SERBIA: The anti-Milosevic uprising: coup or revolution?



The ouster of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic's regime was the result of two overlapping events. The first was a rearrangement of power within the ruling elite, replacing a tainted Milosevic with Vojislav Kostunica, an advocate of Milosevic's "Greater Serbia" project who had stood aloof from the barbarism needed to create it.

The second was the entry of the Serbian working class onto the political scene, something not planned by the ruling elite and its Western backers who wanted a smooth transition to maintain capitalist "law and order" and preserve much of the existing state apparatus intact.

In the October 11 issue of the Guardian, the weekly paper of the Communist Party of Australia, Matt English hailed the results of the rigged parliamentary elections (which delivered Milosevic's ruling coalition an absolute majority in both the upper and lower houses of the Yugoslav parliament), but denounced the working-class revolt against this outcome.

"The CIA-funded coups in Latin American countries are well known", English wrote. "The dirty tricks used by the British and US intelligence organisations to overthrow the Suharto [sic] regime in Indonesia in 1965 have also been revealed.

"Irrespective of 'people on the streets', the Yugoslav events are nothing less than a coup and not a 'victory for democracy'."

Calling the actions of hundreds of thousands of Serbian workers a "coup" helps the apologists for Milosevic regime in the CPA deal with seeing the working class oust a regime they considered "socialist".

The absurdity of English's attempt to compare the popular uprising against the Milosevic regime to "CIA-funded coups in Latin America" or the overthrow of the Sukarno regime in Indonesia in 1965 is immediately apparent. The active force in these events was not the working class, but the army and police. In Serbia, by contrast, it was the industrial working class was that was the key force in the uprising and the occupation of parliament.

Strike wave

From September 29, the strike, occupation and ouster of managers by thousands of miners at the Kolubara coalmines spearheaded the uprising. Tens of thousands of people from surrounding areas came to their defence when police attempted to attack picket lines.

This working-class uprising rapidly spread. According to Aleksandr Ciric in Podgorica: "On Thursday October 5, more than one hundred large companies were on strike, including the former giant industries such as chemical industries Nevena from Leskovac and Zorka from Sabac, parts of Bor mining and melting combine, hydro electric power plant in Bajina Basta, Trajal tyre factory and chemical factory Merima from Krusevac, parts of Kragujevac Zastava, Pancevo fertiliser factory and petroleum industries, Electric Company of Serbia. Railway transportation was interrupted."

Many of these plants were bombed by NATO last year. These same industrial plants and industrial towns were already the backbone of the upsurge against Milosevic last year following the end of NATO's war.

An article by Jonathan Steele in the October 13 issue of liberal-capitalist British Guardian shows this well. At the Trudbenik construction company, the workers posted their own guards in the accountant's office, reported Steele. "'We need to prevent documents being removed', explained Predrag Jelic, a crisis committee leader."

Kostunica sent Nebojsa Covic, another DOS (Democratic Opposition of Serbia, the Kostunica-led coalition) leader, to visit factories, "urging workers to get back to work and trust DOS to bring change", but the strike committee at Trudbenik refused. "We won't accept any demands for restraint from Covic or anyone else from DOS", Jelic told Steele.

"The strike committee wants to be sure that the new rulers from DOS do not just reproduce the old system by imposing so-called democrats on factories ... [it] wants a proper system of accountability in the company."

When director Dusan Djuraskovic attempted to retake control, workers asked, "Excuse me, who invited you here?"

A key force in ensuring the electoral ouster of Milosevic and in keeping the mobilisations on guard against the new regime is the 200,000 member independent trade union federation Nezavisnost, which last year vigorously condemned the barbarism of both NATO and Milosevic. Its May Day 2000 message revealed its internationalist opposition to the Serbian nationalism which the rule of both Milosevic and Kostunica is based on:

"All of us who support ourselves from honest work must jointly and decisively stand up to terror applied against the world of labour for over a decade. Milosevic's hand of nationalistic evil has seized us and removed us from the factory machines, from our fields, our classrooms, university amphitheatres, and our offices. Wrecked and stripped of our identity, which is created through work, with only our national omen he sent us off to destroy all those who do not belong to our nation and our religion."

In an October 6 uprising message, Nezavisnost president Branislav Canak called on "all employees in Serbia to organise workers' watches, to protect the property from any attempt of destruction. We demand from all employees to begin today to support their own interests the interests of free and autonomous workers' movement, the world of labour which makes the decisions about its fate autonomously".

Kostunica and Milosevic are in complete agreement on all this: both vigorously condemn the "chaos" of the factory occupations. Kostunica declared that, "Some of these actions are from people who are in connection with or appear on behalf of DOS or even myself, which is not true. But all together, it's something that worries me."

Kostunica's inner circle consists of former chips off the Milosevic regime. For example, Covic is the former long-time Milosevic-party mayor of Belgrade, the third most senior person in the party, becoming an "oppositionist" from 1996.

Close to the new regime is former army chief Momcilo Perisic, who played the key role in Milosevic's Bosnian war, being in charge of the 1995 massacre of 8000 Moslem captives in Srebrenica. He became an "oppositionist" in late 1998 due to his view that Milosevic's Kosova policies were suicidal. He maintains considerable influence in the military.

Kostunica has defended maintaining the position of Milosevic's current army chief, Nebojsa Pavkovic, who headed the Yugoslav army's depredations in Kosova last year.

Kostunica has appointed Predrag Bulatovic from the pro-Milosevic forces in Montenegro as federal prime minister, despite the 80% success of the election boycott called by the anti-Milosevic Montenegrin government.

The overlap in personnel between the ousted Milosevic regime and Kostunica's is not surprising. Both are regimes of the Serbian capitalist class.

The Western powers have signalled that it precisely such a minimalist change — the ousting of Milosevic and a few close cronies — was all they wanted.

Milosevic and imperialism

Milosevic's regime enjoyed many years of collaboration with imperialism. Far from being a socialist, it was the economic liberal Milosevic who destroyed the old "Yugoslav socialist" system of workers self-management, as demanded by the IMF, during his "anti-bureaucratic revolution" of 1988-89. At the time, he called on the Yugoslav people to overcome their "unfounded, irrational and primitive fear of exploitation" by foreign capital and called on new profit-oriented bodies which replaced the workers committees to "function on economic principles... strive to create profits and constantly struggle for their share and place in the market".

Among Serbia's biggest capitalists are the Karic brothers, who started their fortune with Milosevic's "reforms" in Kosova, and now own a private banking, mineral and oil empire. Another is Vladimir Bokan, who owns the entire chain of kiosks, a chain of retail clothing stores and a real estate company in Belgrade and Vojvodina, a shipyard in Novi Sad, a sizable share in a chemicals and fertiliser factory, while running Panama and Cyprus registered shipping companies.

Those, like the CPA leaders, who regard Milosevic's Yugoslavia as an outpost of resistance to the IMF or who think Western sanctions were imposed due to destroy "socialism" in Yugoslavia, turn reality on its head.

Milosevic wanted IMF/World Bank money to complete the privatisation process. This was held up by Washington making political rather than economic demands. After 1995 the only "sanctions" against Belgrade were precisely denial of IMF/World bank membership by the US.

The political demands centred on cooperation with the war crimes tribunal at the Hague to hold together the fragile Bosnian Dayton accord — and negotiations on Kosova to prevent the situation there exploding and destabilising the southern Balkans.

Once Milosevic's tactics in Kosova led to the upturn of the Kosovar independence struggle, NATO decided to get its forces in to control the situation, including to ensure the defeat of this struggle. A savage war was launched, in which Milosevic needed to be demonised. As such, his removal and replacement by less tainted elements from the same capitalist elite became the main imperialist demand before sanctions were lifted.

In opposing the Serbian workers' revolt against the Milosevic regime, the CPA and other pro-Milosevic "socialists" are placing themselves in opposition to the only social force that is capable of stopping the further privatisation of state-owned enterprises by the Serbian elite.

Far from the anti-Milosevic upsurge having been a conspiracy involving Kostunica and the US government, as is implied by a statement issued by the CPA's central committee published in the same issue of the Guardian as English's article, it is precisely the Serbian working class that is trying to destroy the vestiges of Milosevic's crony capitalist tyranny, while Kostunica's US-backed regime tries to salvage as much of it as possible.

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