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The Serbian right

The victory of the right-wing parties in the European Parliament elections had elated our right-wingers so much so that claim the elections results are a trend that will also affect Serbia. I remember Mira Marković stating in the nineties that the SPS and JUL are popular parties, because the left had won in most European countries. The joy of our right-wingers and leftists when “their guys” win the elections in the EU, implicitly suggests that there is no significant difference between our left-wing and right-wing parties and the European ones, except for the usual ones which distinguish one country from another (different traditions, culture, history etc.) I believe those differences are substantial, because they overshadow the usual variations of similar parties on the left-right spectrum.

One important difference between our political parties and those in Europe, those on the left ones as well as those on the right, is that all our parties are “regime parties”, while the political parties in the EU (except for those in Italy and some other new member states) are “systemic” or “constitutional”. Although some of our authors use the terms “systemic” and “anti-systemic” referring to those who accept the principles of democratic replaceability and those who do not, the division I had in mind is somewhat broader.

The criteria do not apply only to accepting the rules of a democratic election procedure and showing consideration for other political parties, but also to the relations between the party and the state. The constitutional parties accept not only the election procedures, but also the difference between the party in power and government institutions (administration, judiciary, police, the media etc.) that are formally independent and politically neutral. On the other hand, regime parties are effectively anti-constitutional because they set up a permanent association with and command over the government machinery and the public sector. In doing so they are destroying the constitutional system of institutions and establishing a governing regime.  Although a multiparty system and electoral procedures that were introduced in Serbia were abided by after 2000, a constitutional democracy was not consolidated because all the political parties that came to power were governing parties in the above mentioned sense: the party and the state are almost undistinguishable, or barely distinguishable from one another.

It can even be said that by adopting the Constitution in 2006 an anti-constitutional coalition of all parties was formed, in the manner in which the Constitution was adopted, as well as in the way the parties used the constitution for usurping the sovereignty of the citizens. Serbian right-wing parties, as well as those who claim to be left-wing, have reestablished elements of authoritarianism by preserving the regime-like character of governing.

Another significant difference between our political parties and those from Europe is the fact that all the major political parties are nationalistic. As a rule, they are indifferent to the political spectrum of left and right. The priority of our political parties is not the great narrative of conservative, liberal or socialist ideology, but the effort to achieve national and state goals. Steven Lukes says that nationalistic parties “exhibit nationalism’s ‘janus-like’ character, embodying on the one hand, Enlightenment-based ideas of popular sovereignty, mass democracy, the rights of citizens, elite-driven modernisation and independence of external controlling power; and, on the other, narrow cultural or ethnically-based particularism, the ‘invention of tradition,’ collectivist myth-making and mass manipulation, a predisposition to conflict with other nations and oppressive discrimination against internal minorities in the name of some ‘imagined community.’” It would not be hard to prove that significant elements of authoritarianism in Serbia, or incomplete democratic consolidation have strong ties with nationalist politics. Those ties are not limited to the dominant nationalist symbolism and mythology, but are also firmly grounded in the wars which Serbia had led during the nineties.

And finally, the Serbian and the European right are different when it comes to the nature of their right-wingery. According to Steven Lukes, right-wing parties can be classified in four different groups: 1) reactionary right, or those who want to take us back to times gone by (a typical period is the one after the French revolution, when conservative powers and thinkers justified the return of  Ancien Régime); 2) moderate right, which encompasses liberalism, constitutionalism, the ideas of “limited government” and “balance of property and power,” skepticism toward major changes, capitalism and the order of inequality; 3) radical right, which marks the moment when the right became an activist movement guided by an aggressive and romantic vision of nationalism (fascism and Nazism) and 4) the new, pro-active and utopian ‘neo-liberal’ right whose increasingly hegemonic ideology gripped the world in the latter part of the century with the ascendancy of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. The extreme right, or the parties who managed to get their MPs into the European Parliament in the 2009 elections and win 15% of the seats – are supported by racists, Eurosceptics, anti-Islamists, anti-Semites, immigrant-haters and Roma-bashers.

The closest to the Serbian right is the right guided by the romantic vision of nationalism. One such version had come into existence in late 19th century in the European border regions and it belongs to a radical-particularistic and organistic tradition; the nation is considered to be an indivisible organism who must me joined to its ethnic territory. This sort of organic community is consequently authoritatian, militarized, prone to mythology and national dreaming.

The Serbian political right resembles this and that is why it is anti-liberal, anti-capitalist, centralistic and etatist. It is radically nationalistic and, unlike the contemporary European right, even the racist kind which managed to get into the European Parliament – it actively participated in the wars of the 1990s. It advocated and fiercely defended war crimes. The recent sentencing of a monstrous criminal Milan Lukic, a Serbian citizen, to life in prison in The Hague Tribunal, did not generate any comments and the silence was ringing from both the left and the right.

Translated by Ivica Pavlović

Peščanik.net, 25.07.2009.

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Vesna Pešić, političarka, borkinja za ljudska prava i antiratna aktivistkinja, sociološkinja. Diplomirala na Filozofskom fakultetu u Beogradu, doktorirala na Pravnom, radila u Institutu za društvene nauke i Institutu za filozofiju i društvenu teoriju, bila profesorka sociologije. Od 70-ih pripada peticionaškom pokretu, 1982. bila zatvarana sa grupom disidenata. 1985. osnivačica Jugoslovenskog helsinškog komiteta. 1989. članica Udruženja za jugoslovensku demokratsku inicijativu. 1991. članica Evropskog pokreta u Jugoslaviji. 1991. osniva Centar za antiratnu akciju, prvu mirovnu organizaciju u Srbiji. 1992-1999. osnivačica i predsednica Građanskog saveza Srbije (GSS), nastalog ujedinjenjem Republikanskog kluba i Reformske stranke, sukcesora Saveza reformskih snaga Jugoslavije Ante Markovića. 1993-1997. jedna od vođa Koalicije Zajedno (sa Zoranom Đinđićem i Vukom Draškovićem). 2001-2005. ambasadorka SR Jugoslavije, pa SCG u Meksiku. Posle gašenja GSS 2007, njegovim prelaskom u Liberalno-demokratsku partiju (LDP), do 2011. predsednica Političkog saveta LDP-a, kada napušta ovu partiju. Narodna poslanica (1993-1997, 2007-2012).