Serbia: Neither neo-liberal nor right-nationalists offer choice in elections

Independent class position needed

After three failed attempts, Serbia is now, finally, on the verge of electing a new President. This has only been made possible by abolishing the constitutional clause that required electoral turnout to be above 50% in order for the election to be valid.

Following the first round on Sunday 13 June, the two leading candidates will now go into a run-off. They are Tomislav Nikolic, from the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party (approx 30%), and Boris Tadic, standing for the neo-liberal Democratic Party (approx 28%).

Contempt for capitalist politicians

Dragan Marsicanin, the candidate of the governing coalition, did very poorly (13%), limping into fourth place behind the wealthy businessman Bogoljub Karic who got a surprisingly high score of 18%. Like elsewhere in Europe, the voters took the opportunity to punish the government at the polls. In this case, the electorate reacted against the coalition government of Prime Minister Kostunicia’s Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), and the smaller parties, G17 and Serbia Renewal Movement / New Serbia.

The fact that three previous elections failed due to low voter turn-out, and that the turn-out for this election was also under 50%, illustrates the complete lack of enthusiasm, or rather the distain towards for the new ‘democratic’ gangster-capitalist regime. Since 2000, crime and corruption have continued, and the economic consequences of increased privatisation have been disastrous for the working class.

The Milosevic regime represented high levels of corruption and cronyism and created the super rich elite, largely based on Milosevic’s family, friends and the mafia. The anti-Milosevic revolt, in 2000, hoped to bring all this to an end.

Due to the lack of independent workers’ organisations and, crucially, the existence of a genuine socialist alternative, the revolution in 2000 placed in power the capitalist parties grouped together in the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS). It is the failure of these neo-liberal parties to bring about prosperity and an end to corruption and organised crime that is now largely responsible for the rise of the far-right nationalist sh:‘Radicals’.

The Serbian Radicals previously propped up the Milosevic regime. Their leader, Vojislav Seselj, is now in prison in The Hague, on trial for war crimes. At the time of the anti-Milosevic revolt, Seselj and his Radicals were widely hated. Now, after experiencing the neo-liberal alternative for four years, some sections have turned to the far-right out of desperation. Following the elections late last year, the Radicals are now the largest single party in parliament.

The previous DOS government, and the current DSS-led government, have both pursued economic ‘reforms’ (in reality counter-reforms) aimed at meeting the economic criteria to achieve future EU membership. These are rightly unpopular amongst the working class, whose living conditions they attack.

Gangster-capitalism continued

The post-Milosevic governments have also been tainted by corruption and connections with the Mafia. Following the assassination of the former Prime Minister, Zoran Djindjic, numerous conspiracy theories have begun to emerge. These essentially link members of the DOS government to rival mafia gangs. Senior officials in Djindjic’s own party are alleged to have visited members of the mafia in jail. Rather than being a relatively straightforward case of Milosevic-era ‘Red-Beret’ paramilitaries striking out in opposition to the governments’ co-operation with the International Court of Justice, many Serbs believe that the truth behind the assassination is much more complicated.

In all the post-Stalinist regimes (this includes Yugoslavia, which was a bureaucratically controlled state and in no way represented genuine socialism) a brutal kind of capitalism emerged following the capitalist counter-revolutions – now dubbed gangster-capitalism. In these regimes, the ruling class are not separate from the mafia gangs but intrinsically linked to them. This, of course, includes the capitalist governments that succeeded Milosevic. In recent weeks, the sister of Zoran Djindjic was threatened by the mafia. Thugs broke into her apartment (presumably to keep her quiet about something) and the editor of ‘Dan’ newspaper was murdered in the Montenegrin capital. No doubt there are numerous other examples of mafia murders, beatings and organised crime.

To add to the factors of the economy and corruption, there are also contentious issues dominating society, such as the status of Kosovo/Kosova, the region now under Nato control following the US-led 1999 war against Serbia, and the continued co-operation with the International Court of Justice in The Hague. These are seen by some Serbs as ‘national humiliations’. The Radicals are able to use this to promote their brand of Serb national chauvinism. The ‘Greater Serbia’ project that underpins their ideology is an extremely reactionary concept. The Radicals’ leader, Vojislav Seselj, outlined the party’s dangerous aims: “We will never stop trying to create a Great Serbia, one in which all Serbian countries east of the Karlobag-Oguli-Karlovac-Virovitica line, will be united."

Neither the neo-liberal nor the right nationalist

However a victory for the Radicals in the run-off elections is unlikely. The supporters of the DSS, G17, and various other ‘democratic’ parties, who would be expected to back Tadic, would have to stay away from the polls en mass to allow this to happen. While there is a large rift between the DS and the parties of government, a ‘democratic’ bloc is none the less likely to be formed. Equally as significant could be who Karic’s first round supporters transfer to in the run-off.

The ‘democratic’ forces are likely to unite behind Tadic to ensure Nikolic is defeated. Tadic has already made calls for all ‘democratic’ forces to rally behind him in the second round in order to “stop the radicalization of Serbia and secure political stability, economic recovery and a road to European integration." (‘B92’, 14 June 2004).

Workers and their organisations will gain nothing from this so-called ‘democratic’ front of Boris Tadic, whose policies are anti-working class. Both presidential candidates, and the present government, are pro-market. Serbia joining the EU will mean joining the bosses’ club at the expense of workers living standards and conditions. Joining NATO means signing up to the imperialist armed force that is used against working people throughout the Balkans and internationally. Working people in Serbia need their own political organisation to represent their interests, a mass workers’ party.

Imperialism’s fears

Imperialism is certainly jittery about events in the Balkans. Despite the Balkans states voting for each other during the Eurovision song contest in true Eurovision style, the relationships between the states of the region are a great deal more complex and remain highly volatile. The possibility for eruptions of inter-ethnic, national and religious violence, as well as the emergence of radicalism, both to the left and the right, make the Balkans a dangerous place to invest in and do business.

This is, of course, what worries the imperialist powers – not any genuine desire for peace in the region. In the past, they have been more than prepared to back different states and ethno-religious groups to further their own interests. The former Yugoslav Stalinist bureaucrats, who ushered in capitalist restoration and then fought each other over the spoils, also utilised extreme nationalism to create a power base for themselves, with disastrous and bloody consequences for the peoples of the region.

On the basis of capitalism there will always be a ruling class, or in some cases an aspiring ruling class, as well as imperialist powers, that will seek to manipulate the divisions in the Balkans for their own gain. The workers of the region must strongly resist all division and unite to fight in their common class interest. This includes fighting in defence of all minority rights by taking them up in a class manner.

Imperialism, in the form of the EU and US, along with the ruling classes of the Balkan states, will be hoping for the defeat of Nikolic in the 27 June run-off. If the Radicals were to win they would almost certainly dissolve the DSS-led government and call new parliamentary elections with the aim of forming a new government. Imperialism rightly fears that this would result in destabilisation of the region and a possible return to an ‘isolationist’ Serbia. This would severely set back the process towards EU integration in the Balkans. It could also result in the Montenegrin ruling class opting to break the union with Serbia and going down the path of independence. This would add yet another state to the Balkans tinderbox.

The workers and their organisations will gain nothing from the victory of either Nikolic or Tadic. Workers need to build independent class action, against Tadic and Nikolic, as well as the DSS-led government and imperialism. Linked to a strategy of industrial struggle against privatisation and public spending cuts, as well as the urgent necessity of building a new workers’ party, could bring about a drastic change in the situation.

The working class are the only force in society capable of ending the nightmare situation that has ensued since capitalist restoration in the Balkans. On the basis of a democratically planned economy, along with a voluntary confederation of socialist states in the Balkans, living standards could be dramatically raised and the economic basis for national, ethnic and religious conflict removed, once and for all. A first step towards achieving this goal would be workers’ organisations in Serbia adopting an independent class standpoint and consequently taking concrete steps towards the building a mass workers’ party to challenge the capitalist parties of all shades.

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June 2004