Serbia's exuberant protest marches have helped to improve the country's international image. According to one of the marchers, Aleksa Djilas, they have also marked the birth of a more mature democracy which may now be able to confront the brutal nationalism of the past five yearsby Aleksa Djilas / April 20, 1997 / Leave a comment
Machiavelli believed that the prince should be ready to sacrifice even the salvation of his soul for the good of his city. Slobodan Milosevic, Serbia’s president, is better known for sacrificing others. In November he allowed hardliners in his ruling Socialist party to annul the victory of Together, the opposition coalition, in the local elections in many cities, including Belgrade. By so doing he casually threw away any international esteem he had acquired for supporting the Nato-imposed peace in Bosnia.
This electoral deceit provoked huge protest marches across Serbia, and by the end of February, he had passed a lex specialis (of dubious constitutionality) recognising the original results. His authority in the country was seriously weakened, but Serbia’s image abroad improved dramatically. Until recently, the global village’s picture of Serbs was of men in uniforms with weapons, grinning fiendishly while marching through burning villages littered with corpses. But the protests, which received extensive coverage, showed instead peaceful citizens, many of them young, demanding respect for the universally accepted rules of democracy.
Most protesters were not, and are not, supporters of the three opposition parties which constitute Together. The strongest of them, the Serbian Renewal Movement, has steadily, although not without relapses, moved away from its initial ultranationalism, but it is still highly traditionalist and favours the restoration of the monarchy. Vuk Draskovic, its leader, is a demagogue who, with his long beard and eyes fixed on some distant horizon, effortlessly commands the masses in public squares. But the television screen asphyxiates him, and his detractors never let anyone forget his communist past.
The Democrats are probably the best organised party and the most western in style and appearance; but their programme is well hidden behind clich?s shared by government and opposition about democracy, prosperity and “joining Europe.” Zoran Djindjic, their leader, a boyish looking man in his early 40s, cultivates the image of a successful businessman and, although a Frankfurt-school Marxist philosopher by education, has Clintonite disdain for principles. He is remarkably unperturbed by foreign journalists who interrogate him about his party’s support for the Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his youthful advocacy of revolution.
Milosevic’s electoral concession has made Djindjic the mayor of Belgrade, which gives him real power and very many worries. Djindjic celebrated this “victory of liberty” by removing the communist five-pointed red star from the 19th century royal palace where the city council resides.…