boris buden on 12 Oct 2000 12:56:33 -0000

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[Nettime-bold] Neither Hitler, nor Nazis, just the last piece of the wall?Comments on Benson's thoughts on Serbia.

Title: Neither Hitler, nor Nazis, just the last piece of the
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 Benson:
>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, etc.
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 bombs.
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 do?
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 influence.
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