Serbia changes clothes
by Sonja Biserko, with accompanying quotation from Vojislav Kostunica
The December elections have confirmed the victory of the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) and thus initiated a new political epoch in Serbia. DOS’s victory was not a surprise, but the entry into parliament of the Party of Serb Unity was, something that has therefore provoked varying commentaries and explanations. It is a sign that, despite the fact that almost a year has gone by since Arkan’s murder, his myth remains very much present amongst our public. The social layer that this party symbolizes should not be underestimated: it is the new mafia-style financial and national elite. The low turn-out of citizens on voting day was an indication of the absence of genuine programmes on the part of the political parties. In overthrowing Milosevic, the main obstacle to change, the citizens have for now done their duty.
The opposition bloc which, alongside the Party of Serb Unity, contains the Socialist Party of Serbia and the Serb Radical Party will have a role on the political stage only after DOS has broken up into two or more blocs (which will certainly include those of Kostunica and Djindjic). Kostunica’s bloc embodies the traditional conservative current, while Djindjic’s tends towards a European orientation. In the upcoming months the dynamics of the political scene will definitely become clear and reveal which current is the dominant one.
In the interregnum between the two rounds of elections, Serbia changed clothes. However, the fall of Milosevic has not solved the problem of his legacy: a devastated and corrupted country, undefined frontiers, war criminals... His appearances in the media and interviews given by his wife clearly show that Slobodan Milosevic would like to make a comeback onto the political scene. ‘Entering the globalization of organized lies’, as Dobrica Cosic says, Serbian society in fact has no way out. Milosevic is a hostage who behaves as if his circumstances were normal. The Hague Tribunal is obviously a burden equally for Milosevic and for those who are supposed to extradite him. In the meantime, everyone is rejecting an alliance with him and denying any responsibility. So Milosevic as a witness would have plenty to say about his partners of yesterday. On the one side the ghost of Milosevic and on the other that of Ivan Stambolic.
In the conditions of general impotence characterizing the Serbian political scene, the only defined players are the Serb Orthodox Church and the international community. The Serb Orthodox Church is taking advantage of the moment to engage in self-promotion and to offer a new concept of the state on a theoretical model similar to that of Greece. The euphoria of the international community has somewhat subsided, best indicated by the fact that Vojislav Kostunica was not proclaimed personality of the year by Time magazine (instead the title went to President Bush). In the international media articles are appearing analysing the question of who really overthrew Milosevic, in which the major role is attributed to international actors. The domestic actors, however, wholeheartedly defend the ‘October Revolution’ and their role in it. Everything nevertheless suggests a well planned and packaged Serbian parade, this time also properly executed. The democratic legitimization for this ‘festival’ was provided by the citizens, who had been waiting for years for the opposition to unite and win.
Svetozar Stojanovic insisted two years ago already that ‘our democratic opposition is insufficiently mature’ to carry out changes, and that the Serb Orthodox Church must therefore assume the leading role in order to save the Serb nation from collapse. The choice of candidate for president was by no means accidental, for his closeness to the Church was the decisive factor. In the background an informal group of notables grouped around Dobrica Cosic continues to act. It is busy remodelling the whole of society on three bases: anti-Communism, Orthodoxy and the monarchy. In this context, attempts to delegitimize the Partisan movement are most striking. Claims are made such as that of Dusan Batakovic that ‘in Serbia in 1944, over 80% of the population supported General Draza Mihailovic’s [Chetnik] movement, and it was the Communists who broke the back of Serbia’ - implying simultaneously that the Serbs have always been anti-Communist and that it was Josip Broz Tito and the Croats who imposed Communism on Serbia. In an interview for Vreme Kostunica pointed out that within DOS there is quite a bit of ‘Partisanism, which seems to have remained in the genes’, as against a majority Chetnik ideology now being promoted as an anti-fascist movement.
The retrospective victory of the Chetniks is apparent also in the proliferation of new publications, books, speeches and interviews drawing directly on the ideology of pre-World-War-II Serbian fascism. Particular publicity has been given to the works of Dimitrije Ljotic (‘Speeches and Articles’) and Stevan Moljevic, and to studies on them. The equation of Partisans and Chetniks has been assisted by recent historiography, something that will have far-reaching consequences for Serbia. With the renunciation of the only true link with European values, i.e. with one of the most authentic anti-fascist movements in Europe (the Partisans), a genuine basis for the moral regeneration of this society is lost. Such easy altering of historical facts would not have been possible without the strong support of the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Serb Orthodox Church, as well as the Serbian diaspora.
Such interpretations of the past have been upheld even by supporters of the old regime, particularly representatives of the Army. All because of the supposed loss of Serb territory. An inability to confront the true nature of the thoughtless war that destroyed the very country which satisfied Serb national interests in the best possible way goes hand in hand with the most brutal falsification of the history of World War II. Theories about conspiracies against the Serb nation are gaining currency once again, and Milorad Ekmecic holds that ‘anti-semitism has been replaced by Serbophobia’. Such a return to the arguments with which the war in the former Yugoslavia began reveals an inability to confront the truth about the past, but also the national strategists’ need to save both their position and their face.
Such a relationship toward the recent past will be a major obstacle to the recovery of Serbia. So it is important that the representatives of the new authorities make an effort in that direction, otherwise they will become in the eyes of the world merely the inevitable heirs of Milosevic, not competent to grasp where Serbia’s true interest lies.
This article has been translated from Helsinska povelja (Belgrade), December 2000
‘You ask how I view the political ideas and activity of Dimitije Ljotic, and the opinions he expressed in his book In Revolution and War (Munich 1961). As a politician and thinker, Dimitrije Ljotic undoubtedly represents a very complex personality, quite different from how he is portrayed in the official historiography of communist Yugoslavia. As for the particular precepts to which you refer, it would be hard for anyone with a concern for morality in politics to disagree with what Ljotic says. But these precepts are older than Ljotic himself; I should describe them as belonging to a fund of general, moral and political values formulated in diverse ways by diverse politicians or political thinkers, long before the appearance of Dimitrije Ljotic himself.’
Vojislav Kostunica answers a question from Miodrag Marjanovic - Miki of Belgrade, 3 December 1996 (see DSS website - www.dss.org.yu/arhiva/intervju96)