TUE, 11 JUN 1996 21:23:14 GMT
Conflicts between Serbian Opposition and Alternative
How the conflict between Vesna Pesic (Civic Alliance of Serbia) and Sonja Biserko (Helsinki Committee) which at first appeared as a drawing-room scandal among the Belgrade alternative, went too far and acquired quite a serious connotation
AIM Belgrade, June 8, 1996
While speaking last week about public personalities who were not in favour of political changes in Serbia, who were even resisting these changes, Vesna Pesic, leader of the Civic Alliance, next to Seselj, leader of Serbian Radicals, mentioned Sonja Biserko, President of Helsinki Committee. It is difficult to say which was the greater sensation: the fact that Seselj and Biserko were put side by side, or that the classification was made by Vesna Pesic.
The observers thought that the link between Seselj and the President of the Helsinki Committee was an impossible combination. Because, if any two persons during the past time of war publicly raised hue and cry against each other, it was these two. The leader of the Radicals considered the President of the Helsinki Committee a notorious traitor and anti-state element, just as he in principle also considers all other members of the so-called alternative in Belgrade to be. His evolution into an anti-regime politician has not essentially changed his position concerning this issue. Ms Biserko, on the other hand, has also persistently believed that numerous actions of Seselj and his party comrades were extremist, sometimes even on the verge of fascism. It is commonly believed that it was necessary to have a great deal of imagination, or get hold of extremely unexpected and so far unknown facts to make any connection between these two public figures of completely different political formats. Especially to say that they were defenders of the political status quo in Serbia.
However challenging this classification may be, it was less provocative than the fact that it was made by Vesna Pesic. Of course, Vesna Pesic had qualified Vojislav Seselj in the way similar to this many times before. She did this to Sonja Biserko for the first time, though. Had it been done by anyone else to anyone else in Serbian opposition, or anyone else from the opposition to someone from the Serbian alternative, there would have been no surprise. But, the President of the Civic Alliance of Serbia was thought to be the person who was the closest to alternative groups, practically one of them. During the war, for instance, she was at the head of the anti-war movement in Serbia. The issue of her closeness to the alternative is essential especially because among alternative groups there existed a never declared but intensive solidarity, as a natural joint resistance to the "common enemy" - the regime. The attack on the President of the Helsinki Committee was shocking for many people, because it came from a completely unexpected direction.
Apostrophized Sonja Biserko reacted with astonishment, of course. And that would have been the end of the whole issue, if a few days ago the President of the Serbian Revival Movement Vuk Draskovic had not decided to take part in the polemic. He just deepened the initial sensation even more. He took sides with Vesna Pesic and explained the accusation against Sonja Biserko as follows: he, Draskovic, was the witness when, for example, at receptions in Belgrade diplomatic circles and in contacts with foreign personalities, the mentioned Sonja Biserko advocated the stand that Milosevic was the most reliable implementator of peace. Should the opposition come to power, Draskovic transmits her words, things would just get worse.
Draskovic went even further. He thought that Sonja Biserko and people similar to her advocated this stance on Milosevic and the opposition because Milosevic's regime suited them because only in such a regime they could exist, but when the democratic opposition came to power, said Draskovic, such committees such as the one headed by Ms. Biserko would simply have no raison d'etre. "All sorts of committees financed from abroad", Draskovic clarified his view of the alternative. The latter statement, no doubt, is in Seselj's style, but this time uttered by the man who, along with Vesna Pesic, used to show the greatest understanding for Serbian alternative.
That is how a conflict which at the beginning seemed a little as a matter of women's tongues, and even a drawing-room scandal of the Belgrade alternative, went too far and acquired quite a serious connotation.
That she manages political affairs without tenderness, Vesna Pesic has shown many times before, and on this occasion she did it again. This time she was obviously decisive to show that the alternative was not a morally pure field of innocence, but just another social stratum which has black sheep among its ranks like any other. Who in this case the black sheep was, it is obviously unnecessary to stress.
Sonja Biserko, once a high official in diplomatic service of former Yugoslavia indeed did cause controversies in altrenative groups in Belgrade: in some places she caused odium, in others respect. Until recently, however, there had been no open and public reactions. And then, just before Vesna Pesic and Vuk Draskovic stated their accusations, the gravest possible accusations had come, this time from another member of the alternative, legal expert Dr Vladan Vasilijevic: in Srpska rec, he accused Ms. Biserko of being in the service of the Serbian and the Croatian police! This was, as it is clear now, an introduction into what followed, because Srpska rec is considered to be a journal close to the SPO and the Civic Allainace. It turned out that the conflict within the anti-regime movement was in fact a dispute between the democratic wing of the Serbian opposition and the alternative.
However, even within the alternative itself, public disputes are becoming more and more frequent and bitter. Thus, the leadership of the highly engaged trade union Nezavisnost (Independence) and some independent media (Vreme, Radio B 92) have had variances for long, and major and minor misunderstandings which have reached their climax in the past few days. Some time ago (last winter) a heated dispute occurred between the management of the weekly Vreme and the leaders of the Independent Association of Journalists of Serbia (NUNS) which resulted in abstention of journalists of this journals from the work of this Association. Signals that relations among the alternative Serbian groups were not the best first arrived from foreign donators who spoke with regeret about squabbling, mutual gossiping, even uncivilized behavior of one group to another. It seems that not even all donators were quite innocent in it, and some of them even instigated divisions. There remained the example of the at the moment stifled Soros Foundation which was most resolute in supporting constructive initiatives which established mutual connections.
It is clear that all this, along with the case of the latest accusations of Sonja Biserko, could transform into a story about mentality, if there had not been other, certainly more serious consequences. Which ones?
Until now, members of the alternative were always seriously accused by the Serbian red-and-black coalition of Socialists, Radicals and the so-called patriotic circles. They do not seem to have made too many points in this game, but some they certanly have. In any case, squaring of accounts of the Serbian regime and its allies with supporters of civic society, protection of human rights or anti-war actions, who were all so far in this texts simply called the alternative, was neither easy nor pleasant, because they had if not a strong and well-organized, at least certainly a very tough opponent. Now they have suddenly obtained replacement in this unpleasant business, free of charge, so they can say with relief: ha, they are fighting among themselves, we can sit back and enjoy ourselves!
It is also true that the alternative has been also highly critical about the opposition in general during all these war years, making no difference between the democratic opposition and the one which is not democratic. It generally characterized it as insufficiently resistant to nationalism. That was, one could say, the separation line between the ones and the others. But, this dispute was just smouldering, only certain radically inclined groups publicly presented it, but it has never come out on to the surface with great force. Until now.
This short description undoubtedly leads to the conclusion that this situation in which democratic opposition and the alternative are quarelling, as well as different groups within the alternative itself, is very satisfying for the regime. Even if they will wish and need to justify their actions, Vesna Pesic and Vuk Draskovic will readily and simply say that Sonja Biserko was not the alternative, and that to attack her does not mean to attack all the movements which could be classified as the alternative. On the other hand, members of the alternative will be able to say that they were not the church in which disputes were a sacrilege. It will certainly not be untrue. But it will not diminish satisfaction of the regime either.
(AIM) Radivoj Cveticanin