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Possibilities for democratisation of Serbia

In this century, when the fate of the Christian world is still unresolved, some people are anxious to attack democracy as an enemy force while it is still growing; others already worship democracy as a new deity emerging from nothingness; however, both the former and the latter are imperfectly acquainted with the object of their hatred or their earnest wishes; they fight among themselves in the dark and throw punches at random.
Alexis de Tocqueville, "De la démocratie" (1835-40; Democracy in America)

The history of central and eastern Europe over the course of the last decade of the 20th century placed at the focus of theoretical and practical political studies the issue of democratisation of former Socialist countries and the problem of their transition to liberal democracies. There is almost a unanimous accord regarding the urgency of this problem implying that the value of a democratic system in general as well as the need to transform the authoritarian regimes is practically considered as undisputable.

The fact that a specific concept of a political system has finally been widely accepted as "the best possible form of government" (the concept of a democratic rule perceived as "the lesser evil") tends to irritate authoritarian minds still attached to the old and passé vision of a bipolar world. In Serbia this problem seems to be the most acute. The ruling regime, although it formally declares itself as being "democratic", takes the advantage of every opportunity to severely criticise and bear down on "western democracies" for their imperfections. These vicious attacks make no sense whatsoever and it would be a waste of time and energy to respond to them for at least two reasons. First, the advocates of liberal democratic system have never proclaimed their concept as "perfect", and second, there is no a single soul unaware of its weaknesses and deficiencies.

The issue of transition in Serbia rests on these theoretical and axiological elements and its most bitter opponents declaring themselves as "democrats", though in name only, are well acquainted with this fact. The necessity of democratisation of Serbia cannot be disputed in any way given its total isolation from the international community and continuous internal pressure exerted by an authoritarian regime relying on "a brief course for tyrants" from Plato's "The Republic" (Plato gave a minute and accurate description of the political strategy employed by Slobodan Milosevic: "After having dealt with his enemies, making peace with some of them and destroying the others, a tyrant will always launch new wars so that the people would still have the need for a leader").

Another pressing problem exasperating Serbia is its (in)ability to effect a democratic transformation. There are various explanations, but all of these come down to a common denominator - an undemocratic tradition. De Tocqueville, however, believes that precisely the situation similar to the volatile climate in Serbia at the end of the 20th century may give birth to fundamental changes. He says: "When people tell me that laws are weak and that subjects are rebellious, that passions are fiery while virtue is powerless, and that given the circumstances no one could even consider the possibility of increasing democratic rights, I reply that this is precisely why one should not even think about it; in my view, it is more in the interest of governments than society because governments do collapse, but society cannot cease to exist" ("Democracy in America"). Since De Tocqueville considered that people should be taught to use their political rights and that subsequent consequences resulting from this would be quite significant, he asks this crucial question: "If this were the case, then what would you rely on except for fear to rule the world?"

However, this endeavour proves to be no easy task. Undemocratic mentality renders its social environment immobile and inarticulate. When describing "unfree" societies this author says: "As if the society has acquired all the goods, and now it only strives to rest and enjoy". The only thing which this theoretician sees in them are "self-complacency with regard to their own destiny" and a total absence of new social needs. The only remedy for such apathy within the society would be an attempt to arouse political consciousness of every citizen, to build basic elements of a civil society as well as to effect a new socialisation of all individuals. There have been similar endeavours in Serbia for years by now, but they have hardly reached all the segments of the society, particularly the rural environments characterised by mentality which De Tocqueville describes like this: "In some countries the citizens reluctantly accept their rights prescribed by law; they feel as if someone is wasting their time while dealing with matters of general interest, and they prefer to fall back on narrow-minded egoism whose boundaries are marked by four gutters and a hedge above them." In De Tocqueville's view, there is no remedy for such a mentality, therefore suggesting even the use of force to make these people live their lives to the full.

Our search for reasons resulting in such a state of affairs will take us nowhere. The problem cannot be resolved by blaming a different tradition for the existing situation thus declaring that democratisation in these parts is virtually impossible. It will not suffice to be able to understand this problem - what is urgently needed is an energetic action. Activities aimed at development of basic segments of the society and support for a new emerging citizen are confronted with grave difficulties imposed by the current regime in Serbia through its legislation. Nevertheless, these obstacles could avoided by undertaking a wider and more comprehensive action, especially in rural parts which represent the last remaining strongholds of autocratic ideas. Taking into account that "freedom is born in the midst of tempests and established in the midst of civil wars, and that only when it grows old could we enjoy its benefits" (De Tocqueville), democratisation in Serbia, despite difficulties and obstacles laid in its path, will eventually find a way to accomplish its ultimate goal: a democracy in which all the citizens will be free to use their guaranteed civil and political rights and thus approach civilisational trends which Serbia almost imperceptibly deviated from at one point in the recent past.

Marija Martinic

Source: Free Serbia

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