Serbia faces low intensity war again


March 1, 2008 10:07 | by Marija Perkovic and Staa¡a Zajovic

for Women in Black - Belgrade

The presidential campaign of President Boris Tadic was focused on the integration of Serbia into the EU; however, the issue of Kosovo as an "inseparable part of the territory" of Serbia was equally played upon. This kind of approach practically continued the rapprochement of the Democratic party to the populist-nationalist ideology dating back from the times of Milosevic, which is presently

upheld by the Democratic Party of Serbia (headed by Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica) and the Serbian Radical Party (whose presidentialcandidate in the recent elections was Tomislav Nikolic, who lost the race with Boris Tadic by a thin margin of votes).

At the same time, Tadic's hard-won election victory reveals the impotence of the Democratic Party (DS) and its leader to persist on the course of European integrations after the assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic The reason for the ideological rapprochement to the right, the making of great concessions to Kostunica (in the course of forming the government last year, when, for example, Kostunica managed to get hold of the Prime Minister's office and of the Ministry of Police) does not lie in Kostunica's factual power, but rather in the very leadership of the DS. The latest elections in Serbia have confirmed yet again that the opposition in the Milosevic era was not a genuine civilian option, as it was largely nationalistic, and although such a political camp has no military might nor economic potential to embark on the project of creating "Greater Serbia", all the errors, corruption and criminal acts are being suppressed with the rhetoric of the Serbian people as "victim of the new world order". Tampering with nationalism far too much, with no charismatic figures and lacking knowledge and expertise, the prospects of Tadic and the DS leading Serbia towards European integrations are dim.

How is EU membership presented to the public and in political debates?

The membership of Serbia in the EU is primarily featured as:

1. Creating opportunities for new investments (the issue on which the ministers of the present government from the Democratic party ranks are focusing on);

2. The media predominantly send out nationalistically biased messages, associating EU membership with loss of identity, pride and territories;

3. The messages coming from the civilian society sphere put an emphasis on human rights, but are given little space in public life.

New investments (which are in the focus of the ministers and other civil servants) can hardly be a clear-cut concept for the majority of the inhabitants of Serbia, who, after the large-scale ravaging of the state

and social wealth in the Milosevic era, saw the ultimate collapse of their companies or massive lay-offs in the aftermath of October 2000.

The experience of Serbia with privatization, where on one hand, it was deemed that the majority of companies ought to declare bankruptcy, while on the other, these were being bought out at ridiculously low prices (coupled with job losses), with blatant interference of the state leadership as to the amount of money and its deployment, is bound to raise doubts among the broad population.

The simplicity of the nationalistic rhetoric that pervades most of the media makes much more sense to the average citizen of Serbia. It allows to clearly name and blame external instances (EU, USA, the Kosovo Albanians), thus taking all responsibility off our shoulders. But the fact is that the official unemployment figure is 25% and the official statistics is that nearly 30% of the population are below the poverty line(in reality, these percentages are much higher and it is supposed that over 60% of the population of Serbia live in poverty). Under such circumstances, the genuine economic and social impotence is vented out through nationalism.

The civil society message can resound with very limited numbers of people, as a certain level of education, social background and cultural level are prerequisite for this. In this context, the support gained by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in these elections is the utmost limit for this party (just under 6%).

Another major setback is the fact that the political parties that bear the epithet "democratic" are not actually concerned with the losers in the process of transition, i.e. with the social and economic problems our society is up against. Their rhetoric is directed at a thin middle class layer, (where the new middle class is generally recruited from the state administration), thus excluding the majority of the population. The pauperised part of Serbia has been thoughtlessly yielded to the Serbian Radical Party, i.e. to populism of the worst kind.

Can we expect any novelties in the official policy, or will the déjà-vu be continued?

The behaviour of the political elite after the elections and the declaration of Kosovo independence is not promising of any shift of policy. The authorities that organize hooligans and neo-Nazis to demonstrate in the streets can hardly be taken seriously. The major proponent of this policy is the coalition partner in the current government, the Democratic Party of Serbia of Prime Minister Kostunica, while the Democratic Party of President B. Tadic has shown extreme leniency towards Kostunica's policy, whereas the ultra-nationalist radicals are actually conducting the government policy.

What do the recent unrests in Serbia concerning the declaration of Kosovo independence indicate?

The unrealistic perception of the position of Serbia in the Balkans, in Europe and in the world in general, as well as a blatant ignorance of the ruling structures (the inability to see the difference between the role of the state and the role of society, which can be seen in the example of state organized street demonstrations) uncovers a completely immature power, ill-equipped to grapple with these circumstances. The outcome of the joint policy of one part of the government and the extremely nationalistic policy was visible in the wild outbursts of the hooligans and gangs of sport supporters that culminated on 21st February 2008. Those violent outbursts were by no means a manifestation of social

discontent, but rather an indicator of the social pathology that Serbia cannot manage to overcome. It is the very same pathology that generated the so-called weekend warriors and other war criminals in the past, which today has acquired the form of professional supporter gangs and growing neo-nationalist and clerical fascist groups. The accountability for the fact that such destructive groups exist, whom even the police cannot pacify, rests upon Kostunica and all those post-October political forces that prevented discontinuity with the Milosevic regime to be effectuated and who hampered a comprehensive confrontation with the past and with the crimes that were committed in our name. Unless there is asignificant change of course, such as for example the Democratic Party confronting the essence of the problem (which is highly unlikely) no new movements can be expected and Serbia will be sinking deeper into the quagmire and isolation, thus turning into a colony of Putin's Russia.

What is the general atmosphere in Serbia today?

The atmosphere in Serbia is markedly grim at present, which can be illustrated by the contents of an sms that is being circulated round the country: By opening this sms, you have killed a Shiptar (derogative term for Albanians). Judging by your smile, you obviously enjoyed it. Forward this sms! Let us return smile on the Serbians' faces! Long liveSerbia!

Low intensity war: Low intensity war is at work in Serbia nowadays, against those who refuse to accept the national consensus as it is formulated by the nationalists in the Government and in the Opposition, all those who follow the idea of the "father of the nation" Dobrica Cosic that "We have always been winners in war and losers in peace".

This permanent state of war by different means (because plunders, killings and ethnic cleansings outside the borders of Serbia are no longer allowed, as was the case in the '90s) leads to:

" Creating space for impunity and unpunished violence; this is a consequence of the climate of glorification of war violence and crimes that was present at all levels in the 1990;

" Internal aggression "which is manifested by the state (usually by proxy of "uncontrollable" extremist elements) jeopardizing the security of all people, especially human rights activists, etc.

" Limitations of the freedom of movement, freedom of thought and critical thinking: From the institutional level, violence and even the physical elimination of those who think differently is encouraged - this is no longer typical only of the behaviour of clerical fascist organizations, as it has now been joined my some of the ministers of the Government of the Republic of Serbia, especially Velja Ilic.

" Generating enemies: the vilification, discrediting and criminalizing of peace and human rights activists has been going on ever since the early '90s. However, this campaign has gained vigour since the current authorities took power, led by Vojislav Kostunica. Peace and human rights activists who pledge for a discontinuity with the criminal past and seek the truth about the crimes that were committed in our name, in the belief that it is a precondition for a stable and just peace and the rule of law and democracy, have been exposed to various forms of violence and repression;

"Maintaining a climate of permanent danger, threats and conspiracy: Pointing at the enemy's face is the most important justification of repression. That is why "high treason" charges are being pressed, charges for threatening the "constitutional order"; this is primarily the case in the media controlled by institutions close to the Government of Serbia or the ultra-rightist nationalistic Serbian Radical Party; such campaigns foment a climate of manhunt and lynch aimed at some of

the human rights defenders and prominent representatives of civil society. This has been emphasized in the past few months and is related to the ultimate resolution of the status of Kosovo and has reached its peak now, with the declaration of the independence of Kosovo;

What is the aim of low intensity war?

"Shifting the blame to "the quislings" and producing scapegoats. They are being blamed for the entire situation, for all the fiascos, for threatening the "constitutional order" (for the loss of Kosovo) with the aim to break the integrity of individuals or groups.

"Horizontal repression: the state apparatus is not the primary source of repression or control, because of a state of alert involving the citizens, the neighbours - a denouncing mechanism is at work;

" The mechanism of stigmatization: protecting the citizens from "danger" and "social embarrassment" (personified by we who are not part of the consensus), encouraging the "citizens" to deal personally with human rights defenders

"Repression of personal lives - that is to say, the production of social death: The repressive strategy of banishment from "normal life", attacking private lives with the aim of generating even greater vulnerability, emotional instability and insecurity and lack of safety, effecting the potential for action and binging about change;

"Preventing or aborting any form of self-organizing or civic solidarity: the purpose of political repression is to destroy the networks of solidarity and to impose control over the "internal


What are the attitudes and the views of civil society and the women's movement?

Civil society in Serbia is, therefore, faced with serious problems and challenges, because the fact of the matter is that what is actually at work, under the excuse of jeopardized national interests because of

the loss of Kosovo, is an attempt to impose a nationalist government and to lapse back into ethnic homogenization of the population, as happened in Germany in the 1930s and in Serbia in the period of

the Milosevic rise to power.

Unless we confront this criminal policy and break away from the value system that led to the wars, there is no hope for Serbia. This is sheer reality for that part of civil society in Serbia that does not only sport the name, but adheres to the system of values and is actively engaged in the process of confrontation with the past, in order to achieve catharsis. There is broad consensus within civil society in Serbia, where the Network of Women in Black definitely belongs as its integral and constitutive part, that accountability for war and war crimes, the punishment of the marshals, executors and promoters of the crimes committed in the '90s of the last century must be continually sought, if there is to be a future for Serbia.

We have to continue striving for changes of the value systems even more vigorously:

"By opposing all relativization of crime and acceptance of violence;

"By continuing to develop the values of solidarity and mutual support;

"By launching joint actions and strengthening coalitions of solidarity, both against the criminal past and the policies of exclusion of the others and the different, against fascist and clerical fascist

tendencies, homophobia, hatred and all forms of discrimination.

It is with this aim that civil society organizations have been demanding the political and general accountability of Prime Minister Kostunica, Minister Ilic (who supported violence in several instances

and repeatedly encouraged violent acts) and Minister of Education Loncar (who ordered that all schools be closed on 21st February so that the teaching staff could take part in the rally, thus leaving the pupils to the streets and organized violence, which culminated that evening in the streets of Belgrade), and also of other officials who created an atmosphere of fear and violence.

For more information, go to the English-language website of Women In Black - Belgrade

See also: