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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.


Anonymous said...

Oh dear, as if Milosevic was not as prepared as his opponents to manipulate the political system in pursuit of his own ends, and fight wars along the way...

Roll on anarchy and put all these misguided socialists out of their statist illusions...

Neil Clark said...

Hi jolies: For once, I don't agree with you, especially when you say 'fight wars along the way'. The only war Milosevic was involved in was the illegal NATO bombardment of Yugoslavia in 1999, which he most certainly did not want. His country was illegally attacked on deceitful grounds (ie a fabricated charge of genocide), and he led his country against the aggressors. What other wars are you referring to? Please don't tell me someone as intelligent as you has fallen for the 'Milosevic, the Butcher of the Balkans' claptrap?

olching said...

If you want to read the worst article on parallels between Mugabe and Milosevic, look no further than Jonathan Steele's 'piece' in the Guardian. They seem to be outdoing themselves at the moment...

Neil Clark said...

Thanks for the link, olching. Yes, it is a terrible piece. I like Johnathan Steele's writings on the Middle East, but his stuff on Milosevic and the Balkans is way out.

vladimir gagic said...

Milosevic betrayed the Krajina Serbs, he gave up Gorazde during the Dayton talks for no other reason than simple vanity, and he deliberately murdered Serbian citizens, for example Stambolic. While he may not have been racist, I don't believe for a second he cared about social justice or equality. The fact that Djindjic, and Jovanovic now, was a typical, glossy CIA puppet in no way excuses Milosevic. Milosevic was in charge of the dormant JNA when the Croatians went rampaging through the Krajina, not Djindjic.

Anonymous said...

For Neil:

1. If Milosevic's government was democratic then why did he claim the phantom votes coming out of Kosovo during his last election?

3. How does it feel to know other writers think less of you because you hold Milosevic to such a regard?

Neil Clark said...

1. The phantom votes charge was promoted by Louis Sell, the US diplomat, hardly an impartial observer. Sell also claimed that throughout the Srebrenica crisis Milosevic was "in direct personal contact with [Ratko] Mladic", despite the official and exhaustive Dutch government report into the massacre finding no evidence of political or military liaison with Belgrade concerning the killings.

2. Which 'other writers' are you referring to? The likes of Nick Cohen and David Aaronovitch? I would be extremely worried if such pro-war writers held me in high regard!
As I've said before on many occasions, I've yet to see any compelling evidence that Milosevic
was guilty of the charges popularly made against him. I followed his trial at the Hague on an almost daily basis and didn't see anything there which changed my opinion. If, after four years of trial, no credible evidence could be produced to back up the charges, doesn't that make you a wee bit sceptical?
I'm not saying Milosevic was a saint- very few people are- only that I haven't seen any evidence to back up the claim that he was a barbarous warmongering dictator.
A man is innocent until proven guilty, but when it comes to Milosevic many people who call themselves 'liberals' seem to have forgotten the old adage.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Neil, Great article!

I travelled through Serbia during Milosevic's (1997-98) rule and fell in love with the social values of a society that was totally missing in a Western country I came from. I decided to move to Serbia in late 1999, just before the US backed coup d’état. Unfortunately I have been living in Serbia now for 7 years in a system deprived of its "soul" as there was no turning back once I made my decision.

It is sad what the US has turned Serbia into ... no social justice, total control of the media, crony capitalism and degradation of a once hospitable nation.

Waiting for the day this nation’s soul is returned.

Anonymous said...

I did not suggest that Milosevic was the 'Butcher of the Balkans' but, together with Tudjman, was a prime architect of the dismemberment of Yugoslavia, gave material support to conflict in both Bosnia and Croatia; and, manipulated the political process in Serbia. None of which necessarily justified 'western intervention' not least because this was itself confused at best, manipulated at worst. I watched all this unfold from the relative proximity of the only constituent republic (Macedonia) to cede without violence and with frequent visits to most of the remaining republics and conversations with a diverse cross-section of opinion (sadly, often the victims from all sides).

Anonymous said...

"Of course, the description of Yugoslavia under Milosevic as a 'dictatorship' was pure hogwash."

"A vibrant multi-party democracy was in operation (...)"

"The government's policies put the interests of ordinary people- and not global capital- first."

A true Heaven on Earth.

In 1993 (Milosevic firmly in power, liberating Serbs all over the place), highschool teacher could buy 4-5 loafs of bread for his monthly "salary", if, and only if, he was quick enough to get the cache and spend it before it became worthless.
In 2008 (after a Seldonian twist, SPS joins forces with the evil western traitors, already in power for 8 years), yearly wages will buy him a cheap car.
Indeed, the things have never been worse.

Gray Falcon said...

How much will it take for that teacher to buy his dignity? Or honor? Or freedom?

Yeah, thought so.

A Serb said...

I am a Serbian, and I've been living in Milosevic's Serbia more or less since I was born. It is easy for a foreigner to say that Milosevic wasn't bad and that Djindjic was a traitor. Let me tell you something about him. His son was a criminal behaving as if the country was his own property. My friend who is from Pozarevac (Milosevic's birthplace) told me once how a guy got beaten up almost to death by Marko Milosevic's gorillas just because he didn't salute him. He was dealing drugs and cigarettes while my father was fighting, with Kalasnikov against American F117 planes. Mind you, I am a big critic of American politics. Because it is even worse than dictatorship. Milosevic was to similar to them just on the smaller scale. That's why they didn't like him. Anyway, you don't know what it is like when you end up in jail jus because someone said that you said something against the president. His son was driving the most expensive cars while ordinary people had a month salary of 10 German marks (5 euros). Someone said that today in Serbia there is "no social justice, total control of the media". Well, Milosevic as you should know almost wrote the scripts for daily news in the 90es. His police used to question people and punish them if they were listening to the B92 radio. Almost every opponent of his, whether a journalist (Slavko Curuvija) or a politician (Stambolic, Djindjic) was killed. I do agree, however, that the story told by the western media especially about the Balkan wars was too biased, unfair and in some cases criminally false. Wars are not what I blame him for because America they are more America's fault than his, and story is never said from the Serbian side, it is the collapse of values, no freedom of speech and his criminals who were the real owners of everything. I would often go out and see a black Audi parked in the middle of the main street, and no policeman who dared to write a ticket to the "owner" of the car. Zoran Djindjic was the best thing that happened to us. After the 4. Octobar revolution we felt as innocent convicts finally released from prison. Zoran was a good man. After they had first tried to kill him he said, "If someone thinks he will stop Serbian progress by killing me, he is fooling himself" and he refused to hide or take extra security and was killed. He gave his life for this country and its people. That deserves respect! You should read his speeches. He is not only one of the greatest Serbian politicians but one of the greatest people and philosophers in history.

nebojsa ristic said...

In 1990, Zoran Djindjic was 40 years old, he had a tail and golden little still in style of Franfurth rebbels from '80. Also, then he drove a Golf 2, was just married, worked as assistent on Faculty of Philosophy in Novi Sad.

Your description fits really accurate to Slobodan Milosevic. He was in 1990' middle-aged (1941), smoked cigars...