Translated by Tamara Vukov
“The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ‘state of emergency’ in which we live is not the exception but the rule.” – Walter Benjamin
TV: On February 4th of this year, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was replaced by the new state of Serbia and Montenegro. Following the assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic on March 12th, 2003, this new political entity has undergone the majority of its existence in a state of emergency. While the imposition of the state of emergency has largely been presented as a progressive opportunity to install true democracy and restore order to the nation, can you describe what these emergency measures look like and what is actually being done in their name?
AG: The state of emergency represents the insane attempt of a small group of people to take the house in which they live and expand it into a nation-wide prison. Even stranger, this insane attempt has succeeded. The government reacted to the murder of Zoran Djindjic by introducing a state of emergency. The police were granted the right to arrest and imprison people for 30 days without the customary judicial proceedings, while the arrestee is left without any right to a lawyer. The police have acquired the right to enter homes without a warrant, the unfettered right to tap phone conversations, to follow, to spy, and to search. The minister of police can now detain whomever strikes him as suspicious. Strikes and political assemblies have been outlawed, and the right to movement had been seriously restricted. Censorship has been introduced, while any public debate on the reasons for the introduction of the state of emergency and its eventual repeal have been outlawed. Human Rights Watch has already reacted, warning the Serbian government that such authoritarian behavior is in contravention of European Union directives, not to mention ethical ones.
The second serious aspect of this state of emergency is that no limits have been set around it. Based on the decision of the parliamentary president, the state of emergency is about the hunt for those guilty of the assassination, but also for other guilty parties of several other crimes. It was introduced for a completely unspecified and indefinite period of time. It is difficult to determine when all the parties guilty of some unspecified crime will be captured, and which crimes need to be resolved according to the government before â€œadequate conditionsâ€ are attained for the withdrawal of the state of emergency.
Consider the conduct of the constitutional procedure for which the national assembly was automatically convened during the implementation of the state of emergency. The gathering that was called in the house of the National Assembly was not an assembly of sitting members. No one ever tried to determine how many members were present, and the electronic system for recording attendance was disconnected, according to several members themselves.
In short, post-Yugoslav society has had its freedom revoked without any clear indications or promises regarding when it will be returned. And whether it will be returned at all.
TV: What are some of the domestic impacts of the state of emergency politically and in terms of the police crackdown you referred to? Is it limited to the targeting of organized criminals, as has been largely portrayed in the media? Or are broader constituencies and forms of political dissent being targeted?
AG: Minister of Justice Vladan Batic has claimed that a modern Serbia requires modern prisons with a minimum of 2000 places. It seems that we have arrived! Modernization in contemporary Serbia seems to mean the construction of modern prisons.
However, I donâ€™t know if there will be enough room in these prisons for the 7,000 working people who have thus far been detained and imprisoned under the state of emergency. They include anarchists, retirees who publicly rejoiced over the murder of the premier, a few folk singers, newspaper columnists, as well as so-called â€œdirect criminals,â€ to borrow the ministerâ€™s jargon. The former are all â€œindirect criminals.â€ They are guilty of opposing the so-called â€œEuropeanization of Serbia.â€
TV: So if the measures being taken under the state of emergency have not been restricted to the reasons for which it was implemented, i.e. tracking down Zoran Djindjicâ€™s murderers and targeting organized crime syndicates, is there a broader political agenda at play? Is it being recuperated politically at all, and if so, in what sorts of ways?
AG: There is no question that the murder of premier Djindjic is a hideous crime. But does that justify such a broad and total seizure of freedoms of the entire society? I think the answer to this question is a resounding â€œno.â€ You cannot jail a whole societyâ€“ yet the implementation of a state of emergency does in effect put the entire society in jail. The simple fact that the state of emergency has not be withdrawn after several days shows that it is being used to conduct a â€œpower-turfâ€ war between different interest groups. The interest group in power is using its own weapons â€“ terror and violence – to eliminate another interest group.
The Serbian government is clearly attempting to criminalize all opposition, all competition, or any dissident, political option. It is employing a method of martyrization of the murdered premier, with the help of the disciplined media and intellectuals who are granting legitimacy to such an assault on human rights and logic, to maintain power even after the withdrawal of the â€œstate of emergency,â€ which is likely to become permanent in Serbia.
In a recent interview given to a well-known Belgrade daily, minister of justice Vladan Batic presented his own particular categorization of â€œevil suspectsâ€ in response to the question of who the murderers were. To begin with, the minister indirectly put the majority of citizens into question as possible suspects in the murder of the premier. He then went on to declare how â€œthankful the citizens are, smiling, in high spiritsâ€ and, in general, â€œgrateful to the government for the introduction of the state of emergency which has allowed them to feel more secure.â€ Is this really the case?
Why, for instance, have strikes been outlawed? What could the connection between a strike of discontented workers and the murder of the premier possibly be ? Strikers didnâ€™t kill the premier. According to official accusations, the murder was the work of criminals who were in secret negotiations with the premier.
Furthermore, Batic expressed an intense animosity towards â€œjournalists, analysts, and columnists.â€ Where does such animosity come from? Batic considers them to be a third category of criminals to be fought. All critics of the reforms are likewise equated with murderers. Particularly journalists and dissidents.
An incompetent government is spreading panic in order to hide their own responsibility. Could this murder have been prevented? After the murder, no one tendered their resignation. No positions were shuffled. The same people are leading us through a state of emergency. One party is misusing a tragic event. The declaration of a state of emergency has squelched public debate, tied the hands of all free-thinking people while ordinary state functionaries basically lynch all non-conforming thinkers throughout the media. Is this democracy? It seems that it is.
A few days ago, the vice-president of the government announced that we should not complain that there is no opposition. Now we are a democracy, so opposition is no longer necessary- we are so democratic, that no opposition needs to exist. This is so-called â€œtotal democracy.â€ A situation in which democracy, in its total self-fulfillment, abolishes itself. They are so devoted to democracy that they no longer need it.
TV: In such a context of criminalization and suppression of dissent that you describe, has there been any organized reaction or overall response from so-called civil society? Iâ€™m thinking particularly of the burgeoning NGO sector often funded by Western organizations that massively expanded in post-Milosevic Yugoslavia, and whose mandate it is to monitor â€œhuman rights.â€
AG: It is interesting to note how this suspension of elementary human rights is being viewed by the so-called non-governmental organizations (NGO), an exceptionally powerful factor in the political life of Serbia, along with a large number of â€œrent-a-dissidentâ€ types.
Prior to the current situation, they knew how to vehemently protest even the smallest of incidents in which the rights of a citizen belonging to an ethnic minority were endangered, when it came to criticizing â€œnationalismâ€ (which is the issue from which these organizations profit the most, since the foreign aid that sustains most of them is based on this). Now when citizenâ€™s basic freedoms and rights are denied, not for one individual, not in one community, but to the entire society, the NGOs and rent-a-dissidents are supporting it, promising complete loyalty to the Serbian government. There is a constant stream of televised exchanges between state intellectuals and â€œdissidentsâ€ who discuss how Djindjicâ€™s death is â€œinternational,â€ or how â€œthe state of emergency is finally severing the umbilical cord from the east.â€ Or in a somewhat more morbid tone, how â€œDjindjicâ€™s funeral was a plebiscite for a public in need of faith and hope,â€ or how the â€œpolitical murder of the premier is a terrible thing,â€ because â€œwe have to pay in tears for every joy,â€ so that we might one day attain a â€œcatharsis, a catharsis of the ordinary citizenâ€â€¦
TV: Given that open media criticism of the state of emergency is forbidden and censorship is in effect, what has been the impact on wider public debate and the many questions raised by the state of emergency?
AG: The public is being bombarded by unbelievable stupidities. Ministers promise that there will be regular provision of water and electricity. Why wouldnâ€™t there be? Has war broken out? Images of maternity wards are being broadcast in the media, with promises that they will defend childrenâ€™s nurseries. They proclaim that water sources are not polluted. Food provisions have been normalized. Public transportation, they say, is running on time. Police curfews have not yet been introduced. Economic reforms continue full steam ahead. The vultures from international bureaucracies have also started arriving, promising accelerated entry into the European Union.
Why didnâ€™t this government arrest organized criminals immediately after the October 5th â€œrevolutionâ€? Who was stopping them? Journalists? Columnists? Analysts and commentators? Why didnâ€™t they confiscate the property and riches of the Milosevic-era elite? Why did they allow them to get even richer and to acquire everything through accelerated privatization? Who are they financing? Why is there greater and greater poverty in an already devastated economy? Ultimately, these are all questions that the current government, gripped by a collective neurosis, will have to answer one day.
TV: I want to turn a bit to the wider context of power and rule that led up to the current state of emergency. Regarding Djindjicâ€™s assassination, Sonja Biserko of the Helsinki Committee (a vocal NGO) recently proclaimed that â€œthe abject act marks the beginning of liberation from Milosevic-era pathologyâ€ offering an unprecedented opportunity for reform. To what extent do these current measures represent a real break from the prior regime as claimed, and what has (or hasnâ€™t) changed in the transition between the former and current political systems?
AG: In fact, in order to fully understand the current state of emergency in Serbia, it is necessary to go back for a moment, to Milosevicâ€™s Serbia, and provide a short analysis of what we might call â€œMilosevicâ€™s system.â€
Milosevicâ€™s regime was authoritarian. There existed parties, elections, and a parliament, but not true democracy. The constitution and many other laws were seemingly democratic in nature, but in fact were nothing more than a screen for the rule of one person.
Milosevic, however, was not a dictator. His style of rule was very particular, and could hardly be called totalitarian. He tolerated, or was forced to tolerate, some independent press and a few very influential local television stations. Likewise, Milosevic did not try to create some sort of Stalinist cult of personality. It is striking how rarely he appeared on television; many mention his ascetic simplicity, the lack of a need to show off his authority.
Finally, though Yugoslavia is rightly considered to be one of the most corrupt countries in Europe, it is not at all the case that Milosevic ruled solely in order to enrich himself. When NATO air-bombers dropped â€œsmartâ€ bombs on Belgrade, they also dropped flyers and leaflets. I still have a copy of one in particular â€“ on which they printed a photo with text explaining that Milosevic had a yacht and a villa â€œjust like theseâ€ (in the picture). The inability of the CIA to acquire a photo of Milosevicâ€™s possessions speaks for itself.
Ultimately, Milosevic is not, as is commonly claimed, primarily turned towards the East, Moscow, and Orthodoxy. He speaks English fluently, and does not speak any Russian. In an earlier phase of his career, he visited New York regularly, and has said that he considers it his favorite city. At one time, Milosevic had the impression, not entirely unfounded, that Washington would accept him despite his authoritarianism in the same way that they accepted Tito. After broken promises to both sides, both reckless nationalism and interventionism, led to the wars in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo, one after the other, the situation obviously took a different course.
In any case, Milosevic enjoyed a certain legitimacy in Serbia, and had a certain amount of support for his political project.
In time, however, that amount of political support dwindled to 20% of the electorate. But with that 20% support, Milosevic was able to retain 100% rule. Firstly, thanks to his control over the major media, he confused and demoralized a dissatisfied and disoriented citizenry. When it would come time for elections, they would stay home, or would give their votes to the so-called â€œfake opposition.â€ On top of that, the existing electoral system allowed 30% electoral support to translate into 50% parliamentary representation. All that one required was to find a suitable coalition partner, and one would achieve stable rule. And coalition partners were never in short supply, because power and rule in Milosevicâ€™s Serbia brought great riches.
That is how Milosevic arrived at a parliamentary majority and domination of rule. That is why he did not need to resort to any exceptional, dictatorial measures. All political projects and decisions were carried out by formal parliamentary means.
The foundation of Milosevicâ€™s power was based in his rule of his own party. The Socialist Party of Serbia was the true seat of political rule controlled by Milosevic. As the total master of the Party, he achieved control of the Parliament as well. By constant changes to electoral laws (1992-1997), he built a system in which, at any moment, the party could switch its representatives and replace them successively.
Control of the legislative branch of the government in formulating laws, also gave Milosevic full control of the executive branch, in other words of the government in general (as the legislative and executive branches were not separated).
Once he gained full control over both legislative and executive power, Milosevic only had to establish control over the judiciary. According to the Constitution of Serbia, judges were permanently appointed, but were elected and dismissed by parliament. Because he controlled the parliament, Milosevic was also able to control the judiciary. According to a law that came into effect on July 30, 1991, all judges (2,939) and prosecutors (619) were to undergo purges through so-called â€œreelectionâ€ in parliament. These purges, however, were very selectively and sloppily carried out, so that many who were not doing their jobs according to basic principles or professionalism retained their positions simply because they were following orders and directives coming from the top of the Government. This resulted in a situation in which many of the other judges opposed the judicial theft of the local elections of 1996. From then on, Milosevic proceeded with a rearrangement of the state of the judiciary. In 1997, when Milosevic further consolidated his rule, he also set out to further â€œresolve the state of the judiciary.â€ This effectively meant the firing of around 60 â€œunsuitableâ€ judges, who were guilty only of upholding the principal of an independent judiciary.
That is how ultimately the entire political and judicial elite was put in a position of dependency on Milosevic. The same was true for the police and law enforcement elite. With the passage of a 1995law on the appointment of members of MUP-a, the Serbian police force, Milosevic consolidated the exclusive right to promote police officers to military generals and appoint senior cadre in the Police. Under another set of special rules, Milosevic took over the direct supervision of the Department of Interior Security. This allowed him to not only become one of the main masters of the war in Bosnia and Hercegovina, but also to control the Serbian opposition.
Particularly important for the functioning of Milosevicâ€™s rule was the direct political supervision of the economic elite. In Milosevicâ€™s Serbia, the primary means of capital accumulation did not take place on the market. To the contrary, the major financial profits to be had were achieved via state intervention – in other words through state monopoly, systematic privileges, monetary speculation and shady financial transactions, generalized larceny and appropriation of property, illegal imports, backroom deals and bribes. It was a given that, in such a system, the power elite could not only easily convert their own â€œpolitical capitalâ€ into real, financial gains, but also to control and influence the flow and direction of the entire economy.
That is how Milosevic succeeded in constructing a tight clientalistic net around the entire national economy. It was a net that spread out to encompass anywhere that capital was being produced, starting with himself and his family, all the way down to factory workers and vendors on the street. Entry into this protected net meant guaranteed financial gain. The most powerful members of that net, the economic elite, could count on rapid accumulation of riches thanks to the market monopoly, from rigged participation in state â€œbarter arrangementsâ€ (the import of oil and gas), to the illegal trade of cigarettes, weapons and other goods. This was achieved via the granting of import-export permits, on the acquisition of foreign currencies based on a rigged, lowered exchange rate, in the privileged granting of land, etc. The middle members of this privileged net could count on unrestricted trading (even on a small scale), on good/full employment, and high state salaries, on the right to buy state-owned apartments at an exceptionally low price, etc.
In the 1990s, a unique structure of power was installed in Serbia. I have called such a structure a kleptocracy. The dominant paradigm of the â€œMilosevic doctrineâ€ is what we might call, from this historical perspective an â€œauthoritarian isolationism.â€
TV: So how did the context change in the post-Milosevic era, with Djindjicâ€™s ascent to power? What was the legacy of this â€œauthoritarian isolationism,â€ and what was brought in to replace it?
AG: With the â€œpetooktobarska revolucijaâ€ (the â€œOctober 5th revolutionâ€) and the overthrow of Milosevic, many hoped for real, progressive change. However, instead of any meaningful step towards economic and participatory democracy, for which many true Yugoslav leftists had hoped for, a new system was installed, with a new authoritarian doctrine: that of Djindjic. Djindjicâ€™s system might be called an â€œauthoritarian modernism.â€ Neoliberalism with a local accent.
Djindic constructed a chancellery system, to his misfortune, simultaneously paralyzing the presidential system, marginalizing the parliament, and building his own sub-ministries within the official government ministries . One Yugoslav historian has called this â€œDjindjicâ€™s naÃ”ve cunning.â€ It was also his biggest mistake. He should have sought to reduce his rule, and to increase the role of a coordinator or negotiator who would not take absolute power. Such a strategy might have held a better future. Instead of that, he accrued more and more control, combined with less and less popularity and authority. He was not respected even by the so-called elite. Had he pursued a somewhat different strategy, he might have been able to say â€“ â€œIâ€™m not popular amongst the people, but â€˜intelligentâ€™ people, judges, business people, the press elite, and well-known intellectuals are on my side.â€ That is one possible form of power politics. I do not want popularity but authority. However, he had neither popularity nor authority, yet accrued greater and greater power.
Djindjicâ€™s system really showed its true colors in the â€œjunski udar,â€ the June Take-over, which could be considered the crucial watershed in the political life of post-Milosevic Serbia. It should be noted that this take-over was very skillfully executed. Djindjic, in other words, was not a Milosevic, who reacted with much greater and more open brutality towards his political opponents.
The take-over was initiated when the presidency of DOS (the coalition of opposition parties that overthrew Milosevic), which consisted of the presidents and key ministers of the various coalition parties, passed a motion on May 24th, 2002 to revoke the mandates of 36 DOS members of parliament who were â€œmost frequently absent from the regular sittings of Parliament.â€ The parliamentary majority passed this motion on June 12th.
At first glance, the motion seemed innocuous â€“ â€œthe aim is to establish order in the country, so that elected members of parliament actually work sufficiently to merit their pay,â€ explained premier Djindjic. In actuality, however, such a motion was completely illegal. Among those 36 unseated members, the majority were from the DSS, the party of Vojislav Kostunica, the Yugoslav President and most serious political rival to Djindjic in his role as Prime Minister.
In fact, it was understandable that DSS members had abstained from these regular sittings of parliament, given that the DSS had decided to boycott these sessions in protest over Djindjicâ€™s political maneuvering. What was all the more humorous, the DSS wouldnâ€™t have been able to replace its 36 unseated parliamentary members with other DSS members even if it had wanted to, because their memberâ€™s list only had 13 remaining names on it. Because the DSS was unable to replace its revoked seats with their own members, those seats went to other parties from the DOS coalition â€“ first and foremost to the Democratic party of Zoran Djindjic. Outraged by this ridiculous theft of parliamentary seats, all the sitting members of the DSS, the strongest and most popular party in Serbia, resigned from parliament.
This is how Djindic successfully employed an anti-parliamentary take-over to significantly increase his political power. For a significant period, he threw his major rival, Kostunicaâ€™s DSS, out of the game and thereby seized a parliamentary majority that would neatly and efficiently control the passage of governmental laws.
So that is how the question of parliamentary quorum was effectively resolved in Djindicâ€™s favor. Soon after, the rules were further altered to include an exceptional expansion of the parliamentary presidentâ€™s power. He gained the power to punish elected members for â€œdisrupting order in Parliamentary sessionsâ€ by revoking their parliamentary seats for up to 90 days.
The third important advantage gained by premier Djindjic in the June Take-Over was his unchallenged rule of the remainder of the DOS coalition. From that point on, not one of the remaining parties in DOS had enough sitting members to challenge and oppose the government.
Why didnâ€™t Djindicâ€™s political take-over arouse a serious public outcry? Firstly, because it was skillfully executed through a preplanned and complex procedure that most ordinary citizens did not fully grasp. Secondly, and more importantly, because Djindjic in the meantime succeeded in gaining control of the most influential mass media in Serbia. When the first open showdown between Djindjic and Kostunica took place in August 2001, the extent to which Djindjic had succeeded in tipping the balance to his advantage in all the media was clear. In addition to the most watched commercial television station, TV Pink, the influential TV Politika and TV Studio B, the daily newspapers Novosti and Danas, along with Nedeljni telegraf all clearly fell into line with his political camp. By June 2002, Djindjic had also gained control of the daily Politika, the state television (RTS), and the other large private television station (BK Telecom). So when Djindjic executed his political offensive, no one had any reason or interest in publicizing or even explaining it, let alone opposing it for the patently anti-democratic takeover it was.
Basically, by mid-2002 Djindjic had easily taken over Milosevicâ€™s entire system of political control of society. He had total control of his party. With the government and parliamentary majority behind him, he easily secured control of the boards of directors of the most important businesses â€“ from the oil industry to forestry. Likewise, the majority of the middle management elite as well as a portion of the social elite harboring political-management ambitions rushed in to put themselves at his service.
That is how a new post-Milosevic clientalistic network was secured by Djindjic. Moreover, economic â€œtransitionâ€ and â€œprivatizationâ€ became the ideal excuses for its additional expansion. Djindjic, exactly as Milosevic had, succeeded in gaining control of the legislative, executive, judicial-political, economic, and even partly over the military-police elite. Milosevicâ€™s system was thereby transposed into a new, neoliberal Serbia.
I have already described how the executive branch ruled the judiciary under Milosevicâ€™s rule. The new regime continued that practice. A new purge organized by the loyal minister of justice, Vladan Batic, took place by precisely the rules established under the authoritarian Milosevic regime, in which the minister of justice acted as the direct head of the judicial elite.
What was Djindjicâ€™s successful expansion of his power based on? His power base was never among the voters or the electorate. Like Milosevic towards the end of his rule, Djindjic and his party could not count on more than 20% of the electorateâ€™s support. But, like Milosevic, Djindjic was able to seize 100% rule with 20% of the vote .
TV: Following his assassination on March 12th, much of the western media participated in a kind of canonization of Djindjic, framing him as the only forward-looking, pro-Western politician in the region, as the only one able and committed to bringing in progressive reforms, hope, and a future for the country. You have already pointed out the extent to which such a characterization is hardly neutral, not to mention the accompanying agenda of political and economic reforms that are being vaunted as supposedly assuring the future of the country. What are the some of the implications of such a characterization and the agenda of reforms being implemented?
AG: Dindjic installed his own specific ideological monopoly on neoliberal reforms and reformism. The notion that he is a â€œpragmatic reformer,â€ who is trying to â€œlead a dark and backward Serbia into Europeâ€ – such ideological nonsense was quickly supported not only by Western governments, and all sorts of analysts, but also the disciplined media, and members of the local â€œfakeâ€ opposition: the influential non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Neoliberals had been overjoyed that â€œjustice had been fulfilledâ€ and that Milosevic finally found himself â€œwhere he belongsâ€ (i.e. the Hague). Furthermore, domestic liberals were sympathetic to the long line of laws and policies proposed by Djindjicâ€™s government (on privatization, work, taxes), in order to bring Serbia into the world of â€œstrict but just market capitalism.â€
Such a logic of power recalls in many respects another eastern European case, that of Slovak premier Vladimir Mecijaraâ€™s (1991-1998) â€œpragmatic, pro-western reform,â€ which very quickly showed itself to be nothing more than reckless self-preservation. Mecijara took four years to achieve clientalistic control over national resources and the public media. Thanks to the already developed clientalistic system that he inherited, the Serbian chancellor hurtled down that path much more quickly. In the few months prior to his murder, Djindjic held absolute power in his hands. This absolutism cost him his life.
I have shown that there was no essential difference between Milosevicâ€™s and Djindjicâ€™s system. The same outcry, from the depths of Milosevicâ€™s time, continues to resound in the wasteland of transition. A similar, voracious logic of power saturated both systems.
TV: Djindjicâ€™s murder has also largely been portrayed in the Western media as the terrible price paid by someone who was valiantly trying to crack down on organized crime and political corruption. Having long ignored and overlooked it, it seems that much of the Western media have suddenly discovered â€œorganized crimeâ€ as a political factor for which ordinary Yugoslavs have long paid a heavy price. What is the word inside Serbia and Montenegro regarding the actual circumstances surrounding Djindjicâ€™s murder?
AG: Different scenarios have been proposed to explain the murder of Djindjic. The one that seems the most realistic to me says that Djindjic made â€œthe wrong deal with the wrong people,â€ a deal that he himself probably broke. I believe that Djindjic really did go after and tried to liquidate some group of organized criminals, who likely had a good deal of experience in war crimes gained in the Yugoslav wars, and were linked to state security forces. But the reason for this is not because Djindjic had clean hands or that he was on a one-man crusade to rid the country of organized crime. Rather, because he effectively established absolute power, Djindjic was most likely trying to deceive some of the very people with whom he himself had collaborated to gain power, and whose names could be found on the wanted list for the Hague â€œtribunal.â€ Such people do not forgive double-crossings in their agreements and dealings.
A not insignificant number of people also believe that Djindjic was the casualty of a â€œgreat chess game,â€ in which the German chess piece â€“ Djindjic himself, who was particularly tied to German political circles â€“ was simply switched for a pro-American one. I consider this version to not be very likely.
TV: To what extent might we be able to connect the current state of emergency in Serbia and Montenegro to wider geopolitics and the global state of emergency we seem to be living under in the past few years with the advent of the Bush doctrine?
AG: The social control through extreme panic that the government is exploiting to keep the population under control might be familiar to North American readers. This assassination might seriously be considered a sort of local, Balkan version of the September 11th effect.
After September 11, 2001, America was introduced to one type of state of emergency, which was the starting point for a permanent global state of emergency in which the whole world lives today. It appeared in its full clarity with the military order declared by the President of the United States with the decree of November 13, 2001. That decree concerned the status of non-citizens (those without US citizenship) who are suspected of terrorist activity, subject to a special court that employs indefinite detention and the turnover of suspects to military commissions. The American Patriot Act of October 26, 2001 had already granted authority to the attorney general to arrest any â€œalienâ€ suspected of posing a danger to national security. The innovation in the orders of President Bush lay in the radical erasure of the status of these individuals, and in the very production of an entity whose legal status cannot be fully classified, officially described or named publicly.
One could argue by analogy that the state of emergency in Yugoslavia in many ways resembles the recent American clampdown. Terrorists (or in the Serbian case “organized criminals”) are not the only ones to suffer, but all those who do not agree with neoliberal reforms are targeted. The Serbian government has declared a local, preventative war on all of its citizens. This war is permeated by explicit tactics of psychological denunciation: citizens are encouraged to regard one another as potentially suspicious and to inform on one another to the police. This was a post-World War II practice, a technique of social control that was brought in to Yugoslavia after the break with Stalinism in 1948 , and that, in later Yugoslav social history, unfortunately had very serious consequences.
TV: What do you think the future political impact of the state of emergency will be in Serbia and Montenegro after it is lifted? A partial repeal of the state of emergency is currently being debated, yet several politicians have indicated that certain measures may be retained even after its lifting. For example, the police may retain certain powers that they did not previously have. What are the prospects for the near future politically speaking?
AG: This state of emergency cannot resolve the myriad social problems that exist in today’s Serbia. Current social conditions are truly catastrophic. Poverty is deepening vastly and spreading widely. The number of unemployed is approaching one million people. Every day over 15,000 workers demonstrate. 70% of the population declares itself to be below the poverty line. In one breath, the smell of poverty and the smell of despair is spreading throughout Serbia. The depth of citizens’ discontent cannot be put down with violence.
If Milosevic’s system functioned under a doctrine of “authoritarian isolationism,” and under Djindjic we had “authoritarian modernism,” then this is a system of authoritarian idiocy!
One well-known journalist wrote the following lines a few months before the murder of Djindjic:
“In Tito’s Serbia, it was dangerous to think because you could always end up in prison. In Milosevic’s Serbia, it was dangerous to think because you could be declared a traitor. The danger of thought in Djindic’s Serbia is in creating extreme feelings of loneliness and isolation, to the extent that, if the coexistence of the post-Milosevic extremists continues, leads one to the inevitable question: “Can I retain my sanity?”
In post-Djindjic Serbia, it is dangerous to think because you can end up in prison, you can be declared a traitor, and in any case, you will be brought to the brink of total isolation.
Andrej Grubacic is a historian and social critic from Belgrade, Post-Yugoslavia. He can be reached at [email protected].
Tamara Vukov has been involved in social justice activism and alternative media (film/video, community radio, and digital media) for ten years. She is a doctoral student in media and communication studies in MontrÃˆal, QuÃˆbec. Her most recent web project, Balkan Mediations (see http://www.pomgrenade.org), examines the questions raised for North Americans by the 1999 NATO bombing of Kosovo and Yugoslavia. She can be reached at [email protected].