By Igor Jovanovic
On March 1st, Serbia gained EU candidate status and October 5th will mark the 12th anniversary of the toppling of former president Slobodan Milosevic’s regime. However, the public is still debating whether the state has broken away from his legacy, especially since the Socialist Party of Serbia, which Milosevic had led until his death, remains part of the government.
The Socialists decided after the 2008 election to form a government with the Democratic Party and the coalition made European integration its priority. Socialist Party leader Ivica Dacic was before October 2000 known as the spokesman of Milosevic’s policy, whereas now he is the deputy prime minister who won the Best European award in 2010 for his contribution to European integration.
University of Belgrade professor and sociologist Ratko Bozovic told SETimes that the issue is not personnel, but rather whether the Milosevic style of rule has been discontinued. “People change, both personally and politically, so the fact that the Socialists are in power today is not the problem. But I think that in 2000, Serbia missed the opportunity of completely breaking away from Milosevic’s legacy. I foremost think the secret services were left unreformed for a long time,” Bozovic said.
According to him, Serbia was greatly slowed by the fact that the coalition of parties that beat Milosevic in 2000 lacked a common vision of the direction in which the country should be headed. “They were against Milosevic, but had a completely different vision of reforms. All that led to the Serbian citizens living today, 12 years after Milosevic, in a partocratic state that is seriously jeopardised by corruption,” Bozovic said.
Among Milosevic’s most consistent opponents in the 1990s was the Otpor (Resistance) movement, initially formed by a group of Belgrade students. One of the Otpor leaders, Ivan Marovic, told SETimes that Serbia had over the past 12 years conspicuously moved away from the legacy of Milosevic. “However, the question is whether it is going in the right direction. The foreign policy direction is diametrically opposite, as demonstrated by the EU candidacy, but the manner of ruling is still insufficiently democratic, at least if we perceive democracy through the citizens’ influence on defining the policy,” Marovic said.
There is still no single historical assessment in Serbia of the rule of Milosevic, who was indicted by The Hague tribunal for crimes in Kosovo and Croatia, as well as for genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Socialist Party officials are today reluctant to talk about Milosevic.
Party leader Dacic recently only said it was “ironic” that the Socialists have fulfilled the promises made to citizens by the coalition that brought down Milosevic. “Democratic Party of Serbia president Vojislav Kostunica, at the helm of the DOS coalition, in 2000 defeated Slobodan Milosevic with talk of association with the EU. Kostunica is someone who is today opposed to the EU, while the Socialist Party of Serbia is part of the government that helped the country obtain the candidate status. After that, no one can say that matters in politics are unchangeable,” Dacic said after Serbia became an EU candidate on March 1st.
However, his party colleague and Infrastructure Minister Milutin Mrkonjic has nothing but praise for Milosevic, whom he still calls his great friend. “In his policy, Slobodan Milosevic primarily focused on the freedom and independence of the country. And the country was free and independent while he was president. It would be so today as well,” Mrkonjic wrote in an article for a Belgrade weekly, published on March 7th.
That comment caused protests by certain ruling coalition partners. Zika Gojkovic, vice president of the Serbian Renewal Movement, said that such statements caused Serbia nothing but harm. “Milosevic organised the executions of his political opponents and we from the Serbian Renewal Movement were his victims. Therefore, praise for his rule can only damage Serbia and the reform capacity of this country,” he said.
Sanja Rankovic, 40, says she is not satisfied with everything that happened post-Milosevic, but adds that the difference is still significant. “During Milosevic we were bombed, isolated from the world, worked for two German marks per month and broke records in hyperinflation. How can anyone say they are not doing better in Serbia today?” she asked.
Pavle Kostic, 51, does not even want to talk about Milosevic anymore. “The man was removed from power 12 years ago and died six years ago. Isn’t it time we stopped thinking about him and saying everything is his fault?”