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August 31, 2001
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 502
Political Portrait: Zoran Djindjic

Serbia Richelieu or Ostap Bender?

by Djordje Vukadinovic

Zoran Djindjic was a good student, a talented philosopher and author of a couple of well received theoretical studies. He started his philosophical career of "critical Marxist" as the protégé of Mihajlo Markovic (the subsequent Socialist Party of Serbia'a ideologist), and his political path of a more or less liberal democrat flowed alongside Dragoljub Micunovic's, in the national intellectual trust gathered around the Democratic Party. Understandably, Djindjic is neither the first nor last member of his generation who traveled the road from "integral Marxist" to the Orthodox Cathedral Church and Ox-roasting Party saint day celebrations. Also, even the execution of his own political mentor, Dragoljub Micunovic, isn't a rarity in this region, where political and all other types of patricide make up a sort of national folklore.

What makes Zoran Djindjic a specific political-intellectual phenomenon is the fact that those things didn't just "happen" to him, he did them consciously, deliberately and in a planned manner. Already at the beginning of the nineties, in an unusual combination of rationalization, self-justification and lessons learned from the new century's (Machiavellian) political philosophy, he eloquently proclaimed a severance of the connection between politics and morality and announced that those who care about morality can "join a monastery". His subsequent political career is littered with confirmations of this wisdom. Djindjic didn't join a monastery, but he did break off with his philosophical consciousness and political past, along with all those from his vicinity who could, eventually, remind him of it. In only a few years, the very fabric of the Democratic Party changed, and from a distinctly intellectual and civic party full of PhD experts and university professors, it turned into a yuppie party which is today (with a few exceptions) personified by ambitious, crew cut bearing businessmen who sometimes only differ from their SPS counterparts by a better accent and more fortunate choice of tie. The drastic extent of this change was directly proportional to the dramatic change of its leader, who, in a relatively short period of time, crossed an unbelievable road from being on friendly terms with Hegel, Marx and Hagerman, to Serbian dissident circles, all the way to bosom buddy, friendly and business connections with the nouveau riche, secret service chiefs, tobacco "kings", car dealers and similar characters.  

For some time now, even prior to the October events, in opposition circles not inclined towards Djindjic, comparisons were made with Milosevic and after October fifth those associations ("little Sloba") only intensified. Still, fears that in today's Serbia someone could establish such, almost total control of the political space as Milosevic had at the beginning of the 90' s are simply unfounded. However, that doesn't mean that the fact that Djindjic has a few politically anything but naive similarities with Milosevic from the time of his rise should be overlooked. Those being, first of all, a partiality towards appointing people, dramatic night meetings and crucial decisions which throw the entire nation (and planet) into a state of stress, glued to their TV sets. Both of them are very decisive and enterprising and both have based their political rise on the image of efficient "problem fixers", i.e. by criticizing the slowness and political indecisiveness of their predecessors. They have an all too pronounced will for power and leave the impression that they are prepared to sacrifice ideas and people for it. They are excellent tacticians, personnel brokers and clever movers in small spaces. Also, they share a pronounced "concern for the media" and an extremely flexible relation towards the rule of law, constitutionality and legality. Closely following Broz's (and even older, Bolshevik) traditions by which "one shouldn't always stick to the law like crazy", neither Milosevic nor Djindjic are too inclined towards being slaves to the legal form. On the contrary. For both, the most important thing being that "the task is completed" for the good of the "People", "Party", "Our children's future"... and in a certain mysterious way that good always coincides with the interest of holding on to or extending their power.

But the most important being that neither of them have a detailed political strategy nor ideal. The secret of their political success partially lies in that too. (In a similar way their parties, apart from empty phrases about Europe and a better life, don't have a clear program nor ideological distinction. They are mainly pragmatic associations based on interest which, according to need, can be channeled into any direction.)

He justified the year-long avoidance (personal and DS) to enter into any serious clinch with the regime, which was then at the peak of its power, with the words "when a game is lost the score is important". Therefore, until the mid 90's, while media pogroms massacred DEPOS, Panic, Draskovic and others, Djindjic remained in relative political shelter. He will regain an undisputed opposition image by entering into the Zajedno coalition and that only after, following Krajina and Dayton, Milosevic's vehicle started sliding downwards. Even then, at the peak of the protest walks and crisis following the local elections, Djindjic met and negotiated with Milosevic without his partner's knowledge, who, in long nights spent in The Hague, will have more than enough time to reflect on the consequences of his then (otherwise totally accurate) assessment that "it'll be much easier to come to terms with Draskovic".

However, even that secret meeting wasn't seriously taken against him, partially owing to the partiality of Vesna Pesic who even presented him with a part of her own opposition aura, and partially because, due to the unrealistic presidential ambitions - and surreal vanity - of Vuk Draskovic, the Serbian opposition was left without a leader overnight (Kostunica, who will be the topic of our next supplement, was still languishing in deep self-isolation at the time). Therefore, Djindjic took over the abandoned helm and in the next three years steered the Serbian opposition boat from one defeat to another - until the final victory. This apparently absurd formulation possibly uncovers the key moment of Milosevic's defeat, i.e. Djindjic's triumph. Namely, the pitiful condition in which the Serbian opposition found itself at the beginning of 2000, and especially the humiliating fiasco which the ambitiously announced protests of the Alliance for Change experienced with Djindjic in the lead, blunted Milosevic's self-defense instincts and incited him to change the constitution and call early presidential elections. That's how, paradoxically, Djindjic's "easily promised speed" and a false assessment in the autumn of 1999 ("if Milosevic isn't toppled until New Year's Eve, I will hand in my resignation") became an important flywheel of the opposition's subsequent success. Everything else was more or less covered by post-Kosovo frustration, rising poverty, logistics from the west and Kostunica's eyes (the order can be reversed). Yet still, Djindjic seems to have managed to convince both himself and the others in the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) how the September-October coup was primarily a result of his exceptional "management" and in name of that he forcibly grabbed the Serbian prime ministerial seat in December and along with it a lion's share of the existing political, financial and media powers. Alas, none of that supplied him with a charisma which Milosevic had, or even Draskovic (until yesterday) or Kostunica (today), yet it did enable him to politically resurrect himself overnight and, in principle, to remain a partner who "in times of dire need and trouble" (and dire need and trouble are a regular state in Serbia) will be acceptable to all - both the world and the nationalists, Kostunica and Zarko Korac, in an equal amount to both the Patriarchy and the Helsinki Committee, football fans and Women in Black. Only a few will truly like him. No one will believe him - but at the same time they can't do without him. And everyone will feel as though he is the lesser evil and a potential partner with whom (unlike "those" with whom there is nothing to talk about) it will always be possible to finish all sorts of jobs. For Serbia's ambitious Richelieu, that's more than enough, understandably, under the condition that the atmosphere is polarized to a sufficient degree and that he always has a corresponding Louis at hand - who will also, when the need arises, serve as "Pedro". Back then, in inter-party relations, that used to be Micunovic, today, i.e. since October, that should be Kostunica and tomorrow, according to need, maybe even heir to the throne Aleksandar. It doesn't matter who, the important thing being that he is satisfied with a representative-parade function and entrusts the everyday operations to his "right hand". In that case, Djindjic's loyalty simply has no boundaries. These days, for example, his concern for Vojislav Kostunica is simply touching, a thing which noticeably escalates every time the prime minister makes one of his hazardous moves, which most often represent a cross between a "simple" violation of the constitution (the already forgotten Gasoline Regulation) and a mini coup d' etat (Milosevic's arrest and extradition). "We need a strong Kostunica", he states, immediately after he had depreciated him and made him a laughing stock in front of the entire planet.

So how can one be seriously angry with him, criticize him or, god forbid, replace him in parliament, when all that he has undertaken was done with the best intention of "preserving the joint state" (statement for B-92 on July 9), and relieving the president of the responsibility and burden of decision-making which, obviously, pains him? And how then to pettily compare Djindjic's statement given on June 28 in the afternoon, immediately after the government session, in which the donor conference is explicitly listed as the second of three reasons for the decision on Milosevic's extradition, with his statement given to Radio B-92 that same evening ("This decision has nothing to do with the donor conference")? And why should we ask whether this conference, where even the Americans had confirmed that they would be present, would truly be threatened if Milosevic hadn't appeared in The Hague that evening? ("Are the state and DOS supposed to fall apart on account of one Milosevic?") So why should we wonder at the express afternoon edition of the Official Gazette in which the text of the decision was printed, or be disgusted by the public boasting of his "willingness to enter into a conflict with the army if it had tried to oppose the extradition"? Finally, if nothing of the above is reason enough for doubt and contemplation, why feel scandalized if, in a similar manner, overnight, unexpectedly and without preparations, religion dawns as a new subject in the school curriculum? (Or to wonder about the impression that a prime minister of a government seemed to have no other more pressing business for months than to sell Beocin's cement factory to Lafarge as soon as possible for any price?) Or to remain confused about the highly indicative mess concerning the extra profit law?

In all of these cases the same principle is at work, the same methodology and the same unprincipled accumulation of political points (once for external use, the second time for internal), and a significant part of Serbia's post-October public, accustomed to revolutionary justice and not too inclined towards "legalistic antics" at the moment when "our children's future is being decided", will simply ignore the first set of questions, or will interpret them as lamentations of the "defeated powers" and will treat this issue of religion as an "unfortunate incident" or even only as "Zoki's tactical concession to the cleronationalists". Moreover, we could say that in relation to the prime minister, a part of the independent and "civic" public is inadvertently repeating the mistake which is identical in structure to the one which the majority of the "nationalistic" intellectuals had once made in relation with Milosevic. Namely, due to the principled, axiom closeness of stands and goals, they are prepared to turn a blind eye towards momentous democratic deficiencies, or to overlook the possibility that what at one moment seems to be a unique strategic goal can at the end turn out to be extra-curriculum tactical means in the battle for hanging on to or extending personal power. Very similar to the manner in which, towards the end of the 80's, the national-liberals, gathered around the Academy, reacted to the appearance of Milosevic, treating him partially as a weapon, and partially honestly investing their political hopes and ambitions into him, and today it seems that many Serbian "civilians" are prepared to recognize an incarnation of their own political aspirations in the dynamic prime minister.

Even if these last distasteful games over Milosevic prevent him from being the new Prince Lazar in the long-term perspective (which would really be too much, but which isn't excluded either), it is certain that nothing will come of national catharsis, national reconciliation and other similar politically quickly inconvertible "trifles" necessary for serious reforms and a society's true democratic transformation. Also, there is a large possibility that the issue of religion will turn into a large and counterproductive humiliation, just like the majority of rash moves which are made without any strategy, apart from petty political-mercantile calculations. That very calculation should be recognized on time and branded - by which at this moment it is irrelevant whether we support or oppose religion in the school curriculum or The Hague tribunal. In a normal society no one expects everyone to be politically like-minded, but it is necessary that all, and especially political factors, respect procedures and fair rules of the game. And those are the very things which, judging by hitherto experience, don't play a significant role in Zoran Djindjic's system of political values, nor in the local political culture and consciousness of the majority of local political participants. Due to that essential deficiency some other, neutral or even desirable political characteristics which Djindjic has (energetic to the point of being hazardous, decisive to the point of being reckless, an intelligence and eloquence of Mephisto-like proportions) take on a totally different, threatening meaning.


Djindjic will probably wisely hold on to the "grand vizier" role for some time yet, and is for now resisting the natural temptation to formally nominate himself to become "caliph instead of the caliph" in a disciplined manner. Taking into account how political and media chips are falling into place in an accelerated way, that moment is no longer far away. He knows all too well that before he decides to take that step he has to work on his popularity and that, despite his obvious efforts and  huge media campaign, he still hasn't significantly crossed the line which "good Isnogood" has in relation to the sleepy Harun Al Prashid in the well-known comic strip. However, since the sequence of elements in a row has become totally perverted in Serbia: popularity - elections - power, Djindjic is also probably counting that the most important one is the latter, and that "love" will follow on its own. Anyway, if more than a decade ago a colorless communist apparatchik named Slobodan Milosevic, by seizing power, managed to become accepted as the "new Karadjordje" (legendary Serb leader from the begining of 19th century, lead uprisial against Turks in 1804.), why shouldn't he, Djindjic, at least for a certain period, pass as Milos Obrenovic (another Serb leader, rival to Karadjordje, less romantic more pragmatic, lead another Serb uprisal in 1815., managed to negotiate with Turks by delivering Karadjordje's head to Sultan in Istanbul)? At least he's more handsome, virtuous and literate.

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