Nenad Dimitrijevic

Yugoslavia today is a place of suffering. The country has become a stage on which two contestants are battling for moral victory. The stage is miserable and the contestants, the Western military alliance and the Milosevic regime, look like third-rate amateurs. But the price of winning the prize on offer is extremely high, the killing of innocents, the expulsion of other innocents and the destruction of the country. Milosevic happily uses the most ruthless methods against Albanian civilians in Kosovo, invoking our moral right to defend the country from aggression. Nato claims the same right from the other side of the table, the moral duty to protect the innocent Albanian population of Yugoslavia. This in turn the moral right to bomb the innocent non-Albanian population of Yugoslavia. But this extravagance of moral imperatives serves only to conceal a clash between two radical evils, neither of which draw the line at the physical destruction of people and their homes. These masters of death have divided the population ideologically and militarily into two groups, "Albanians" and "Serbs", creating in both a feeling of helplessness, fear and desperation, attempting to turn both into permanent victims burdened with hate for the other side. Thus was created another hellish spiral of defeat and revenge - we know from our recent past how the imposed feeling of having been wronged in the post has the potential of great destructiveness for the future.

What awaits the people of Yugoslavia once the war is over? Will it be possible to step out of the vicious circle of suffering and hatred? It is difficult to think or speak about an alternative while people are being exposed everyday to the threat of a violent death. The logic of bombs is the logic of killing and destruction, the logic of war legislation is the logic of internal repression, and so the logic of life in Yugoslavia today has been reduced to a struggle for physical survival. It seems unrealistic and amoral to expect people under such terrifying everyday pressure to work on a political project for a new society.

On the other hand, the bombs will stop one day and some kind of post-war future will replace the ultimate horror of today. This simple fact gives rise not only to the legitimacy but also the necessity of thinking about the possible choices we will face, as well as the actors, strategies and content of an alternative politics for a different Serbia and Yugoslavia. When the killing stops, the first question for those who would like to design a future civil normality would be about the necessary steps to overcome the inertia of Resantimanian nationalism and hatred of "the other" - this is a framework which sets the boundaries for a question about the institutional and procedural features of a possible democratic order for Yugoslavia. Here we have to be careful not to fall into the trap of a useless Utopia which would imagine the non-existent but desirable post-war state in terms of unachievable categories. Instead we must here think in categories of the actually achievable Utopia: the path of realising what no longer exists (freedom of citizens and democracy) and what is opposed to the very basis of today's Yugoslav reality must be sought in what exists. But what does this mean?

Within the still living experience of Serbia there are strong points for a different direction of events from that which has been dominant here for a long time. We cannot even find these strengths, let alone make them work, without renewing the critical thinking exterminated by the "class" and "nationalist" ideologies. Without critical thinking there is no proper moral force and even less efficient policy and real change of the existing situation." (Nebojsa Popov, "Reaches of the moral condemnation of force", Republika, issue 211).

Again, critical thinking which intends to the go to the other side of the already existing bad infinity must begin from the context of the given, seeking in it the strategy, vehicle and content of the alternative. The choice of possible strategies will probably be highly limited and will depend on the character of the post-war regime in the first place. Two dangers exist: the survival of the Milosevic regime, and its fall. In the first case, the totalitarian project prepared long ago would probably come to its consummation and a military-oriented dictatorship would stabilise in the short term. The fall of the regime is less likely and its consequences more difficult to predict, but it could be assumed that the country would find itself in a kind of Stunde Null, a moment in time which would, because of the removal of the repositories of power and the collapse of the old (pseudo-political) norms, be symbolically comparable to a normal state. This would generally open up the possibility of a new beginning, the beginning of changes which would lead the country from its authoritarian and totalitarian past towards democracy. Needless to say, every radical break up of an old regime brings multiple dangers if the removal of the old authority is not followed by the institutionalisation of the new quality of freedom, otherwise it could finish in the whirlpool of permanent revolution, or with a door opened for a new dictatorship. The mere possibility of beginning the transition towards democracy would largely depend on the way in which the regime was changed: violent overthrow would increase the risk of the country entering a phase of institutionally and legally uncontrolled struggle for the vacant helm. On the other hand, the very context in which the forces who personify the current regime would be forced to retreat, in other words to relinquish authority, might enable radical changes in the direction of democracy to unfold with a minimum of legal and political continuity preserved. A pledge for a strategy of continuity should be understood here as a pledge to find the instrument which would enable - in a quantitative sense - a radical normalising reintegration of the political community on the principles of freedom and democracy and which would, at the same time, prevent the descent of a society which is already profoundly exhausted, atomised and antagonised into the whirlwind of civil war. The bearers of a democratic alternative would have to abjure the pathos of revolutionary speeches and limit their own rhetoric and actions to the legal and political standards which now exist, all in order to achieve radical democratic change.

Let us return to the more likely scenario: the one in which the end of Nato aggression would not be followed by the fall of the current regime. In that case, would an alternative path exist at all, a path which would bring hope of a life after dictatorship? The political and civilian forces (parties, social movements, associations, media) who have presented islands of democratic alternative and resistance during the previous period are now exposed to the direct threat of extinction, and this is certainly one of the politically most short-sighted and - after the killing and destruction - morally most shameful aspects of the Nato aggression. the ever-present regime discourse on "enemies" and "traitors" has now been unleashed proclaiming all those who question the official version of patriotism as "servants of the aggressor".

There's not much basis for belief that anything in the structure and ideological arguments of the regime's newspeak would change after the war. This discourse is much more than pure ideology: it is reproductive matrix which occupies the very same place in the system which in a democracy belongs to the legal-political institutions and procedures. Justifying itself by the self-proclaimed task of fulfilling "higher goals", the regime has never accepted public and abstract procedural rules of governing, but rather has relied on a mixture of ideological dogma and the arbitrary preferences of its own elite. The public dimension of politics has been revoked and a complex, non-transparent system of privatised domination put in its place. This system consists of bizarrely-structured circles of power, hidden among court intellectuals, an economic elite, in secret and other kinds of police, in organised crime, in the army, in the ruling parties and all with the president of the republic as the centre of the network, and its personification.

For years now, and in an increasingly direct way, the extremely powerful state apparatus has tried to control every socially and politically important sphere of life. In this enterprise it has used everything from ideological manipulations of "class" and "national" interests to naked violence. From the point of view of the subject the result could be described as a state fuelled by a combination of popular support, apathy and fear. The system keeps itself alive by the constant reproduction of crisis and extraordinary conditions, changing ideological suits and always strengthening the repressing. In other words it obtains the unification and loyalty of the subjects with different kinds of ideological constructions of reality which are followed by a clear message that he who rules can at any moment call on violence unrestricted by principle.

No cycle of crisis, however, is similar to the previous one. The balance between the two most important pillars of the regime, ideological domination and the privatised use of repression, seemed to be definitely shaken after the winter protests of 1996-1997. Regardless of what were only modest political results in the short term, these events destroyed the regime's capacity for self-legitimisation, leaving it with only the instruments of force. This resulted in multiple complications in rule, endangering the stability of the regime in the long term. It is for this reason that is necessary to continually reiterate that the brutal intervention of the Western Alliance has not only induced suffering and destruction, but has simultaneously strengthened the regime. This war has given the regime the opportunity to reconstruct its populist pseudo-legitimacy. The old patterns of class and national interest have been replaced with the legitimate model of patriotism and the threat of violent death has united the people, making political differences among them irrelevant. While during the previous period the regime had used force extensively in order to neutralise political pluralism, this task has now been made considerably easier, because the force has been supplied from outside.

In short the current tragic state in Serbia seems to leave little hope for the establishment of democracy. This force killed the politics and this is the point from which all thinking about an alternative to the current regime must start. Milosevic's war Caesars will probably remain the only option which could be directly employed in the political space. Opposition political parties, which have not been very successful either in opposing the authorities nor in the affirmation of a different understanding of politics and society would lose even their position of a facade of parliamentarianism. Licence for political activities would depend on arbitrary decisions of the regime in classifying political organisations as "patriots" or "traitors". Those whom the ruling structures see as unpleasant in any way would be denied the right to a political voice.

How then is it possible to implement an alternative? Fighters for democracy in post-war Serbia under Milosevic will probably have to opt for a strategy similar to the activities of the dissidents in Real-socialist Central Europe at the end of the sixties and the beginning of the seventies. This is a moral discourse of the alternative civil society which is remembered now as "anti-politics". The proponents of the civil society in Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland, dealing with their own organisational and practical-political weakness against a Behemoth which tended to omnipotence, insisted on the affirmation of a "parallel polis": the dissidents accepted a strategy of self-restraint, which consisted of a systematic effort to avoid direct confrontation with the regime. Instead of a hopeless clash with the repressive apparatus of a party state, they developed their own, parallel, secret Lebenswelt, led by ideas of individual freedom, moral pluralism and tolerance.

This experience teaches us that the reflexivity of the anti-political discourse of the civilian society has two deeper features. The first of these can be defined as parallelism of discourse, in other words avoiding points of contact with the pseudo-political speech of the repressive apparatus. The other feature I shall refer to as the morality of discourse.

The discursive parallelism of the civilian society includes two strategies. First, the proto-democratic civilian society must strive to take an active stance in formulating the field of its action. It is necessary to overcome the approach of the political opposition which consists of subsequent reactions to issues imposed by the regime. In the preceding period, the relationship to the authorities was one of the general characteristics of the activities of Serbian political parties and - probably - one of the most important elements of the regime's stability. The majority of those parties who define themselves as democratic were entering into hopeless competition with the regime over the argument of nationalism, attempting to persuade voters that they were the better patriots, in other words nationalists. In place of such an approach, participants in the civil society should identify, conceptualise and attempt to spread an alternative way of looking at subjects of central importance to the society and the community: here we are talking about subjects which the regime continuously and violently attempts either to counterfeit or remove from the political vocabulary. Individual freedoms, minority rights, institutionalisation of democratic parliamentary politics, confined to the public space with, equal and transparent procedures for all, restricted authority, the construction of a cohesive legal system which would guarantee security and equality under the law to all citizens and groups in the country, social justice: these are only a few of the issues which have either never appeared on the agenda in Yugoslavia or have been ideologically distorted to the point of unrecognisability by the ruling policy of force.

There is experience in dealing with these issues. Regardless of the brutally restricted possibility of effectively changing the views of the majority, a network of public movements, associations and independent media during the most recent period have shown extraordinary courage and creativity in the fight against Bellicist hysteria. Finally we should not that one of the most significant achievements of the 1996.1997 protest was that the people made a radical formulation of the demand for freedom instead of repression, for the rule of rights rather than the rule of arbitrary preference and for democracy instead of authoritarianism. In this way, the people formulated a parallel democratic discourse and made it public, so that participants in the civil society today would not find themselves dealing with abstract knowledge of freedom and democracy as remote values of civilisation.

Secondly, parallelism of the civil society discourse requires, at least in the post-war period in which repression will probably be reinforced, the avoidance of direct confrontation with the regime. Perhaps some kind of a rigid dualism towards the regime could be established nationally in order to work on the affirmation of alternative values, rather than on direct resistance to the policy of force which is, at the moment, hopeless. Thus defined, the goal, the field and the form of the activity should not be seen as an action which is practically and political useless. The activity restricted to the "parallel polis" would be directed towards the practical denial of a destructive logic of atomisation, which is the essence of the regime's strategy for securing the loyalty of subjects. As a starting point we take the position that no authority with totalitarian ambitions, no matter how omnipotent it may look, is capable of controlling all forms of human thought or action. Thus the idea is to find those blind spots in the fabric of society, the spots which are not covered by direct repression, and to develop forms of communication in them on issues discarded or ideologically contorted by the regime. The process of spreading alternative ideas, like the process of spreading autonomy into a sphere which is today the exclusive political space of the regime, would depend solely on the normalisation or routinisation of the ruling matrix. The assumption is that the regime cannot permanently rule on the basis of extraordinary conditions without excessive expense and risk. Gradually it would probably come to some form of standardised ruling codes which would function as a surrogate "implicit social contract", instead of legal regulations determining the limits between individual privacy and the regime's exclusive "political" sphere. A comparative examination of regimes of this type shows that routinisation leads to some kind of pseudo-liberalisation, to a certain letting-up of the repressive forces which would enable the gradual broadening of the space for civilian and social autonomy.

Finally, the morality of discourse of the civilian society in the situation of naked repression relates to the way chosen subjects are approached. We are here discussing an extremely complex issue, the elaboration of which would demand a text of its own, thus we offer here only a sketch of the possible approach. The moral discourse is not a political one: participants in the civil society are not approaching their subjects in the way in which political participants in a democratic pluralist society would. This dialogue is not competitive as is a political match. Its major feature is consensus, understood as an effort to reach a moral position, mutually acceptable to all participants, on the issues under discussion. The importance of such moral discursive argument in Serbia might be defended from the position that the establishment of democratic standards must be carried out in a complex process which would consist of (1) moral reflection on the immediate past and (2) institutional reconstruction of the political and legal order.

Moral reflection, understood as the critical thinking through of the immediate past by the participants in a civil society, must precede the institutional establishment of democracy. The starting point of this approach is the insight that in Serbia people still live under the regime and within the social, cultural and ideological framework which made the war and the killing possible. None of the essential elements of the Bellicist political project have been discarded or questioned by the regime and its court ideologists. This is why the alternative discourse of the civil democratic peace most unfold in the direction already boldly and precisely defined by the actors of the civilian society in the previous period as a critical reflection on nationalism and war. This would define the real meaning of what the ruling party was doing in the name of "our identity". The official ideology, in its instrumental and selective reading of history, is attempting to present the regime's activity as a continuity of the defence of the national identity. The critical discourse should from the outset - beginning from universal moral principles and values - always demonstrate how, in the last decade, it was not that the "national honour" was being defended, but that moral catastrophes occurred. The regime which proclaimed the "unity of all Serbs" has destroyed both the citizenry and the national identity. What the ideological engineers have tried to impose for years as "the real traditions and national interest" is simply nationalist mysticism, which sees human beings only as instruments for achieving the expansionist aims and preserving the privileges of rule. Without affirmation of alternative thinking about what has been happening in the last decade we would be caught in the trap of a pre-modern barbarism which destroys every identity. As subjects of the regime which has produced a moral catastrophe, we have to explore our past in non-functionalist categories. Instead of accepting ideologically selective interpretations which attempt to forge history in order to create apparent priorities and false traditions, we must constantly emphasise that after the war no continuity is morally acceptable, and that the individual identity, national identity and the identity of the community must be reconstructed on the premises of universal values.