The Argument of Force

Two weeks ago, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic was shot and killed by a sniper bullet. His successors immediately declared a "state of emergency" – in effect, martial law – of undetermined duration, and launched a massive police operation to crack down on alleged crime syndicates suspected of Djindjic’s murder. Djindjic was given a full state funeral and numerous eulogies in the Western press, before news of His Most Democratic Majesty’s invasion of Iraq pushed Serbia out of the limelight.

As Imperial forces, confident after terror-bombing Serbia into submission in 1999, fought against unexpectedly stiff Iraqi resistance, Djindjic’s successors reaffirmed Serbia’s vassal status by expelling Iraqi diplomats. Meanwhile, at home, they reveled in power over their citizens even the Emperor would envy.

A Different War

Under the leadership of Djindjic’s party comrade Zoran Zivkovic, who was appointed Prime Minister on March 17, the new government launched a "war on organized crime."

With uncanny speed, they blamed Djindjic’s death on the "Zemun clan," allegedly a crime syndicate based near Belgrade. Suddenly, the police that could not solve any capital murder cases in the past two years knew everything, and everyone responsible. On March 18, the government said it had arrested 750 people. Two days later, the number rose to over 1000, and by the 23rd, stood at 2700! By March 17, Belgrade prisons were full, and the arrested had to be sent elsewhere.

While Serbia is certainly ridden with organized crime, as are all post-Communist countries, there are valid concerns that the government crackdown is not really aimed at destroying the mafia altogether. For example, though the little-known ‘Zemun clan’ is a target, the much better-known ‘Surcin clan,’ whose boss let Djindjic travel in his private jets, has not been mentioned at all.

One of the alleged ‘Zemun clan’ kingpins, known as "Legija," used to command a Special Operations Unit of the Interior Ministry. Djindjic enlisted Legija’s help in 2000 to seize power, and in 2001 to seize Milosevic. There are indications he was about to deliver Legija’s head to the Hague Inquisition, just before he was killed.

The following facts need mention as well. Zivkovic was minister of police in the Yugoslav government until it was dissolved last month. Djindjic was killed on his watch – yet he got promoted! Dusan Mihajlovic, Serbia’s minister of police (and thus even more responsible than Zivkovic) remained in his post. Legija’s former unit, the "Red Berets," has been directly subordinated to Mihajlovic since early 2002. (It was disbanded two days ago, just as some pro-Imperial elements advised.)

There are numerous indications that the state of emergency and the ‘war on crime’ are actually aimed at the government’s political opponents and dissenters in general. "War is the health of the state," Randolph Bourne famously said. State-launched ‘wars’ on social problems serve that purpose just as well.

Let The Purges Begin

Thanks to the emergency, the police do not need search or arrest warrants, but simply to barge into houses and offices of suspects. Property of the suspects can be confiscated or destroyed, as was the case with an office building owned by the alleged leader of the "Zemun clan." Under emergency powers, suspects can be held for 30 days without charges. And since Serbia kept the Communist system of criminal justice, all suspects are pretty much presumed guilty until proven innocent.

Djindjic’s murder has been blamed on "remnants of the Milosevic regime", both by the Serbian government and the Imperial press. It is hard to say exactly who claimed it first, though the accusations seemed to appear in American papers sooner than in official Serbian statements. It wouldn’t be the first time that Serbia takes its cue from the Empire. As early as March 16, a friend of Djindjic’s wrote a commentary for the Washington Post, openly blaming Slobodan Milosevic for the hit.

Prime Minister Zivkovic also blamed "politically affiliate groups," and pledged he would "clean Serbia with an iron broom." A prominent member of the Djindjic regime opined that the PM’s tragic death could be used as an "inspiration" to make Serbia into a democracy.

If so, Serbia’s leaders have a mighty odd definition of "democracy." Does it mean censorship? Yes. Emergency powers provided for a full media crackdown, limiting the news to official statements only. This supposedly extends only to the causes of the emergency, but since the government interprets what does and what does not apply, in practice this means censorship of everything. Several publications and TV stations have already been banned. A Serbian government consultant, posing as an independent journalist, tried to excuse the censorship by claiming that ‘those targeted are mainly low-quality tabloids, notorious for their unverified reports, invasions of privacy and reliance on rumour and even lies.’ But that describes most of the media in the Balkans! Besides, any persecution first targets the unpopular, so by the time it gets around to others, they have no way to resist.

Last week, the government purged the judiciary, creating the opportunity to ‘pack’ the courts with its supporters. Nenad Canak, a lunatic fringe politician who figures prominently in the DOS coalition, advocated a ban on certain political parties. There was even a hint of ‘culture wars’ as the authorities arrested Ceca Raznatovic, neo-folk singer and widow of militia leader Arkan. Allegedly connected to the ‘Zemun clan,’ Raznatovic and her music are considered a "vulgar celebration of Serbia’s criminal class," as Time magazine famously put it last summer. Also, head of the military counter-intelligence was recently sacked by the pro-Djindjic government of the Serbia-Montenegro union, suggesting that a purge in the military is going on as well.

The alleged hitman himself was arrested on Monday, but the police haven’t said how they "know" he was the shooter. In today’s Serbia, their word cannot be questioned.

Faking A Martyr

Though the people in Serbia in general have been conditioned to, if not trust, then at least obey the government unconditionally, many see the state of emergency for what it is: a naked power grab, using Djindjic’s body as the proverbial ‘bloody shirt’.

The Empire is certainly treating Djindjic like "a martyr to the cause of a liberal, democratic Serbia" (Tod Lindberg, The Washington Times). In the weeks following his demise, The Toronto Star called him ‘a true patriot,’ London’s noxious IWPR lamented Serbia’s interrupted road to "full Euro-Atlantic integration," and the New York Times editorialized that though the Empire was absolutely right in all its demands, and Djindjic did right by obeying them, he should have received more support to deal with the opposition.

A rare voice of dissent came from Neil Clark in the London Guardian, who called Djindjic "The quisling of Belgrade." Said Clark, "When a man has sold his country’s assets, its ex-president and his main political rivals, what else is there to sell? Only the country itself."

And Steven Erlanger of the New York Times noted, in a March 16 piece, that Djindjic had links with the criminal syndicates that supposedly killed him, even as he again claimed Djindjic was hated for obeying the fully justified Western demands.

IWPR, a loathsome purveyor of transnational statism, deemed the martial law as an "opportunity" to rid Serbia of organized crime, with a perfunctory caution that it could lead to a dictatorship. The government crackdown was also supported unequivocally by the enthusiastically Imperial ICG. The Christian Science Monitor quoted ICG’s Belgrade bureau chief, James Lyon, as saying, "If they can keep this up for another two weeks, I am optimistic that Djindjic’s death will be seen as the spark that gave Serbia a democratic future."

Meanwhile, ICG panicked over the possibility that the future Serbia won’t be as obedient and pliant as Djindjic made it, and demanded of the Empire not to relax any of its pressure on Belgrade. The people of Serbia, of course, knew nothing of it. Under the emergency powers, mention of this report would result in a ban.

Crushing Liberty

Djindjic’s brutal murder created two opportunities. The one the government seized was to use it as an excuse for repression and purges, trying to both increase its already near-absolute authority and effect a sort of ‘cultural revolution,’ that would remake the Serbian people by force. Listening to the fiery braying of organizations on Empire’s payroll who would love nothing more than to "de-Nazify" a society that has sacrificed millions to fight Nazism, one is reminded of Bertold Brecht’s famous quip that the government ought to "elect a new People," since the current people have proven a disappointment.

This new Serbia is a ‘democracy’ as much as the current Imperial invasion aims to ‘liberate’ Iraq. Last week on, M. N. Tankosich described it as a "police state." And the habitually well-informed Srdja Trifkovic of Chronicles opined that, "Djindjic’s successors are using the state of emergency as a blunt but effective tool of crushing dissent in the media and silencing all forms of political opposition to their own, increasingly illegitimate rule."

The other opportunity was for the beleaguered Serbians to realize the folly of autocratic government, abandon the cult of personality and reject the quasi-scientific political forms imposed on them by the Empire and their own pliant intellectual class. Instead, they could have created a responsible Republic, or even a restored constitutional monarchy, in a Hoppean vein.

To quote Mr. Tankosich, one of Serbia’s unfortunately rare libertarians, "Serbia was more… prosperous and free 100 years ago under Peter I (her first constitutional monarch) than she is now." And the post-Djindjic Serbia, "will have to learn to live without authoritarian PMs and Presidents, and today she has the chance to move forward."

This is the chance the government and the Empire are doing everything in their power to destroy. They must not be allowed to succeed.

Author: Nebojsa Malic

Nebojsa Malic left his home in Bosnia after the Dayton Accords and currently resides in the United States. During the Bosnian War he had exposure to diplomatic and media affairs in Sarajevo. As a historian who specializes in international relations and the Balkans, Malic has written numerous essays on the Kosovo War, Bosnia, and Serbian politics. His exclusive column for debuted in November 2000.