The organizers were predicting the biggest demonstration the country has ever seen on Thursday, 21st February 2008. The government hoped that the outcry over Kosovo could mobilize more people than the events around the break-up of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s or the overthrow of Milosevic in 2000 and claim they had gathered a rally of a million. The truth is that a more modest number of around 150,000 people poured into the streets of Belgrade. Nevertheless, the ruling class successfully managed to orchestrate an artificial outburst of destructive nationalism which resulted in a zero security situation in down town Belgrade, with extreme right-oriented lumpen pillaging and plundering in what appeared to be a fascist carnival of mindless aggression.
It started with minor groups of young people gathering in the centre, waving Serbian and Chetnik flags and singing nationalistic songs. They were eventually joined by people who arrived from other Serbian cities and towns. Schools in Serbia were closed on the orders of the Minister of Education, workers were given a free afternoon and transportation was free. Tensions were already running high, since many of the participants in the rally were apparently intoxicated before the rally had even begun. The whole mass seemed as if it was going to explode at any time, and eventually it did.
The speeches from the platform were painfully conservative, invoking the myth of the Battle of Kosovo, presenting a medieval feudal battle that took place in 1389 as a national struggle for freedom of the - at the time non-existent - Serbian nation. Another thing the speakers appealed to was, once again, international bourgeois law, with much gratitude directed at the countries that are refusing to recognize Kosovo, namely Russia, Spain, South Africa, Brazil, Cuba and others...
The speakers included the most prominent Serbian far right politicians, including Tomislav Nikolić, leader of the Serbian Radical Party (SRS), Velimir Ilić, a minister in the Government of Serbia, with the main figure of the rally being Prime Minister Vojislav Koštunica. The main pro-Western Democratic Party officially also participated in the organization of the protest, although its leader, Borislav Tadić, suddenly found himself on a diplomatic trip at the time, thus not being able to attend. The tone of the speeches was extremely aggressive, as was the way in which the audience responded. The chauvinist slogans mentioned in the earlier article were heard once again, while the bourgeois politicians did nothing to tame those racist outbursts.
After the rally, the wave of destruction was started with attacks on foreign embassies. The mob ascended on the Turkish, US, Croatian, British, German, Slovenian, Italian, Dutch and Belgian embassies causing mayhem on the way and trying to inflict as much damage as possible on the above stated targets. After the embassies had been "dealt with", the mob went on to pillage and plunder stores and banks in down town Belgrade - leaving alone only those that showed the sign "Kosovo je Srbija" ("Kosovo is Serbia") in their windows. It was a clear statement to anyone thinking of dissent: the regime has its unofficial hound dogs willing to beat anyone into accepting the official political line. There was nothing spontaneous about the actions of the young gangs on the streets. The marked targets were left unprotected and the police greeted the protesters with sympathy intervening only where the situation was threatening to get out of control. Ordinary citizens were petrified by these fascist gangs.
Numerous attempts were made by bourgeois analysts - both, liberal and right wing - to offer some "scientific explanation", as to what had happened on that grim and surreal day in the Serbian capital. Right-wingers tried to convince everyone how the people had been provoked and urged their voters not to repeat their ravaging, since that would, they claim, "weaken our diplomatic position in the UN Security Council". None of them unambiguously condemned what was an apparent outburst of fascist reaction in the very literal sense. Instead they tried to excuse and justify it by explaining that Kosovo arouses great emotions inside every Serb and blaming the "foreign element" among the protesters.
Liberal comments, on the other hand, blamed the government for its inability to stop the violence and tried to explain this event by whining about the lack of the "rule of law", in Serbia, lack of "respect for private property", and, of course, the moral decline of the Serbian society after almost a century of life under "collectivist ideologies" of communism and nationalism. Liberal intellectuals in Belgrade are in disarray, and isolated in their foreign funded NGO's, they cry about the return of nationalism and the utterly "backward" masses that are incapable of appreciating the advantages of Euro-Atlantic integration, thus keeping the whole country hostage.
As Marxists, it is our duty to reveal the total emptiness of both of these so-called "explanations". First of all, there is no need to "understand the emotions of the Serbian people", since it was not the workers of Serbia who launched such a savage campaign that night - it was well organized elements of lumpenproletarians and underage delinquents, gathered around football supporters' clubs and neo-fascist gangs. Even the majority of those people who had been seduced, and who saw the rally as a way of expressing national grief, were far from siding with fascist ideology and acts of mindless destruction. There were, naturally a few pauperized proletarians who saw the rampaging as an opportunity to get a hold of some valuables they cannot normally afford, but the responsibility for their actions lies entirely on the shoulders of the economic system which causes their economic frustrations to surface in this manner. The argument about national emotions of the masses bursting out is therefore nothing but a shameless lie of the Serbian right.
The significant fact is that the liberal bourgeoisie also needed the very same premise, i.e. that the riots were an expression of an ethnically frustrated population angry at the world. For this they blamed "moral erosion", "lack of respect for private property" and the "absence of the state of laws". Basically, this argument can safely be interpreted as just as reactionary as the one of the far right. While the far right called its hounds "the people" and their destructive frenzy "popular discontent" in order to create an apologetic atmosphere for fascist attempts of their goons, the liberal "theoreticians" are working hard to present the masses as inherently immature and in constant need of supervision of their caretaker, the State, particularly its organs of repression. The guardianship of the bourgeoisie is therefore necessary, as is the power of tear gas and batons to protect its authority. Without it, the masses would apparently run wild and destroy all in their way, for the slightest of reasons.
Reality, however, is completely different from this mythology promoted by the ruling class! The violence that erupted was carried out by far right groups that moved in an uncharacteristically organized manner, as if it had all been well planned previously. The rally was called a "protest rally" in the bourgeois media, but it was nothing more than a gathering of aggressive support for the government! A funny kind of protest, one may note.
The aim of the rally was to endorse Serbian imperialist aspirations, embodied in its most powerful bourgeois political parties, including the darling of the western press Boris Tadić and his Democratic Party. The fact that President Tadić was not able to openly oppose the right-wing character of the protest and left the country as an alibi, speaks volumes about the insecurity and weakness of the liberal pro-western forces inside Serbia who are forced to ride the bandwagon of nationalism in order to cover themselves from the wrath of the masses brought about by their aggressive pro-capitalist economic policies. It was not the masses but precisely those bourgeois parties that worked persistently in creating an atmosphere of ethno-nationalist frenzy, which resulted in all the pillaging and plunder.
The masses, strictly speaking, showed little interest in doing anything more than express their empathy and solidarity with the Serbs of Kosovo, whose lives are endangered by the Kosovar Albanian ruling class and EU and NATO thugs that safeguard its survival in power in Kosovo. Very few would have any words excusing the latest acts of fascist barbarism.
Barbarism is the key word here! Barbarism is what capitalism always and without exception eventually produces. Its rule led to a failure that ruined millions of lives. The government of Serbia has now turned to the only thing it does well - destruction and intimidation! And in that endeavour, it was surprisingly unified, not just in its parliamentary majority but within the bourgeoisie in general. At this point in history it was necessary for them to achieve such unity of thought and action and to create a situation in which they could cause chaos and mayhem in order to present themselves as necessary to maintain order, regardless of which side of the capitalist State medallion they represent.
The weaker and more impotent a small Balkan ruling class is, the more chauvinist and poisonous its rhetoric and actions become. The Serbian ruling class cannot resolve the national question for the Serbian population in the region, nor can it improve the living conditions of the masses. Squeezed by the imperialist powers it uses the same manoeuvre the Balkan ruling classes have used throughout their existence - it bargains with, and vacillates between, the different imperialistic powers, exploiting their opposed interests.
The Belgrade riots must be seen in this key. Far from an "irrational move" of "shooting oneself in the foot" as local liberals bemoan, the burning of the US embassy and the orchestrated terror is a very pragmatic move on the part of a desperate ruling class. On the internal front, it paralyzes the independent movement of the masses with threats of the fascist mobs. In foreign policy, the "unruly chauvinist lynch mobs" serve as a negotiating card in the dealings with the West. The Serbian ruling class is urging Washington and Brussels to loosen their grip and soften their demands, unless they want to see less co-operative nationalist elements in the government. On the other hand, imperialism is also not damaged by these events. The apparent threat of Serbian chauvinism against its neighbours is used to spread fear among the working classes and youth in the region and is thus used to justify the presence of the foreign troops as the protective element.
Capitalism has pushed the Balkans back into the state of a permanent "frozen conflict" and with the perpetuating ideology of chauvinism preying in the back. The working class clearly ignored the call of the ruling class this time around; however this does not necessarily mean that nationalistic illusions have disappeared forever. After a decade of bitter experiences, the working class has become wary and passive; on the other hand the ruling class found it easier to mobilize and manipulate the youth that have grown up in the poisonous atmosphere of the 1990s. This chauvinist sentiment will never disappear by itself. The pro-European liberals are too weak, isolated, demoralised and hypocritical to change this. In this situation, the bogeyman of nationalism will keep coming back. It can only be eliminated by the movement of the working class, armed with an internationalist ideology that crosses the tight borders within the Balkans.
Events worldwide will soon reach Serbia, it is just a matter of time, and some indications of popular discontent and the need for self-organization have already become apparent. Apart from a courageous protest of the students of the University in Belgrade in 2006 and 2007, the workers are also showing encouraging early signs of organizing themselves despite the present illusions in "workers' shareholding". In the town of Zrenjanin, in the North West of Serbia, workers put their shares together and took over two of the local factories, even forming a political party named "Ravnopravnost" ("Equality") to try and take over political power on a local level. These working class militants will learn fast from their experiences. Other industrial regions will undoubtedly follow as capitalist restoration progresses and the workers are driven into political struggle by the sheer lack of alternative. In order to derail the coming class conflict, the bourgeoisie are doing the same thing their partners in other countries around the world are doing. They are calling for national unity, denying the existence of class division and conflict and, with the aid of the lumpens enlisted in their ranks, promoting barbarism so that they can later appear as the ones who can contain it using police state methods.
As Marxists we see right through their pathetic charades, and consider it our duty to expose these attempted frauds for what they are! The responsibility for the recent fascist riots lies exclusively on the shoulders of the Serbian ruling class and its spokesmen Boris Tadić, Tomislav Nikolić and Vojislav Koštunica! Order cannot be brought by those who produce chaos and deal in death and exploitation!
The "Moral decline" argument is but a childish excuse to avoid mentioning economic and cultural decline that capitalist restoration has brought with it! Capitalism cannot and will not bring order, as it has been proven in practice on numerous occasions! Only a society based on association rather than competitive hostility can bring order and prosperity; in other words, it is the workers themselves that can and must take power to manage their own affairs through a self-governed society and self-managed production! Stop global barbarism - fight for socialism!
- Crveni Kritičar
- Pobunjeni um
- After Kosovo’s breakaway - right-wingers ravage Belgrade by Filip Sacirovic in Belgrade (February 18, 2008)
- Serbia and Kosovo: the Balkan powder-keg could flare up again - Part One - Part Two by Goran M (December 14-17, 2007)