Tag Archives: Serbia

Extremists and self-isolation: the case of the daily rallies in Trg Republike, Belgrade.

It’s been more than two weeks now since I arrived in Belgrade. This is my sixt trip to Belgrade, which makes Belgrade the city I know best other than my home city Lisbon.

When I am in Belgrade I try as much as possible to live like the belgraders do. I stay at my friend Jelena Markovic, I go to the market and to the supermarket, I watch TV, read the newspaper, go to the caffee, take the bus, have family dinners (Jelena’s family adopted me, and Jelena’s mother is a fantastic cook), hang around with friends.

The only differences between my life in Lisbon and my life in Belgrade is that my husband stays in Lisbon when I come to Belgrade and that the car stays with him, so I don’t drive in Belgrade.

Not driving in Belgrade, I failed to grasp to which extent the daily rally in support of Radovan Karadzic is disrupting the routine of Belgrade citizens. That is, until yesterday…

Yesterday, about 6h p.m. as I was walking to the centre, I was surprised to see that Terazije, Belgrade’s main square, was blocked to traffic. Although I already knew about this, I haden’t yet realized what it meant to be stuck in traffic because a few dozens of people decide to make a marca during rush hour, to protest against the fact that their government, the serbian government, arrested and extradited war-crimes indictee Radovan Karadzic, something that the government was legaly bounded to do.

The rally is organized by the extremist nationalist movement 1389. Besides the daily meeting in Trg Republike, the 1389 members ‘visit’ anti-nationalist organizations, that they identify as traitors to the nation, in order to intimidate them. Last week, they visited the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, where they daubed a swastica. Some time before, they had also been at the Humanitarian Law Fund, I was informed, and I also saw on a website the photos that they took themselves of their visit to NUNS, the serbian independent association of journalists.

The traffic on Terazije was cut by the police itself, who escourted the ‘crowd’ of no more than a hundred people (I counted them myself) until Republic Square. Then, when the ‘croud’ arrived, the Soviet Union Russian anthem was played. There were participants waving the flags of Venezuela and Cuba. All of this took at least 40 minutes, if not more.

My point then is: why is it that 1389 is treated by the competent autorities as a legitimate organization? Why is it authorized to daily disrupt the routine of the heart of Belgrade in order to protest against the arrest and extradition of Karadzic, something which, it’s important to stress this, the serbian government is legally bounded to do.

Not only the rallies, which fail to attract more than one hundred participants, disrupt the routine of the city, but, above all, serve as a legal cover to acts of harrassement and intimidation against persons and organization who promote Human Rights and Democracy.

I have posted on this blog that a neo-nazi rally had been called to be held in Belgrade this saturday (11 October). Well, the rally was not authorized. That is good news.

However, the fact is that, every day, a fascist rally is held in Belgrade. It is so because it is allowed. They are allowed because they fulfil a useful function. When they ‘visit’ civic-minded organizations, they are ‘confirming’  the idea that civic minded organizations and people are really the mirror of neo-nazis and extremists nationalists. This then allows the ‘moderate’ sectors to comfortably denounce the civic-minded organizations activities as extremists and to discredit their perspective. It is important to stress that this serves the interests not only of the conservative elites, but also a part of the pro-european elite.

In fact, this is the measure of the degree of self-isolation in which the serbian elite lives. A substantial part of the political elite of the pro-european sector supports the idea that there is no need for confrontation with the past. For them the problem is not that problems exist, but that they become visible when someone decides to talk about them.

This becomes particularly clear when attacks such as the recent campaign against Sonja Biserko, which Marko Hoare analizes here, fail to provoke a strong reaction within the pro-european ranks.

Final remark:

for those who claim that 1389 has nothing to do with neo-nazis, i would be glad to show them the photos of skin-heads in their rallies, photos that I took myself. I just don’t publish them because I think there are limits to bad taste and don’t want my blog to look repelent.

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Filed under Belgrade, Serbia

Why Serbia?

I have been asked this question many times, and today I feel like giving an anwser.

When I chose Serbia as my case study for my master thesis on collective memory from a political perspective, I had no connection whatsoever to Serbia or any other country of former Yugoslavia. i didn’t know a single serb, or croat, or albanian, I had never traveled to the region. I didn’t recognize the sound of the serbian/croatian/bosnian/montenegrin language, even less the different variants and accents.

I had decided that I wanted to take the risk of becoming a researcher and I needed a good project to get funding. Collective memory from a political perspective, that was what I wanted to work on. I needed a case-study, so I picked a map and decided it should be Serbia. Serbia and Spain seemed to me the most interesting cases, but I didn’t want to study Spain, because it was too close to my own country, Portugal, and I wanted to reduce any bias as much as possible. So Serbia became a natural choice.

The language was the only problem, but I took it as a challenge, because the other foreign languages that I already knew had been learned very early and with hardly any effort, and I thought it wouldn’t be a bad idea to learn a new language departing from zero. (I still remember the first time I recognized the sound of the language on TV. It was when video showing the ‘skorpions’ killing innocent people in Srebrenica was released. The mother of one of them was giving an interview).

What I knew about Serbia and the conflicts in former Yugoslavia wasn’t much. That was also another reason that made Serbia appealing. I was aware of how controversial the theme was, and that I would have to be extremely careful and not to trust anyone blindly, but instead to check every information, every interpretation. I had realized that already when I was on the beginning of my degree in International Relations. It was in 1998-1999, and when the war in Kosovo started, my professor of International Relations decided to ask the students what was their opinion about the war. My teenage colleagues seemed to agree that Clinton was using Serbia to clean up his image because of the Monica Lewinski affair. Then I said that, if the serbs were opressing the albanians the way they were, then I was in favour of the war. My professor, who had made no comments on the Lewinski affair thesis, then said that this thing of international relations was not about good feelings but about interests. My colleages all laughed. That was when I started developing my aversion for theorists that handpick their cases so that it fits what they think reality is. That was also when I stopped reading Le Monde Diplomatique and developing my disgust for anti-imperialism rhetorics. This small episode in which both my colleagues and my professors proudly displayed both their ignorance and their lack of commitment to ethical values made me realize that when we defend positions that are based in ethical standards we must be very well prepared to resist the pressure of the horde of stupids who think they know best because they read Chomski and Project Censored. That too was a challenge worth taking.

I was lucky, I got a good supervisor, a grant and a serbian language teacher. Then an internship in an NGO in Belgrade.

I am still an outsider, but I don’t think that should be seen as a bad thing. Being myself from a country that does not get much attention from foreign shollars, I have always been curious to know how would I look into my country from the outside. Being totally alien to this region, I wanted to know the opposite: could I possibly try to look from an inside perspective, the same way I looked at domestic portuguese politics and history?

Two days ago, I presented a paper on extremist nationalist youth groups in Serbia in a conference in Belgrade. Then a young woman who had also presented a paper came to me and said: ‘it was as if you were not an outsider, it was as if you were from here’. That was the best complement I could have received.

Thanks to all the time that I have bee devoting to study and to travel through Serbia and also the other countries in the region, I hope to make my own small contribution to oppose the myth that nobody can understand Serbia but the locals. That was a myth fed by isolation. It is not true.

Studying Serbia also helped me understand quite a lot of things about many other issues, because Serbia and Former Yugoslavia are a micro-cosmos where problems that also exist elsewhere are condensed.

Now my emotional attachement to Serbia is very deep. This country both fascinates me and depresses me, thts is why I chose this photo to ilustrate this post. But the fact remains that, thanks to that random choice that I made some years ago, I find myself now a better person, and I have also managed to meet wounderful persons and sometimes have some nice moments because if doctors allowed themselves to get depressed with their pacients suffering, there would be no doctors.

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Daily protests againts Karadzic arrest in Belgrade.

Please, don’t missinterpret the image. Most of the people in Trg Republike (Republic Square) are passers-by…

Here the announcement of the great demonstrations… Obviously the Belgraders couldn’t care less!

(click on the photos to enlarge)

However, the activities of the supporters of radovan Karadzic don’t satisfy themselvas with orderly demonstrations. Thus, they have been visiting various organizations that publicly call for Serbia t face its past… these are not frieldly visits. Although no incidents have ocured, these are in fact acts of intimidation directed against their liberal oponents.

Yesterday, a group of about 70 went to the office of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia.

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Filed under Belgrade, Genocide, Nationalism

A Neo-Nazi March is being planned to be held in Belgrade

Interestingly, the english version of B92 doesn’t show the news, only the serbian version does.

This is an important test for the current government. The Liberal Democratic Party, headed by Ceda Jovanovic, is asking the authorities to forbide it. Let’s see how this will be handled.

The current government is staring to face different kinds of preasures by the nationalist sectors, and it seems that these pressures are likely to increase. This march should be read within this dynamics.

This image was taken from a blog on B92. It says “Lets not give them our streets”.

More  here.

For a contextualization of the outcome of the May general elections, read ‘The failure of the intimidation strategy‘. In the upcoming weeks I will be able to better measure to wich point is the intimidation strategy still being enforced or, otherwise, defeated in Serbia.

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Filed under Belgrade, Nationalism, Serbia, Violence

Serbia will have a Progressive Party

Vojislav Nikolic is creating a new party, following the implosion of the radical party.


The name of the new party: Serb Progressive Party.

Distorting the meaning of words and concepts is nothing new to the serbs nationalists (and to nationalists in general). Still, I find the name of the new party particularly ironic. After the heavy defeat that they faced with the ‘betrayal’ of SPS, the serbian nationalist forces are reconfiguring themselves and Nikolic is trying to carve himself an image as a ‘moderate’. This was clear in the move which lead to the final blow that provoked the implosion of the radical party: Nikolic’s willingness to vote in favour of the Association and Stabilization Agreement with the EU. ´

The use of words always carries a meaning. In 1990, when multipartidarism was reintroduced in Serbia, both the radical party and the democratic party chose names of previous serbian parties, claiming thus to be their inheritors. The same happened when DSS was created.
So, the message that is being sent to the public is that Nikolic is a man that evolved, abandoned his previous radicalism, stopped being a radical to become a progressive, a task for which he is getting some tacit support from the Democratic Party, that after having been gifted with the defection of SPS from the nationalist camp, is now benefited by the dismemberment of the radicals.

I am finding this process of reconfiguration of the nationalist forces in Serbia  fascinating.

But nobody changes so radically overnight, even less dogmatic people, so it is only natural that Nikolic carries some of the radicals’ ideology into the progressive party. Maybe he woke up, learned his lessons and became radically progressive instead of merely radical, we could say if we considered that Nikolic deserved the credit of doubt, but since it was not ideology but a fight for supremacy among factions within the Radical Party that made him leave, it is more likely that he has become progressively radical.

The first symptoms of his newly acquired progressiveness can easily be recognized on the formulation of one of the major goals of the  Serb Progressive Party: to be “a bridge between East and West, with the goal to, in the future, form a union with the Republic of Srpska“.

His progressiveness is patent in the use of the expression ‘in the future’.

Photos:

Above, Belgrade, September 2008: An old photo left behind from the last elections… The couple was already de facto separated, but not yet divorced.

Second photo: Belgrade, July 2008. There is some degree of change between my last visit in July and now. There are hardly any graffittis, and i haven’t yet seen any that wasn’t there already in July. That is also a sign that the nationalists are recomposing. They redrew to rething their tactics and to enjoy summer. Now Automn is there, I have just arrived and i am already curious to see what changes will I spot the next time I come.

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Filed under Nationalism, Serbia

SERBIA BETRAYED BY RUSSIA

Russia recognized today the independence of Abkazia and South Ossetia.

While negotiations for the settlement of the status of Kosovo were going on, the serbian government based its strategy strategy in the belief that Russia would prevent the independence. Instead of adopting a constructive approach, the serbian government preferred to use the tactic of delay. To delay any settlement and to prolong the negotiations for as long as possible was its tactics, while on the ground it was working towards the reinforcement of parallel structures on the north.

The international community played Serbia’s game for a while, in part because of its lack of will to take decisions, in part because of the bluff that the loss of the cradle of the nation would bring the radicals to power. After a while the bluff didn’t work anymore, and the states supporters of the independence forced Serbia to show its cards. The independence was declared, the centre of Belgrade was vandalized and looted by angry patriots who decided to take revenge by destroying public property and stealing from their co-citizens. Finally, the general elections results confirmed that the bluff had failed. The nationalists lost their last opportunity to seize power in Serbia, and were then betrayed by SPS and even by their allies within BIA.

The new government chose to adopt a new approach, certainly a more clever one, by asking the UN General Assembly to ask the Internacional Court of Justice for an Advisory Opinion regarding the legality of the declaration of Independence and the recognition by other states. Although such move would be devoided of legal consequences, because an advisory opinion is not legally binding, Serbia was thus trying to:

1- Create a situation where those states who haven’t yet recognized Kosovo as an independent state would opt to wait and see, thus making it more difficult for Kosovo to be integrated in the international community, and in particular to prevent its access to international organizations;

2- Present itself as an unselfish defender of International Law, and not merely as a state who is fighting for its national interests. regarding this issue, we might ask, what would serbia do if the ICJ decided that there had been no violation of International Law? Would Serbia then recognize Kosova and find a modus vivendi that allowed the kosovar serbs not to be used as mere instruments of Belgrade? Or would it simply disregard the decision, with the argument that it is not biding anyway???

I very much prefer that Serbia acts to defend its interests and even the International Law by using the international juridical mechanisms at its disposal rather than by burning foreign embassies ( which is, by the way, a violation of International Law), and I am very happy to see that some changes are occurring in Serbia that may be crucial for the establishment of an open society and the marginalization of nationalism.

But the fact is that, regarding Kosova, there was merely a change in tactics, not a change in policy or even strategy. In this sense, Serbia received today a major blow by its major ally, Russia.

By deciding to recognize the independence of Abkazia and South Ossetia, Russia put Serbia in a position where, not only it will be unable to keep claiming to be on the side of those who want to protect the international system by defending its territorial integrity, but also on a situation where a favorable decision of the ICJ will further highlight the scandlous violation of International Law by Russia.

Such move by Russia is hardly surprising. In February 2006, Putin said:

“We need common principles to find a fair solution to these problems for the benefit of all people living in conflict-stricken territories…. If people believe that Kosovo can be granted full independence, why then should we deny it to Abkhazia and South Ossetia?” he said.

“I am not speaking about how Russia will act. However, we know that Turkey, for instance, has recognized the Republic of Northern Cyprus,” Putin added. “I do not want to say that Russia will immediately recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states, but such precedent does exist.”

While those pushing for the independence of Kosova argued that it would be a unique case, a consequence of the desintegration of Yugoslavia and of the major Human Rights violations that the kosovo albanians endured, Putin’s Russia was arguing for the establishment of ‘common principles’.

Thanks to the logic of appeasement that dominated the european democracies, Russia’s position was taken as a serious argument made by a big power that was interested not to upset the current balance of the International System. The argument which the appeasers used was that, if Russia accepted to back Kosova’s independence, that would have serious consequences in its internal order, bearing in mind cases such as Chechenia. It amazes me that anyone could take such argument seriously, because we all know how Russia has dealt with Chechenia.

In fact, what Russia did was to make a self-fulfilling prophecy. While refusing to accept Kosovo as a unique case, it became the first state to take advantage of the ‘precedent’ that Russia itself was claiming it would be set by the Independence of Kosova.

It is interesting to note that Russia was careful enough to use the same line or arguments that NATO used to legitimize the intervention in Kosovo in 1999. We could then ask why then Russia did not act to prevent the genocide of the Chechen people. Leaving that ‘detail’ aside, a major difference emerged, which can help us identify the difference between the arguments based on the duty to protect and humanitarian intervention and the Munich-style line of arguing. NATO did not intervene to protect the citizens of its member states. Neither did those member states distributed passports among the kosovo albanians so that they might latter claim that they wer national citizens of those states

We can thus conclude that, as so many times before, Russia once again used Serbia for its own purposes, and then betrayed it. This is what happens when you have unreliable friends.

On the other hand, we may ask, while Serbia was indeed betrayed, what about the greater-serbian nationalists? This step by Russia favours them, well, it might favour them more if they were in power, if the outcome of the last elections had been slightly different. But we must remember that these people think on a long-term scale. This means that all efforts to reverse the results of genocide in Bosnia must be made, because time works for those seeking partition. Greater-serbian ‘patriots’ don’t mind loosing Kosovo if that means that in twenty years they may grab ‘republika srpska’. Anyway, in their minds, they see the independence of Kosovo as only temporary. It’s sacrifice will be avenged one day, so those sick paranoids think.

However, the fact that they lack the means to accomplish their dream for now represents an unique opportunity to promote the opening of the reversal of the effects of ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Bosnia and to support the progressive forces in Serbia in such a way that, in twenty years time the sick paranoid greater-serbian nationalist will have nothing better to do than to talk for themselves. But this requires a vigour on the part of european democrats that seems to be lacking. In a way, this crisis is the product ofa wider crisis of values within the EU states too, which is reflected in the lack of commitment to support freedom and justice whenever that comes with the slightest cost.

Additional readings:

On Radio Free Europe:

Haw the West been hypnotised by Russia?

Fears that Crimea could be the next flashpoint for conflict with Russia.

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Filed under Bosnia, EU, Georgia, International Law, Kosovo, Nationalism, Russia, Serbia, War

KARADZIC ARRESTED!

I am so HAPPPPPY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Here is the news on B92.

Here in BBC.

Serbia seems to be finally chosing the future over the past! From Lisbon, I want to greet my serbian friends!

I have just returned from Belgrade, and there was indeed hope in the air. Something was changing. It’s easy to say so now, of course, but those who know me personally know that was my feeling. But as I was leaving, Jelena and I were talking about the possibility that Mladic could soon be arrested, but none of us thought that Karadzic would ever be arrested. It is an irony that it took SPS to get to power for this to happen, but it makes sense. They are cynicals, not true believers, and they will over-run any obstacle to their goals. Now Mladic and Karadic were the obstacles… Too bad for them.

I called my friends on the phone and we cryed of joy together! I am getting sentimental, what can I do?

It’s amazing how things work when there is political will to do so.

At this very moment I am on the phone with one of my friend from Belgrade. She is watching the news on TV and I am waiting for the latest developments. My friends are receiving SMS messages from all around, people are incredibly happy, and now I need to go to sleep because tomorrow there is plenty of work wayting for me, but how can one sleep with such excitement?

My thoughs now go to the little girl that photographed in Srebrenica. Tomorrow, first thing in the morning, I will print her photos and send them to her family’s address.

Good night Radovan, sweet dreams and srećni put to Holland!

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Filed under Bosnia, Genocide, Hope, Justice, Serbia, Srebrenica