Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Mass Protests shake Serbian regime 1997

Mass Protests Shake Serbian Regime 1997

By Michael Karadjis


For weeks on end, hundreds of thousands of people have daily poured into the streets of the Serbian capital Belgrade, demanding that the ruling party of Slobodan Milosevic recognise the victory of the opposition Zajedno (``Together'') coalition in local elections last year. As they grow -- the largest was that of 400,000 people on Orthodox New Years Eve -- the demands have turned more and more towards the complete overthrow of the regime.
While democratic rights and an end to the 10-year iron rule of Milosevic are what inspires the struggle, the main leaders of the opposition coalition are from the old right-wing opposition. Years of right-wing nationalist hysteria, cultivated by the Milosevic regime and leading to the destruction of Yugoslavia and genocide in Bosnia, have tended to create a similarly right-wing opposition leadership.
There is very little to distinguish the policies of the main opposition leaders from those of Milosevic and his Serbian Socialist Party.
Already in the forefront of capitalist restoration in Eastern Europe with its system of ``market socialism'', the Serb-dominated Yugoslav federation plunged headlong into this process from the mid-1980s. It was a section of the ruling party itself which led the massive privatisations, austerity, closing of ``unprofitable'' factories, hyperinflation and unemployment surpassing anything before seen in postwar Europe.
By leading the capitalist restoration, the Serb ``Communist'' bureaucracy was able to make sure its members got their hands on the new private wealth.
Naturally, the thieving of the privatised assets was not to the liking of new middle class layers which believed the wealth should rightfully be theirs in an even ``more free'' market. From these layers, the main opposition groups had emerged by the early 1990s, including those leading the opposition today: the Serbian National Renewal of Vuk Draskovic, and the Democratic Party of Zoran Djindjic.
The ideology of these groups was also little more than a variation of the ideology created by Milosevic. On seizing power in Serbia in 1987, Milosevic launched a gigantic ideological offensive against the postwar order created by Tito, based on the federation of six republics, representing the six nations of Yugoslavia. In reality, this formal equality masked a growing Serb domination of the central bureaucracy and the federal army. Now even this formal equality was ripped up.
It was proclaimed that the Communists, led by the Croat Tito, had deliberately created the federal system to weaken the Serb nation, whose power now had to be restored. The anticommunist Chetniks, who fought against Titos partisans in World War II, were made heroes. All Serbs had to live in one state, a Greater Serbia, if necessary by driving non-Serbs out of mixed areas in other republics. Within the Serb republic, the Albanian minority was subjugated into a state of apartheid.
Nationalism was used to stir up the masses against ``foreign enemies'', directing their energies away from fighting the abysmal economic situation which capitalism was creating. The new Serbian business class also had an interest in ensuring their domination of the region when Yugoslavia ultimately collapsed -- so nationalism was needed for the territorial expansion of Serbia in the wars of 1991-95.
Chetnik ideology
The new right-wing parties took over this Chetnik ideology. But when the nationalist hysteria led to full-scale war in 1991-2, first in Croatia, then in Bosnia, the group led by Draskovic had a change of heart. While maintaining a medievalist and Orthodox Serb nationalism, Draskovic decided war was the wrong way to achieve Greater Serbia and came out trying to head the mass antiwar movement that had developed.
On the other hand, the Democratic Party of Djindjic fervently supported the war, as did the even more right-wing Serbian Radical Party of Seselj. Both these parties have strong links to the similarly anticommunist Serb Democratic Party, the leading force among the Bosnian Serb chauvinists who, backed by Milosevic, carried out the genocide against the Bosnian Muslims.
When Milosevic finally decided that the conquest of half of Bosnia was all that was feasible, he signed the US-drafted Dayton peace accords, splitting Bosnia with Croatia. Serbian capitalism had reached its ultimate expansion; it now needed stability to develop further.
At this point, the likes of Djindjic all accused Milosevic of ``betrayal'' for not fighting on forever. As Zarco Korac, from the Social Democratic Union, pointed out: ``Many of the basic supporters of the nationalist plans of Milosevic are now against him: the church, the Serb Writers Union, most nationalists. They are against him because they feel betrayed, and because they are deserting the sinking ship."
Draskovic and Djindjic were on opposite sides regarding the war. The fact that they could unite only underlines that the reactionary politics of both have little to do with the mass democracy movement. On the contrary, research by the Institute of Sociological Research in Belgrade in December made it clear that the aims of the demonstrators had little in common with the right-wing leaders.
``These demonstrations are neither mainly anticommunist nor nationalist ... only 8.3% are consistent nationalists." The research showed that of the demonstrators, ``51% are members or support Zajedno, while 30% are neither members nor support them."
Also, the student movement, the core of the protests, ``is keeping its distance from the opposition coalition'', according to Branca Kalgevich in Belgrade. The students were the core of previous uprisings against Milosevic in 1991 and 1992, when they also opposed his chauvinist policies. Following the crushing of those protests, more than 200,000 Serbian students fled the country in order not to be drafted.
Workers alienated
While the organised working class initially held well-grounded suspicions of the opposition, the growing demonstrations obviously include large numbers of workers, and the crushing defeat of Milosevic in the southern industrial city of Nis, a former base of his SP, shows that workers are even more hostile to Milosevic.
This was further shown by his total inability to mobilise workers against the demonstrators, even though his SP has a stranglehold on the union leaderships -- independent unions were crushed several years ago, and anti-union laws have gutted the official unions. Unemployment of 50% and grinding poverty, while the ``Socialist'' mafia gets rich, have clearly alienated workers.
The business classes may no longer need such a vile regime. Much of the hard work of repression and economic change has been done. On the other hand, peace also meant that the horrendous socio-economic situation of Serb workers could no longer be covered up by war and nationalism.
It is not surprising that a similar mass democracy movement has erupted in Croatia, which joined Serbia in the carve-up of Bosnia and similarly used extreme nationalism, while members of the ruling HDZ have also done well from the privatisations.

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