Friday, June 27, 2008
Serbia's Socialists ditch socialism- and betray Milosevic
This article of mine appears in The Morning Star. Since it was written, the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) has, as predicted, announced that it would enter into a coalition with Boris Tadic's DS.
As a keen horse-racing fan I've enjoyed attending many big race meetings around the world. But by far my most politically instructive day at the races occurred in Belgrade back in the 1990s, when I was lucky enough to attend the Yugoslav Derby.
About midway through the afternoon my Serbian friend pointed out a figure in a private box at the top of the stands. It was a middle-aged man wearing an immaculate suit, surrounded by three beautiful women. The champagne was flowing and the man was puffing on an enormous cigar. "That's Zoran Djindjic". my friend informed me. "He's an opposition politician and probably the biggest critic of President Milosevic", he went on. Later that afternoon we saw Djindjic- and his female admirers - leave the racecourse in a luxurious car. Whenever I hear western politicians or journalists describe Slobodan Milosevic (pictured above) as a 'dictator' I always think of that day at the races and the first time I saw Zoran Djindjic. For an opposition leader and critic of the government in a 'dictatorship', Djindjic certainly didn't seem to be having too bad a time of things.
Of course, the description of Yugoslavia under Milosevic as a 'dictatorship' was pure hogwash. A vibrant multi-party democracy was in operation- but the only thing wrong with the system from the west's viewpoint was that the wrong party- i.e. Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) kept winning the elections. Unlike other Socialist parties in the region, who by this time had morphed into pro-globalist New Labour style parties, the Serbian Socialists didn't ditch socialism. Under Milosevic around 70% of the economy remained in social ownership. The government's policies put the interests of ordinary people- and not global capital- first. Faux-leftist critics of Milosevic in the west routinely point to the privatisation of Serb Telecom- and the role played by former British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd in brokering the sale for the Nat West Bank as evidence that Milosevic's government wasn't really 'socialist' But they usually neglect to mention that only a minority stake in Serb Telecom was sold and the sale only came about as an emergency measure to raise money for state coffers to counter the impact of western sanctions- the most draconian sanctions ever imposed on a European state.
The fact was that the government in Belgrade refused to adopt the neoliberal policies the west- and its agencies such as the World Bank and the IMF insist upon. And for their refusal to 'liberalise' the Yugoslav economy, both Milosevic and his party, were to pay a heavy price. Having been toppled in a coup d'etat, organised, choreographed and financed (to the tune of $70m) by the US State Department, Milosevic then had to suffer the ignominy of being illegally kidnapped, and bundled into a RAF aeroplane to stand trial at The Hague-to answer politically motivated charges before a tribunal staffed and financed by the very powers who had waged an illegal and brutal war against his country only two years earlier. And the Serbian politician responsible for Milosevic being handed over to his country's enemies was- you've guessed it -Zoran Djindjic-who had become Prime Minister following the anti-socialist coup.
While Djindjic lived the life of Riley as an opposition leader in the years of Milosevic's 'dictatorship'; there was to be no days at the races for Milosevic, sipping champagne and smoking cigars, when the men's roles were reversed.
But the West- and their agents in Serbia- didn't just need to remove Milosevic from the political scene- they needed to neutralise the Socialist Party of Serbia.
In the aftermath of the 2000 coup, SPS offices were raided and destroyed and officers of the party were attacked and beaten. The party was marginalised and denied access to the state media, now in the hands of the opposition. Many members of the SPS left the party to join the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) which began to adopt more left-wing policies.
But after seven years of seeing its fortunes decline, the Socialist Party is once again a factor in Serbian politics. In May's general election, the party was left holding the balance of power. From being the pariahs of Serbian politics, the SPS is now the party that everyone wants to be friends with. And that includes the fanatically pro-EU 'Democratic' Party (DS)-the party of the late Zoran Djindjic. The DS's current leader, the Serbian President, Boris Tadic, having spent most of his career attacking the policies of the Milosevic era, is now sounding rather more conciliatory as he attempt to entice the SPS into a 'pro European coalition'."I'm convinced that the SPS is prepared for permanent reforms and finding a way out into the future," Tadic told a meeting of his party last week- urging them to "join hands with those you fought against during the Nineties".
Sadly, it seems increasingly likely that the SPS leader, Ivica Dacic will accept Tadic's offer. The pressure is coming not just from Tadic, but from western powers desperate to prevent the SPS from joining the SRS and the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) in a 'patriotic' coalition that would defend Serbia's national interests. The Dutch daily Handelsblad, has quoted an unnamed Western diplomat in Belgrade as saying that the American and British ambassadors "are in the cockpit of forming the new Serbian government". While not denying that he has met with Dacic, the British Ambassador says he doesn't' feel as if he is "directing people" but "discussing the situation with them, explaining how would Europe see certain issues."
If Dacic does do what the US and Britain want -and take his party into a DP led- coalition, he will be ignoring the opinions of the vast majority of his party's supporters, who loathe the DP and its neoliberal allies.
Serbia's leading philosopher Mihajlo Markovic, who is also one of the founders of the SPS, has warned that Dacic joining a DS-led coalition would be a death blow to both the SPS and to Serbia. "Already this year there is a shortage of the money received from privatization in the state budget. How shall we fill the budget in the future, when the plunder and the wholesale of everything this society has created in the past five decades soon comes to its end?" Markovic said.
In an attempt to assuage concern among the party's supporters, SPS Vice-President Slavica Dukić-Dejanović has pledged that the party would never disown the legacy of Slobodan Milosevic. "We didn't do that even when we were at our lowest ebb, and when they wanted to pull us apart. He was the founder of the party and a historical personality, and we have to move towards reinforcing an ideological and reformist spirit". But it is difficult to see how entering a coalition with the party whose former leader was responsible for sending Milosevic to The Hague- and signing up to a pro-privatisation, neoliberal 'reformist' economic agenda can be seen as anything other than disowning the legacy of the former Yugoslav President.
It seems that the upper ranks of the SPS would like the party to go the way of all the other Socialist Parties in the region-in other words, to ditch socialism and do exactly what the west tells it to do.
Let's hope the party's members can yet save the day.