GLW: After Milosevic? (with story)

Green Left Parramatta glparramatta at
Mon Oct 9 21:25:19 MDT 2000

The following articles appear in the latest
issue of Green Left Weekly (,
Australia's radical newspaper.


SERBIA: After Milosevic, will anything change?

Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of people took to the
streets of Serbia last week. Belgrade was blocked with
contingents from all over the country: Cacak, Kraljevo,
Kragujevax, Nis and other such working-class centres which led
the abortive mass uprising last year after the NATO war.

The federal parliament building was abandoned by the police to
the people. The state broadcaster, RTS, was first abandoned and
then in flames. All the shops were closed, with signs saying
“Closed for theft”, a reference to former president Slobodan
Milosevic's attempt to yet again steal the elections in which he
was thrashed.

On the road from Cack, when police refused requests to remove
their vehicles blocking the road, bulldozers pushed them out of
the way. The slogan of the Otpor (Resistance) student movement —
“He is finished” — was heard everywhere.

President-elect Vojislav Kostunica, who is no more a friend of
the working class than Milosevic, called for a general strike to
pressure Milosevic to abandon office. It appears to have been
heeded beyond his expectations.

In coalmining areas south of Belgrade, all the pits were closed
and thousands of people travelled for miles to support picket
lines erected by thousands of striking miners. They easily turned
back police.

Milosevic's attempts to scuttle the victory of the Democratic
Opposition of Serbia (DOS) in the September 24 presidential,
parliamentary and municipal election results backfired badly.
Independent monitors gave DOS's Vojislav Kostunica some 56% of
the vote, but Milosevic's electoral commission awarded him only
48.2%, to Milosevic's 40.2%, thereby trying to force a second

This number crunching was not accepted by the Serbian people,
hundreds of thousands of whom immediately took to the streets
around the country.

The scale of the regime's electoral disaster is huge. In
Belgrade, the DOS won 102 of the 110 seats and the regime did not
even win all of the remaining seats. The Belgrade municipal
government had been run by the moderate Chetnik,
quasi-oppositional Serbian Renewal Party (SPO) of Vuk Draskovic,
who had been kept in power by the votes of Milosevic's Socialist
Party (SPS) and its coalition partner, the extremist Chetnik
Serbian Radical Party (SRS) of Vojislav Seselj.

Hence, the three historic parties of modern Serb nationalism
together gained only 7% of the seats in Belgrade. Throughout the
country, the two Chetnik parties, seen as stooges for the regime,
retained only five seats in the 178-seat parliament.


Nevertheless, this collapse of the forces which came out of the
Milosevic-led “anti-bureaucratic revolution” of 1988-89 is
tempered by the fact that the Serbian nationalist politics of
Kostunica are as virulent as those of Milosevic.

Kostunica's adherence to Serbian nationalism precedes Milosevic.
In 1974, he was among a group of academics expelled from the
Serbian academy for opposing Yugoslav president Tito's new
constitution, which gave wider powers to the various Yugoslav
republics and provinces, including Kosova. When Milosevic crushed
the autonomy of Kosova and Vojvodina in 1988-89, Kostunica
cheered him along.

In 1990, he helped found the liberal Democratic Party (DS), but
later quit and set up the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS)
because he viewed DS leader Zoran Djinjic as not sufficiently
nationalist. In Serbia's wars of aggression in Croatia and
Bosnia, the DSS supported the aim of “Greater Serbia” while
distancing itself from the tactics of Milosevic, Seselj and the
Chetnik Serb Democratic Party (SDS) in Bosnia.

In 1993-98, Milosevic split with the Chetnik ultra-right, the
ethnic bloodletting having successfully destroyed class
solidarity throughout the region, Milosevic and the nascent
Serbian capitalist class became interested in Western plans to
partition Bosnia into Serbian- and Croatian-dominated zones. This
culminated in the United States-inspired Dayton Accords of 1995,
converting half of Bosnia into a Serb republic (Republica

Kostunica, however, made a bloc with the ultra-right to oppose
this “betrayal”, believing that the “historic glorious Serb
nation” was naturally entitled to far more than half of the
neighbouring state, and that this part of Bosnia should be
formally annexed to Serbia.

Serb nationalism

Does then the election of Kostunica represent a renewal rather
than a defeat for Serbian nationalism? There are two sides to the

The DOS coalition consists of 18 parties and trade union
organisations, many of which do not share Kostunica's politics or
even actively oppose Serbian nationalism. They formed a coalition
believing a united opposition was necessary to defeat the regime,
and a defeat of such an entrenched regime was a necessary first
step towards a further break with Milosevic's politics.

In choosing a presidential candidate from the list of those
well-known enough to have an impact, DOS had little choice. Ten
years of being ruled by the local variant of the Ku Klux Klan has
had its effect on who gets a hearing: all the available choices
were chauvinists.

Their choice of Kostunica reflected the fact that, despite his
virulent nationalism, he had maintained a “clean” image by being
the only major opposition leader who had never collaborated with
the regime. Draskovic joined the regime in 1999 during the Kosova
war, and had a long record of collaboration: ousting his Zajedno
coalition partners from the Belgrade municipal council in 1997
and ruling with the votes of the SPS and SRS, acting as the main
fire extinguisher during the mass uprising following the end of
NATO's war, and standing his own presidential candidate in these
elections to split the opposition vote. Seselj's SRS was
Milosevic's key coalition partner in 1991-93 and again since
1998, when its policies largely directing the catastrophic Kosova

On the other hand, NATO's criminal attack on Serbia last year
entrenched an element of nationalism among many people who were
previously moving away from this ruling ideology. Their justified
revulsion against those who were bombing them became, for some,
confused with the regime's chauvinism against the non-Serb
peoples of the region. Kostunica's nationalist credentials
convinced many of this layer to give up on the regime.

When, in August, the US declared support for Kostunica's
candidacy, he called this “the American kiss of death” and “the
crudest meddling in our country's internal affairs and a drastic
example of hegemonic and colonial aspirations”. He strongly
opposed NATO's war last year while refusing to cooperate with the
regime. This put him in a better position than oppositionists
like Djindjic, who openly courted Western support for his attempt
to ride to power on the post-war upsurge. Kostunica has made it
clear that he would “never” hand Milosevic over to the war crimes

If the Serbian nationalism of Kostunica is but a milder version
of that of Milosevic, what will be US and European policy towards
the new regime? In fact, a modification of the regime, rather
than its dismantling, had always been the aim of Western

Splitting the elite

Imperialism fears its lack of control over a popular
revolutionary process which may not lead to subservience to its
economic dictates. More fundamentally, Serbian nationalism — the
view that all Serbs should live in one enlarged state “cleansed”
of others who are in the way — remains the ideology of the entire
Serbian capitalist class that evolved out of the ashes of former
socialist Yugoslavia and its formal ideology of working-class
“Brotherhood and Unity” among nations. Such a state with a
uniform language and culture would give the largest market in the
Balkans to Serbian capital.

It is a key Western interest that stable capitalist regimes be
built on the ashes of “communism”. Hence the Dayton partition of
Bosnia was not so much a Western compromise with Serbian and
Croatian nationalism as a Western recognition of who their
long-term strategic partners were.

Milosevic's tactics in Kosova, which threatened to destabilise
the entire southern Balkans, rather than the overall thrust of
his politics, were the problem which led to NATO intervention.
However, once Milosevic became the demon to justify NATO's
aggression, he could not be allowed to remain in power, so
Western strategy has concentrated on removing the tainted
individual, to clean up the organs of power of the Serbian

To this end, the US government officially channelled $25 million
to the opposition forces during the just-ended fiscal year.
According to the New York Times, money from Washington and
European allies has been given “sometimes in direct aid,
sometimes in indirect aid like computers and broadcasting
equipment, and sometimes in suitcases of cash carried across the
border ... There is little effort to disguise the fact that
Western money pays for much of the polling, advertising, printing
and other costs of the opposition political campaign.”

Western sanctions on Serbia were never a blockade like that which
has killed 1.5 million Iraqis in the last decade. Rather, they
were piecemeal sanctions aimed at splitting the regime. The
embargo on air flights was quietly abandoned in January and the
oil embargo was lifted on opposition-ruled cities (oil and gas
continued to flow from non-European Union (EU) and non-US
sources). The more criminal US dictate that reconstruction aid
following NATO's devastation not be allowed until Milosevic steps
down was an open invitation for a palace coup by sections of the
ruling elite and state apparatus.

However, the destruction of the bridges over the Danube River was
more a problem to European commerce than the Yugoslav economy;
the wrecked bridges prevented goods from 11 European countries
from reaching the Black Sea. Milosevic was thus able to get the
EU to agree to fund the rebuilding of the bridges in exchange for
allowing them entry to clear the wrecked bridges out of the

Then, in July, EU foreign ministers agreed that the sanctions
were ``ineffective'' and drew up a list of major Serbian
companies that they would trade with. They left out those with
the closest dealings with Milosevic, thereby trying to split the

Around the same time, the US government floated the idea in the
New York Times that if Milosevic personally stepped down and left
the country, he need not be prosecuted at the Hague and may even
keep his fortune. Current rumours of Milosevic seeking asylum in
Russia via a Greek initiative are a little too strong to be

Kostunica thus appears an ideal choice: someone with the
nationalist credentials for crucial sectors of the elite, the
regime, the military and even the SPS to revolve around. In
August, top SPS leader Zoran Lilic quit the SPS and the regime,
and a faction of the SPS is currently calling on Milosevic to
recognise Kostunica's victory. According to the International
Crisis Group, an important section of middle-ranking SPS members
are fed up with increased control of government by another
satellite party of Milosevic's wife Mira Markovic, which appears
to have no reason for existence other than to promote her narrow
circle of cronies.

Even Yugoslav army chief General Nebojsa Pavkovic, who Milosevic
installed two years ago to replace the wavering General Momir
Perisic (now a prominent elite oppositionist), declared that he
would recognise a Kostunica victory and that the army would
``never'' move against the people.

Western capital need not worry about Kostunica's pledge to
``suspend'' Milosevic's ambitious plan to privatise Serbia's 75
largest enterprises. Following important successes, including the
sale of Serbia's telephone company to foreign capital, the
program was stalled by the Kosova crisis. Kostunica's aim is
merely to prevent some of the worst crony ``in-house''
privatisation deals involving members of the Milosevic clique.
With remaining sanctions lifted, the program could continue with

On a regional level, the effects of this Western-backed
rearrangement of the regime under a less tainted Serbian
nationalist may mean, ironically, that Kostunica will be able to
quietly complete the Milosevic ``Greater Serbia'' project now
that the latter has done all the dirty work, for which it would
have been impolitic to have fully rewarded him.



SERBIA: The regional ramifications of Milosevic's demise

The rise to power in Serbia of Vojislav Kostunica may have
somewhat ironic effects on the region.

  Western governments were aiming for a “palace coup”
against President Slobodan Milosevic so as to keep intact much of
the regime, which represents the bulk of Serbia's capitalist
class. The rearrangement of Serbia's regime under a less tainted
nationalist like Kostunica raises many questions about the
direction of Western policy towards other regimes in region,
regimes which the West played with to pressure the Serbian elite
to remove Milosevic.

The Montenegrin regime of Milo Djukanovic and his Democratic
Party of Socialists (PDS) has courted Western support for its
drive to establish greater republican autonomy within the
Yugoslav federation. Montenegro and Serbia are the two
theoretically equal republics in the federation. While supporting
the PDS's drive, Western powers oppose outright independence and
have warned it not to go any further.

However, by unilaterally changing the constitution several months
ago, Milosevic in effect abolished the federation. In the recent
elections, the president was directly elected by the whole
Yugoslav population rather than selected by the federal

As a result, Montenegro, being smaller than Serbia, had a smaller
voice in selecting the president. (The previous
election-by-parliament system gave a fixed block of seats to
representatives from Montenegro, giving it a greater voice.)


>From a formally equal republic in a federation, Montenegro has
thus been transformed into a province of a unitary state. This
prompted Montenegro's ruling coalition to boycott the elections,
a boycott heeded by 75% of the electorate, despite pressure from
the United States and Serbian opposition to join the effort to
remove Milosevic.

However, because Milosevic did not change the constitution in
relation to the vote for the federal parliament, the Montenegrin
boycott enabled pro-Milosevic parties to keep control of the
parliament: the entire bloc of Montenegrin seats (50 out of 178)
was automatically taken by the Montenegrin opposition Socialist
National Party (SNP) of Momir Bulatovic (which obtained only
around 20% of Montenegrin votes).

Kostunica denounced Djukanovic for the boycott, calling it
“selfishness and treason”. Yet none of Serbia's opposition
leaders have ever offered anything better on the Montenegrin
issue, least of all Kostunica who in almost every speech talks of
the “unitary state of Serbia and Montenegro”.

Indeed, Kostunica openly stated that if he won the elections, the
need to be allied to more autonomous-minded Montenegrins would
disappear; he would offer the position of federal prime minister
to the SNP. In other words, he would do the same as Milosevic,
who sustained the SNP in the federal government despite it having
lost the Montenegrin elections three years ago.

If the SNP takes up the offer and Kostunica presides over a more
unitary arrangement, the cries of the government of tiny,
poverty-stricken Montenegro may quickly be transformed for
Western governments from a “beacon of democracy” into a mere


Likewise with Kosova. While Western governments remain strongly
opposed to Kosovar independence, they have had the problem of how
to force the Kosovars back under a regime which last year tried
to physically eliminate them. With Milosevic out of power, this
task will become more simple: the Kosovars will simply have to
recognise “international legitimacy”. The occasional vague
suggestion by Western leaders of eventual Kosovar independence,
made to pressure Milosevic, will disappear given a Western-backed
Serbian nationalist regime in power.

Kostunica, while deploring Milosevic's tactics, has never
differed with the regime's position that Kosova is but a province
of Serbia. He has even advocated moving Yugoslav military forces
back into the province.

Interestingly, the leadership of the most hard-line faction of
Kosova Serbs, those partitioning the northern city of Mitrovica,
came out squarely on the side of Kostunica. The UN's facilitation
of Kosovar Serbs voting in the Yugoslav election made it clear
that the United Nations still sees Kosova as part of that state.

And if the Kosovars remain recalcitrant, the threat of partition,
of losing the economically valuable north, now hangs more firmly
over their heads. In June, the UN gave the Serbs the right to set
up their own ethnic-based security forces within their majority
regions. Perhaps this was an inevitable consequence of the
inability of Kosovar Albanian leaders to stem revenge attacks
against the Serbs by the traumatised population, but it is
nevertheless a step towards a partition in which the Albanians
have more to lose.

The Serbs were also given the right to set up local governments
in their enclaves: a good thing in itself, except that the local
governments set up by the Albanians have been regarded by the UN
as illegal “parallel institutions” without official recognition.

Most likely, the outcome will be a mixture. The Serb regions,
particularly the north, will simply attach themselves to Serbia
proper, while the rest of Kosova is forced by the “international
community” to accept formally remaining in Yugoslavia with some
new version of impoverished “autonomy”.


Finally, there is Bosnia, which was partitioned into two
republics, officially still within one fictional Bosnian state,
by the US-inspired Dayton Accords of 1995. This allowed a Serb
republic — Republica Srpska (RS) — to be set up in half of Bosnia
from which Milosevic and his Chetnik allies in the Serb
Democratic Party (SDS) had brutally expelled a million Muslims
and Croats.

The government of RS underwent a transition in 1997-98 similar to
that perhaps taking place in Serbia now, as the highly corrupt
SDS leadership around Radovan Karadzic was replaced by more
pragmatic nationalists. First, Karadzic's loyal lieutenant
Biliana Plavsic performed an acrobatic conversion from chauvinist
extremist to “moderate”, then the new regime of Milorand Dodic
was installed by the US and Milosevic.

At that time, Milosevic was in conflict with the ultra-right,
which regarded gaining “only” half of Bosnia to be a betrayal.
Dodic and Milosevic both understood that the Dayton Accords, by
its very logic, was working for them, as the economies of Serbia
and RS were more and more fusing, so there was no rush for wild
Chetnik schemes to immediately formally unite Serbia and RS,
which would create regional headaches.

However, the uprising in Kosova pushed Milosevic back into an
alliance with the ultra-right, whose horrendous and destabilising
tactics in Kosova led to NATO's aggression in 1999. This
confronted the Dodic regime with a dilemma: on the one hand, NATO
bombs radicalised Bosnian Serb nationalist opinion, but on the
other there was little economic sense in continuing economic
fusion with a country being bombed and then denied reconstruction

However, if like-minded “reformed” nationalist regimes are now in
power in both countries, and the reconstruction sanctions on
Serbia are dropped, this interruption in the fusion process may
end and the natural tendency of Dayton to entrench the partition
of once multi-ethnic Bosnia and the de facto fusion of ethnically
cleansed “Serbian lands” will resume.

Dodic is far from a Bosnian integrationist; he most recently
opposed a Bosnian proposal to amend Dayton so that all three
Bosnian nations would be constituent in both halves of Bosnia,
preferring the current constitution in which only Serbs are a
constituent nation in RS. And Kostunica was always among the bloc
that opposed Dayton from the right.

The problem with Milosevic was that bourgeois “Greater Serbia”
could only be created by engulfing the region in a decade of
ethnic slaughter, so to have allowed his regime to gain
everything it wanted would have looked somewhat crass.
Ironically, now that Milosevic has done the dirty work on behalf
of his class, new “moderate” representatives of the same class,
who sat back and kept their hands relatively “clean”, may be in a
better position to complete the Milosevic program.




More information about the Marxism mailing list