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February 28, 1998
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 334
Stojan Cerovic's Diary

Show of Forgiveness

by Stojan Cerovic

Mirko Marjanovic did something to deserve the candidacy for Premier of the new government of Serbia.  His present government made its two biggest moves just before dissolving: the first was the passage of a Decree on "financial discipline", while the second was its speedy retraction.  To some this could appear as admitting defeat, as compromising and as a sure sign that the government does not know what it's doing, and that Marjanovic can certainly not be the new Premier.'

But no such logic applies here.  In all likelihood, he has been awarded for both of those contradictory decisions.  Just because he decided to go ahead and then changed his mind.  That is because in the Family, or maybe only in the mind of Slobodan Milosevic, there is certainly a political fight going on in which different, usually extreme views, which are impossible to reconcile, can be heard.  The result is decisions that look as if they're tottering — falling and getting up.  Thus Tanjug, just like the government, initially released a political commentary directed against France, only to retract it one hour later.  Something of that sort is completely normal and logically results from a basic foreign policy idea of improving relations and opening up toward the antagonistic and anti-Serbian world.  In the same contradictory way, financial discipline is being implemented, war against crime is being fought, or privatization being carried out.  Mirko Marjanovic proved that he wants to conduct this love me—love me not, forward—backward, left—right kind of politics, and he probably received support from both, or probably all four sides.  It only remains from him to form a government.

Now there are claims being made that negotiations for the entrance of SPO into the new government are nearing an end, and they concern some platform synchronization and division of power.  Those who remain outside of this game do not believe that such an agreement is possible, they expect an unstable government and they predict new elections.  I can agree with that, but one ought first to look at what is it that Milosevic (Milutinovic, Marjanovic...) and Draskovic (Vuk, Danica, Bozic...) are doing.

Almost twenty years ago in Italy, the Sommunists at that time launched a notion of "historical compromise", offering a great coalition to the then ruling Christian Democrats.  The idea did not come to fruition then, but later became outdated.  Namely, in the meantime the Communists had changed their name, performing necessary ideological and political refurbishing, and later, in the famous affair of corruption, the Christian Democrats and nearly the entire political elite of Italy disappeared.

This "national unity" or "national truce" which is being mentioned in Serbia these days, should be similar to the Italian notion of twenty years ago, if only in its scope and significance.  Supposedly, SPO is entering into the government of the Left in order to broker a truce between the Chetniks and the Partizans, between Kadnjinaca and Ravna Gora, between Tito and Drazo.  Milosevic and the Left are not exactly saying that, but they are evidently ready to cede on historical dates, national symbols and holidays.  I don't think that this is completely insignificant, but I am still deeply uncertain of the intentions, success and scope of the whole affair.

First of all, the prinkipal actors have, in large part, dug themselves an ideological hole which they now want to jump over.  Something of the conflict from the time of the Revolution and the Civil War has certainly continued to simmer in Serbia — such divisions can last for much longer than half a century — but the center of true political dynamics has certainly been shifted and is no longer in the field of ideology.  Some ritual gesture of a national truce should probably have been made earlier, but the last deadline had passed several years ago.  In any case, Milosevic did make some symbolic changes: his party has been renamed, the red star has been taken off the flag, the old coat of arms has been put back, but the anthem and some revolutionary holidays still remain.

The story about unity and a truce is advantageous both for Milosevic and Draskovic in recovering something of their former power and glory.  Today they are supposedly proffering each other their hands in the name of two warring Serbias, and are joining forces of increasingly thinning ranks.  Those who still follow them are neither believers in the left, nor the right.  While such people were around, there were no truces, and these contemporary brokers who are reaching agreements are merely haggling about the price.  It should not be forgotten that this theater of agreement had only become possible once Milosevic definitely lost his majority in the Serbian Parliament, and Draskovic lost his primacy in the opposition.  Both of them are on the decline, while their coalition now barely represents half of Serbia, so that it is high time for them to hug and to prop each other up.

Thus, a national unity is something that is simply not needed, nor is that the real issue at hand.  No changes should be expected in this sense from the coalition of the Left and SPO, while a real change could only occur in the same way that it happened in Italy, where in the operation "Clean Hand" an independent investigator cleaned the whole scene.  The extent of corruption and crime is certainly far greater here, and what is worse is that there is no hope of anyone getting authorization for arresting perpetrators anywhere in the near future.  Such an individual would have to begin from the very top, only to stop somewhere at the local postman.

When we consider a coalition between the Left and SPO, we must not forget that it is being formed under conditions of avoiding any kind of thorough criminal investigation.  This assumption, this condition, becomes evident once political and social life in Serbia today is analyzed.  Here legality had been suspended sometime ago, above all because of war which had reduced the entire nation to the status of international delinquent, a situation that the government liked so much that they elevated lawlessness to a guiding principle.

Just as the regime in Serbia in relation to the outside world survives beyond and beneath accepted standards of legality, always slightly in the shadow of the Hague Tribunal, so ministers in the Serbian Government, future as well as former, function on the basis of absence of evidence and on the hope that they will never be caught.  This precondition will not pose a difficulty for SPO in entering the government, while its ministers, in all likelihood, should not be expected to contribute to the advancement of the legal system.  And as far"as,all the rest is concerned, it is very likely that they will speak about Europe and the world, about democracy and freedom, more so than the socialist did.  Is that enough, too little, or simply nothing?  Well, it all depends on how much one believes in the political and human potentials of Serbia for change and rectification.

Despite everything, here there is a transition happening, of course with a strong local flavor.  This process of return to norms of civil society everywhere in the former communist countries demanded much fabrication, forgetting, turning the other way, using earplugs, nose plugs, and generally suspending most normal human functions.  Namely, transition is a decent name for one of the dirtiest operations which occur in a society in peacetime.  Of course, those with the strongest stomachs settle best in such circumstances, and a new elite forms, often continuing on from the old elite.

In Serbia this process has been postponed for some time because it would have required changes at the top.  Milosevic, who had to be the first victim, made enormous fireworks which made him forget the beginning, so that it is he who is dictating the pace and the degree of the transition.  At the same time, the main characteristic is that Serbia is offering resistance and is not accepting the norms of civil society, by contrast with other countries which immediately publicly declared their intention to change and to learn more quickly.

That is why in Serbia, this otherwise lurid transition is unfolding more slowly, is lasting longer and with much more lawlessness, which is mostly reflected in colossal frauds.  For instance, had privatization been accepted and publicly proclaimed from the start, it would have been complete by now, one way or another.  There would be the rich and the poor, but the former would not be so rich, nor would the latter be so poor.  A bit of middle class would have also surfaced.  But here the regime kept most to elements of socialism so that its own people could get the most from elements of capitalism.  Thus, no one should waste time on fighting with the chimera of a Left.  Those who might still appear as communists, are already far better versed in the rules and regulations of ownership and private property.

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