Knijge Raspleta

Slobodan Antonic, Milosevic: Jos Nije Gotovo, (Beograd, Vukotic Media, 2015).

I have quite a few books, and I am fond of those that I had purchased and received as gifts in Belgrade and Sarajevo. I hope to review them. One is a book on the former President of Serbia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosevic, by Slobodan Antonic.

This I bought in a nice little bookshop on Knez Mihailova, which is a fine old style European pedestrian thoroughfare in the heart of Belgrade. I also went book hunting in Sarajevo. In Belgrade I was told by a taxi driver that I speak excellent Serbian. In Sarajevo I was told at Bascarsija, the beautiful old Ottoman part of town, that I speak excellent Bosnian. 🙂

I was struck by how the historical and political sections in the bookshops that sell new titles in both cities tend to be dominated by nationalist texts.

The book by Antonic is called Milosevic: Jos Nije Gotovo. That is, “Milosevic: Still Not Over.”

The title is a play on the slogan, “Gotov Je” (“It’s Finished” but really “He’s Finished”) of the Otpor (Resistance) protest movement that helped to oust Milosevic in a political revolution, Serbia has experienced a few of those, on October 5 2000. Otpor, it should be said, was a neoliberal US funded NGO and is now a US funded INGO.

Antonic is a liberal nationalist who tends to support the outlook and policies of Vojislav Kostunica and his Democratic Party of Serbia. He is a Professor of Sociology at the noted Philosophical Faculty of the University of Belgrade. Unfortunately, when I visited the well known philosophy bookshop, “Plato,” was closed due to renovations.

The interesting thing about Milosevic: Jos Nije Gotovo is that Antonic changes his outlook on Milosevic quite significantly. During Milosevic’s period in office Antonic was quite critical, focusing on the authoritarian nature of his rule. For instance, in one paper I remember reading Antonic opens by speaking about the manner in which Milosevic ousted from the higher echelons of the Socialist Party of Serbia three individuals, one of whom was Mihailo Markovic; he simply read out their names. They were finished. Period.

However, good portions of Milosevic: Jos Nije Gotovo, are quite apologetic and look admirably upon Milosevic’s Machiavellian political manoeuvres.

I remember reading, when in High School, an interview by NIN magazine with the Italian Foreign Minister, Gianni De Michelis, and he was asked about Milosevic’s tactical acumen as a politician. His response struck me then and I was constantly reminded of it as I waded through Antonic’s narrative. De Michelis stated; “Milosevic is a good politician, but that is Serbia’s tragedy.”

He was right. Antonic, most certainly, doesn’t think so.

Although Antonic is given to criticism of Milosevic, overall he adopts a favourable verdict upon the Milosevic era. He praises Milosevic for preventing the neoliberal pauperisation of Serbia, and for his achievements as a statesman those being the carving of Republika Srpska in Bosnia and UN Resolution 1244 regarding Kosovo during NATO’s bombing of Serbia, both of which he takes to have been in the Serbian national interest.

I spoke above of Mihailo Markovic, who was a noted Yugoslav and Serbian philosopher. Markovic completed his Doctorate under the supervision of Alfred Ayer, he of Language, Truth and Logic, and was a key figure in the Praxis group of dissident humanist Marxist philosophers. The ideas of the Praxis group played an important role in the June 1968 student uprisings that began at the Philosophical Faculty of the University of Belgrade.

One of the main concerns of the uprising and the Praxis group was the development and effect of bureaucracy in what was supposed to be a self-managed socialist society. Milosevic, ironically enough, appropriated these ideas in his so called “anti-bureaucratic revolution,” which centralised power in Serbia. Markovic at the time was the key ideologue of Milosevic’s Socialist Party of Serbia.

This period represents an unfortunate stage in the life of Mihailo Markovic. However, that does not mean that one ought to dismiss the ideas of Praxis nor judge Markovic himself solely on the basis of this period in his intellectual and political life. I will write more of Markovic at a later date.

To return to Milosevic.

Antonic concludes his book by asking whether Milosevic will be remembered as an authoritarian dictator or as a symbol of resistance to globalisation. In this sense Milosevic is still not finished for history has yet to come to grips with his era. The definitive verdict has yet to be made for the struggle against globalisation and US hegemony continues.

It’s clear, nonetheless, where Antonic, now, leans on the historical legacy of Slobodan Milosevic.

While it may be true that history has yet to account for the Milosevic era, so thereby Millosevic is indeed still not finished, nonetheless Milosevic is not finished in the sense that Antonic would have him be finished. The crude, and most simplistic, western caricature of Milosevic is surely false. With this I agree. However, I cannot come to the same, implicit, conclusion as Antonic namely that Milosevic was a symbol of resistance to globalisation or that this was a motivating concern of his.

In Serbia now there is a kind of nostalgia not just for Socialist Yugoslavia, but also for the Milosevic era. This is understandable. The tycoonisation of Serbia (as it is called in Serbia or Oligarchisation as called in Russia and Ukraine), through US and European imposed neoliberal privatisations and privations, which amounted to systematic robbery, occurred after the October 5 revolution. This process developed especially during the period when Boris Tadic and his Democratic Party dominated the Serbian political scene.

This has impoverished many, the effects of which I could not help but notice everywhere I went. Neoliberalism has been a veritable disaster for Serbia, and continues to be so. Indeed, many of the former republics of socialist Yugoslavia are now third world style banana republics.

However, it is a category error to judge the Milosevic era with reference to what came after him. The social and economic dislocations of Serbian society also have quite a bit to do with the Milosevic era.

Milosevic is best described as a classic Communist Party apparatchik. He latched on to nationalist ideas and currents that were popular in the Serbian intelligentsia as a means to centralise Serbia and to legitimise his rule. This led to repression in Kosovo and helped to flame conflict in Croatia and Bosnia which devastated the region.

Milosevic’s adoption of a nationalist programme, which waxed and waned depending upon the political needs of the moment, was not the only factor in the breakup of Yugoslavia and the wars of Yugoslav succession in Croatia and Bosnia, but they were nonetheless significant factors, which any objective Serbian intellectual should recognise. The wars and repression were ethically odious, and they were a disaster for the people of the region.

Nationalist sentiment is still strong in Serbia and that also among the Serbian intelligentsia. Many criticise Milosevic not for his adoption of a nationalist programme, but for his failure to realise it and for his betrayals during the Croatian army’s “Flash” and “Storm” operations. Many argue that the policies of Serbian nationalism adopted by Milosevic were wrongly implemented. Some say that they were prematurely pursued during a period of Russian weakness and American strength.

Such considerations will doubtless prompt “knijge raspleta” or “books of denouement” on the Milosevic era.

In this sense Antonic’s title, Milosevic: Jos Nije Gotovo, is apt. But just not how he meant it. Serbia has still to realise that its current predicament is a reflection of *both* the adoption of a nationalist programme during the Milosevic era and the neoliberal privations that came after it.

Milosevic will be finished when the nationalism that became dominant in his era is also finished. The serpent in the bosom of the Serbian nation still beats strong. But that nationalism will not be finished so long as the neoliberal privations that came after Milosevic are also not finished.

One of the best quotes on Serbia I have come across is due to the Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin. In his Statism and Anarchy Bakunin, who formed an anarchist section of the International with Russian and Serbian students, states of the revival of the Serbian state following an uprising against Ottoman rule; “The one and only function of the State, therefore, is to exploit the Serbian people in order to provide the bureaucrats with all the comforts of life.”

You would be hard pressed to find anyone in Serbia who disagrees with this.