Things are bad, but they could get worse
by Mirko Tepavac
Let us begin with a simple and irrefutable, albeit painful, fact: all countries of the rejected ‘real socialism’ are today closer to the EU than Serbia is. They have all crossed the point beyond which suspension of the transitional metamorphosis becomes impossible. Serbia’s trailing behind is due not only to the fact that it changed later and more slowly than the others, but far more importantly because the democratic, reformist and pro-European course has not to this day gained the upper hand convincingly and irreversibly among its political forces.
The economic problems of our [Serbian] transition are not a cause for excessive concern, since in this area - unless, as is now threatened, our progress towards the EU is suspended, and the undoubtedly successful negotiations with the IMF are brought into question - there have been encouraging and strategically important advances. This is because it is easier to solve material than deep-rooted political, moral and mental problems.
It is possible that Kosovo will not gain independence this year, but no matter, since Serbia stands no chance of regaining it. It will be impossible to defend Serbia’s right to that territory, even one of a ‘historical’ nature, when the links with the people forming a decisive majority there have been tragically severed during many years of violence and bloodshed. Kosovo is thus irretrievably ‘lost’, yet Serbian politicians and officials continue to compete with each other in their determination to ‘keep Kosovo at all costs’ - just as the demoralized Yugo-generals once used to swear they would preserve Yugoslavia under Milošević’s absolute rule.
Montenegro will continue along its path of independence irrespective of the outcome of the May referendum. Serbia will never again play the role of its ‘stronger and older brother’ as envisaged by our hegemonists, accustomed to thinking of the association as one of paternalist domination.
Koštunica will have to deliver to The Hague the remaining people charged with war crimes, after Serbia has paid a high price, mainly thanks to him, for insisting that the grateful fatherland will not surrender them to an ‘anti-Serb political and judicial justice’. They were protected for years by his collaborators in the army, the police and the intelligence services, aided ‘unselfishly’ by wealthy war profiteers. There is scarcely any moral distance between justifying the crime and protecting the criminals.
It is impossible to live normally with such ‘holy’ causes and pledges in a church, let alone in a modern state. Meanwhile the corrupt oligarchy - dented but not humbled - has not given up its ambition to decide the course of state policy. Too great a burden on the shoulders of an ever-smaller state in an increasingly impatient Europe! There will be no sanctions, but isolation is being threatened, the effects of which would be similar, if not equal.
It is not difficult to trick those who want to be tricked. A rigorous analysis would undoubtedly explain to us why Serbia fell so easily for the populist trick, and why so many Serbs remain its prisoners and addicts. It is not impossible to explain when the ethnification of political consciousness became total. Much that once appeared unthinkable has come to pass. Who would have thought twenty years ago that former members of the Soviet bloc would join the EU before Serbia, once the dominant part of a non-aligned Yugoslavia. The post-Communist states display confusion, hesitation and standstills, but nothing will halt their European integration. They have made it: they enjoy better and more fruitful relations today with each other than Serbia does with any of them.
Everything remains possible in a country in which over one third of the electorate votes for parties whose presidents have been charged with the most serious war crimes. They are supported by sections of the intellectual elite, the Orthodox Church, the army, the police, the judiciary, the mafia and war-profiteering capital. It is this mentality that protects Karadžić and Mladić more effectively than the army or the police. Their strength lies not just in their numbers, but in the support they enjoy in sections of the other political parties, which prefer Serbdom to any democracy, especially of the West European type.
Some of our politicians and analysts like to argue that the Serb Radical Party (SRS) and the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) are democratic parties, because ‘people vote for them in free and democratic elections’. But democracy is not mere procedure. The Radicals’ extremism is an exceptionally anti-European political project. Even if we could forget their role in our catastrophe, the fact remains that the SRS remains committed to annexing parts of three neighbouring states by violent means. The Radical star could shine only in our dense darkness.
Allied with the SPS and SRS, Koštunica’s government - which favours them and depends on them - cannot solve any of our burning issues without falling apart. This is why everything is being endlessly postponed in a flight from reality. By all accounts 2006 will be decisive for the fate of the Serbian state and society. No serious analyst excludes an electoral victory of the increasingly arrogant nationalist-radical bloc. This is why nothing is definite here in Serbia, nor is any undesirable turn of events to be excluded, until those who aspire to democracy confront all that is radical and retrograde.
Only fools and ignoramuses can today be carefree. Serbia, let us hope, will be able to drag itself out of the quicksand with the help of Europe and the world, because - as has been shown to date - it is unlikely that it could do so on its own.
Translated from Republika (Belgrade), no. 370-371, 1-31 December 2005. The author, born in Zemun in 1922, held several of the highest party and state posts in the former Yugoslavia, including that of foreign minister 1969-72.