Saturday, August 13, 2005

Milosevic Crushed in Yugoslav Elections 2000

Milosevic Crushed in Yugoslav Elections

By Michael Karadjis

October 2000

The regime of Slobodan Milosevic was crushed in presidential, parliamentary and municipal elections on September 24, but is still manoevuring to maintain power.

While admitting it lost, the regime’s electoral commission – from which all opposition representatives were expelled - has discounted the size of the victory of the opposition Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS). Independent monitors gave the DOS’s presidential candidate, Vojislav Kostunica, some 56 per cent, while the commission has awarded him 48.2 per cent to Milosevic’s 40.2 per cent. If no-one receives 50 per cent, a second round of presidential elections is required.

This is not being accepted by the Serbian people, hundreds of thousands of whom have taken to the streets. In Belgrade on September 27, at least 200,000 turned out, and the next day the DOS called for a general strike. Opposition protests continued with 10,000 in Novi Sad, 3000 in Leskovac and similar rallies throughout the country.

There is little real doubt about the scale of the regime’s electoral disaster. In Belgrade, the DOS won 102 out of the 110 seats, and not even the remaining eight seats were all won by the regime. The Belgrade municipal government had been run by the moderate Chetnik, quasi-oppositional Serbian Renewal Party (SPO) of Vuk Draskovic, who had been maintained in power with the votes of Milosevic’s Socialist Party (SPS) and its coalition partner, the extremist Chetnik Serbian Radical Party (SRS) of Vojislav Seselj.

Hence the three historic parties of modern Serb nationalism – those of Milosevic, Draskovic and Seselj – together gained only 7 per cent of the seats in Belgrade! Throughout the country, the two Chetnik parties, seen as stooges for the regime, were wiped out, getting only 5 seats in the 178-seat parliament.

Nevertheless, this collapse of the forces which came out of the Milosevic-led “anti-bureaucratic revolution” of 1988-89 is tempered by the fact that the Serbian nationalist politics of Kostunica are as virulent, and even more consistent, than those of Milosevic.

Kostunica’s adherence to Serbian nationalism precedes Milosevic. In 1974, he was among a group of academics expelled from the Serbian academy for opposing then Yugoslav president Tito’s new constitution, which gave wider powers to the various Yugoslav republics and provinces, including Kosova. When Milosevic crushed the autonomy of Kosova and Vojvodina in 1988-89, Kostunica cheered him along.

In 1990, he helped found the liberal Democratic Party (DS), but later quit and set up the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) because he viewed DS leader Zoran Djinjic as not sufficiently nationalist. In Serbia’s wars of aggression in Croatia and Bosnia, the DSS supported the aim of Greater Serbia while taking a distance from the tactics of Milosevic, Seselj and the Chetnik Serb Democratic Party (SDS) in Bosnia.

In 1993-98, Milosevic split with the Chetnik ultra-right - the ethnic bloodletting having successfully destroyed class solidarity throughout the region, Milosevic and the nascent Serbian capitalist class became interested in western plans to partition Bosnia into Serbian and Croatian dominated zones. This culminated in the US-inspired Dayton Accords of 1995, converting half of Bosnia into a Serb Republic (Republica Srpska). Kostunica, however, made a bloc with the ultra-right opposing this “betrayal”, believing the “historic glorious Serb nation” was naturally entitled to far more than half of the neighbouring state, and that this part of Bosnia should be formally annexed to Serbia.

Does then the election of Kostunica represent a renewal rather than a defeat for Serbian nationalism? There are two sides to the picture.

The DOS coalition consists of 18 parties and trade union organisations, many of which do not share Kostunica’s politics or even actively oppose Serbian nationalism. They formed a coalition believing a united opposition was necessary to defeat the regime, and a defeat of such an entrenched regime was a necessary first step towards a further break with Milosevic’s politics.

In choosing a presidential candidate from the list of those well-known enough to have an impact, DOS had little choice – ten years of being ruled by the local variant of the Ku Klux Klan has had its effect on who gets a hearing. All the available choices were chauvinists.

Their choice of Kostunica thus had more to do with the fact that despite his virulent nationalism, he had maintained a “clean” image by being the only major opposition leader who had never had dealings with the regime. Draskovic joined the regime in 1999 during the Kosova war, and had a long record of collaboration – ousting his Zajedno coalition partners from the Belgrade municipal council in 1997 and ruling with the votes of the SPS and SRS, acting as the main fire extinguisher during the mass uprising following the end of NATO’s war, and finally standing his own presidential candidate in these elections to split the opposition vote. Seselj’s SRS was Milosevic’s key coalition partner in 1991-93 and again since 1998, its policies largely directing the catastrophic Kosova strategy.

On the other hand, NATO’s criminal attack on Yugoslavia last year entrenched an element of nationalism among many previously moving away from this ruling ideology. The justified revulsion against those bombing them became for some confused with the regime’s chauvinism against the non-Serb peoples of the region. Kostunica’s nationalist credentials convinced many of this layer to give up on the regime.

When in August the US declared support for Kostunica’s candidacy, he called this “the American kiss of death” and “the crudest meddling in our country’s internal affairs and a drastic example of hegemonic and colonial aspirations”. He strongly opposed NATO’s war last year while refusing to cooperate with the regime, putting him in a better position than oppositionists like Djindjic, who openly courted western support for his attempt to ride to power on the post-war upsurge. Kostunica has made it clear that he would “never” hand Milosevic over to the War Crimes Tribunal.

If the Serbian nationalism of Kostunica is but a milder version of that of Milosevic, what will be US and European policy towards the new regime? In fact, a modification of the regime, rather than its dismantling, had always been the aim of western imperialism.

Imperialism fears its lack of control over a popular revolutionary process which may not lead to subservience to its economic dictates. More fundamentally, Serbian nationalism – the view that all Serbs should live in one enlarged state “cleansed” of others who are in the way – remains the ideology of the entire Serbian capitalist class that evolved out of the ashes of former socialist Yugoslavia and its formal ideology of working class “Brotherhood and Unity” among nations. Such a state with a uniform language and culture would give the largest market in the Balkans to Serbian capital.

It is a key western interest that stable capitalist regimes be built on the ashes of “Communism”. Hence the Dayton partition of Bosnia was not so much a western compromise with Serbian and Croatian nationalism as a western recognition of who their long term strategic partners were. Milosevic’s tactics in Kosova, which threatened to destabilise the entire southern Balkans, rather than the overall thrust of his politics, were the problem which led to NATO intervention. However, once Milosevic became the demon to justify NATO’s aggression, he could not be allowed to remain in power, so western strategy has concentrated on removing the tainted individual, to clean up the organs of power of the Serbian bourgeoisie.

To this end, the US government officially channelled $25 million to the opposition forces during the just-ended fiscal year. According to the New York Times, money from Washington and European allies has been given “sometimes in direct aid, sometimes in indirect aid like computers and broadcasting equipment, and sometimes in suitcases of cash carried across the border ... There is little effort to disguise the fact that Western money pays for much of the polling, advertising, printing and other costs of the opposition political campaign.”Western sanctions thus were never a blockade of the type which have killed 1.5 million Iraqis in the last decade, but rather piecemeal sanctions aiming to split the regime. The embargo on air flights was quietly abandoned in January, while the oil embargo was lifted on opposition-ruled cities, and oil and gas continued to flow from non-EU and non-US sources. The more criminal US dictate that reconstruction aid following NATO’s devastation not be allowed until Milosevic steps down was an open invitation for a palace coup by sectors of the ruling elite and state apparatus.

However, the destruction of the bridges over the Danube River was more a problem to European commerce than the Yugoslav economy – the wrecked bridges prevented goods from eleven European countries from reaching the Black Sea. Milosevic was thus able to get the EU to agree to fund the rebuilding of the bridges in exchange for allowing them entry to clear the wrecked bridges out of the river.

Then in July, EU foreign ministers agreed sanctions were “ineffective” and drew up a list of major Serbian companies that they would trade with, leaving out those with the closest dealings with Milosevic, clearly trying to split the elite. Around the same time, the US government floated the idea in the New York Times that if Milosevic personally stepped down and left the country, he need not be prosecuted at the Hague and may even keep his fortune, allowing the lifting of the reconstruction sanctions against the regime as a whole.

Kostunica thus appears an ideal choice – someone with the nationalist credentials for crucial sectors of the elite, the regime, the military and even the SPS to revolve around. In August, top SPS leader Zoran Lilic quit the SPS and the regime, and a faction of the SPS is currently openly calling on Milosevic to recognise Kostunica’s victory. According to the International Crisis Group, an important section of middle-ranking SPS members are fed up with increased control of government by another satellite party of Milosevic’s wife Mira Markovic, which appears to have no reason for existence apart from promoting her narrow circle of cronies.

Even Yugoslav army chief General Nebojsa Pavkovic, who Milosevic installed two years ago to replace the wavering General Momir Perisic (now a prominent elite oppositionist), declared that he would recognise a Kostunica victory, and that the army would “never” move against the people of Yugoslavia.

Western capital need not worry about Kostunica’s pledge to “suspend” Milosevic’s ambitious plan to privatise Serbia’s 75 largest enterprises. Following important successes, including the sale of Serbian telecom to foreign capital, the program was stalled by the Kosova crisis. Kostunica’s aim is to merely prevent some of the worst crony “in-house” privatisation deals involving members of the Milosevic clique. With remaining sanctions lifted, the program could then continue with gusto.

On a regional level, the effects of this western-backed rearrangement of the regime under a less tainted Serbian nationalist may, ironically enough, mean that Kostunica will be able to quietly complete the Milosevic “Greater Serbia” project now that the latter has done all the dirty work, for which it would have been impolitic to have fully rewarded him. This may create some problems for regimes in Kosova, Montenegro and Bosnia, which western governments have been playing with to pressure the Serbian elite on Milosevic.

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