Gospodar noćnog saobračaja

where do you get your ties?
Lifting arms like that can also be a core exercise.

Tuesday may weld but Wednesday casts asunder. Or so you might be tempted to think after last night’s surprising news that Vojislav Šešelj won a huge victory — a victory not only and probably not even primarily for him — in getting judge Frederik Harhoff removed from his case at ICTY on grounds of partiality.

You will remember Harhoff for the brouhaha he caused by writing a leaky little letter. That letter turned out to be the only piece of evidence discussed in relation to Šešelj’s motion. So no doubt, it continues to be an object of contention.

First as to why the decision, though it is his victory, does not primarily benefit Šešelj. There was never a certainty of conviction on the charges against Šešelj, particularly since they relied on indirect forms of responsibility and on showings that Šešelj exercised command when he was in fact subordinate to DB. But once the verdicts came down exonerating Perišić, Stanišić and Simatović, nobody any longer expected Šešelj to be convicted. If no guilt applies to the people who armed, trained, financed and organised the direct perpetrators of crimes, then none is likely to apply to a clown who was hired to wave pistols in front of cameras.

The rusty spoon of fate determined, though, that at one point Šešelj’s interests would coincide with a complex of others and deepen the mess into which ICTY has been sinking itself of late. Presiding judge Meron’s bold circumscriptions of the applicability of international law to really existing states and militaries (parastates and paramilitaries are still fair game) have meant that an interest in sustaining his credibility is now shared by defendants and ex-defendants from multiple sides, Meron’s Wikileak co-stars, defence counsel in ongoing, past and future cases, and the Thick White Četnik Duke. As the proverb says, well-oiled beds make low-friction bedfellows.

Concretely, though, the decision is not likely to do much to alter the course of Šešelj’s case. Its credibility was already damaged by rococo untimeliness and ulcer-inducing mismanagement, so one fiasco more or less means fairly little. The most likely outcome here is that a new judge is assigned to replace Harhoff and that the panel reaches its 2-1 decision a little later rather than a little sooner. It is possible that a rehearing could be ordered before a new panel, but not probable — though trial junkies could just love a trial that competes for longevity with Coronation Street. But most probably this decision will have minor effects on the process and no effect on the outcome.

The main effect will be on processes outside the Šešelj case. Like the letter that brought the ruling about, the ruling itself is symptomatic of the general malaise that derives from divisions within ICTY, which reflects a wider division among people interested in international law more generally. So what did the panel that dismissed judge Harhoff have to say? A few things, most of which are tangentially related to the grounds of Šešelj’s petition:

1. The panel confirmed that ICTY is deeply divided, by adding another 2-1 decision to a long list of 2-1 and 3-2 decisions on matters of fundamental importance where clear law or a united (or even well-managed) judiciary would seek unanimity and clarity.

2. The panel was unanimous in disapproving of a judge using leaks to the media to substitute for arguments in chambers. Judge Liu, writing in dissent, condemned the inappropriateness of the unpurloined letter in stronger language than the majority.

3. The panel agreed that ICTY started making new law in 2012. Both the majority and the dissenting opinion concur that the central issue was whether judge Harhoff had indicated that he faced a dilemma in applying “the current jurisprudence” of the Tribunal. This could have the effect of undermining the argument of people who would like to present recent appeals chamber decisions as though they are settled law.

4. As much as a single document can be said to prove anything (the old “killer fact!” theory), the panel might have indicated that in the oft-discussed contretemps between the Merovingians and the Harhoovers, the Merovingians could perhaps have the upper hand for the time being. But don’t take my word on this one, I’m not too sure and it is a job for a wizard or a Kremlinologist anyway. What is striking regardless of who has the upper hand is the extent to which activity like this demonstrates a competition in the assignment of blame: does it go to Meron whose innovations have contributed to dissension in the Tribunal, or to Harhoff who clumsily made it publicly known?

The upshot? In the first place, we are very much where we were before this happened, except ICTY’s credibility is a little more damaged. In the second place, we see an interesting arrangement of forces in which the nacoši are all on the same side regardless of nationality (but this was probably always the case).

Postscript: No links, sorry, I wrote this on a plane. I’m sure people who are interested will have no trouble finding a copy of the decision.


Notes on the afterlife of Sloba: from anathema to eczema

caligari01Necrophilia is nothing new in politics or commemorative practices, of course. It is enough to follow discussions on the names of public places, look at the monuments to “our fallen heroes,” see who gets funerals and anniversaries observed, and you can see that the zombie invasion has been with us for so long that we might even call it a cohabitation. In postsocialist politics especially, attention to the “cosmic” dimension of dead bodies, which “serve as sites of political conflict related to the process of reordering the meaningful universe,” has marked an ongoing current of discussion since Katherine Verdery published her by now iconic work, The Political Lives of Dead Bodies in 1999.

Dead bodies have a special valence in the states of former Yugoslavia, where historical figures are flown around, removed and reburied (a recent instance involved Petar Karadjordjević, the hapless teenager who was King of Yugoslavia for eleven days in 1941), war victims are shifted around and hidden and their photographs used in an alarming variety of contexts, and speculation about where they might be located continues to (de)mobilise whole sets of institutions.

The body of Slobodan Milošević has been no exception, even before he was dead. When he was in power he dressed it up in informal gear to show that he was a little bit unlike the men without qualities who marked the old nomenklatura. When he was on trial he deployed its frailty to influence the timing of proceedings. And when he died halfway through presenting his legal defence, necromance flowered into necropassion.

First came speculation that the indictee had been murdered by the Tribunal, which remained popular in some rarefied political circles for a while. Then came the question of how his life would be represented – with one answer offered by the popular daily paper Blic, which offered a front-page photomontage summarizing his life and times: the wreckage on the Ibar highway from the attempted murder of opposition politician Vuk Drašković, the murder of journalist Slavko Ćuruvija, the pyramid-scheme “banker” Dafina Milanović, the protests at electoral fraud in 1996 and 2000, and the antiregime demonstrations of 9 March 1991. Then came the war of newspaper necrologues, which pitted praise from his political associates and Scheveningen neighbours against condemnation from cultural elites, and a cameo by Mile s Čubure.

The contention intensified once the body made its way back to Serbia. The Mayor of Belgrade refused to provide a spot for him in the “alley of worthy citizens” in the city’s New Cemetery, on the ground that “the Alley of Worthy Citizens should be used for the burial of people who have, by their character and engagement, left a positive, noble and human trace in this city and in our country. The traces that the Milošević regime left behind it are the reason that I believe that he in no way deserves the mantle of a worthy citizen, neither in the Alley nor in Serbian history.” The military declined to provide a burial with ceremonial honours. As the question of his burial began more and more to resemble the plot of The Trouble With Harry, the decision was eventually made that rather than packing the corpse off to Moscow where it was likely to be welcomed, it could be planted in the garden of the Milošević family house in Požarevac.

With no public funeral, competing public rallies were held instead. A few retired generals compensated for the military’s refusal to provide a ceremonial guard by showing up in other people’s uniforms that they had borrowed. There were addresses by some interesting folk: paraphilosophers Milorad Vučelić and Mihailo Marković turned up, and so did the Austrian politician-manque Peter Handke. A high point was the public reading of a letter from Vojislav Šešelj by his deputy Aleksandar Vučić (whatever happened to him? Somebody should include him in one of those “Where are they now?” features).

Meanwhile his old opponents organised their counterdemonstrations. One politician made a round of visits to the graves of several of Milošević’s prominent victims. In Belgrade an “antiburial” was held to coincide with the supporters’ rally, with colourful balloons released into the air under the slogan “Overi” (Make certain [that he is dead]).

If the fascination with the good or bad (depending on your political tastes) qualities of the deceased looks a little bit like one of the most enduring contributions of Balkan folk culture to global commercial culture, the vampire legend, this resemblance was not lost on people in Serbia (nor was it lost on two of my friends who wrote very different books bringing together political conflicts and the vampire legend). One year after Milošević died, one person made the symbolic point very dramatically, breaking into the garden in Požarevac and driving a stake into the grave.

In the years since, a small and shrinking group of diehards has come to do their version of Yahrzeit every March. Milošević’s party stopped participating when Boris Tadić rehabilitated them by bringing them into government in 2008, but the stalwart something or other Milutin Mrkonjić has held firm. But this year even Mrkonjić has been skipping out on rituals held over the body of Milošević.

The risk was emerging that the most polarising set of remains in all Braničevo could fall into forgetfulness and neglect.

Leave it to the tabloid press to borrow a page from the interlife of Radovan Karadžić, who spent the time between committing his crimes and being arraigned for them as a pseudonymous faith healer. The always delightful and by no means evocatively named daily Pravda has emerged with a new story.  According to, um, somebody’s neighbour in Požarevac, a plant has grown out of the grave that magically cures difficult skin disorders!

The theme of healing with sacred plants carrying the spirit of a person is of course far from unknown in folklore – it might be thought of as a variant on entheogen. It is also hardly unique to a particular region, as one recent case attests. It is probably fairly new to contemporary politics. But this is a brave new world, and gardening is a challenging old skill.


More fun with conspiracies

file_25112Dear old Luka Mišetić has found za shodno to reply to a post I put up on 23 June. There’s some playing with expressions involving straws, a little bit of recapitulation of the sinister workings of the Djupröven spy conspiracy, and some repetition of used courtroom and media arguments. Hi, Luka!


Now at every good bookseller

15141Warning: This blog post contains material promoting my new book.

Guilt, Responsibility and Denial: The Past at Stake in Post-Milošević Serbia. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013.

It has taken a long time, but the book is finally out! This means that if you order a copy you will actually receive a book as opposed to receiving a promise of a book in the future.

A funny thing: although most people will probably agree that predicting the future is not really a goal of social science, I did make one prediction in the book (a really easy one!) that turned out to be true:

…a situation that is ongoing can change unexpectedly. Some events that took place while the research was ongoing compelled me to revise the entire manuscript and research plan. They changed again between the time the manuscript was submitted and production of the book began, and will have changed again by the time the book reaches the reader’s hands.

To put that into context — the completed manuscript was sent to the publisher in July 2011. I made some revisions after that, mostly shortening the text and responding to suggestions from the reviewers, but made the decision not to revise continually to make the final product up to the minute, mostly because that would have been an impossible task. But I do remember watching, together with my students in beautiful Forlí, the live broadcast of the trial chamber’s judgment in the “Operation Storm” case in April 2011, and putting the details into the footnotes of Chapters 6 and 7 just as the judge was reading them out. That day I revised intensively to account for the new facts, continuing after the security person came by to tell me I had to leave my office because they were closing the building for the night. I could not have guessed at the time that the conviction in that case, like in the Momčilo Perišić case, would be reversed on appeal. And I certainly would not have guessed that the reversal would lead to a mini-rebellion in the judicial chambers or that one odd letter would inspire a fascinating crop of conspiracy theorists.

Hey, I’m just a simple country sociologist, not a Balkan prophet.

Still, here’s the basic argument of the book: the prospect of a large-scale confrontation with the violent legacy of the 1990s was always a difficult one, and what would have made it possible were sustained processes in which the public was well informed, engaged, and encouraged to participate. There were a whole lot of reasons why that did not happen, from structural to political ones, but many fascinating and partial things happened instead. I don’t think that any of the surprising things that happened at ICTY during the last year did much to undermine the applicability of that argument. If I were ambitious I might even argue that they strengthened it.

With any luck this year will mark a moment when people doing social research will have a lot to say about public memory in the region. I discussed some recent research in another post. But 2013 really has a bumper crop. There’s this one from Hariz Halilović, this one from Jelena Obradović.  In December there will be a new one from Elissa Helms. The discussion that was confined to lawyers and IR folks could be opening up, and that can only be a good thing.

Here comes the hardsell promotional bit:

A little bit of material, the table of contents and the preface, is available for preview here.

There is a page on Facebook which you are welcome to join for reviews, news, announcement of talks and other events.

The edition that is out is a hardcover edition — depending on how much interest it generates a paperback should be available before too long at a much lower price. So what to do about prices? One option is to order the book directly from the publisher. If you enter the promotional code P5P9 you will get a 20% discount. People in the UK might get an even better deal from The Book Depository which is offering it at a 24% discount. These are the best price deals I know about for now.

Ways to save even more money? If you ask your library to order it then they will spend money instead of you, and more people will get the chance to read it. If you are an instructor wanting to use it for a course or a reviewer who wants to say (maybe) nice things about it, you can request copies from the publisher (they ask you to pay a small amount for shipping).


Who’s on second?

PFJWas there ever really a “Druga Srbija”? The term spread in the 1990s as a catchall for the anti-war, antinationalist intellectuals who did their best to argue that the murderous (or in terms of the ICTY, simultaneously murderous and nonmurderous, and consequently not specifically directed to murderosity) regime of the 1990s did not represent the values, traditions and orientations of people in Serbia, particularly (this is where a lot of the critique of “Druga Srbija” comes in) its highly cultured and altogether very fine urban intellectuals.

The term “Druga Srbija” (it can be translated as “the second Serbia” or as “the other Serbia” – the people who coined the name preferred the translation as “other,” but “second” seems to be a more widespread usage) comes into circulation as the title of a book edited in 1992 by Ivan Čolović and the late Aljoša Mimica, a collection of the texts of addresses presented at meetings of the Belgrade Circle of Independent Intellectuals. The tone of the dialogue is probably pretty well suggested in the titles of the two essays that open the collection: Radomir Konstantinović contributed “Living with the beast” and Latinka Perović offered “The patriarchal response to the challenge of modernisation.” Add in the following contribution, Filip David’s “To be a traitor,” and you get the main idea: here was a group of people prepared to make a claim on moral leadership that drew its force from horror and a principled rejection of the atmosphere in which they were compelled to live.

But was it a unified and cohesive group? Already at the fourth meeting, Nataša Kandić offered a contribution titled “There is no other Serbia” (Nema druge Srbije). There is no very compelling reason to impose an imaginary collective identity on a group of people who came together in 1992 to reject the imaginary collective identity of nationalism. It’s a little bit useful to think of a “civic” or “other” or some alternate type of Serbia, but it is probably more helpful to consider that a society that is divided might be divided into more than two parts.

This could explain why “Druga Srbija” survives more in the way that it is attacked than through anything it does. An initial sustained attempt came in 2003 from the sociologist Slobodan Antonić, whose curiously baroque ressentiment would transform him into a lightning rod for the loony national right. He launched a salvo at what he called the “missionary intelligentsia,” accusing them of everything from ineffectuality and snobbery to self-hatred and treason. He hasn’t stepped away from the attack in the ten years since, but has developed it in a couple of directions: 1) he has offered a theory that political and social life in the country is subject to competition between two rival elites, one (his!) that is patriotic and essentially representative and another (theirs!) that is effete and foreign-oriented, and 2) he has turned “Druga Srbija” into an epithet, lavishing his opponents with the adjective “drugosrbijanski.”

In the meantime there has also appeared, here and there, an effort to transcend the divisions between a “Prva” and “Druga” Srbija in an abstractly conceived and broader “Treća Srbija” (see this analysis by Ivana Spasić and Tamara Petrović). This could continue. There are lots of numbers in the world.

To the degree that it survives, what is “Druga Srbija” really? It is something not entirely unimportant: a small and not very cohesive group of intellectuals who sustain independent media and produce critical works of art and analysis. Some of them are political activists and some are not. But the members of this group are not really members of a group, they do not all do the same thing, and they would do the stuff they do whether you want to call them “Druga Srbija” or not.

Not cohesive, you say? No surprise. It’s been thirteen years since there appeared to be a change of regime, and ten years since the murder of the figure who personified the possibility that there could actually be a change. There has been erosion, there have been defections, not everybody has survived. But the term, in both its affirmative and derogatory usages, has survived. This is partly because a long-lasting refusal to address legacies of the past has meant that a declared orientation toward to the Milošević regime and its satellites still functions as a pretty dependable dividing line in Serbian society. And it is partly because it offers a convenient shorthand for the fact that there is strong fundamental disagreement, breaking down along fairly predictable social lines, on just about every question of major (and minor) public importance.

Some of the defections have been deeply felt, though – in particular the transformation of B92, once the iconic alternative electronic media source, into a hulking foreign-owned conglomerate that produces news material entirely indistinguishable (and frequently copied) from the information sources to which it once offered bold competition. The cult political talkshow Peščanik bolted the station and went internetto after B92 offered an hourlong discussion programme to genocide apologists Kosta Čavoški and Ljiljana Bulatović in 2010, and since then independent media outlets have engaged in occasional outbursts of recrimination over who is going the sorry direction of B92.

If all of this sounds like inside baseball or People’s Front of Judea material, that’s because it is. Much of it has to do with who can still claim the authority to represent a heroic intellectual moment in 1992. People in Serbia can often be excused for feeling as though it is always 1992, but the calendar says it is no longer 1992.

So what has happened in the meantime? Let’s not start counting from 1992 but from 2000. The period since then has seen the demise of (part of) the 1990s regime, a few orderly transfers of power, and at least one restoration of the 1990s regime, depending on how you count. A lot of the poison in the environment derives from two basic facts.

The first is that the good guys are, disappointingly, not all that good. Especially after Zoran Djindjić was killed and Boris Tadić consolidated his position in the Democratic Party (DS), that party assiduously sought to rid itself of the remains of anything that was progressive and position itself as a single unifying party of permanent power. Nobody can forget that it was DS that brought Milošević’s party back into government in 2008, and that the egregious Vuk Jeremić was (nominally) a DS cadre. The Democratic Party is not likely to recover from its surprise defeat in 2012 principally because it is not a democratic party. The party that was formed to represent the option that Tadić excluded from DS, Čedomir Jovanović’s LDP, has turned out to be an even bigger disappointment, not allowing its consistent failure to get enough support to influence policy prevent it from behaving like an uncontested party of power.

The second, even more distressing, fact is that the bad guys are not nearly bad enough. At worst they are guilty of having the qualities and motivations that their opponents always accused them of having but also had themselves. And at best, if you are really charitable, they have been succeeding in delivering some big goals – peaceful agreement with neighbouring states, EU candidacy – that their opponents, in their desire to be all things to all people, could always be counted on to wimp out over.

It might be the case that while a lot of people have no difficulty accepting the fact that the politicians they supported are pretty useless, it is really shocking that the ones that they opposed for years are turning out to be less evil than they hoped.

What is left is (as far as anybody can tell) a conflict over who is or is not sufficiently pure. Although there were signs of people going different directions and criticizing one another for the directions before then, the big turning point appears to have been the 2012 elections, where the by now traditional “hold your nose” strategy was challenged by a picturesque election boycott and an even more picturesque set of gestures of “strategic” support for SNS from a few very prominent individuals (and publications) who were longtime opponents.

This is in some way most of the conflict, involving some people who used to agree with one another on most questions, and who are now divided over how they accept what will turn out to have been the short-lived personality cult of politician Aleksandar Vučić. Some people insist that he should be appreciated for pulling an unwilling Serbia in the general direction of Europe. And some prefer to always remember him as the liver-lipped ingénue who imposed a drastically restrictive law on public information and tried to create a “Ratko Mladić boulevard.”  It’s ordinary political prepucavanje, and is the sort of disagreement that most diffuse discursive communities can handle.

This community is not handling it. Once-interesting independent publications are filled with recrimination about who has sold out, flown over, or whatever. And do they use some salty language? Oh yes they do. And do they get some passionate expressions of support or rejection? Why certainly. And does anyone feel obligated to explain what is at stake? No they do not. And does it matter? Probably in the end not overmuch. If you are not a member of one of the small groups involved in the fight, then you do not care and nobody can tell you why you should.

We academics enjoy watching this sort of thing because it is like a soap opera about our professional lives, where the tensions are inordinately high because the stakes are inordinately low. Do you want some insight into our sense of prosaic dramatic beauty? Imagine matte lighting and a fuzzy filter on the scene when Lucien Goldmann fires his backhanded appreciation at the relentless obscurantism of Jacques Derrida:

I feel that Derrida, whose conclusions I do not share, is playing the role of a catalyst in French cultural life, and I pay homage to him for this reason. He reminds me of when I first arrived in France in 1934. At that time there was a strong royalist movement among the students; and all of a sudden there appeared a group that was also defending royalism, but by demanding a Merovingian king!

The worst thing about a war between e-Novine and Peščanik, or any other of the region’s small number of surviving independent media sources, is that to the extent that folks in these camps are concerned with one another they are not concerned with producing interesting and useful texts that can inform debate about genuine issues. Otherwise, yeah. Ko voli neka izvoli, and ko razume shavtiće.