilities, but also because it provides equal chances for all individuals, independent of their social or other origins. It is evident that those who see chances in the future rather than seeking to preserve the past are more likely to join the liberal democrats, those who are responsible rather than populist. This is how it should be, which is why we need a liberal-democratic policy. And why we need such an economic programme.

Our contemporary epoch and knowledge in themselves offer answers to all our uncertainties. But solutions cannot be imported or copied. We must have our own knowledge, adapted to the accepted standards of the developed world. We need functional schools and knowledge we can use. Strategic planning for our educational system. New knowledge will bring a new political, economic, social and cultural order. This is impossible without a clear vision and a new system of values.

Serbia needs computers and broad-band internet, efficient institutions, well-paid doctors, judges and policemen, a competent administration speaking the languages of the EU member states. All answers depend on our ability to modernise Serbia. Only a modern Serbia has the strength and reason that will serve to confront the demands of the present and future periods. Today Kosovo, The Hague, Montenegro, tomorrow Serbia’s place in the world.

Each atom of positive energy must become a force that publicly and democratically, decisively and effectively - as we have shown we can achieve, and five years after the uncompleted democratic revolution of 5 October - will fully fulfil the aspirations of those who initiated and made that revolution. So that we can put a period to the continuity of a wrong history. Serbia must swiftly and bravely cut the Gordian knots that it has inherited from the past. We are ready and capable of doing that job. This is why the LDP exists.


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