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August 31, 2001
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 506
Political Portrait: A Group Picture of the Rest of DOS

All the King's Soldiers, All the King's Men

by Djordje Vukadinovic

Born as a coalition out of necessity, as self-defense against the growing repression of the regime, the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) was an alliance of relatively equal subjects at the beginning ("the largest opposition party", Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement SPO was excluded from, as they were often called, the "association of political pygmies"), from which only the personnel-organizational network of the Democratic Party (DS) and the generally positive image of the Democratic Party of Serbia's (DSS) leader partially stood out. Following the September - October revolution these two at the beginning not especially noticeable initial advantages dramatically escalated. Each on the basis of its stakes, which both sides deemed to have been crucial for the victory against Milosevic, the sister democratic parties obtained what they lacked in the post-October times. Thanks to the real and newly acquired power, DS's leader finally improved his image in the Serbian electorate, standing apart from the other DOS leaders on account of it, and moving reasonably close to the still inviolable Kostunica; while DSS drastically enlarged its membership, and, apart from the chronic dissatisfaction with the size of their piece of the cake, acquired a position they could previously only have dreamed of. The gap between them and the other parties, i.e. DOS leaders, literally expanded overnight. Abandoning the practice of alternative meetings at the headquarters of the individual members presented a symbolic sign of the changed constellation of power. Today, i.e. after October 5, the DOS presidency meets either in the headquarters of the Alliance for Change, which, from its formation, was a political-financial branch of DS, or president Kostunica's cabinet. All of the others (including Bogoljub Karic) with more or less enthusiasm, are swinging between these two addresses, by which Djindjic's, what due to ideological reasons and what due to the more probable political conjunction, seems more attractive to the majority. Regardless of the fact that in the fall card shuffle he didn't quite get chancellor-like authority, the amount of power concentrated in the Serbian government and around it is incomparable to what is left over for Kostunica and the so-called federal bodies, and that asymmetry (on top of Kostunica's rigidity) directly reflects upon the attractiveness of their political offers. Anyway, when Momcilo Perisic some time ago announced the separation of his deputy club and stated that he, DSS and Velja's New Serbia are natural coalition partners, reminiscences of his Croatian and Mostar war days were immediately rekindled and speculations on an eventual indictment from The Hague emerged. That was more than enough for the intelligent general to comprehend that "reforms" and Djindjic's government, until further notice, truly have no alternative.

DOS is made up of four groups:

1) Of "historic" parties, i.e. parties with a decade-long duration, which date back to the beginning of Serbia's multi-party system and which are more or less recognizable on the Serbian political scene (Democratic Party, Civic Alliance and the Democratic Party of Serbia, although the latter was also formed after a division within DS, yet it acquired its own profile over time).

2) Of their derivates and broken off factions which, due to political, and (mostly) personal differences broke off from their initial parties over time (Batic's Democratic Christians, Korac's Social-Democratic Union, Ilic's New Serbia, Micunovic's Democratic Center).

3) Of recycled regime personnel (Covic, Mihajlovic, Perisic, Trajkovic), fallen in some of the numerous meanderings of Milosevic's policies.

4) Minority and regional parties (Kasa, Ljajic, Canak, Isakov, Veselinov). Beside them, incompatible  with this or any other classification, stands Obradovic's (Orlic's) Social Democratic Party, which presents a phenomenon unto itself, and Dragan Milovanovic in front of the Association of Independent Syndicates.

Even though unusual, the suggested classification enables some kind of orientation overview of DOS's political corps in a greater measure than, say, the standard left, right and center division. That isn't only because part of the DOS groups cannot be grouped by such a - normal - political classification. (Where, for example, would the Movement for a Democratic Serbia fit, and what leftist views exist in the policies of the Social Democratic Party or the League of Social Democrats of Vojvodina?). Even worse, ideological criteria could lead us to the wrong associations of seemingly similar political actors who, however, due to personal reasons cannot be together. Meaning, at first glance, DSS as a moderate right party doesn't have anyone closer than Batic and the Demochristian party, and Djindjic in the center than Micunovic and Svilanovic. And things with relations and hatred stand similarly in the social democratic and Vojvodina camps.

Actually, one of the less noticeable but incredibly important reasons for DOS's imminent break up is that an eventual separation would significantly curb the mad egos of its (all too) numerous leaders, leading them to some kind of logical regroupings, and at least to a partial limitation of their vanities and animosities. The large leaders of the small DOS members know all to well that whoever wins and whatever the future political line up in Serbia, their position will never again be what it now is. Having missed the chance during the last few months to individually (or in smaller groups) position themselves politically, on top of that all too aware that they don't dare and don't want to be with Kostunica (nor he with the majority of them), and at the same time knowing what awaits them if they find themselves in Djindjic's machine without an alternative, the existing situation seems ideal to them and a perfect political organization - and it truly is for them. That's why they will be bitter defenders of status quo, loyal guardians of DOS's brotherhood and unity and sworn enemies to anyone who dares to touch that ideal order which presents the personification of their most hidden desires.

Who could have imagined only a year or two ago (including the three of them) that Micunovic would be the parliamentary speaker, Zarko Korac deputy prime minister of the government, and Vladan Batic the justice minister? Not to mention Veselinov, Milovanovic, the presidents of various executive boards, the numerous co-ministers and assistants. That doesn't mean that those solutions were bad, and especially not that they are worse than the previous ones. However, I undoubtedly do think that some kind of collective existential shock has seriously shaken up DOS's elite. Such a sudden and radical change of position must bring about a change of one's self-comprehension and general perception of reality, which spontaneously acquires pinker and pinker nuances. DOS's Cinderellas, suddenly thrown into that fairy tale world of diplomatic salons, bullet proof cars, personal chauffeurs and bodyguards, find it all the more difficult and odious to take that veil off, which is additionally strengthened by a magic TV mirror. Therefore, one shouldn't be surprised that anyone who for any reason starts making waves and threatening this condition will honestly be perceived as a wicked and jealous stepmother, and the one who opposes it will always appear to be a prince on a white horse.  

However, the problem is that such a stand, regardless of the actors' wish, leads towards a perpetuation of an ill political state, it feeds the Serbs with an all too familiar myth of unity and indefinitely postpones a constitution of a normal political scene. (However difficult that step is, Serbian politics finally have to face up to true pluralism which means that political subjects can have very different stands on the issues of, let's say, Kosovo, Montenegro, religion in the school curriculum or The Hague, and don't have to be fascists, traitors, Milosevic fans or NATO mercenaries because of it.) Beside that, DOS had a realistic chance to fill up the entire Serbian political field with a timely dispersion of its members, but that possibility is now most probably lost forever. Political safe playing, a fear of losing the acquired positions and petty political calculations which always postpone the unavoidable divorce, coupled with constant squabbles and clumsily led reforms, have directly enabled SPS's and the radicals' political survival, and left room for the future rise of these or other similar radical options. Still, the most comic argument prior to the December elections was decisive and it can still be heard occasionally, that it is necessary, for some time yet, to "preserve the unity of the democratic powers until the remains of Milosevic's regime are dismantled". Unfortunately, while DOS's official public keeps repeating this mantra, the quarreling parts of those "democratic powers" have, for quite some time now, been standing next to various "remains of the regime" and stop just short of measuring each other over a gun. Even though they most definitely aren't the greatest culprits, DOS's small members are very actively contributing to the prolongation and enlargement of this political pathology.  

Actually, no one today can predict with certainty the direction which the Serbian political crisis will take in the future. To what measure will the socialists and the radicals manage to reenter the game and hinder reforms which haven't even seriously started yet?  Will, in the case of possible defeat, Djindjic's pro-European and reform team try to pull down and undermine the non too great modernization prospects of Serbian society for a longer period in a totally Balkan and Milosevic-like manner? Will the local neoliberal Taliban members learn a lesson from the outcome of their fanatical attempt to create some kind of globalization Mecca in Serbia of all places? What will happen to the Service and how will the front page of Nedeljni Telegraf look in the future? Will the sister democratic parties and the powers which are lining up behind them settle their accounts without new political and other blood? What will the Americans say and what stand will their local branches here take? Will DSS, after the extended (semi) pre-election campaign, which will most probably continue with the slogan "All on Kostunica!", manage to retain their current popularity level, and will the newly arrived members strengthen the expert level of Kostunica's party, or on the contrary, will it only dilute its moral and political resources quickly? All are serious and open questions, by which chances for a happy outcome are anything but great, and in some of the listed questions/dilemmas it isn't even clear what that "happy outcome" should be. Still, beside the mentioned and other uncertainties, eventual "collateral" advantages could also result out of this mess. A non intentional but possible and welcome consequence could primarily be, greater responsibility of the actors of the political scene, as well as the all too needed "transparency" of political relations in Serbia.  

Even though it obviously isn't bothering (on the contrary!) the current government, both theory and experience teach us (and the Serbian example richly confirms) that a government without an opposition is prone to progressive corruption. Flustered, compromised and torn apart with faction battles, SPS from the previous period couldn't have been a desirable opposition correction force (just like the media-wise overkilled radical leader). An absolute majority in parliament, with a collapsed pyramid of judicial power and an actually revoked institution of president of the republic, have brought Djindjic's government to the position which is unique in the democratic world. Today, Serbia is one of the rare countries in which not a single relevant opposition media exists, and on only a few can a critical word aimed at the government and prime minister be heard. Even if they aren't "currently the best European reform government", as the prime minister announced without batting an eye on a number of occasions, we definitely have the most televised government in Europe. Therefore, the unusual spoiled behavior of Djindjic and his ministers shouldn't surprise us, nor the arrogance and even aggression with which they react to criticism.

As a rule, more than adequately provided for financially, intoxicated with sudden fame and blinded by the spotlight (Djindjic, Covic, Batic and other members of  " DOS's reform-democratic wing " are more exposed in the media than singer Jelena Karleusa), lulled by the kind approach of the "seventh power" and wallowing in the fact that, actually, there is no alternative ("If they don't like my government and me, they can return Mirko Marjanovic", is Djindjic's favorite retort), the members of the Serbian government have felt that the withdrawal of DSS's support was an "unprovoked " attack on the very foundations of the state, its future and prosperity, which is just around the corner. The glove which DSS threw could, therefore, be useful if it manages to make the government face up to serious criticism, jerk it out of its "dogmatic nap" and make it question its self-satisfied vision and rhetoric full of encouraging percentages, charts and consumer baskets. More or less founded, DSS's criticism aimed at the government, even if slightly muffled, has found its way into the media, inciting some answers and reactions, which resembles a relation between the government and the opposition in a normal country. (Mihajlovic has promised awards for information on the numerous unresolved murders, by all accounts as a direct consequence of the recent criticism aimed at the minister and the ministry of internal affairs.)

Unfortunately, the dominating tone and the direction which this debate has taken don't leave much room for optimism in any way. The debate moved all too quickly towards "crucial" questions of the type: who's mother is a whore, who's adviser is a greater bulldog and who is more susceptible to Milosevic's personnel and ways. It will finally be clear these days whether DSS is holding a real political bomb in its hand or just a simple firecracker which will hurt them most, but regardless of it all, what has to worry us is the clearly demonstrated inclination of the "government circles" to literally defend themselves and their "reform course" with all means. For such a bright goal, or so it seems, all is allowed. Even the disgusting (mis)use of the former ambassador Milan St. Protic, who, from a mile off, clearly isn't fit for that job. (In that context, praise which Protic has received from Nenad Canak is especially moving, even though, in a more normal situation, Protic would have served him as an archetype of primitive anticommunism and cleronationalism.)

On the other side, after they missed, intentionally or not, the unique opportunity to independently run in the elections and to therefore, to use terminology close to the prime minister, "take responsibility" for the fate of the country and the "future of our children", Kostunica and DSS found themselves in a position to choose between the bad and worse variety. They could have either continued to play a side role in Djindjic's "reform efforts", collecting crumbs of power and watching their identity disappear and their support slowly crumble, or at a convenient moment (and organized crime is an ideal subject) try to move away from the rushing D(O)S train, with the risk that a pre-planned political-media anathema could fall onto their heads for threatening the October 5 heritage, hindering reforms and postponing foreign financial aid. In collision with that avalanche, DSS's chances to pass without serious political wounds aren't especially great. All the more so because in the few situations in which they did have a certain autonomy of action (confusion in the health department, wrong appointments and a slow shift on The Hague tribunal issue), Kostunica and his people didn't appear especially skillful.   

There is no doubt that DSS has a lot of reasons for dissatisfaction and it is unusual that the majority of the domestic analysts don't seem willing to see that, but it is also clear that without any (announced!) new and serious moments "their" government shouldn't be toppled - only because of someone's second thoughts. In essence, the impression is that even at this moment, a few weeks after the Gavrilovic affair, DSS isn't clear on what
their "trump card" in this crisis actually is. Is their primary goal to strengthen their position inside the government? Or do they want to totally distance themselves from it, or to remain in DOS as some kind of internal opposition? Or do they want to close that page of Serbian political history, but don't know the best way to do it? Not knowing what one really wants, nor how to achieve it, can possibly be an occasionally likable counterpoint to the shrewd Machiavellianism of the self proclaimed Serbian reformists, but it certainly isn't a long-term political strategy. Just like the stand "leave Djindjic to crash on his own" is neither a correct, nor payable tactic. If Djindjic's government is so corrupt and bad, then it needs to be toppled immediately and at any price. If, on the other hand, it isn't that hopeless, then it shouldn't have been so harshly attacked. Whatever the case may be, these days Kostunica and DSS would have to present to the Serbian public, and primarily to themselves, an answer to the crucial question: do they really want to rule at all? And do they know how to? Or is someone preventing them?

Criticism of reform narcissism, conceit and self-advertisement of the Serbian government doesn't imply an a priori trust in the performance of Kostunica's national-democratic squaring in a country which has been exhausted and humiliated with wars, poverty and crime. And it especially doesn't mean trust in the quality and reform potential of DSS's team. But at this moment we're not talking about these and similar perplexities, but only about whether it is possible to say that the output of a certain government is bad, without it being comprehended as an attack on state and civilization foundations. And on how wise it is and opportune reform-wise to systematically marginalize the stands and people who in their essence are of a similar political orientation (let's call it "legalistic", "conservative-liberal" or whatever you wish), who present almost half of DOS's electorate. And on how, apart from elections, the accumulated differences between the political subjects in a democratic society are to be resolved. If someone cares so much about reforms, as is constantly being stressed in the circles of the Serbian government, wasn't it better to invest a certain effort, even to give up a certain lever of power, for integration and concentration of the otherwise anything but large Serbian reform potential? As though it was more important in front of the world and DOS's public to promote oneself as the only representative of a modern and reformed Serbia? For Milosevic's government it was characteristic that in any situation which was critical for it (March 9, St. Vitus Day gathering, various elections) it suddenly uncovered some catastrophe which hung over the Serbian nation in Kosovo, Bosnia or Krajina, and due to which it would be dangerous and blasphemous to open up an internal crisis. I have the impression that in the larger part of the Serbian political public, this time as well, a similar status of an outer institutional joker who is supposed to pass judgment in delicate inter-political disputes is currently held by donor conferences, Paris clubs and unidentified "western diplomatic sources", i.e. their more or less authorized local interpreters and archpriests. I'm afraid that the damage which such instrumentalization will impose on the reform-democratic project in Serbia in the long-term, is only comparable to the one which, owing to Milosevic's (mis)use, the Serbian "national issue" had undergone.  

It is simply inadmissible that the Serbian public has to find out from Seselj that the larger part of the funds collected at the donor conference actually isn't fresh money but credits and donations intended for covering our (pre)historic debts. Maybe it has to be that way, but how is it possible that not one of the battalions of economic sages who in May and June spent hours in front of the cameras of the small and large television stations, convincing us that the donor conference is an elementary issue of our survival, failed to mention that trifle? (Probably so as not to disturb Milosevic's Hague "transfer" and so as not to disturb the people's reform enthusiasm - as though that enthusiasm, in the long term, can disturb anything more than such insolent wool pulling.) But they did minutely calculate how many billions of dollars it will cost us if the donor conference is held only a few weeks, or, God forbid, months later. And doesn't all of that remind us of the typical media-political campaigns and manipulations from Milosevic's and even earlier communist times, only now, instead of "revolution" and an "imperiled Serb nation" we have "October the fifth" and "imperiled reforms"?  That's why, when we once again hear these days from a place of authority how early elections, as a democratic resolution of an obviously deep political crisis, would be an "economic crime" (S. Stamenkovic), there is reason to ask whether now, instead of a single party government we are being prepared for a single vocation rule, or, to be more precise, a school of thought or, even more precisely, an interest group within it? And if/when the experiment falls through, the insulted "reformists" will demonstratively return to some "neo-liberal Vienna", leaving us the unworthy to fight with the radical reaction and consequences of their "happiness".

Even though at this moment it seems impossible to some, one can expect that despite all Serbia, which has barely survived Milosevic, will continue to exist even after this government, and even after Kostunica, Djindjic and the other DOS members step down. (With a bit of luck, it might even outlive the invincible Dule Mihajlovic.) That's why, even though it is completely understandable that to the interested parties this may seem like doomsday, the end of history and the twilight of civilization at one go, with a slight time and political deviation, these "historic" days will most probably turn out to be yet another bubble in the soaps of Serbia's unsuccessful - lately started and badly conducted - modernization. Therefore, the maximum and at the same time the most difficult thing we could expect from the current main actors is to, within a reasonable attempt to relieve themselves of the burden of responsibility for having squandered modernization chances, at least not imperil and additionally complicate some future reform attempts.

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