Serbia - the firecracker at the centre of the Balkan powder keg

Just after the assassination of the Serbian Prime Minister, Zoran Djindjic, a Marxist in Belgrade sent us this report and analysis. Djindjic certainly had many enemies and our correspondent looks at each one of them. This event reflects the mess that the transition to capitalism has created in the former Yugoslavia. From Pobunjeni Um Editorial Board.

Two years after the overthrow of Milosevic, Yugoslavia remains the firecracker buried at the centre of the powder keg known as the Balkans. Hopes that the post-Milosevic era would be the one of “normal” political life and relative prosperity, definitely ended yesterday. If anyone here still had any illusions at the back of their mind, after the dictator had fallen, that the country would become more stable and the state apparatus would begin to function more smoothly like the so-called “normal” western democracies, they certainly don’t have them any longer. It has become almost a tradition now: since the late eighties nobody can sleep easily because every few years a great political shock hits the country and stirs things up again.

Yugoslavia has not been in the main focus of the world media since the people stormed the streets in October of 2000 and put an end to the rotten rule of Milosevic’s bureaucracy. (see our article, Revolution and counter- revolution in Yugoslavia) Since then, occasional news items have appeared concerning the political in-fighting within the ruling coalition, the Hague tribunal or the numerous scandals. To a casual observer, it may have seemed that all this was happening within the safe boundaries of democratic parliamentarism and that the new political oligarchy was taking root, it seemed that Yugoslavia was firmly on the road of transition from a deformed workers’ state to capitalism.

However, during the last two years, contradictions have piling up under the surface. From the beginning it was obvious that the new ruling elite that took power over the backs of the masses that had toppled Milosevic, would never be able to hold such a firm grip on power as Milosevic once had done. This new ruling circle was weak, rotten and shaky from the start, at least as much as Milosevic’s clique was in its last days. The recent Serbian presidential elections, where no candidate received enough votes to be elected (see “Rainy Days” - An analysis of the failure of the recent Serbian presidential elections) were a clear indication of the crisis of this ruling clique and the weak foundations upon which it stands. The government that was installed after the fall of Milosevic has never had popular support and it is torn from inside by numerous faction fights and various conflicting interests.

The Assassination

All of these contradictions finally came to a head today when the Prime Minister and the leader of the Democratic Party, Zoran Djindjic was assassinated as he was leaving the government building in the centre of Belgrade just a few hours ago. We don’t yet have full and reliable information, however the assassination seems to have been carried out in a professional manner with two sniper shots to the chest and stomach that came from the roof of nearby buildings that surround the back of the Serbian government building. Djindjic died two hours later despite surgical intervention. As I’m writing this, the whole downtown traffic has been brought to a halt by the police roadblocks and thousands of people are returning home on foot from work. People and cars are being stopped and searched randomly. Police says two sniper rifles were discovered that had been thrown away on one of the nearby rooftops. As the eyewitnesses state, just a few seconds after the sniper shots two young men on the ground starting to shoot in the air with their pistols, creating panic and apparently allowing the snipers to escape. Three people have been arrested so far, but there is no indication yet that they were involved in the assassination. Just a few minutes ago a state of emergency was declared - any kind of assembly, strikes or street gatherings are prohibited form this moment on, the government has free hands to limit the scope of free distribution of information. All buses and airplane flights from Belgrade have been canceled.

It is important to note that this assassination does not come out of the blue. Over the last two years unresolved assassinations of state functionaries and gangsters in the streets had become common as the new power apparatus was shaken with scandals. Just two weeks ago a truck hit the Prime Minister’s car on a highway causing an accident that injured his legs. Speculation is still going on to this day whether it was an accident or a failed assassination attempt. Djindjic was still recovering from that accident (he had to use walking sticks, making him an even easier target for the snipers!).

“The Yugoslav Blair”

Zoran Djindjic was born in 1952 and finished Belgrade University studying philosophy where he got involved with the dissident circles of the time. He finished his studies in Germany under the guardianship of Jirgen Habermas at the university of Konstanza where he was attracted to leftwing ideas. He flirted with anarchism for a while, and remained active in the dissident circles after his return to Belgrade. He was sentenced to one year in prison for these activities. When the Titoist bureaucracy started losing its grip on power and the one party system was abandoned, he was one of the founders of the first opposition parties in Yugoslavia in 1989 (the Democratic Party). In 1994 he managed to climb to power within the party ranks, toppling his mentor and the founder of the Democratic Party - Dragoljub Micunovic. Djindjic had no problem in crossing the road from his former ultra-leftism to the new yuppie type of liberal bourgeois politics so typical of many of the former late sixties/early seventies activists. He was the Serbian equivalent to Tony Blair or Joschka Fischer.

During the 1990s, under the rule of Milosevic, he was never able to win mass support for his party and position himself as the main leader of the opposition movement. His openly pro-western political platform never allowed him to achieve much popularity within the working class. Djindjic’s image was further damaged by his notorious Macchiavellian type tactics and his alleged connections with the shady Serbian business elite. During the mass anti-Milosevic protests in the winter of 1996 it was discovered that Djindjic (one of the leaders of that movement) had been negotiating the whole time with Milosevic behind closed doors! He became the mayor of Belgrade for a short time after those protests. Then when the NATO aggression started Djindjic left the country under the bombs claiming his life was in danger! All of this created a lot of scepticism towards him. To this day Djindjic had always scored low points in the public opinion polls. However, despite the lack of a mass following, he was a brilliant organizer and an opposition leader with numerous contacts and connections. His well organized party structure and his connections with people from within the state security apparatus - who had once stood behind Milosevic – did make him an important player. After the fall of Milosevic he was the only opposition leader with the capacity and the infrastructure to take over the state apparatus and run things. During the last two years he had held almost all the instruments of power in his hands, leaving the other leaders within the DOS (the ruling coalition) with the crumbs.

Who did it?

It has almost become a cliché. Whenever you don’t have a plan or don’t have anyone to blame, or don’t want to stir things up by pointing the finger at the real culprits, you accuse the nameless - the criminals and the Mafia. The government almost immediately called for an all out war against organized crime. They say this is the revenge of the Mafia for the pressure they have put on criminal circles over the last few months. Of course, the Mafia is not out of the picture. But this is not because of the hypocritical “war on crime” that the government has been conducting. Since the days of Milosevic the criminal cartels have been - and still are - an integral part of the Serbian ruling oligarchy. Djindjic had deep connections with the powerful Mafia gang cartels and it is quite possible that he had come into a conflict of interests with his sponsors. However, the way the whole operation was carried out seems too big for the Mafia to have acted on their own. Even if they were the executioners there must be someone from within the power structure standing behind them.

The foreign media at the moment are also speculating about the possibility that the murder was ordered from within the nationalist camp in connection with the Hague Tribunal and the extradition of ex-Serbian politicians and army officers and also Djindjic’s pro-western reforms. This is also highly unlikely. These circles don’t have the capacity and logistics for such an ambitious action. If we do accept that it came from these circles, then most probable choice would be that part of the ruling oligarchy that jumped into the DOS camp just prior to or after the October 2001 events. Their business interests and privileges have been threatened by the influx of foreign capital and the opening up of the Yugoslav market. These strata had found their political expression in – and had put their money on - Vojislav Kostunica, Djindjic’s main rival. But Kostunica proved incapable of taking power away from the claws of Djindjic through political means. The Serbian presidential elections, where he failed to collect the number of necessary votes, was the final last losing battle in this war that has been going on since the fall of Milosevic. Therefore it is quite feasible that the matter had to be settled by other means.

What no one has mentioned, however, is the sharp political turn Djindjic had made over the last few months. Djindjic had built his whole career on the pro-European platform of capitalist restoration. The average Yugoslav saw him as a mere western puppet (which he no doubt was) and up to a few months ago he seemed to be serving his foreign masters obediently. But Djindjic was a man of many faces, with Napoleonic features. He seems to have collected too much power in his hands within the state apparatus. This gave him some room for manoeuvre. For example, although he was a firm believer in Western capitalism and its institutions he had begun to criticise the IMF a few months ago for its delay in freeing promised money. Of course everybody recognised this move for what it probably was - a mere bargaining tactic. But then came his initiative over Kosovo. Djindjic seemed to be surprisingly reluctant over this issue. He had been making diplomatic moves over the last few weeks for what he called “the final solution of the status of Kosovo”. Even though he hit a brick wall with almost all of his appeals (the US and the EU had told him this was “not the right moment” since they are occupied with Iraq) he kept pushing this issue, and he even raised the idea of the “partition” of Kosovo into a Serbian and an Albanian part.

This initiative on the part of Belgrade started to stir things up again in the south. The Albanian leadership in the Kosovo parliament voted a resolution for independence and sent it to the EU and US. Guerilla activities have also been reported once again in the area and already two Albanians and a couple of policemen have been killed in the Presevo-Bujanovac area where there is a mixed population. Also significant is the fact that the official position of the regime in Belgrade - unlike its neighbours - did not support the intervention against Iraq. It seems Djindjic had been a little bit too much “off the hook” these days.

We should also note that just after the failure of the Serbian presidential elections, Miroljub Labus (Djindjic’s choice) and a group of other “experts” from Djindjic’s government gathered around the G17 group (many of whom were former members of the Democratic Party) and decided to transform the G17 NGO into a political party with the aim of taking the lead from the Democratic Party as the “champions of the reforms”.

What is clear is that the failure of the presidential elections paved the way for a major change in the political landscape of Serbia. The West is not satisfied with the tempo of the restoration of capitalism in this country. Djindjic was seen as the champion of the “reformist wing” and obviously a new line-up of reformist leaders has already been prepared to take his place. Djindjic’s days were numbered anyway. This assassination will only help speed up the process. Heads will continue to roll here. Both the people of Yugoslavia on the one side and the imperialist powers on the other have had enough of the present criminal nomenklatura. They are trapped between a rock and a hard place! They cannot satisfy either the interests of their own people or those of their foreign masters. The only question is who will remove them first – the workers or the imperialists?

What now?

It would, however, be a waste of time to continue scratching our heads over who did it. For the working class of Yugoslavia this is not of prime importance. Like on numerous occasions in the past, they will not find the murderers, and even if they do find those who actually carried out the assassination it will be impossible to trace those who actually ordered the killing. We must keep our heads cool and not get caught up in trivia. What we know for certain is that this murder will not benefit the working class. It will only be to the advantage of a particular faction within the ruling elite. With his death the process of the restoration of capitalism in Yugoslavia will not slow down, on the contrary. New “reformists” will fill his shoes.

As Marxists, we strongly condemn this act, but not because we had any sympathy towards Zoran Djindjic. On the contrary, we recognized him as one of the main enemies of the Yugoslav working class and of the conquests of the Yugoslav revolution. We condemn it because we understand that this action will only benefit the ruling apparatus. First and foremost this action has given them an excuse for the introduction of a disguised dictatorship known as the “state of emergency”. It will be used in the future also to curtail basic human rights and suppress the freedom of speech and press in this country. Already the main editors of all the daily newspapers have been called to a meeting to discuss the content of tomorrow’s issues.

The state of emergency has been called in just a few minutes with no real discussion in Parliament. There is no constitutional basis for this measure. A State of Emergency is supposed to be called when the country is being attacked from outside and its people are in danger. What has happened here is a showdown within the ruling elite. The people are not in danger. It is the various factions in power who are in a panic and feel that they are in danger from each other. That is why we call for the state of emergency to be lifted at once and al the constitutional rights to be returned.

Secondly this will give them an opportunity to promote Djindjic (who never enjoyed much support) as a martyr for the “cause” (read: the restoration of capitalism in Yugoslavia). There is also the possibility that the people will unite for a short period of time around the government and its propaganda and give their support to repressive police measures out of a feeling of insecurity that they feel at the moment. This will give the ruling oligarchy a chance to get a firmer grip on power and also give them a good pretext to deal with any opposition. Once again the government will be “bailed out”, and they will put the blame for the catastrophic situation facing the country on organized crime or on the quarrels at the top, instead of placing it where it belongs, which is on the economic and political course they themselves have taken.

The ruling elite and its police agencies in Yugoslavia today are in no position to solve this murder! Every single politician in Serbia is - in one way or another - caught up in these rival clashes. Nobody’s hands are clean. It is impossible to rely on these same people, who are financed by the Mafia, to fight against it or bring peace and stability to our country.

Instead of bothering ourselves with their internal vendettas we must focus on the building of an alternative to this madness. Only a new political structure, that has no connections whatsoever with the present ruling circle, a genuine party of the working class, instead of the criminal nouveau rich, would have the authority to take the needed measures and guarantee real safety to the Yugoslav people. This means putting an end to the measures of privatisation and also taking back the main industries under public control. The resources of the country must be in the hands of the workers themselves.

End the state of emergency now!
A criminal cannot be judged by another criminal!
Down with all the ruling factions!