Thursday, August 2, 2012

Kill the Beast: Grading the Regime Change in Serbia

Surrounded with cheers, hope, suspicion, hypocrisy, sycophancy, indifference, loathing and fear, Ivica Dačić and Aleksandar Vučić have grabbed the levers of state power in Serbia with a necessary resolve in the past week. The road from a Milošević protege who narrowly escaped lustration to the Prime Minister of Serbia was long for Dačić. The road from a Šešelj protege to the state intelligence czar and the Minister of Defense was even rougher and longer for Vučić. Who would've thought on the eve of the parliamentary election on May 6th that these two men would stand together in the ouster of the corrupt regime of Boris Tadić, which, in its own blinded self-righteousness, thought it was destined to rule Serbia into the ground?

To round up all the twists and turns in Serbia's post-election coalition building, dismantling, patching and finally corralling, one would be remiss to start with May 6th, let alone on May 20th. If I wanted to analyze the fall of Boris Tadić's Western client regime, I'd had to revisit the December 9th rejection of Serbia's EU candidacy and the subsequent humanitarian sortie of Russian Ambassador Konuzin into North Kosovo, i.e. the EU-Russia Summit in Brussels that accompanied it. If we look at this series of events as a watershed moment, the victory of Tomislav Nikolić should be seen as the spring of the river that is Serbia liberated from Boris Tadić.

Since the Fifth of October of 2000, Serbia hasn't seen a change so dramatic. When the election fraud not only marred the results but also to devalue the democratic process and to discourage any hope for a regime change in Serbia, the unexpected victory of Nikolić unleashed a chain of events that can hopefully provide a chance for Serbia's salvation and recovery. The victory wasn't unexpected because Nikolić was an underdog, but because Tadić was inclined to steal the election.
From this perspective, wiser by a couple of months, there are several questions that must be answered before Serbia can grapple with the effects of the regime change.

First, how much of a regime change was it really?
Commentators on both sides of the aisle question, for differing reasons, the direction of a regime change in which almost half of the previous administration remains in office and in which some of the most reputedly corrupt public figures of the past 12 years get to not only go unpunished, but to stay in power. Mlađan Dinkić, for example, served as the Governor of the National Bank of Serbia, the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Economy in previous administrations - all positions of key relevance to the economy that is lying in ruins as a consequence. Dačić himself was the key ally to Boris Tadić since 2008. On top of these two, an array of former Tadić allies has crossed over to the winning team. What the hell is Vučić, the new head of Serbian Progressive Party, thinking taking in all these no-good appendices of the corrupt regime he invested 12 years into beating? Well, whoever thought the Progressives, the plain-clothed derivative of Vojislav Šešelj's Radicals with 25 percent of popular support, can just barge in and bring down the system created by a corrupt regime with such a firm hold of the state and economic power, was plain naive. Tentacles of the power Tadić's Democratic Party was an umbrella for extended much deeper than the power to simply cut them off at will. The Democrats were the octopus, even if all the tentacles were not their own, e.g. Dinkić and his clique. To change the regime, one had to kill the beast at its helm and it does appear that the Democrat beast is not only out of power on thenational level and gradually being pushed out in most municipalities it had held, but its nervous system has become a wreck due to betrayals of allies and infighting. If the ouster of the ruling party is a regime change, then the Progressives, with the willing cooperation of the former junior partners in the regime, did pull it off. Just compare the power of Boris Tadić and his cohorts before and after May 20th.

Second, outside of a violent street uprising or a coup d'etat, how does one conduct a total regime change? Gradually, of course.
Nikolić and Vučić correctly understood that the election victory was just a ticket into the fray, not a championship belt. If the goal was to kill the beast, one had to be a fool to engage it in a hand-to-hand combat, but had to instead utilize everything at his disposal, even Mlađan Dinkić, if that's what it took to cut the legs from underneath the beast. And it did. What were the alternatives? Street protests over the well-documented election fraud, which could have led to instability, unpredictable outcomes and more suffering of the people quick to demolish, but slow to build. Co-habitation, meaning Nikolić as an ineffective president with constitutionally limited power, ignored, sabotaged or smeared by the Democrat-led cabinet, Democrat-controlled institutions and Democrat-owned media. If the Progressives abstained from coalition-building out of moral considerations, Boris Tadić would've kept on destroying the country. It wasn't much of a choice, one had to admit. It's better to have Dinkić as a junior, junior partner than Tadić as the Prime Minister.

Third, are the Progressives, combined with Dačić's Socialists and Dinkić's United Regions, ideologically and behaviorally more of the same in comparison to Tadić's regime? In short, no.
Some commentators tend to base this notion on the EU-related rhetoric. True, the Progressives are stuck on the pro-EU rhetoric as well. True, the Socialists have been beating the EU drums, although a lot more shyly than the Democrats, for the past four years. True, Dinkić, with his ideologically amorphous coalition/party, has been in the service of EU and every other foreign interest in Serbia for as long as the Democrats have. It is also true that this time around, Dinkić is showing significantly less inclination to act independently, out of fear of falling out of the line with the coalition and falling victim to the Vučić-promised anti-corruption offensive, or due to an inexplicable change of heart (just kidding). It is also true that Dačić finds himself in an ideologically way more comfortable coalition this time around, due to his somewhat nationalist leanings and a chance for his Socialists to actually replace the Democrats as the main ostensibly leftist party on the political scene. (If you wonder how a party can be nationalist and leftist at the same time, it is time for you to stop thinking about Left and Right in the conventional terms and start observing the dichotomy as merely elementary to the globalist-anti-globalist spectrum.) Finally, we'd be fools if we thought that it is enough for Šešelj's disciples to change their party emblem and to declare themselves pro-EU, to actually and completely abandon the Radical pillars they had been building themselves for two decades. When Dačić made the last-minute deal with Tadić in 2008, breaking the coalition promise to Nikolić and Vojislav Koštunica, it became clear that the West will never allow the Radical Party to get into power and that some kind of transformation was necessary. Now, I'm not saying Nikolić and Vučić would absolutely reveal their true Radical self once they took the helm. This game is way more serious than that, the powers that are may be weaker than in 2008, but will not allow Serbian nationalists to play them for fools. The line Nikolić and Vučić are walking is very thin. Still, if we base our conclusions in the rhetoric only, Nikolić and, to a slightly lesser degree, Vučić, have shown significantly more of a nationalist strain than it could have been expected from someone who'd continue Tadić's anti-Serbian policies.

To make any sustainable improvements, the new administration had to wrestle away the control of the levers of power from the corrupt, but deeply entrenched Democrat machine. It was neither an easy task, nor would it be smart to kid oneself that it is a finished task. At this point, nothing is more important for Serbia than to minimize the influence of the Democrat Party and the foreign-sponsored NGO networks in Serbia. To actually judge the new administration against the old one, the public needs to be fully apprehensive of the fact that Serbia cannot hope to improve without halting the downward spiral first. It would be a grave mistake to expect miracles, economic, Kosovo-related or in foreign policy, from this administration; if they prevent the crash which the Tadić Democrats have pushed the country very close to, that will be a miracle enough. Although there are more important issues than corruption, if ten corrupt politicians or businessmen actually end up going to jail, and both God and the entire Serbia know there are hundreds who should, I'll take my hat off to Dačić and Vučić. Low expectations? Not at all. Serbia is not stagnating, it is sinking fast, not unlike the rest of Europe.

The election of Tomislav Nikolić on May 20th and all the developments stemming from it, including the Constitutional Court decision on the Vojvodina Statute and today's change at the helm of the insofar uncontrollable National Bank of Serbia, instill hope that the reversal of the sinking trajectory is possible. I'm willing to criticize the new leadership for their failures, but every Serb is obligated to give them time to fail or succeed.

I know one thing: I'll take President Nikolić and the cabinet led by Dačić and Vučić over Tadić as the dictator usurping all the power any day and it's not even a choice of a lesser evil. The failure of democracy on May 6th was somewhat vindicated on May 20th and although the Nikolić victory cannot erase the injustice of the electoral fraud, it did default at less than a maximalist democratic ambition would desire and under the circumstances unfavorable to any kind of a democratic outcome. In other words, it was as much of a victory for democracy as pre-May 20 Serbia could yield.

1 comment:

Миленко Вишњић said...

It is obvious that the DS, do not give up and not only does not allow to change their corrupt bureaucrats, but they do not surrender the power. You see Tadićas traveling and playing the President. Recently, with a smile, he squeezed Thaci's hand.