GLW: The fall of Milosevic -- coup or revolution?
Green Left Parramatta
glparramatta at SPAMgreenleft.org.au
Mon Oct 30 15:49:12 MST 2000
"Jose G. Perez" wrote:
> Please post the rest ...
Working Class and Kostunica Regime: Clash of Interests
Far from the upsurge having been organised by a conspiracy involving Kostunica and the
US government, it is precisely the working class that is trying to more fully destroy
the vestiges of Milosevic's crony capitalist tyranny, while Kostunica's US-backed
regime desperately tries to salvage as much of it as possible and keep the movement
under control. Workers strike committees have become "crisis committees" pushing more
than just industrial demands, many stating their only interest is the "well-being of
The description by Jonathan Steele in the Friday October 13 Guardian reveals much
about this conflict of interests. According to Steele, at the large Trudbenik
construction company, the workers posted their own guards in the accountant's office.
"We need to prevent documents being removed," explained Predrag Jelic, a member of the
crisis committee. Workers with arms checking the books? Terrible to Kostunica, US
imperialism and pro-Milosevic "left", but otherwise a page straight out of Lenin's
"State and Revolution."
Kostunica sent Nebojsa Covic, who leads one of the parties in DOS (Democratic
Opposition of Serbia, the Kostunica-led coalition), to visit factories, "urging
workers to get back to work and trust DOS to bring change," but the strike committee
at Trudbenik is having none of it. "We don't need political support, and we won't
accept any demands for restraint from Covic or anyone else from DOS," stressed Jelic.
According to Steele, "the strike committee wants to be sure that the new rulers from
DOS do not just reproduce the old system by imposing so-called democrats on factories
... (it) wants a proper system of accountability in the company, credible financial
public accounts and no further role for party politics in factory appointments."
The strike committee has taken over the enterprise - when managing director Dusan
Djuraskovic attempted to take back control with a mixture of threats and promises,
workers asked "Excuse me, who invited you here?"
A similar account is made by Argyris Malapanis in the US Militant: "Engineers and
production workers (in the largest state-owned oil company) have now formed a
commission of inquiry to look into the practices of the old management ... If they
find any evidence of embezzlement or other pilfering of company resources, the
commission will bring charges against those directors."
A key working class force both in ensuring the electoral ouster of Milosevic and in
now keeping the mobilisations on guard against the new regime is the 200,000 member
independent trade union federation Nezavisnost, which last year vigorously condemned
the barbarism of both NATO and the Belgrade regime. Its May Day 2000 message revealed
its working class politics went beyond "factory politics" but extended to strong
internationalist opposition to the Serbian nationalism which the rule of both
Milosevic and Kostunica is based on:
"All of us who support ourselves from honest work must jointly and decisively stand up
to terror applied against the world of labor for over a decade ... Milosevic's hand
of nationalistic evil has seized us and removed us from the factory machines, from our
fields, our classrooms, university amphitheaters, and our offices. Wrecked and
stripped of our identity, which is created through work, with only our national omen
he sent us off to destroy all those who do not belong to our nation and our religion."
In an October 6 uprising message, Nezavisnost president Branislav Canak called on "all
members of Nezavisnost and all employees in Serbia, particularly those on involuntary
leaves of absence, to return to their factories, to organize workers' watches, to
prevent SPS and JUL managers from entering the firms and to protect the property from
any attempt of destruction."
"We demand from all employees, members of other trade unions ... to begin today to
support their own interests ... the interests of free and autonomous workers'
movement, the world of labor which makes the decisions about its fate autonomously."
Kostunica regime: Clone of Milosevic regime
Kostunica and Milosevic are in complete agreement on all this: both vigorously condemn
the "chaos" and "anarchy" of the factory occupations. Kostunica has attacked this
process of restructuring "from the bottom up," insisting that change come through
state institutions after the new "transitional government" is created. "Some of these
actions are from people who are in connection with or appear on behalf of DOS or even
myself, which is not true. But all together, it's something that worries me," said
It is notable that, in Steele's account above, the person Kostunica sent to rescue the
Milosevic-era management was Nebojsa Covic. In looking at who Covic and others in the
Kostunica camp are, much is revealed about the new regime:
* Covic is the former long-time Milosevic-party mayor of Belgrade, the third most
senior person in the party, becoming an "oppositionist" from 1996. While in
"opposition" he has remained managing director of a profitable tin can company.
* Close to the regime is former army chief of staff Momcilo Perisic, who played the
key role in Milosevic's Bosnian war, being the general in charge of the 1995 massacre
of 8000 Moslem captives in Srebrenica. He became an "oppositionist" in late 1998 due
to his view that the Kosova policies of Milosevic and Seselj were suicidal. He still
maintains considerable influence in the military.
* In an identical position is Milosevic's former head of internal security, Jovica
Stanisic, who also went into "opposition" in 1998 while maintaining powerful influence.
* Kostunica has strongly defended maintaining the position of Milosevic's current army
chief of staff, Nebojsa Pavkovic, who headed the Yugoslav army's depredations in
Kosova last year, against attempts by others in DOS to oust him. Significantly, the
western controlled war-crimes tribunal left him off the list of those to be prosecuted.
* Kostunica has appointed Predrag Bulatovic from the pro-Milosevic forces in
Montenegro, as federal prime minister, despite the 80 per cent success of the election
boycott called by the anti-Milosevic Montenegrin government.
* The Serbian republican government (where their were no elections) is being
reorganised, with DOS coming to an arrangement for a transitional government with
Milosevic's party, while excluding the fascistic Serbian Radical Party (Milosevic's
former coalition allies) and ousting the Interior Minister, Vlajko Stojilkovic, who
had advocated force be used against the masses and who has been indicted by the Hague
- a "clean-up" act.
* The Serbian Orthodox Church, a bastion of Serbian nationalism, has welcomed
Kostunica, as has Milosevic's state news agency, Tanjug.
For Kostunica to restabilise the capitalist regime, he is going to need Milosevic's
armed forces to control the working class movement - even though the ranks may not be
as keen as the officers. "This lawlessness has not escaped the attention of the
Yugoslav military," according to Szamuely. Kostunica met the Yugoslav Army General
Staff, where "concern was expressed over certain events in the country that are not in
accordance with the Constitution and the laws, and the position and role of the
Yugoslav Army in resolving problems had also been considered." To anyone familiar with
the role of armed forces in suppressing workers' struggles, this is hardly surprising.
Yet Szamuely, good socialist as he is, concludes "Sounds like a clear warning to
Kostunica not to engage in mob rule."
With Kostunica's circle consisting of former chips off the Milosevic regime, and with
Kostunica trying to maintain intact as much of the former regime, state apparatus and
economic "management" bodies as possible, the essentially similar nature of the two
regimes is obvious. In a word, both are regimes of the Serbian capitalist class.
Those contrasting a rabidly pro-capitalist Kostunica with an allegedly socialist
Milosevic fail to explain how this could be possible when the entire
political-economic apparatus is the same.
Certainly, western imperialism has shown only too clearly that it was such minimalist
change - the ousting merely of the tainted name Milosevic and a few close cronies -
that was all they wanted. The fact that the sanctions imposed during and after the
Kosova war - the air flight ban, the oil embargo and the refusal to grant
reconstruction aid following the bombing - have all been lifted in a hurry is evidence
enough of this. Meanwhile, the "outer ring" of sanctions - the ban on Yugoslav
membership of the IMF and World Bank - are about to be lifted.
These sanctions criminally punished the masses for the crimes of the regime, and so
their ending should be welcomed. However, from the point of view of western rhetoric,
it is notable that no political concessions were demanded. According to the US-based
intelligence group Stratfor, "The European Union also showed little interest in
linking a potential $2 billion aid package to the extradition of Milosevic to face
war-crimes charges." Neither was the release of the thousands of Kosovar Albanian
political prisoners still incarcerated in Serbian jails an issue.
Milosevic: Architect of Capitalist Restoration
In reality, Milosevic's capitalist regime enjoyed many years of collaboration with
western imperialism. Far from being a socialist, it was precisely the economic liberal
Milosevic who destroyed the old socialist system of workers self management, as
demanded by the IMF, during his reactionary "anti-bureaucratic revolution" of 1988-89.
He called on the Yugoslav people to overcome their "unfounded, irrational and
primitive fear of exploitation" by foreign capital and called on new profit oriented
bodies which replaced the workers committees to "function on economic
principles...strive to create profits and constantly struggle for their share and
place in the market." While the process was slow, as in all of eastern Europe, a
Serbian capitalist class came into being, closely connected to the regime. For
example, among Serbia's biggest capitalists are the Karic brothers, who started their
fortune with Milosevic's political and economic "reforms" in Kosova, and now own a
private banking, mineral and oil empire. Not surprisingly, ...Karic was a minister
without profile in the Yugoslav government until late last year.
Or take the case of Vladimir Bokan, who shared a house in Athens with Milosevic's son
Marko. He owned assets in Greece worth tens of millions of dollars, the entire chain
of kiosks in Belgrade and Vojvodina, a chain of retail clothing stores and a real
estate company in Belgrade, a shipyard in Novi Sad, a sizable share in a chemicals and
fertiliser factory and much more, while running Panama and Cyprus registered shipping
companies. With so many mega-capitalists like these, how is it possible for some to
still parrot on about Yugolsavia being more "socialist" than elsewhere in the region?
Following the Dayton Accord to partition Bosnia into Serbian and Croatian dominated
halves - drawn up by Milosevic, Croatian leader Tudjman and the US State Department -
Milosevic was seen as the "guarantor of stability" in the region. Foreign capital
rushed in. The British firm Nat-West Industries, headed by former British Foreign
Secretary during the Bosnian war, Douglas Hurd, signed a million dollar deal to aid
the privatisation of Serbian enterprises. Following the new privatisation law of
October 1997, which aimed to sell to 75 most strategic Yugoslav industries, Nat-West
organised the sale of half of Serbian Telecom to Greek and Italian investors. The
Trepca lead, zinc, silver, gold, cadmium complex in northern Kosova was also put on
the market, with French and Greek firms buying in.
None of this leaves much room for "socialism", and there were clearly ample
opportunities for western capital. Those seeing Milosevic's Yugoslavia as an outpost
of resistance to the IMF or think western sanctions were imposed due to a "socialist"
orientation of the regime turn reality on its head. Milosevic wanted IMF/World Bank
money to complete the privatisation process; this was held up by Washington - making
political rather than economic demands - after 1995 the only "sanctions" were
precisely denial of IMF/WB membership by the US.
The political demands centred on cooperation with the War Crimes Tribunal at the Hague
- to hold together the fragile Bosnian Dayton Accord - and negotiations on Kosova -
while not demanding a return to pre-1989 autonomy - to prevent the situation there
exploding and destabilising the southern Balkans. Once Milosevic's barbarous tactics
in Kosova led to a mighty upsurge led by the Kosova Liberation Army (KLA), NATO
decided to get its own forces in to control the situation - including to ensure the
defeat of the KLA's project for independent Kosova. Combined with other US concerns,
above all to ensure its domination of NATO leading up to the 50th NATO Summit, a
savage war was launched, in which Milosevic needed to demonised. As such, his removal
and replacement by less tainted elements from the same capitalist elite became the
main imperialist demand before sanctions were lifted.
In reality, "it is not just economics, stupid." Imperialist control of the world
relies on a system of political and military control where sometimes short-term
profits might have to wait if a political situation threatens to unleash instability
and hence threaten profits further down the line. If imperialism only launched wars
and imposed sanctions because regimes were following a socialist economic course, then
the last twenty years would tell us that the right-wing Haitian junta, Somalia's heirs
to Siad Barre, Noriega of Panama, Saddam Hussein, the Taleban regime in Afghanistan,
the Sudanese junta and the Argentine junta were all socialist regimes.
As for the talk of the need for economic "reform" in Yugoslavia, this kind of talk has
been heard by imperialist leaders with reference to all kinds third world capitalist
regimes, from Suharto's Indonesia to Turkey, where some 80 per cent of industry
remains in state hands. This is where Yugoslavia fits: as Steele points out well,
"Indonesia's crony capitalism under Suharto is a more accurate parallel than the state
socialism of Ceausescu." Even South Korea has been chided for not going far enough
with "reforms" in the post Asia crisis period, this allegedly being the reason for
"slow recovery." This imperialist "reform" drive is about pressure on capitalist
regimes to open their economies even wider to foreign imperialist, rather than local
Having said all this, however, is there a case to be made that Yugoslavia had
maintained a little more "socialism" than elsewhere in eastern Europe? Measuring the
amount in state and private hands is not very reliable. The European Bank for
Reconstruction and Development claims some 40 percent of Yugoslav GDP is produced by
the private sector; several years ago the World Bank complained that 60-70 percent of
Croatian industry remained in State hands and the privatisation process "had virtually
stalled." Does this mean Tudjman's Croatia was also "socialist"?
Slovenia was the last country in eastern Europe to adopt a privatistion law, yet is
heralded as the key success story. However, according to Svetlana Vasojevic and Igor
Mekina in Bijelina, following the mass handout of privatisation vouchers to former
employees, "the sale of unprofitable stock became practically impossible ... The
larger, unprofitable firms, wanted by no one, were mostly left to the state ... in
larger companies, the percentage of stock given to workers was minimized, the larger
part being turned over to citizens, various funds and the state. Government ...
appointed its own people to head the funds (capital, compensation, and so on) ... the
economy has only been "half-privatized" ... Notorious losses were revealed on the
accounts of major companies such as TAM, Elan, Iskra, etc. Some were liquidated while
the government still owns the others." According to Mladjan Dinkic of the G-17 Plus
organization and a DOS leader, Yugoslavia's economy should be structured according to
the Slovenian model.
Hence, the existence of a large state sector in countries like Yugoslavia where large
numbers of mega-capitalists abound is hardly unusual. Firstly, someone has to want to
buy the stuff Milosevic is trying to sell; apart from investors not liking to buy
industries in war zones, the question of how much investment in modern equipment old
unprofitable industries need is obviously a concern. Capitalists go where profits can
be made fast, especially capitalist classes rising from the dust as in eastern Europe.
In Yugoslavia's case this has meant giant import-export companies, construction,
banking, oil and various booming black market industries in preference to renovating
Workers Confront Mafia Rule
But moreover, the co-existence of private and state firms under a highly corrupt and
autocratic regime is the very model for the rule of the mafia - not just Serbia and
Croatia, but Yeltsin's Russia and any number of crony capitalist regimes the world
over are based on this model.
If you can "manage" a state firm via political connections, earn a giant salary
regardless of whether the firm does well or not, and your brother owns a private firm,
then you can strip the "state" firm of its assets and give them to your brother whose
company makes mega-bucks selling it on the black market. If your brother owns a
private bank, you can organise loans with ridiculously high interest to benefit the
private bank at the expense of the "state" company. Because its all illegal, its hard
to prove; but anyone familiar with Yugoslavia would know that stories of workers
turning up for work at the car plant and finding no parts abound. The key ingredient
missing, to prevent this happening, is democratic control by the workers themselves.
Malapanis reports on the role of the insurgent workers in stopping this
mafia-capitalist accumulation: "While workers at these (vegetable oil) factories
received very low pay, managers organized in the last decade for most production to be
diverted to the black market, where company officials and middlemen made a bundle from
As part of the rebellion, workers guards formed in these factories to stop this
"diversion" of products ... From Monday, October 2, although the production was not
stopped, our workers guards did not allow a single bottle to go out of the factory,"
Steele gives another example: "Political connections were vital ... for the company to
get privileged access to capital, licences and subsidies ... In the early 1990s, as a
crude market economy and phoney privatisation spread through eastern Europe, Mr
Milosevic joined the bandwagon. He allowed large companies to break into smaller units
and fix their own commercial contracts. Union leaders were as eager as managers to
exploit the new chance of riches ... "The trade union secretary practically ran this
company," said Mr Jelic (about Trudbenik). Under privatisation the trade union
secretary formed a company called Sind which built upper-income flats in Belgrade."
Sind paid workers DM5 an hour, while workers in the "state" enterprise got DM100 for a
When workers at the "state-owned" Genex trading giant ousted general manager Radoman
Buzovic, they revealed he had been paying himself a princely salary of DM180,000 a
month. The workers earn DM10.
By scabbing on the insurgent working class, the pro-Milosevic "socialists" oppose the
very force that is capable of stopping legal and illegal privatisation of state
assets, whether by the Milosevic or the Kostunica regime. According to George Skoric,
"The (crisis) committees have been formed largely under this banner: 'To protect the
state-owned property from robbery by the ousted criminal bureaucrats.'"
Of course, this applies not only to the ousted regime but also to the new one:
Nezavisnost president Canak made clear that "[Kostunica's] economic program is
seriously neo-liberal and I think, if nothing else, that would put workers and
Nezavisnost in a confrontational position against him sooner or later ... We will warn
him first and then we will start behaving as unions are supposed to behave when their
basic interests are in danger."
While even under Tito's bureaucratic regime, the socialist revolution was thoroughly
undermined, and was then assassinated by Milosevic's counterrevolution, the high
points of the recent events has been this working class movement to resurrect -
however briefly - the best traditions of that revolution and the system of workers'
Kostunica and Greater Serbia
Meanwhile, pro-western Kostunica is trying to put back together the pieces of
Milosevic's Greater Serbia. His accommodation with the pro-Milosevic unitarist bloc in
Montenegro has already been mentioned. The even more pro-western DOS leader Zoran
Djindjic recently stated that 1200 Yugoslav troops would be back in Kosova by the end
of the year. Kostunica, who was photographed with a Kalashnykov machine-gun in his
hands in Kosova during the war in 1998 in the company of the para-military 'Tigers' of
Captain Dragan, clearly agrees this is a good idea.
And while he was expected to pay a state visit to Sarajevo to offer recognition of
Bosnia and apologise for Serbia's role in the genocide, Kostunica's first trip to that
country was to the Republika Srpska para-state, to a reburial of a famous Serb
nationalist poet who had died 60 years ago - a visit he had promised to the hard-line
anti-Bosnian Serb Democratic Party.
Far from any of this annoying Kostunica's western backers, the removal of Milosevic
will mean the return of more "normal" economic and political patterns in the region,
where a Serb-dominated state has been the lynchpin of western policy since 1918. This
is because, as Stratfor points out, "The trade corridor from Germany and Italy to
Greece will gradually reopen, physically linking Greece to the rest of the EU ... the
Danube - the region's economic artery - will be cleared. Debris from bridges destroyed
during the Kosovo war has blocked the river for well over a year. Once cleared, the 10
states that sit on the river's banks will again be able to engage in large-scale
trade. That very act will all but lock Yugoslavia into western Europe's orbit. Both of
these routes - the region's two busiest - pass through downtown Belgrade."
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