boris buden on 12 Oct 2000 17:08:41 -0000

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<nettime> Neither Hitler, nor Nazis, just the last piece of the wall? Comments on Benson's thoughts on Serbia.

The toughest challenge for a medium which considers itself to be 
alternative is to provide an alternative view on the contemporary 
political reality. For the world we live in seems to be simpler then 
ever: ideology has disappeared, history is something we have left 
behind and not few of us think the politics doesn't exist any more. 
If then suddenly happens that we face all of that at once, and that 
in the shape of a real tragedy full of blood and corpses (something 
we should imagine as a scene Fortinbras enters in the last act of 
Hamlet), no wonder that we tend to believe, that there must have been 
some madness at work in this drama, some pathological monster, who 
doesn't really belong to our otherwise so normal world. Let's quote 
>Listening to Kustunica's lengthy interview on TV Serbia last night, I
>suddenly realized that extent to which the madness of the last decade --
>a madness that consumed an entire country and took hundreds of thousands
>of lives -- was the extension of the pathologies of one diseased,
>brilliantly cunning, and utterly ruthless man.
I cannot say that Benson is simply wrong. How could I know what would 
have happened if Milosevic had never been born? But, I can say that 
Hartmann is right urging us to find some alternative approach to the 
political problem we are discussing here. In his thoughts on recent 
events in Serbia Michael Benson doesn't even try to do that. On the 
contrary, in his attempt to explain the Yugoslav tragedy out of 
Milosevic's alleged madness, he follows a conventional pattern of 
today's understanding of  recent political and historical 
developments in the Balkans.
My intention here therefore is not to criticize Benson - for his 
*false* approach has motivated me to write this - but to try to think 
of the issue in a different, hopefully, an alternative way.

So let me first ask, what really happened last week in Belgrade?
As you all probably remember, only a day after the protesters stormed 
the parliament and TV-building - at the moment when the outcome of 
this action was still unclear - the international public already 
seemed to know what is the historical character of that event. 
Spain's prime minister Aznar, German president Rau, Tony Blair in 
Warsaw, Clinton and the most important main stream media 
enthusiastically welcomed the overturn of Milosevic - as the final 
act of the Easteuropean democratic revolution. The historical and 
political process which had begun with Solidarnosc in Gdansk, 
culminated in the fall of the Berlin wall 89, has been now completed 
in Belgrade, where democracy in a belated - but not less authentic - 
revolution has finally won the victory over totalitarianism. With the 
fall of Milosevic, to quote Joschka Fischer, *the last piece of the 
wall has fallen.*
This is the current explanation of what should be the historical 
meaning of the Belgrade upheaval. It has been immediately followed by 
lifting of the sanctions, by promises about a financial help of *2 
billion Euros* and full reintegration of the Yugoslav state and its 
representatives in the institutions of the international community, 
Of course, this practical re/integration has been made possible only 
by the symbolic one: Serbs could reenter today's Europe only after 
they have defeated Milosevic as the last European communist. In 
distinction from all other events of their recent history (war in 
Croatia, siege of Sarajevo, Kosovo) which were so far completely 
excluded from the European history - as rather belonging to a 
particular Balkan cultural identity, as being something intrinsically 
nonhistrical, nonpolitical and of course, non European - the storming 
of the Belgrade parliament has been fully recognized as a moment of 
the contemporary European history, as a piece of that same communist 
wall. Serbs too, as the nation-subject of this event, have got their 
own role to play in our heroic story about the final victory of 
democracy over the communist totalitarianism. In fact, this is the 
whole Yugoslav drama, this *decade of madness*, which has been now 
retroactively reintegrated into the European historical main stream, 
as a peculiar and belated, but nevertheless an authentic part of it. 
However, the real purpose of this symbolic act of inclusion is not at 
the first place to reintegrate Serbs and the Balkans into Europe, but 
more to rebuild the European political identity out of the final 
victory of democracy over its last communist enemy. From now on, 
there is no serious challenge to the existing order, all dangerous 
antagonisms are disappeared - either as a past, we have victoriously 
crossed over, or as a pathological Other we have finally taken under 
control. It is the normality to rule now all over the *felix europa*.
It is not difficult to see the interest of the free world's political 
elite lurking behind this euphoria. I am not talking here only about 
the most comfortable way for this elite to get rid of any 
responsibility for the Yugoslav war by putting all the blame on the 
political corpse of Slobodan Milosevic. To declare so loudly that the 
fall of Milosevic was the final victory of democracy has another 
purpose - it suppresses the real defeat of this same democracy.
This proves in the best way a funny misunderstanding about the real 
effect of the last year's NATO-intervention. While Serbs believe that 
democracy has won despite the bombing, the West proudly proclaims 
that this has happened because of the bombing. The real truth is of 
course, that democracy hasn't won at all. Neither Serbs, nor the free 
democratic world has any idea of how to solve the Kosovo problem in a 
democratic way; there is still no democratic solution for Bosnia 
either. The military protectorate in an ethnically cleansed Kosovo; 
an almighty governor in Bosnia, who can in every moment suspend any 
decision of a parodic parliament; so called sovereign constitutional 
states (Rechtsstaaten) which cannot prosecute their own pronounced 
war criminals; economies which need ten to fifteen years more to 
reach the level of development they had ten years ago under 
communism; a peace grounded only in a military threat from the 
outside, ... is that how the final victory of democracy looks like?

Far from being a totalitarian, i.e. external obstacle to the 
development of democracy, a genius of political surviving in a time 
when all historical opportunities of his political existence seemed 
to be exhausted, or simply a pathological phenomenon, a clinical case 
- to mention some of the faces he got in the Western public - 
Milosevic has been actually a product of the modern democracy itself, 
an expression of its immanent antagonisms. For we forget very easily 
that his rule had basically a democratic character. He was the 
president of a state which is constitutionally a pluralist 
parliamentary republic, where he won several free elections and would 
have won them even without having cheated. All that was happening in 
the circumstances of a relative media freedom, i.e. a pluralistically 
articulated public. I quote from a report about the independent media 
in Yugoslavia, published shortly before the NATO-intervention. At 
that time we could find in Yugoslavia *half a dozen independent 
dailies, several weeklies, 3 independent news agencies, more than 40 
independent local newspapers and journals, more than 50 independent 
radio and TV stations which cover about 70 percent of the country's 
territory, two associations of independent journalists, and an 
independent international press center*. Does it look like a 
communist dictature? However, this same country - a land of pluralist 
democracy and high developed media freedom - was after that attacked 
as a symbol of political backwardness, total absence of law and 
order, dictatorship etc., short - as the last bastion of a communist 
totalitarianism in Europe. Something was wrong here, wasn't it?
Benson quotes a text taken from the International Justice Watch 
Discussion List:
>So, Slobo is/was particularly ruthless, but we need to see him as 
>part of a >class of communist/apparachniks who increasingly assumed 
>power in >Serbia (and elsewhere) after Tito wiped out an entire 
>generation of talented >Serbian politicians (the so-called liberals) 
>in 1972. That was one of many >key turning points for Serbian 
>politics. Interestingly, Kostunica, though >never really a 
>communist, represents a comeback for that generation.  Let's >hope 
>other very talented people from that era re-emerge.

True, Milosevic started as a communist apparatchik, but he doesn't 
end as the one, and he is definitely not the last communist in 
Europe. He was rather a first communist ruler who openly gave up one 
of the essential dogmas of the communist ideology - the proletarian 
internationalism. And this precisely was the ideological ground on 
which the second Yugoslavia (1943 - 1991) was founded, on which 
almost all the forms of political and constitutional solidarity of 
the Yugoslavian nations were organized, on which finally the Yugoslav 
Constitution of 1974 was based, the Constitution which gave Albanians 
so wide autonomy that Kosovo nearly got a status of a republic - 
within the Republic of Serbia. And it was Kostunica among other low 
professors - not among the liberal Serbian politicians - who 
criticized at that time the Constitution. They did it as alleged 
legalists and what they attacked was the law based on a communist 
ideology. The communist regime accused them of nationalism and was in 
that case for sure not wrong. However, the nationalist professors had 
legalistic arguments on their side and the anti nationalist regime 
only its communist ideology and at that time still enough power to 
suppress the critics and to implement the Constitution which gave 
Albanians the Kosovo autonomy.
Milosevic comes more then ten years later. He quits using the 
communist rhetoric and rediscovers the legalist discourse of the 
dissident professors.  Instead of *brotherhood and unity* (as 
Yugoslav form of the proletarian internationalism), he addresses the 
violated justice of Serbian nation. Instead of class politics, he 
makes identity politics. His alleged communism is from that point on 
nothing but a cynical pragmatism. He uses it only to gain or to 
preserve his power.
Finally, 1990 came the democracy with its free and pluralist 
elections, but without any concept of political solidarity which 
could do the job of the former proletarian internationalism and put 
again those 6-8 Yugoslav nations together. The rest is contingency.

This was not the communism, which now, with the fall of Slobodan 
Milosevic, finally leaves the historical scene. It is rather the 
crisis of the modern democracy which has made itself visible in the 
Yugoslav tragedy and its protagonists like Milosevic. The concept of 
democracy which cannot abandon the framework of a nation-state has 
been brought in the Balkans to its absurdity. On the Yugoslav 
question - the question of how to unite democratically a people, 
already divided in political nations, on a level higher than the 
nation-state - it has faced obviously its immanent limits. This is 
probably the traumatic truth which the so called free world tries to 
suppress through its euphoric glorification of the Serbian democratic 
revolution, which allegedly won the victory over the communism as its 
last serious enemy. The problem which is at stake here, gets its 
dramatic meaning in the front of a challenge that the European Union 
has to take up in defining its final political status; the challenge 
of a political and legal meaning of the so called *la finalite 
d'Europe*. And this is what is next on the European political agenda.
Again Benson:
>Yeah, I stopped celebrating already when I heard that Kostunica had 
>a >meeting with Milosevic today and came out of it saying he 
>wouldn't hand >himover to the Hague. My celebration's over.

Well, this is nothing new, therefore, not a reason to stop the 
celebration if one already has found something to celebrate. 
Kostunica has been continually repeating that he won't hand Milosevic 
over to the tribunal in Hague. This is not a tactical move, something 
what he has done to gain the support of Serbian nationalists, but a 
very consequent, essential statement. For, - as far as he is not 
simply the Forest Gamp of the whole story - Kostunica is a legalist 
nationalist. He experienced legalism not only as the strongest weapon 
in the struggle against communist ideology, - for him and probably 
for the most of the world public, the only not-any-more-existing 
ideology - but also as the best means to promote national interests. 
In his first interview on the liberated TV-Serbia he stressed 
explicitly that he would like to write an essay on the Hague tribunal 
to prove professionally its illegal status. I think we should believe 
him. He can for sure find enough arguments for his thesis. However, 
what he has forgotten, is the fact that legalism, if not earlier, 
then at least with the last year's NATO-intervention, has become 
again a free floating signifier which likes the most to be attached 
to a more powerful interest - something what communists already knew 
and on what naive anticommunists were reminded again by democratic 
Let us therefore be honest - The Hague tribunal is obviously a 
political institution. And Slobodan Milosevic is quite likely to be a 
war criminal either. Chto dielat? as Lenin would ask, what shall we 
Many of us tend to take a today's usual leftist stance: I know that 
the Hague tribunal, according to the existing international law, is 
an illegal institution, which is in fact, an instrument of political 
hegemony, established with the purpose to derogate the sovereignty of 
the weak nations and promote the imperialist interests of the strong 
ones, but since it could punish some war criminals like Milosevic, 
why should we protest?
This is exactly what those who misuse the Hague tribunal for their 
particular political interests expect of us to think. Our cynical 
pragmatism is the best means of their hegemony. We can challenge this 
hegemony only if we take the idea of the Hague tribunal seriously, 
i.e., if we take it as what it is - a political message - and do 
rearticulate the meaning of this massage in our own way. We could for 
instance declare the Hague tribunal as the ultimate proof that the 
epoch of nation-state, as being the highest instance of justice, is 
finally over. We could go further and ask, how does it change our 
particular loyalties, wether it pushes us towards a new global civic 
responsibility or not, etc.
Or more practically, we could already today imagine a role the Hague 
tribunal should play in the Middle East crises.
What the Hague puts in question, is not only the Yugoslav 
sovereignty, but sovereignty as such, which means the sovereignty of 
France and Great Britain, of China and USA. This is not about 
Milosevic, this is about changing the world! Those who find these 
words pathetic, should recall a really pathetic kitsch - the moralism 
which has almost completely overtaken our political discourse and 
which is nothing but the other, complementary side of the same 
cynical pragmatism I mentioned above. (*See footnote)
And finally a rhetoric question: What makes this approach alternative?
This is the fact that it doesn't focus on the others in their 
responsibility for the past we cannot change. On the contrary, it 
addresses our own responsibility for the future we can still 
Let the main stream not forget the past. Nettime should remember the future.

***)Maybe the best example of this cynical pragmatism combined with a 
moralist kitsch has been here on the list presented by Richard 
Barbrook. He calls Milosevic a *racist monster* and characterizes his 
regime as a fascist one.
>  I thought that the Left was supposed to support national liberation
>  struggles and oppose fascism! If the American imperialists choose to aid
the oppressed against the oppressors, why should we protest?
Upon this logic we can support both, Albanians fighting the Serbian 
oppressors, as much as Serbs fighting the Western imperialism, what 
the Left did last year during the NATO bombing. Milosevic himself 
used the same logic to support Serbian minority in Croatia in 1991. 
He has never used any kind of racist or fascist rhetoric. He has 
rather moralized about helping the victims. The rhetoric he has been 
using, was the one of the legal human and national rights.
Since upon Barbrook's logic we can support everything, what finally 
decides, is for him a contingent individual experience:
>  Or maybe they've met people who lived through the siege of Sarajevo, had
>  their relatives murdered by Chetniks, survived being imprisoned in a
>  concentration camp or were burnt out of their homes? My sister was a
>  Greenham Common peace protestor in the 1980s who had turned into a 
>NATO tanks-to-Belgrade hawk by last year
I have relatives who fought Chetniks in Sarajevo. And also those who 
were burnt out of their homes by the same Chetniks in northern 
Bosnia. It was my mother who - same as Barbrook's sister - welcomed 
last year the bombing of Belgrade. ... But, I didn't!
A war experience doesn't make people more clever. But, it doesn't 
make them more stupid either.
Behind Barbrook's logic is an idea about the people who are so 
emotionalized by their historical experience that they are not any 
more capable of abstract, logical, objective thinking, of 
articulating rationally their particular political position. This 
view is a real racist one!  According to this view, there has been in 
the former Yugoslavia only one antagonism at work - the one between 
innocent victims and pathological monsters, i.e. a completely 
nonhistorical and nonpolitical antagonism. Today's euphoria about a 
democratic revolution in Serbia is a logical complement to this 
racist view. The antagonism between democracy and communist 
totalitarianism is the only one the Western democratic world can 
still recognize as belonging to its actual historical experiance. Of 
course  - only at the moment when it ceases to exist, what has 
allegedly happened these days in Belgrade.

Boris Buden

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