Back to 'Hope' Opinions Hope on the Balkans 2000
Hope on the Balkans
Infecting Yugoslavia

by Ivan Milenkovic

Much like a healthy organism, if a well-organized and strong society has its own internal mechanisms to resist any form of infection, then the main objective of any authoritarian rule is precisely to produce a pathology that the social immune system cannot ward off. Or, in particular, the main objective would be to cause the splitting of social tissue in order to weaken the immune system and to make the organism susceptible to all kinds of infections. Nazi doctor Joseph Mengele, who experimented with the living body, did so not to ease its suffering, heal it, or strengthen it. Instead, he did it with the aim of satisfying his scientific curiosity and fulfilling his twisted moral concepts. The doctor gave way to his madness and acted without any valid scientific reasons, always with the vampire-like precision of a gifted craftsman.

It is in a similar fashion that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, lacking the scruples of a civilized person, has worked to destroy his country's social tissue so that it cannot show resistance to his rule. It would be hard to find a part of the social organism that has not been touched by the pathology of the Milosevic regime, either directly or indirectly. Yugoslav presidential, parliamentary, and municipal elections, to be held on 24 September, will show just how deep this pathology is or, perhaps, just how capable Milosevic is of extending it.


Milosevic's regime is using the banking system, which can be understood as the social equivalent of blood circulation, as a carrier of malignant cells from one part of the organism to another. The aim of that malignant carrier has been to accumulate wealth for those close to the regime, enhance the ruling party's revenue, and conduct warfare. But the first step, of course, was to suck out the healthy blood in a vampire-like fashion.

When Milosevic came to power in 1989, Yugoslav citizens' hard currency deposits miraculously disappeared from their respective banks, and news of eventual refunds of money lost was occasionally used as an ideological rattle to calm the passions of the people. At the euphoric onset of his rule, Milosevic's first action was the creation of what he dubbed the "Loan for the Revival of Serbia," which was to consist of money donated by citizens and passed along to the already rich regime. Not only was the "loan" never repaid but and one may assume with a high degree of certainty it was used to finance the wars in Slovenia and Croatia.

The creation of monstrous banks sponsored by the regime the best-known being Dafiment and Jugoskandik which were giving out interest rates of up to 100 percent on hard currency deposits, can only be understood as unscrupulous robbing from an already stupefied citizenry. After those banks collapsed, an enormous amount of money disappeared without a trace. German marks, Swiss francs, and U.S. dollars started trading on the black market at exchange rates of up to five times higher than banks were offering, enabling the "regime cronies" to acquire foreign currency for low dinar amounts and resell that currency for five times the profit.

The so-called "monetary coup" on the black market, during which hard currencies would double their value in a matter of days only to regress to their former price, can best be comprehended as the regime's maneuvering to obtain short-term cash boosts. The regime has officially condemned black market currency trading; nonetheless, Serbian cities are flooded with very open black market dealing. In effect, the banking system has been reduced to a state of nothingness.


Even worse than the bastardization of banking transactions has been the killing off of universities. The regime has gone well beyond the usual methods of policing institutions to ensure a politically obedient teaching staff similar to that which manifested itself during the fascist and communist regimes when, for instance, faithfulness to Lenin's dogma was the main criterion for "expertise." In this area, Milosevic has been particularly inventive, opening up universities to anyone and everyone, eliminating entrance exams, and hence, competitiveness.

The various faculties of medicine, for example, now have three times more students than before. The consequence has been that while health services are overloaded with physicians, they are lacking in fundamental infrastructure, basic supplies, and necessary financing. A significant number of doctors survive by selling Turkish hosiery, Bulgarian underwear, and Hungarian salami in open-air markets. The "lucky ones" who work in their profession receive, more or less openly and directly, money from their patients something that is strictly prohibited by law. That is how the regime effectuates double blackmail: It has become impossible to survive without breaking the law, or obtaining illegal income. But if a physician should be found to be disobedient, he or she would be punished according to those same laws.

That is not to say that students fail to benefit from having university status, but it is of much more importance to the regime that the absence of selection turns the potentially elite student corps into an amorphous mass lacking in objectivity and susceptible to bribes and manipulation. The student demonstrations from the early- and mid-1990s protesting war, lack of a free press, and the regime in general were extremely unpleasant for the regime, but the The same technique has been applied to stigmatized political life. Under the deft guidance of Milosevic, Yugoslav authorities have saturated the political space that could potentially be occupied by opponents. That has been accomplished through so-called democratic, legal regulations under which is easier to create a political party than to purchase a kilogram of sugar or a liter of cooking oil.

After creating a multitude of small-time political parties (at one time there were over 100 in Serbia), the regime was able to proclaim an electoral law designed to transfer the votes of the small parties, which failed to meet the numerical cut, to the largest party Milosevic's party, the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS). To name a few, the Patriotic Alliance, the Republican Party, and the Serbian Radical Party "Nikola Pasic" were among those smaller parties that fell victim to what most observers have called a "filthy" electoral law. The reshaping of electoral regulations is another mathematical specialty of the ruling elite. Belgrade, for example, whose population is two million, accounts for three times fewer parliamentary members than the phantom regimes in the south of Serbia, which have populations of only around 500,000. The regime's calculus is clear: It has almost no chance of succeeding in Belgrade. In the south, however, success is possible. Combined with permanent vote-stealing and near total control over the most powerful media outlets, the regime enters all elections with a huge, almost insurmountable advantage. Unlike the Athenian lawmaker Solon, who understood that good laws are beneficial to the entire community something that enabled Athens to remain a strong and stable state after his death Milosevic's strategy bears more similarity to the famous saying by Louis XIV: "Apres moi le deluge" (I don't care what happens after I'm gone).

The fierce attack on the judiciary belongs to the same category of arbitrary interventions as do attacks on the media. And the model here comes directly from the experience of totalitarian regimes. Milosevic's proverbial subtlety has been replaced here by the brutal removal of disobedient judges: Failure to carry out the regime's instructions is punished by loss of work. The most recent, flagrant examples concern the removal of Constitutional Court Judge Slobodan Vucetic and Serbia's Supreme Court Judges Zoran Ivosevic and Leopsava Karamarkovic, as well as the purging of the district court in Pozarevac, Milosevic's hometown.

Judges from the higher courts were removed with the explanation that they had been politically active, which is incompatible with their judiciary functions. No evidence was offered to substantiate those claims. The judges were fired nonetheless. As far as the district court in Pozarevac is concerned, the judges there had refused to follow regime instructions in a case where the evidence of the crime in question had led to the doorstep of Marko Milosevic, the president's son. Their conduct was labeled "unprofessional." All power is clearly concentrated within the regime's parties and there is no separation between legislative, judicial, or professional bodies.


The NATO intervention was the crowning point of Milosevic's rule. It was the most severe attack on the body of Yugoslav society. All enemies had been exhausted. The country was in economic turmoil. Problems in Kosovo that had for a decade served Milosevic as an inexhaustible source of all conceivable forms of manipulation were at their height. The ruler was confronted with an ideological dead-end as well as Montenegrin disobedience namely, the threat the republic might pull out of the federation. It was at that very significant of moments that NATO stepped in to fill the vacuum. Milosevic used the belligerent behavior of the United States to begin and end his electoral campaign during those 88 days of intervention. NATO gifted him the ideological basis for his mandate to rebuild the devastated country and to exploit that fact ad nauseam in the media. He demonized the opposition, proclaiming it to be the "aggressor's servant." He strengthened the police apparatus, and frantically sucked up to the army. The economic sanctions isolating Serbia have also proved convenient to Milosevic's autistic rule to the extent that one can say he would be lost without them. It was a priceless gift.

With all this in mind, it is significant to acknowledge the regime's almost hysterical reaction to the opposition movement, Otpor (Resistance) initially a student movement, lately a more populist one. The activities of Otpor are in direct opposition to Milosevic the students are attempting to reconnect the torn social tissues, to establish coordination among the isolated parts of society, to reanimate the exhausted parts of the organism, and then to strengthen them. By its very definition, Otpor is a dangerous adversary to the regime.

It is no coincidence that Milosevic has rolled out his vast police machinery against the mostly young and nonviolent people, who have been making a mockery out of the absurdity of his rule through performances, poster and flyer distribution, events, and festivals. Otpor is determined to expose the ugliness of the regime to society as a whole. When the group distributed T-shirts that said "Resistant Grandma" and "Resistant Grandpa" to persons over the age of 65 the regime's largest and most stable voting group its intentions were clear.

Otpor's actions have been extremely clever and even witty. When the movement set about collecting signatures for the release of imprisoned journalists in Nis, Serbia's second-largest city, the police, expectedly, were quick to arrive on the scene. The police put a halt to their actions, but on the following day, Otpor changed course and began instead collecting signatures in support of Milosevic. Activists collected one signature over the course of several hours of serious attempts. The police were befuddled. Of course, the signature collectors were arrested anyway, but not without undue publicity.

Unfortunately, faced with the task of summarizing the results of Milosevic's actions, it must be conceded that his is a job well done. Society is indeed torn. Serious resistance has been rendered impossible. Economically destroyed, politically strangulated, and culturally contaminated, the sadly atomized society has almost ceased to exist. Some estimated 400,000 young, highly educated people have packed their bags and left the country over the past decade. In this situation, it is impossible to offer either short-term or long-term perspectives regardless of the outcome of elections.

Ivan Milenkovic is a regular contributor to the monthly journal Serbian Political Thought and an editor of the Krug book series on political theory and philosophy published in Belgrade

Source: Transitions Online ©2000

Back to 'Hope' Opinions | Hope on the Balkans