Uniting for the future
Interview with Dragoljub Micunovic | March 17, 2003.
Dragoljub Micunovic is the speaker of the Parliament of Serbia and Montenegro and the most senior politician in the government. He is also a longtime friend and associate of the late Zoran Djindjic. He spoke to Radio B92 on Friday, two days after the assassination of the prime minister.
B92: In the wake of the murder of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, the international community has sent clear signals that it is prepared to support the government and people of Serbia. This is borne out by the visit of top EU officials Javier Solana and Chris Patten the day after the assassination, not to mention the initiative of Peter Schieder for Serbia-Montenegro to be admitted urgently to the Council of Europe. You have visited Strasbourg on several occasions over this issue and know better than anyone how often accession to the Council has been postponed. How do you see this initiative.
Micunovic: Naturally I welcome the initiative although, unfortunately, it would have been much better had it come earlier and if they had actually listened to what we were repeatedly saying. We have been telling them for a year that what would be real support for the democratic regime in Belgrade would be admission to all European institutions, the Security Council, the Council of Europe and others.
If you want someone to join, it’s better to have him within the organization and, if you have any doubts, impose rules which must be obeyed. This is much better than keeping them in isolation and have them constantly operation on the babushka doll principle: you open one box and find another inside. This is a very unprincipled gesture towards Serbia-Montenegro.
The continued refusal to admit Yugoslavia into European institutions has in fact only strengthened the anti-democratic, anti-reform movement and the ousted forces, the ones which lost elections, the ones which were defeated historically in the elections and through the uprising of the people and now seek to be reinstated.
I have talked and talked, promises have been made all the time and someone new always appears to ask for something new to be added. Most of this was related to the Hague Tribunal and deadlines for certain people.
I’ve always said “What if we can’t find them, will we then never become members of the Council of Europe?” And now it emerges that the policy of constant extortion, the constant accumulation of conditions, has been wrong.
I think that absolutely everyone now sees that the constant imposition of conditions, with no assistance forthcoming, does not help a fragile democracy, and there is no tradition of democracy in this country, with obstacles to modernization and democratization from the many remnants of the old regime, the old system.
So this is now a turn-around. Serbia-Montenegro will be protected by direct support from Europe and the US.
B92: Do you believe that the key players in the international community have understood they share the responsibility and will change their policy?
Micunovic: I think they understand it now because, quite simply, they are afraid. What if chaos emerges here and the democratic regime is ousted? What will they face? Destabilisation of the whole region and an enormous problem.
So, in some way, they are frightened by what has happened, although we have constantly been warning them about it.
There has been support, as you know. Patten came not only because of this. A parliament session had been scheduled for Friday at which he planned to address the parliament and encourage and support the new state union, the integration of Serbia and Montenegro, and to say that Europe would of course insist that the federation last, that it conform and enter dialogue with Europe as soon as possible and eventually join the EU.
This was the message Patten was to deliver to the parliament.
However the session was of course postponed, there was a tragic twist, the leader of the whole course of reform has been murdered and, naturally, they have been taken unaware and are wondering what to do next.
It is good that they realize that this was a huge loss for democratic Europe and the world, not just for Serbia. I think that, at this point, they want to do everything they can to strengthen the democratic order in Serbia and resume reforms.
B92: Mr Micunovic, I must ask you whether you think that the murder of Zoran Djindjic could have been prevented, particularly in light of the failed assassination attempt in mid-February.
Micunovic: It’s difficult to say at the moment: it depends on a lot of thing. If he had not got out of the car there, but somewhere else, he most certainly would not have been murdered at that point
When they invest a lot of money in it, when professionals are engaged, when there is an organization which wants to execute someone, you need enormous security measures to avoid it.
Unfortunately, these were not in place, and nor did Djindjic take them seriously. He did not wear a bullet-proof vest, he took no special care to conceal information about his movements: there was enormous negligence, that’s a fact.
After the highway incident, absolutely every precaution should have been taken, because the situation was clear.
These people act according to the Cosa Nostra principles, they announce their murders and security must be lifted to a higher level and, of course, a counter-attack should have happened in time.
B92: You knew and worked with Djindjic longer than anyone. What does this tragic event mean to you personally?
Micunovic: It was a long friendship. We had conflicts, everyone knows about them. But he suited my taste, he was the most promising young politician, and not only a politician, he was also an intellectual.
I met him very early, when he began at university. He was boyishly arrogant, even to the lecturers. I taught him, I examined him, I was on his graduation commission and I had huge sympathy for him of course. I liked him far more than the others did. The faith hooked us up, despite the difference in our age and status: I was a lecturer and he was my student.
Teaching staff in the Faculty of Philosophy were being persecuted at the time, but the students were always protecting us. As soon as he came to the university in 1970, he espoused the existing tradition of student rebellion and became the leader of it. He organized a general strike when they began sacking us. He established an organization with students from Zagreb and Ljubljana, which cost him a year in prison. And he was immediately branded.
When I left for Konstanz, I invited him to come and he just burst in one day, that was what he was like. For example, he entered Habermas’ office through a window, because the building was locked and said “My name is so and so and I’m a friend of such and such people”.
When he came to Konstanz, I introduced him to the philosopher Werner who was head of the philosophy department there. We arranged for him to do his doctorate there, to get some small financial support and live in a squat with a number of students. He immediately got the whole house on its feet. All those people from Konstanz have been calling me today
His creativity shocked and confused the Germans, who only knew about rules and orders. He worked against those. For example, they dug the garden, grew potatoes and onions. He found boys to collect rotten apples around the city, and found a Greek partner to produce juice. We always drank fresh apple juice – he had bold ideas all the time.
Of course, it was a time of great turmoil in Germany, the government was fighting terrorism, the whole of democratic Germany had been shaken and accused by those who wanted to use the situation and attack all progressive leftists in Germany.
And he won his PhD brilliantly there, went back to do his army service, returned to Konstanz, won a scholarship and, when I returned to Belgrade we founded this institute. I immediately invited him, telling him “Enough of wandering around, you’re wasting your time in Germany, come back, you have a doctorate now”. We accepted him as an associate at the Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory.
We decided to establish a party, which we founded together with the others – Cavoski, Kostunica, Rade Stojanovic. When the time came to elect a president he nominated me and I was elected unanimously. When I was elected president for the second time at the Founding Assembly, I nominated him as president of the Executive Committee. He was a dynamo. I couldn’t have achieved those first results with the Democratic Party without him.
Of course, after that, we fell out, but despite this our strong friendship never faltered. I have never attacked him with a single word.
And, of course, as soon as times became more peaceful and the storm around us calmed down, we quickly arranged our first contact and had a long, friendly chat about everything, went through it all and put it behind us. That early friendship was actually the basis for our ongoing collaboration, which was sometimes obvious, sometimes not, because we also were in informal contact, we met in each other’s homes.
The terrible thing about all of this is that we have so easily lost a politician who put other European politicians to shame. This has happened often to us, we are a small country, they come to visit and then we realize they are no more clever than us. On the contrary, in may things we are better educated or more clever, but they conduct the policy of some great country and live at a high level.
And we were constantly plagued by the question: “Why can’t we do it?” I remember one metaphor, Afghanistan and Switzerland: both have mountains, high mountaintops and everything, but the Swiss have an average income of $40,000 dollars while the Afghans, of course, have had the misfortune they had. What’s the problem? It’s not only natural resources, oil, or the riches of the land. Those are an advantage for some but they are not salvation. You can have all the natural resources in the world, but you need to establish a modern spirit, a modern approach, a rational approach to the world, a changed attitude to the times.
And he had it, he had this dynamo, this motor, which got everyone moving. He did lot of things quickly, and of course in hast you make a lot of mistakes, you make wrong predictions and everything. There were a lot of disappointments and we often talked about this, people’s apathy and incompetence, their habits, their ill will, the reluctance to be involved in these petty hatreds and quarrels which bind everyone.
It was suggested to him lately to study the history of Serbia, as I was doing myself, and that history is terrifying: the inability of the people to get out of the grip of this primal, rooted, anarchic, rural inertia, to move forward towards reforms which are immediately cut down.
What is it that is so terrifying in our history, especially when it comes to political struggle?
Today people think that what has been happening is terrible, what is happening among political parties, these quarrels and everything, but let them look at history and they’ll see how much more terrible it was in the past. It was all happening on terrible, swampy, muddy grounds.
Today we have to build a modern, democratic, legal state. We already knew that. But the question is what can a political elite or establishment do about it? You can introduce brilliant laws, and that is our job. The reforms. But you also have to get that spirit into motion. Because real historical progress and development happens deep in the core of society. There is enormous work waiting for us in that area. There’s a disagreement in the root of the society about the status quo, the terror and whatever, agreement on the blinders being sold, the myth of our greatness, how we fought glorious wars and defeated everyone, killed them all, the escape from reality and the facts of what you are and where you stand. Twenty per cent of the population of our country is illiterate! Twenty per cent! No one in Europe has such illiteracy.
There is not enough strength in the core of our society, there is no dynamo, and that is why the death of Djindjic is such a great loss. This is what we have to make up for, to find a replacement for this energy, because we’re going to need it in the future. I think this is a lesson for everyone.
B92: What about the politicians who remain? Do you have that strength?
Micunovic: I hope we do. As far as I’m concerned, I’ll be around.
B92: And your associates, the other DOS leaders: are they prepared?
Micunovic: We’ll see. I hope they are. This is a lesson for absolutely everyone. What we have to do, and I will take responsibility for this as the eldest among us, is to bring everyone together again and see who is willing and who is not to meet on a healthy basis. Who wants to change this Serbia into a better state, legal, secure and progressive. We can’t be rich overnight, but let us at least know where we are going. So that young people can stay here, can return to help.
Anyone who is willing to do this is welcome. We will forget the infighting. Let everyone who is willing tell us immediately, let then not criticize us, they can do what they please on the side, but let those of us who are willing to do it work. I’m not only talking about parties, but about various groups, intellectuals, who can see this is a warning. They can’t just watch from the side and show their commitment only by criticizing: criticism is also useful but it can’t be everything. Let us come together and build a team, a force, which won’t worry about these miserable, pathetic titles and roles, but which will want to work. We absolutely have the strength because we have had this terrifying experience.
B92: Are you counting on all the democratic forces and parties which took part in getting rid of Milosevic?
B92: Even Vojislav Kostunica’s party?
Micunovic: We have to talk to them as well. Let this be very clear. Let everyone declare themselves: do they want to do it or not. We can’t afford any more hesitation, we wasted time, enormous time, with Milosevic. Then we lost time with discussions within DOS, with factionalisation of the coalition. We’re now losing time because there’s no Djindjic and we have to organize ourselves in order to provide proper functioning of the government, again losing time. We don’t have any more time to lose. So anyone who wants to join the democratic front must realize that time is the most precious thing and that it is clearly in the interest of the Serbian public to abandon isolation, inertia, crime, chaos, the violation of rights.
Let whoever wants it say so, if they don’t want it they have the right not to. But if we agree on it we have to act quickly and efficiently.
The other thing is that there can be no dialogue with people who have waged war on the state. We will have both international and local support on this. The state cannot have more than one authority. People must realise that they can’t be at war with the state. This must be understood by those who want the old regime back, or who have blood on their hands, or who have amassed stolen wealth, or who in any way want to become an elite which will corrupt, push around or in any other way influence our lives. We won’t stand for that, no state can tolerate it. The state must be very efficient about this. A policeman who won’t arrest a robber is an accessory and must immediately step down. A general who doesn’t want to defend his country or follow his orders must take his stars off. The state is the highest authority. It is the system which is our public, the life and security of every citizen. It must not be opposed or fought against.