Dusan Pavlovic

1. Ever since Real-socialism began to crumble in most of the Central and Eastern European countries in 19189, the issues of transition from non-democratic regimes into democratic order has recaptured centre stage in the political sciences. The lip service paid to building a political system based on the values of Western European political philosophy marked the beginning of the so-called third wave of democratisation (Huntington, 1991). One key issue which has been reopened with the revival of transitology in the field of political science was the question of conditions favourable to the transition from non-democratic to democratic regimes, in other words the question of the consolidation of democracy in these regimes. The most thorough research in this area has been conducted by Linz and Stepan and published as Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation in 1996.

In a nutshell, Linz and Stepan claim that transition to a democratic system and the consolidation thereof depend on three groups of conditions. The first of these can actually be equated with the stage of development of five areas of democratisation. According to Linz and Stepan these areas include: the civil society, the political society, the rule of law, the character of the state administration and the economic society (Linz and Stepan, 1996: 7-15). Democratisation also depends on the type of non-democratic regime (Ibid., 38-55) and the figures at the helm at the point transition commences.

Given that the nearly 500-page study (index included) does not provide a clear explanation of the kind of correlation which exists among these variables, particularly between actors and structures, I suppose that the authors assume that the existing group of variables is ranked so that the first group of variables is more decisive and significant than the second, the second more than the third and the fourth the least decisive or significant. This supposition is implicitly confirmed by the case studies which make up the major part of the book. Such an approach to the explanation of democratic transition is called the institutional approach, given that the subject of research is explained primarily in terms of institutional variables.

2. Ten years after the third wave commenced, however, it is clear that there are cases which this approach cannot aspire to explain. These are the cases of Serbia and Croatia, for example. The claim that these two examples do not fall within the theory of transition is best proven by the fact that up to now they had not been covered in the transition literature. Apart from the spate of historical and journalistic studies and dissertations on the break-up of Yugoslavia, no serious political study which would explain the failure of Yugoslavia, or its seceded republics, to democratise has so far appeared. The absence of such a study cannot be accounted for by the presumed claim that Serbia and Croatia do not constitute valid subjects of analysis for transition theory. On the contrary, transition theory lacks the analytical tools to successfully account for such cases as Serbia and Croatia. A close examination of the failings of Linz and Stepan's analysis, and thus the failings of the general transition theory, leads to the conclusion that it is precisely a more accurately defined relationship between actors and structure. It could be argued that there are cases where institutions, social structures and cultural circumstances inevitably affect the behaviour of the actors and thus generate a certain behaviour. However there are situations and circumstances in which the actors and their conduct is decisive in determining the road a country will take. in the 1987-1989 period, when Real-socialism began to crumble in Serbia, a substantial number of social, economic and political circumstances met the fundamental prerequisites for the beginning of democratisation. If we invoke the first group of Linz and Stepan's conditions of democratisation, Serbia would have met four of the five conditions. Within Linz and Stepan's framework, Serbia today would be a member of the European Union.

3. The problem of accounting for unsuccessful transitions, brought about by a theoretically unresolved actor-structure distinction, was first overcome in transition theory with the appearance of Guillermo O'Donnel's Delegative Democracy in 1994, which was followed by Chehabi and Linz's Sultanic Regimes in 1998. After nearly ten years of research into the regimes in the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Haiti, Iran and the Philippines, he came to the conclusion that there is a distinct kind of regime which does not allow for an institutional approach if it is to fully account for the rise and fall of non-democratic regimes. an analysis of sultanic regimes should pay special attention to the figure of the ruler, his treatment of subordinates, the relationship among the elites and the values the ruler and the elites uphold, rather than to the functioning of institutions or cultural prerequisites for democratic development. According to Linz and Chehabi, the basic elements of a sultanic regime are: (1) the conjugation of state and regime; (2) personal dictatorship; (3) constitutional hypocrisy; (4) a narrow social base; (5) fake capitalism (Chehabi and Linz, 1998: 12-21). The current Milosevic regime fits into the sultanic type of regime in that it meets all elements except (4). Nevertheless, this analysis of sultanic regimes provides an even more interesting explanation of the origin of these regimes, i.e. the reasons for their fall. According to the authors, sultanic regimes most often arise accidentally and their overthrow is most often caused by schisms within the political elites (Ibid., 50-51). Taking into account that the fate of sultanic regimes is dependent on the fate of the "sultan" who represents its pivot point (Linz and Stepan, 1996: 70), it is thought that there are no institutional, structural or cultural conditions which could sustain such a regime once the "sultan" steps down.

.4 There are local research papers which support this conclusion. Slobodan Antonic, in his paper Social Formations, Political Actors, Democratic Order, demonstrates that Serbia was one of very few countries with an advanced civil society, a reform-minded communistic elite and liberal-nationalist intellectual elite in the communist period (especially during the 1980s). Then a sheer accident happened in September 1987: the rise to power of Slobodan Milosevic who has now for twelve years been stripping away the circumstances conducive to the building of democracy (Antonic, 1999). The implicit conclusion to be drawn from this analysis by Antonic is, I believe, this: if a Thomas Jefferson surrounded by American federalists had been in Milosevic's position in 1987, Serbia today would have been a consolidated democracy.

Within Serbian political science there are other approaches to extrapolations of the Milosevic rule. I shall not, of course, enter into a dispute with the institutional approach as advocated by Goati and Pribicevic (Goati, 1996; Pribicevic, 1997), the cultural approach advocated by Mrs Golubovic (Golubovic, 1995a; 1995b) or the socio-structural approach, the chief proponent of which is Todor Kuljic (Kuljic, 1994), the approach which culminated in Vlad Ilic's assertion that Milosevic represents "an ephemeral historical phenomenon" (Ilic, 1999: 27).

All these approaches and theories are unable to account for the way in which Serbia, despite a not insignificant advantage at the beginning of transition, could have turned into a sultanic regime in the second half of the 1990s. The thesis supported by texts of Guillermo O'Donnel, the study by Chehabi and Linz, as well as the papers of Sloba Antonic points out that the explanation of Serbia's failure to embark on transition could be successfully extricated from the theory of political elites.

5. The purpose of this text, however, is not to argue about the nature or type of the Milosevic regime. The assertion that this regime is of the sultanic type is here taken for granted. The purpose of the text is to offer a bedrock to the question of whether, after the fall of the Milosevic regime, Serbia would have a chance to finally begin with democratisation. As made clear in 3, a sultanic regime is sustained overthrown with its pivot, its ruler. In principle, Linz and Stepan are not too optimistic about the democratisation of a sultanic regime once the "sultan" steps down. This is because of the fact that, in most cases, the "sultan" has managed to crush nearly all institutional, structural and cultural prerequisites for the building of democracy in the course of his long rule. Therefore the post-sultanic regime is faced with the obstruction of reconstruction of the civil society, state administration, economic and legal order and the political system (Linz and Stepan, 1996: 56; Chehabi and Linz, 1998: 37).

Throughout the twelve years of his rule, Milosevic has tried hard to eradicate all the conditions for the building of democracy in Serbia. Apart from Milosevic's police and state television, there is no institution which has not been crippled, degraded, devalued, dismantled or destroyed. The state, the law and the Constitution, Parliament, the University, free journalism, the economy, private entrepreneurship, social wellbeing, national morality, culture, religion, human rights, good relations with neighbouring countries - in short, the key institutions for the building of democracy - have been stripped of any meaning under Milosevic's twelve years of rule. Recently Milosevic has had the assistance of Nato in this with the destruction of bridges, factories, roads, buildings, transport systems and human lives in Serbia. In spite of all this, I believe that Milosevic has not managed to root out all democratic potential in Serbia and that, once he has stepped down, Serbia will have an opportunity to embark on the transition to democracy. Still, given that at this moment it is impossible to prove scientifically or theoretically which path the political organisation of Serbian society will take once the current war has ended, this thesis is bound to remain intuitive and precarious. The basic argument for this optimistic claim is to be found precisely in the sultanic nature of the Milosevic regime. Whether the sultanate will be supplanted by democracy depends primarily on how successful the sultan has been in the destruction of democratic precursors. In spite of the spiritual and material devastation suffered by Serbia in the past twelve years, the country is still not heading down the path of no return. Whether Serbia will reach that point once the war with Nato has ended depends on whether the Milosevic system remains sultanic or is transformed into something else.

 

6. I see a key indicator for the intuition that Serbia will not become a kind of totalitarian regime in the fact that this kind of state and government organisation has not been established in the course of the war with Nato. To tell the truth, the circumstances of war have ostensibly increased the level of the regime's totalitarianism, but have not fundamentally changed its nature. The mood among the citizens of Serbia has not significantly changed since Serbia has been at war. Those who supported Milosevic still do and those who were against him still are. Generally speaking, it can be discerned that the war is perceived by many as transient. Once it is over, things will soon be back where they were on March 24, 1999. The Milosevic regime will find itself where it was - with the democratic precursors damaged, but still in place. On the other hand, what will probably happen after the war is that the Kosovo question will finally be closed. With the Kosovo question closed, the days of the nationalist discourse which has reigned Serbia since Milosevic rose to power in 1987 will also be numbered. I have already explained in broad terms the role the political discourse played in the reproduction of Milosevic's power in terms of "the theory of the redirection of a political discourse" (Pavlovic, 1998a; 1998b). The key point of this theory is that during the period when Milosevic's power was absolute and direct (1989-1997), the nationalist political discourse was of secondary importance to the regeneration of his power. From the moment his power became indirect (after the 1997 elections), the political discourse became a necessary component of the Milosevic regime. Without it, Milosevic could not have ruled as there would have been no other way to sustain the coalition with Seselj's Radicals or maintain the loyalty of Vuk Draskovic.

The fact that the loss of the great majority in the Parliament and the loss of direct control over the fundamental levers of power has not challenged Milosevic's rule illustrates that it relies on techniques which secure its position even without this majority. Whatever the efficacy of these techniques, they are short-lived. Through the practical solution to the Kosovo question has yet to be seen, it is certain that the end of the war with Nato will also close the Kosovo question and thus also put an end to the nationalist political discourse. Unless Milosevic comes up with new techniques, the closing of the Kosovo question will present him with difficulties in finding ways to maintain the good services of the Radicals and Vuk Draskovic without letting them encroach upon the supremacy of his power. This will mark the closing stage of Milosevic's sultanic rule - a stage in which his rule will be neither absolute nor direct. This will be a prime prerequisite for the birth of democracy in Serbia.

 

References:

Antonic, Slobodan (1999). "Social Formations, Political Actors,Democratic Order" (in print)

Chehabi, H. E. & Linz, Juan L. (1998). "Sultanic Regimes". Baltimore and London: The John Hopkins University.

Golubovic, Zagorka (1995a). "Social Change in the1990's and Social Character: The Case of Yugoslavia", Sociology, Vol.XXXVII, No.4, pp. 441-453.

Golubovic, Zagorka (1995b). "Traditionalism and Authoritarianism As Hindrances To the Development Of the Civil Society In Serbia", in: Vukasin Pavlovic (ed.), "Civil Society Suppressed", Belgrade: EKO Centar, pp. 51-70.

Ilic, Vladimir (1999). "Swerving Skill", Interview in Vreme weekly, March 6, 1999, No. 437, pp. 25-28.

Kuljic, Todor (1994). "Forms Of Personal Dictatorship", Belgrade: Institute For Political Studies.

Linz Juan J., Stepan Alfred, (1996). "Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation". Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press.

Huntington, Samuel P., (1991). "Democracy's Third Wave", in: Journal of Democracy, Vol. 2, No. 2, pp. 12-34.

O'Donnel, Guillermo (1994). "Delegative Democracy", in: Journal ofDemocracy. Vol. 5, No. 1, January 1994, pp. 55-69.

Pavlovic, Dusan (1998a) "Nine Theses On Milosevic's Future", in:Vreme, February 21st 1998, br. 383, pp. 8-9.

Pavlovic, Dusan (1998b). "Gold Bars Of Power", in: Vreme, August 22,1998, Br. 409, pp. 32-33.

Pribicevic, Ognjen (1997). "The Authorities and the Opposition In Serbia". Belgrade: Radio B92.