If you could first introduce Freedom Fight to ZNet readers, and then give us something of the socio-political background of contemporary Serbia. I have just been reading the latest UNICEF report, according to which there are over 300,000 children today who are living in poverty or are at risk of poverty. These kinds of things were unimaginable 15 years ago. They were, dare I say it, unimaginable not only in the times of Yugoslav state-socialism, but also in the times of Slobodan Milosevic’s cleptocratic regime. It seems that neoliberal, modern and European Serbia demonstrates certain atavistic social traits. Serbia is now considered to be “the last Balkan state”. Balkan is still considered to be a permanent and natural powder keg of Europe, pacified by the international capitalist community, a region that is, as Richard Holbrooke pointed out, “too complicated (and trivial) for outsiders to master”. How does an anarchist feel living and fighting in this “strange and feral Balkans” (Simon Winchester)?
FreedomFight is an anarchist, alter-globalist movement created in Serbia in 2003. Beside work on alternative web-based media project at www.freedomfight.net, Freedom Fight movement promotes necessity of opposing neo-liberal ideology. But that’s not all, we are not just reaction to the unjust system, we also try to seek for proper alternatives for the life after capitalism. I don’t believe in the so called “end of the history“, that better world is not possible. Their plan is, of course, to convince us in that, but “end of the history“ is going to happen only if we let them destroy the planet – then for sure would not be any history no more.
First step is to fight neo-liberal ideology whose imposing here is being financed with large quantities of money. Except unmasking of promises of better life that we’ll deserve by obeying orders that comes from some places far away from here, from IMF and World Bank, we have to promote alternatives which would capture people’s imagination and took them away from transitional apathy and depression. We have to show people that there is better future beyond capitalism. Of course, any alternative to the neo-liberal models must be also an alternative to the authoritarian systems.
Balkan is a place for geo-strategic experiments of powerful states. They also want by using force to convince us that they are bosses and that we have to obey orders. During NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, which could be avoided if negotiations haven’t been sabotaged with unacceptable ultimatums, the result was escalation of the atrocities. I can’t believe that so many intellectuals abroad supported bombing as “humanitarian intervention”! What about other places where ethnic cleansing was military aided from USA administration!? Was that also their “humanitarian intervention“!? Now that criminal politics took the form of an economic type of oppression.
According to official records of unemployment, in Serbia rate of unemployment is approximately 30%. Transitional Balkan is not a very nice place to live in. People get fired, public property is being sold for nothing, and there is extremely big gap between rich and poor. Many people that call themselves “experts“ are trying to convince us that we need to make some transitional sacrifices so in the future we could live like the “whole normal world“. In fact, they are just well paid exponents of neoliberal ideology. They are imposing here politics which I often call “IMF copy-paste politics“, because IMF is dictating always the same economic measures on no matter what transitional country. Slovenia was not in crises as long as it managed to avoid those measures that have disastrous effect on ordinary people’s life. Due to the neo-liberal reforms Slovenia’s social security system was cut back, public utilities were privatized and living standards for most of the population declined significantly. Serbia is also forced to conduct policies that were designed to fulfill the requirements for entry into the European Union. Elections in Serbia are often presented as most important thing for Balkan stability by international community, which is always suggesting us for who to vote. In fact, nothing depends on the final electoral outcome. No matter what political party seizes state power, the processes of privatization, transition and European integration is going to continue. Most of the despaired people who are against these processes are voting for Serbian Radical Party, which on recent election took 29% of the vote, but, in fact, that party is just a nationalist, pro-capitalist organization with fake populism.
What is the role of intellectuals in Serbia today? Does an independent, critical intellectual exist? Do they take an active part in the social movements? Or do you see only”integrated intellectuals, as late Pierre Bourdieu used to call them?
Well, I’m not sure what term “intellectual“ actually means… Yes, there are people who are well educated and who possess certain knowledge, but I don’t see them often raising their voice for the benefit of the underclass people. I think that at this moment Belgrade University is a neo-liberal stronghold in Serbia. Most of the professors are trying to convince us that this kind of society is inevitable. They say for themselves that they are “realistic“ and that students have to pay tuition fees although all of them during their studies had free education. If you mean on Sartre’s distinction between intellectual and specialist, where intellectual is the one who criticize system and who is involved in fight for social justice, and specialist the one who is expert for certain aspect of knowledge, than we have many specialist but outside of world of activism I don’t see no intellectuals.
Now a difficult question. You are anarchists and anti/alter-globalists. You are against both the international community and the communitarian logic of Serbian nationalism. What is your position on the Hague Tribunal? According to the well meaning, good hearted European liberals, The Hague is the last option to tame the “wild and refractory people of Balkans. Is this Tribunal legal? Does that matter at all? Do you feel tamed and more civilized? Should anarchist support the civilizing efforts of the international community, in order for the people to achieve “reconciliation” and “collective catharsis”, so they can stop being “not-yet” or “never-quite” European?
The Tribunal in The Hague is an ideological institution with disputable validity. It was created by the UN Security Council resolutions 808/93 and 827/93, but Security Council is only UN executive organ and as such it may not establish judicial organs, nor it has right to perform any judicial function.
Beside that, the other problem is the so called “selective justice“. The Tribunal in The Hague prosecutes only crimes committed in a particular space, but war crimes were committed and are being committed in so many areas of the world. This selective justice also contravenes the UN Charter principle of sovereign equality of states.
The Tribunal regulates its own functioning and appears both as a legislative and as a judicial body. There are many violations of civil rights committed by this court, particularly a detention pending trial too long and the fact that there is no right to compensation of damage in case of unlawful detention.
This Tribunal has a mission to hide hands of powerful states covered with blood. Milosevic should have been tried on the territory of the former Yugoslavia. Instead, he passed away in a prison cell under unknown conditions. Bigger war criminals – Clinton, Blair, Bush – are not persecuted.
Could you tell us a bit more about the politics from below? Yugoslavia, old state-socialist Yugoslavia, was the only nation-state with a system of self-management that has existed. Does the memory of self managed work, grassroots democracy at the level of production, and social security still exist among the people? Who are the new protagonists of the politics from below? Is it the old Left in its various-and dull!- manifestations? The workers? The students? The peasants? Anarchists and feminists?
I met few activists abroad who had very positive opinion about self-management in Yugoslavia, but I think that such opinion that comes so often is too much idealistic. In reality that so called self-management system was controlled and coordinated by political bureaucracy and I think it is wrong to even call it self-management. It was certainly not a classless system and there certainly were authoritarian decision making. However, even self-management with those malfunctions was much better system than this one. Anyway, self-management, real self-management, must come from people and it can’t be imposed on them. We can learn from mistakes of the old so called self-management system and re-invent it and improve it.
It is a bit hard to summarize all social protests against dismantling social security system that occurred during transitional years. They are best described by slogan created in Slovenia during demonstrations when more than 40.000 people participated: “For the maintenance of the welfare state”. I have to mention workers of the Serbian pharmaceutical factory “Jugoremedija”, from the town of Zrenjanin, who have been engaged in an ongoing struggle to run their workplace themselves, who became “symbol of resistance to neoliberal capitalism in Serbia“. They have fought the privatization of their factory for over three years. They have occupied factory and fought with police and private army. Recently students of Belgrade University occupied the building of Philosophical faculty for seven days, until University agreed to support demands of students against tuition fees against the government. Those rebellion students now and during occupation functioned in accordance with a direct democracy decision making.
So far most of the rebellions are mainly reaction to the already imposed “structural adjustment” program of the IMF. I think that Serbia lacks of organized prevention of those impositions. People haven’t been expected such a disastrous consequences of the transitions and believed in politician’s lies about better future. There are anarcho-syndicalists and few anarchist-inspired collectives that struggle against neo-liberal measures and offer anti-authoritarian vision of future society, but certainly there is a necessity of creation of united movement against capitalism.
Although few members of Marxist-Leninist organizations from Serbia gave very important contribution during some social protests I think that their political principles and visions are run over by time and that they don’t give for the time being acceptable vision of society. They say that their main goal is a seizure of state power and that for me is not acceptable. There are other anarchist collectives, for example, anarcho-syndicalists from Serbia that are now maintaining Secretariat of the IWA. Their educational syndicate gave significant contribution to recent student demonstrations. There are few valuable people gather around Kontrapunkt Magazine, collective Zluradi paradi, SPK, etc. There is no printed magazine of radical leftist and that failure Freedom Fight movement in coordination with Global Balkan network will try to overcome by editing and printing Z magazine on our language.
What about the Serbian Roma? Roma people are Europe‘s ubiquitous underclass and it’s most marginalized and oppressed citizens. An open letter presented to the EU by the European Roma Rights Center on International Roma Day two years ago reminded us of the fact that “anti-Gypsyism continues to be rife, is rarely punished and is often used as an acceptable outlet of racism in mass media as well as in every aspect of life,” stressing “the persistent reality of extreme poverty and systemic human rights frustration or active abuse in the Roma ghettos which requires urgent concrete action”. A friend of mine, Bill Templer, on a much more optimistic note, sees Roma communities as a “laboratory for self management beyond borders”. In his recent inspiring article in New Politics, he hopes that “their experience in the self-organization of a supranational identity in localized communities can help point certain directions over the longer haul for a denationalizing of Europe’s political structures from the bottom up: decentralized nodes of community within a transnational frame of inventive federation.”
According to Mr. Paul Polansky, an activist working for the rights of the Roma people, the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia and the violence in its aftermath have destroyed the homes and lives of the Roma of Kosovo. Albanian nationalists have thrown the Roma out of Kosovo in even greater numbers proportionately than the Serbs. Of the 150 – 200 thousand Roma of Kosovo, less than 20 thousand remain there when the NATO’s “peace-keeping” forces took control of Kosovo. 15 thousand Romani homes have been destroyed. Mr. Polansky also claims that most international aid agencies in Kosovo discriminate against all minorities, especially Gypsies.
Those remaining Roma are living in UN-built refugee camps in the most degrading circumstances. Paul Polansky claims that the UN built the camps on toxic wasteland. In his book UN-leaded Blood he stated: “At three camps built by the UN High Commission for Refugees, some 60 Gypsy children under the age of six have been exposed to such high levels of lead that they are highly likely to die soon or to suffer irreversible brain damage. This number represents every child born in the camps since they were built five and a half years ago.”
The Roma people are in little less extent also discriminated in Serbia. They are usually beaten by police or skinheads and their entrance into certain object is forbidden. They usually have more problems with local authorities than with ordinary citizens. They have difficulties to find job because of the color of their skin and they are usually allowed only to work some hard labor jobs.
But I have to mention my hometown Raca Kragujevacka, a small town of about 4,000, where everybody knows everybody else, where in the summer of 1999 some 400 Roma refugees from Kosovo found shelter in the big building of my old school located in the downtown. Most of them have never heard of my town before. They were well accepted by local population and there are more and more marriages made by people of different nationality.
Here, in the United States, the myth of Serbian “OTPOR” still persists. According to the liberals, but also a number of radical leftists, they were the grassroots, directly democratic and non-violent force behind the Serbian “Black Revolution” of 2001. Could you tell us what OTPOR! really is?
Organization “Otpor“, in fact, was a USA aided and trained organization. Its purpose was to overthrow Milosevic`s regime and to establish a government which would be obedient to imperialistic demands. After fall of Milosevic in 2000, remains of that organization became a political party and after failure to become a part of Parliament, Otpor merge into Democratic Party. If you look official ideological declarations of Otpor, you’ll see that it was a nationalist, neo-liberal organization which advocated “the restructuring of economy, creating the conditions for a free market, the inevitable privatization and opening of the economy to foreign investment backed by legal guarantees that would facilitate safe investment“ (Declaration of Otpor, 1999).
What about the other seductive myth, the one of the “friendly civil society”? Are NGO’s friends or foes in the process of building anti-authoritarian, left-libertarian social movements in Serbia today? My impression is that the so-called “friendly civil society” and the “advocates of human rights” have been transformed into intellectual commissars of the “modern”, neoliberal political forces.
People from NGOs and those who represent so called “civil society“ allow themselves to criticize certain aspects of the system, but never system itself. They are part of the system and as such they are for changes, which would never endanger the system. They are most welcomed guests of American embassy. They are well paid but they are useless. As reformist organizations they assume system maintenance and if you start questioning system, you’ll have them on your back defending the system.
But how do you see the recent elections? It seems that they will effect the final decision of the status for Kosovo. The Finish fireman, Marti Ahtisaari, in the best tradition of Balkan colonial governors, after introducing his “plan” for Kosovo’s “future”, declared that he is not really interested in what local politicians in Serbia and Kosovo have to say about his proposal. What would be an anarchist response to the artificial dilemma of nationalism or neoliberalism, which denies a possibility for another, horizontal and grassroots approach in this Serbian province? Is there an anarchist proposal for Kosovo?
International community now wants to solve problems that escalated after their “humanitarian interventions“. There is analogy with Iraq – USA bombs country promising establishment of democracy and freedom and after bombing attacked country ends up in chaos. UN peacekeepers did nothing to prevent ethnic cleansing of Serbs and Roma in March of 2004. The special negotiator nominated by the UN Marti Ahtisaari strives to “monoethnic independence“ which is opposed by Belgrade officials. Probably they will be forced to except it but any forced agreement won’t do any good. In exchange for Kosovo Serbia will probably be granted with membership in European-Atlantic alliances.
As Chomsky suggested the partition of Kosovo must be seriously considered and that seems to me as the most appropriate for the time being but it should be, of course, just a temporary solution. Partitions and ethnic borders although at the moment inevitable are failure of humanity and mutual understanding.
However, multi-ethnic society can’t be impose from above. It and ethnic division could be avoided if we recognize that main problem is not territory and to whom it belongs but unsolved essential social problems such as poverty, housing, refugees, privatization. If society is shaped from below by social movements based on solidarity and inclusive democracy we`d be witnessing surmounting of ethnic divisions and conflicts.
And what about Montenegro?
After referendum in May 2006 Montenegro became an independent country. Montenegro’s prime minister of that time, Milo Djukanovic was a former ally of Slobodan Milosevic but in 1997 Western powers used him to dismantle the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and to remove any obstacles to their interests in the Balkans. In return, Montenegro was bankrolled by Western financial support. Unemployment and poverty are very huge and country is ruled by ordinary criminals and cigarettes smugglers. There were many irregularities during anti-independence campaigns. Many people were forced to vote for independence and Montenegrins living abroad were allowed to vote whilst those living in Serbia were barred.
In one of my recent essays I tried to describe the phenomenon I called the “Belgrade Consensus”, or the political argument which is composed of three parts: neoliberalism, nationalism, and the politics of the so called civil society (civilizing the “uncivil one”). The protagonists of this unusual consensus of elites suggest that there could be no alternative beyond mutually dependent nationalist and neoliberal discourses. In this atmosphere, the people of Serbia are deprived of a genuine alternative. They are condemned to becoming depoliticised, to the loss of “political illusions”, to a crisis of political activism, and worse still, being receptive to those of the populist extremism of the extreme right.
Neoliberalism and nationalism are two sides of the same coin. Nationalism is as terrorism just a symptom of capitalist and colonial society. They are not oppose to each other. Capitalist society itself creates enemy it fights against. USA won’t win war against terrorism even if it manage to exterminate all Al-quaida cells. As long as exist exploitation and imperialism there will be those extreme sorts of resistance. USA should lead “war on terror“ within its own borders, that is, it should change its own foreign policy which is main inciter for terrorist activities.
In Balkan nationalistic impulses were stirred up by imperialistic states so they would weaken by internal civil wars those who might opposed imperialistic plans. Beside that, here neoliberalism and nationalism are both ideologically rooted in liberalism. Between those two options differences are almost irrelevant. Both options advocate privatization, dismantling social security system, etc.
Do you think that ideas such as participatory economics, and other proposals for a participatory society, that we here at Z like to advocate, make any sense for the Balkans? Is visionary, participatory politics, which would rest on alternative political designs, and an invitation to think collectively and seriously about the life after capitalism and hierarchy, something that people in Serbia and the Balkans can relate to? In 19th century Russia and Serbia, revolutionaries used to talk about “going to the people”. Do you think that going to the people with the ideas of participatory economy and participatory politics would encounter constructive responses?
Well, idea of parecon is strictly opposed to the neo-liberal dogma so as long as advocates of neo-liberalism have power of manufacturing opinions parecon won’t be accepted and familiar to ordinary people. I am sure that most activists are not acquainted with idea of parecon. Ideas that advocate that everybody have a proportionate participation in the decisions that affect people’s lives must have a stronghold in part of population for whose benefit those ideas are designed. They have to be closely connected with social movements which would advocate them and establish them in practise and in reality. There is an open space for these ideas, maybe especially on Balkan. People lost faith in representative democracy and in political parties. They want to build their future and their lives on their own. I am sure they would recognize parecon as a proper alternative.
*You can contact Freedom Fight at [email protected]
*Andrej Grubacic is an anarchist historian from the Balkans. He can be reached at [email protected]
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