Vladisavljevic-Serbias-Antibureaucratic-Revolution-Conclusion.pdf

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  SERBIA ’ S ANTIBUREAUCRATIC REVOLUTION CONCLUSION 1 Nebojša Vladisavljević   CONCLUSION: PROTEST POLITICS, THE FALL OF COMMUNISM AND NATIONALIST CONFLICT* The late 1980s witnessed a mobilization of ordinary people across Eastern Europe thatplayed an important part in the conflicts that triggered the fall of communism. The levels of mobilization in the eastern part of socialist Yugoslavia exceeded those in most other parts of theregion, and their immediate consequences were no less dramatic. And yet, images from popularand scholarly writing associated with this wave of mobilization stand out for different reasons.The generally accepted image of protest politics that unfolded across Eastern Europe is that of people power employed to bring about democratization of communist party-states. By contrast,the literature that touches on the antibureaucratic revolution and the episodes of mobilizationthat surrounded it conveys exclusively images of top-down, authoritarian mobilization andvirulent, chauvinistic nationalism. The evidence I presented in this book suggests that mostpublished accounts provide a misleading interpretation of this wave of mobilization. Below Isharpen my argument about the mobilizational wave in the light of this evidence, and show howit sheds light on the fall of Yugoslav communism and the rise of a new populist authoritarianism,as well as on the break-up of Yugoslavia and the contemporary Serb  – Albanian nationalist conflictin and over Kosovo. Explaining the antibureaucratic revolution and related protest campaigns According to the popular and scholarly literature, the mobilization of ordinary people insocialist Yugoslavia in the 1980s is an emblematic case of elite-driven and purposive nationalistmobilization. The key players were political and cultural elites, while ordinary people were littlemore than passive participants in the events. With the decline of communism, opportunistic highparty-state officials engineered the mass mobilization in search of new ways to preserve theirpolitical power. The events principally reflected the Serb nationalist revival, which provoked areactive mobilization of Kosovo Albanians. Nationalist themes spread from small groups of dissident intellectuals to the general public, and the developments were boosted by the supportof Leninist officials who aimed to protect their power by embracing nationalism. According tothis view, these and subsequent nationalist outcomes mainly originated from the nationaliststrategies of the political and cultural elites. †   Ordinary people or elites The elite thesis is misleading because non-state and non-elite actors played a vital roleboth in the early stages of mobilization and in the expansion of protest politics. Driven bydifferent causes, aiming at different goals, and working independently from each other, thegrass-roots groups of Kosovo Serbs and industrial workers across Yugoslavia initiated popular * Poglavlje iz N ebojša Vladisavljević (2008) Serbia’s Antibureaucratic Revolution: Miloševid, the Fall of  Communism and Nationalist Mobilization (Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan).   † Cohen (2001: 62  – 78) and Popov (1993: 20  – 3) offer the most sophisticated version of the elite argument.The purposive nationalist mobilization argument can be found in Cohen (2001: 57  – 88), Pavlowitch (2002: 184  – 98),Popov (1993: 16  – 23) , Pavković (2000 : 89  – 90 ), Đilas (1993), and Crnobrnja (1994) .  SERBIA ’ S ANTIBUREAUCRATIC REVOLUTION CONCLUSION 2protests in the mid-1980s and over time became influential political actors. Most observersfailed to identify the main agents in these events largely due to an erroneous assumption thatnon-state and non-elite actors could not initiate and sustain protests under communistauthoritarianism. Since high officials did not suppress the protests and since the protest groupsmanaged to organize, recruit activists, appeal for popular support and make major demands onthe party-state, observers came to believe that Milošević or dissident intellectuals, or both, hadorchestrated the events. This assumption srcinates from the view that modern non-democraticregimes are invariably closed, exclusive and repressive and thus an extremely hostile politicalcontext for the collective action of ordinary people at all times.And yet, modern non-democratic regimes vary considerably in their institutional design,informal relations among their various power centres and strategies towards challenger groups.Economic decline, political instability, political realignments and elite conflicts often createpolitical opportunities for previously powerless and disadvantaged groups to engage in popularprotest. Indeed, the rise and expansion of protest politics in Yugoslavia in the 1980s was anunintended consequence of its peculiar communist authoritarianism, that is, a largely relaxedand tolerant non-democratic regime with radically decentralized federal, local and self-management institutions, and of political change which began after the death of Tito. Thecommunist leadership mainly targeted ideological dissidence and was considerably moreresponsive to discontent when it came from the working class, students and grass-roots groupswith national grievances, due to their strategic position in the officially sanctioned legacy of theliberation war and indigenous revolution. Industrial workers and Kosovo Serb activistsrepeatedly demonstrated their loyalty to the party-state and the Yugoslav federation, andworked partly within official channels, thus exploiting the institutional resources of this mostliberal and decentralized East European communist state. Growing elite conflict, driven byleadership succession, generational change and by disputes between the republics andautonomous provinces, paralysed Yugoslavi a’s collective leadership and further impededattempts at the suppression of popular challenges.While pursuing separate goals, industrial workers and Kosovo Serb activists exploited along-standing popular discontent with the political class that had overseen a sharp decline in thepreviously successful economy and the rise of nationalist tensions in Kosovo. The open defianceof the previously unassailable party-state further undermined its legitimacy and invited otherpopular challenges. The rapid expansion of protest politics accelerated conflicts in Yugoslavi a’s political class, that is, between and within regional elites and between higher and lower-levelofficials, and set the stage for an alliance between a variety of non-state actors and Milošević  against an increasingly old-fashioned and dispirited Titoist establishment. The broad alliance,sparked off by the sudden and far-reaching success of protest politics and Milošević’s populistappeals, and cemented by their struggle against common foes, signalled the fall of the Yugoslavversion of communism and the formation of a new populist consensus, which became thebedrock of  Milošević’s authoritarian rule in the early 1990s.The antibureaucratic revolution involved the agency of elite and non-elite actors, inroughly equal measures. The extent to which one or the other prevailed in specific events variedtemporally and spatially. The antibureaucratic movement rested largely on the breakthroughsachieved by industrial workers and Kosovo Serb activists in previous years, especially theirstrategies and action frames, well-established networks, and the destruction of a dominant but  SERBIA ’ S ANTIBUREAUCRATIC REVOLUTION CONCLUSION 3misleading image of unified and dignified elites. In the late summer and autumn of 1988,however, the social movement became a strategic alliance of protest groups, intellectuals,individual rebels from official organizations and parts of the old political establishment. InVojvodina and Montenegro, where mobilization srcinated largely from local sources, non-stateactors and opponents of high officials from the official organizations organized rallies anddemonstrations on their own, with the support of Belgrad e’s powerful media. In central Serbia,the role of  Milošević and party-state officials was critical. The Kosovo Albanian protests followeda similar route. The November 1988 and March 1989 protests appear to have been aspontaneous counter-mobilization, without much input from elites, while the February 1989protests reveal an important role played by elites, who launched an effective public relationscampaign during the Stari Trg protest and the general strike, backed by much of the provinc e’s media.In short, in the light of the evidence presented in this book, the argument that ordinarypeople are incapable of coherent political action without the involvement of elites is deeplyflawed. On the other hand, it would be unwise to exaggerate the power of ordinary people. Onlyunder very specific circumstances can they challenge authorities and elites with success, that is,exert substantial political influence. In most cases, under both authoritarianism and democracy,authorities can easily confront and weather out popular challenges. In the case of Yugoslavia,the extraordinary period of the 1980s undermined the communist regime and thus made itvulnerable to the mobilization of ordinary people. Even when popular unrest underminesestablished regimes and protest groups achieve recognition for some of their demands,consolidated elites and their priorities principally shape the ways in which the polity and itspolicies are reconstituted. The politics of nationalist mobilization or nationalist strategies The purposive nationalist mobilization thesis also provides a highly distorted view of thiswave of mobilization. The wave involved a variety of themes and demands and only in its latestages became exclusively nationalist. True, the protests of Kosovo Serb and Albanian activistsdeveloped around their nationalist strategies all along. This was hardly surprising and srcinatedpartly from the fact that Kosovo had long been a deeply divided society, polarized by conflictbetween Albanians and Serbs, and partly from Yugoslavi a’s institutional structure that favouredmobilization along nationalist lines. Nonetheless, important parts of the mobilization wave,which featured high levels of participation, involved socio-economic and non-nationalist politicaldemands and claims. The strikes of industrial workers since the mid-1980s, and their protests inthe summer of 1988 had little to do with nationalism. Similarly, the antibureaucratic revolutioninvolved a blend of nationalist and unrelated themes.As mobilization spread from Kosovo Serbs to other groups, the focus of their attentionranged from the constitutional status of the autonomous provinces of Vojvodina and Kosovo andSerb  – Albanian relations to socio-economic issues, industrial relations, the accountability of highofficials and popular participation in politics. The wave of mobilization reached its peak only withthe rise of the highly resonant antibureaucratic frame, which reflected the dominant vision of the conflict in socialist Yugoslavia. While featuring nationalist demands and symbolism, theantibureaucratic revolution was simultaneously a social movement with an important socio-economic focus and one aimed at the extension of political participation and the accountability  SERBIA ’ S ANTIBUREAUCRATIC REVOLUTION CONCLUSION 4of political elites, just like the social movements that developed throughout Eastern Europe onthe eve of the fall of communism.The dominance of exclusionary and confrontational nationalist themes in late Februaryand March 1989 reflected a major attitudinal shift among political actors, high officials and non-elite groups alike. This outcome did not result principally from the nationalist strategies of thevarious actors. Rather, it was largely an unintended consequence of the high levels of mobilization and spiralling of conflicts of all varieties at both elite and mass levels in a highlydecentralized, authoritarian multi-national state, which was going through an acute economiccrisis and rapid liberalization. Protest politics highlighted old and triggered new conflicts acrossvarious sectors of society and the political system, including industrial and socio-economicconflicts, struggles related to political participation, the accountability of political elites andrelations between the republics and nations. The resulting widespread conflict in an increasinglydysfunctional institutional context, and at a time when the power structure was changingrapidly, became the vehicle which transformed all of these struggles into exclusionary conflict,which now reflected the main underlying structural divisions in Yugoslavia between its republicsand nations.Protest politics highlighted and amplified pre-existing conflicts within the political classand initiated changes in the power relations between regional elites, thereby altering theirstrategic choices. Before the summer of 1988, several lines of division were present withinYugoslavi a’s political class, such as over constitutional reform in Serbia and Yugoslavia, over theKosovo policy, over economic reforms and political liberalization, as well as between differentpolitical generations. The cleavages often intersected, which complicated relations in thepolitical class. The summer 1988 mobilization undermined the leadership of Vojvodina, affectingthe balance of power in the federation during a highly sensitive period of constitutional debate,and thus amplified conflict between the high officials of the republics and of the autonomousprovinces. The antibureaucratic revolution led to the escalation of conflict by triggering not onlyimportant changes in the personal composition of the political elites of Vojvodina, Montenegroand Kosovo, but also a major re-distribution of power among the leaderships of Yugoslavi a’s republics. As a result, constitutional reform that would empower the central organs Serbia andYugoslavia, which had long been considered extremely unlikely, now seemed increasinglyfeasible.With rising stakes in the conflict, the salience of other pre-existing cleavages withinelites in the republics, such as between different political generations, over economic reformsand political liberalization, or newly important divisions such as between high officials on theone side, and lower-ranking officials, local officials and company managers on the other, fadedaway. The leaders of the republics now forsook any qualms they might have had aboutextending exclusive nationalist appeals to their national constituencies. Since the major re-distribution of power among the republics ’ elites now unfolded on the public stage, these eventsalso brought about an attitudinal shift among the population. The growing prospect of theconstitutional restructuring of the Yugoslav federation, perceived as threatening to the interestsof some republics and their constituent nations, overshadowed other, previously importantpolitical concerns. Thus, the high officials ’ nationalist appeals resonated well among theirnational constituencies.
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