Hope on the Balkans Kosov@ Crisis 1999
What's Next Mr Milosevic?
The following opinion piece by Aleksandar Tijanic and Slavko Curuvija was published in the Belgrade weekly Evropljanin on 19 October 1998. Publication cost the magazine a $240,000 fine and the confiscation of its property. On Sunday April 11, 1999 Curuvija paid the ultimate price with his life.
By Aleksandar Tijanic and Slavko Curuvija
Your excellency, you might not be aware that a coup d'etat took place in your state last week. Contrary to your proclamation that the threat of military attacks had been averted, the most extreme of your aides, all members of the three-party ruling coalition, have kept the anti-constitutional decree in force. They have introduced a de facto state of emergency, suspended laws and taken over control of Serbia.
The first action taken by this group was to prohibit Serbs from hearing, speaking and seeing. Three daily newspapers and a radio station have been banned, a measure unheard of in Serbia's history. This brutal ban was followed with a perverse demonstration of power and unaccountability. This is a disgrace for Serbia, Mr. President. But it is far from the worst that can happen to Serbia and her citizens. The ominous obsession with simplicity leads us to lawlessness, fear, terror, and dictatorship.
We are writing to you regarding freedom of press. However, our concerns are far more serious. Martial law and rule by decree have been introduced in Yugoslavia, although a state of emergency has not formally been declared. All this has passed unnoticed by you. Why? Is it perhaps because you refuse to confront the results of your ten-year rule? Or is it because, tired of ruling the country, you have reneged your responsibility and decided to lend authority to the group that has come out on top in the wars waged inside the royal palace - wars for control of politics, legislation, finances, police, secret services, military, universities, media, and the entire state and society? Or is it because you have exhausted the support entrusted in you by the majority of Serbs when you assumed power? Is your magic box, once full of political tricks, now empty?
Since there are no new means of deceiving the masses, you have decided to preserve your own power by suspending the Constitution and laws and ruling as an absolutist. In case you are refusing to accept the balance sheet of your decade-long rule, we can assure you that your efforts are in vain. Historical accounts and the archives of facts have already been assembled.
Each Serb, dead or alive, has become an accountant and a witness. Everything that Serbs created in this century has been thoughtlessly wasted: state and national boundaries; the status of an ally in two world wars; national dignity; membership in international institutions; the European identity of Serbs has eroded; Serbs abandoned their ethnic territories in Croatia and parts of Bosnia; the nation has developed a complex as an aggressor, genocidal, vanquished as well as the last bastion of European Communism.
The merit and worth of Serbian institutions have been destroyed in a systematic manner. You have brought the University and a local farmers' collective to the same level, equated the Academy of Arts and Sciences with a nursing home, you have degraded the Church, legislature, media, parliament, and the government.
Under the cover of transition, which is nothing but a different name for robbery, you have impoverished the middle class, while, at the same time, nurturing the emergence of a new economic and political elite. National GNP per head has dropped to $1,400, while in Slovenia (the republic which you claimed would go bankrupt after secession) it has increased to $9,500; and even in Tudman's Croatia it is $4,600.
Pensioners are forced to dig through garbage looking for food because the state-run pension fund owes them six to seven months pension. With financial pyramid schemes, loans and confiscated foreign currency deposits, the state has stolen about $6.5 billion from its citizens. About 2 million people are currently out of work. Meanwhile, more than 100,000 well-educated and able individuals have emigrated, fleeing the war, hoping to avoid the draft or simply because they didn't see a future for themselves in this country.
You have left a small circle of about 100 families, which benefit from your support and protection, in charge of the state finances. Officials of the state you lead demonstrate feudal extravagance and arrogance in the midst of huge misery and poverty. Large companies are run by your cronies.
They prevent the development of the free market because the free market has nothing in common with the planned economy, monopolies, committees, decrees, pretend banks and ministries, fake credits, and the control of the foreign currency exchange rate in the streets through authorized currency dealers.
Your country is in decline. Serbs are dying from diseases which are curable or do not exist elsewhere in the world. There are no medicines, the health system is on the point of collapse, and the population turns to sedatives in the way vitamins are used in the developed countries.
Nowhere in today's Europe are criminals and the state wedded in such a harmonious matrimony as here in Serbia. You are the only statesman who has hosted three men who were later gunned down in the street. Until today neither their murderers nor the reasons for their execution have been discovered. In the streets there are too many guns and violence.
Organised criminal gangs control circulation of key goods and services. Para-military formations still operate. Street violence and murders are a daily occurrence and the state has in practice delegated its responsibility for the safety its citizens and their property.
You are aware that the individuals who you have put in charge of the most important Serb institutions are incompetent. That is offensive and humiliating to everyone who can think in Serbia as well as to the historic heritage of Serbs who had traditionally put the most able and honourable among them in such positions.
You love secret agreements, mystery, lack of security for your collaborators. You have created a situation in which every official depends on your good grace and is thus forced to conspire forever against each other. The result of these intrigues is that the least able and most unscrupulous individuals are promoted. You have instigated populism and established a cult of personality. You have refused to state publicly what sort of system you are trying to establish: socialism, capitalism or something else.
A psychosis of a permanent state of emergency has been imposed on the society, in addition to the fear from omnipotent police and your henchmen, who boast that they can order executions of the people they dislike. Absolute obedience is demanded from the population. Hysterical, choreographed outpourings of support are set up after every victory that contributes to our decline. The majority considers democracy to be the right to impose as a mandatory law its political will, taste and culture on the minority.
During your time in power, spurred by the state-controlled media, the views of all sorts of national prophets, vampires, quack doctors and monsters have been promoted. These individuals have eulogised death and war, though always making sure they themselves are not in the firing line.
They have also insisted that these qualities comprise the special character of our race, our mission, our faith. And they have instigated hatred and belief in miraculous weapons left behind by Nikola Tesla or sent by Zirinovski. All that has produced the social surrealism in which we live today.
You have destroyed the spirit of tolerance by instigating artificial conflicts and propelling confrontations between and poor, rural and urban, between Serbia and Montenegro, and police and army. You have turned the students against their professors, the literate against the illiterate. If you now feel tired of ruling and wish to evade responsibility and hand power over to a handful of extremists, you should bear in mind the following:
- No European statesman of socialist upbringing has chosen a radical rightist as a coalition partner. Can you imagine French prime minister Jospin or the centrist Chirac in a coalition with Le Pen? He is an extreme rightist who claims that Hitler's gas chambers and Pavelic's Jasenovac were only "minor incidents during WWII". Seven days ago, your coalition partner and vice-president in the Serbian Government Vojislav Seselj made Le Pen an honourary citizen of a certain Belgrade municipality. On which side did we fight in WWII, Mr President?
- The coalition between socialists, neo-communists and extreme right wing is deviant, anti-civilizational, ideologically hideous and clearly reflects your ambition: to preserve power at all costs, even if it demands that you sign the pact with your ideological, personal and family enemies; and
- Sharing power will not satisfy the Radicals. They have started to co-opt members of the Yugoslav Left and your own Socialist Party in order to form a core which will have only two options to offer to Serbia: dictatorship or civil war which will drag Serbia into the rule of paramilitary forces, rampaging street gangs and bandits with license to terminate anyone who does not resemble the image of a citizen created in their headquarters.
In case, however, that your behaviour reflects the fact that you have decided to suspend the Constitution, rule by decree and impose the autocratic rule, you should be aware of the following:
- You will be personally responsible for all the grim consequences that such absolute power might bring about;
- Such rule can be nothing but short-lived; and
- The principle means of controlling this sort of power is force. To execute such force and to be ready to use it, you will have to rely on the worst segments of population. Do you really wish to govern with the help of the most corrupt volunteers, who are already in abundance around you?
Your excellency, your country, your people and your compatriots have been living for ten years in a state of fear, psychosis, with nothing but death, misery, terror and despair around them. Serbia is being stripped of territories and riches as if she were dead already. Serbia has fewer and fewer children, and gives them up too easily. Hungry and humiliated, your citizens have exhausted their spirits and have no strength to make even verbal protests.
This was apparent during the last crisis. Resigned, Serbs awaited either of the two possible outcomes: American bombs or Albanian secession. Serbs are disarmed, deprived of their survival instinct, precisely the way this regime wanted them to be. If the population is silent and prepared to put up with the kind of rulers which would not have survived in any civilized state, what is the purpose of the suspension of the Constitution and laws, rule decree, ban of media, division into traitors and patriots, threats with arrest and fanning of the atmosphere of permanent state of war or emergency?
It is your duty, your Excellency, immediately to oppose the atmosphere of lawlessness and despair. In this you will succeed if, and only if, you commit yourself to the following:
- Break the coalition with Vojislav Seselj and the Serbian Radical Party;
- Demand the resignation of Serbian Prime Minister Mirko Marjanovic his government;
- Recommend to Serbian President Milan Milutinovic to call new elections and entrust the position of Prime Minister to a competent person, capable of forming a government of experts;
- Make peace with the ruling coalition in Montenegro;
- Request the resignation of the Federal government, appoint Milo Djukanovic Federal Prime Minister and acknowledge Montenegrin MPs, members of the Montenegrin ruling coalition;
- Regain inter-ethnic tolerance and include minorities in highest political institutions;
- Attempt to annul the Law on University;
- End the persecution of media and journalists;
- Initiate a true and prudent privatisation, enhance market economy and a welfare state;
- Act against organised crime, and publicise the results of the action;
- Secure independent judiciary, separation of power and a system of checks and balances;
- Allow Yugoslavia to rejoin international institutions and renew the confidence of the international community in the Yugoslav state and Yugoslav people; and
- Define national interests according to the norms and standards of the developed world and apply for membership in the European Union and Partnership for Peace.
Your Excellency, the above-mentioned 13 point plan represents the choice between hope and despair for your people. Without hope, in a system, which does not adhere to any of the Ten Commandments, your authority becomes illegitimate. Legitimate authority works for the benefit and well being of its subjects.
Our letter to you is our modest contribution to the struggle against fear.
© Institute of War &Peace Reporting
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