Wednesday, February 08, 2012

What happens after?

"Dictatorships don’t always die when the dictator leaves office." wrote Mohamed Nasheed today in the New York Times. He learned it the hard way, he was toppled yesterday, four years after he became president of the Maldives in the historic 2008 election which ended the thirty year long rule of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. In the op-ed titled The Dregs of Dictatorship, President Nasheed warns that "... long after the revolutions, powerful networks of regime loyalists can remain behind and can attempt to strangle their nascent democracies."

We will see what happens to President Nasheed (and what happens to Democracy Island), but now we can ask ourselves why some democracies get strangled and some don't. Is there something in the way struggle is fought and won that guarantees (or at least increases the likelihood) of the survival of the newly established order?

Let's look at the Serbian democratic experiment which managed to survive various challenges since the fall of Milosevic in 2000. Let me list some of these challenges, just to show how dire were the straits: the insurgency in south Serbia which started in late 2000, the mutiny of the Unit of Special Operations (JSO) in 2001, assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic in 2003, secession of Montenegro in 2006 and Kosovo in 2008, several failed attempts to elect a president between 2002 and 2004, all accompanied by a institutional chaos and constitutional vacuum.

But despite all this, democracy is still the only game in town. 2012 is the election year and Serbians will decide who will enter parliament and form a new government for the fifth time since Milosevic was brought down, and for the first time the government had a full term (critics say this is their only success) which is a sign of political stability. There are no major anti-systemic political parties or organizations. On the contrary, we can say that there is a consensus among them about major issues like the political or economic system, or direction of country's foreign policy (critics would say they are all the same).

So what's the trick? I claim it is because of the bottom-up nature of transition, broad based movement which forged itself in the decade long struggle and transformed into a vibrant civil society. This is what prevented backsliding to dictatorship in the case of Serbia. In other words, if citizens believe democracy is worth saving ( democracy as a goal of their fight against dictatorship which preceded it) and have means to save it (have skills and resources to organize) they will prevent the backsliding to a dictatorship.

The fate of democracy must not be confused with the fate of the ruling government. Citizens will support the ruling government faced with a coup d'état, but then vote it out of office few months later, as part of the democratic process. This is what happened in 2003 to the government of Zoran Zivkovic: after the assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic by the rogue elements of the secret police, the government, now headed by Zoran Zivkovic, declared martial law and restricted civil liberties in an attempt to prevent the coup and arrest elements of the security forces who were part of the conspiracy. For this they got huge support from the civil society and population in general. But soon after the threat was removed, the assassins were put behind bars and the government called for elections later that year and lost. Now that democracy was defended by the government, people could use it to vote that same government out of office.

So as long as citizens believe that democracy is worth saving, and as long as they have skills and resources to organize, if they are ready and willing, the backsliding to dictatorship may be prevented. Both this dedication and know-how should not be taken for granted, as they fade over time, but the hope is that institutions will be strengthened and will make the new order more durable.

Sometimes the new ruling elite fails to do so, they spend this critical first period not in strengthening democratic institutions, but it in accumulating money and power, corrupting the newly established system. How can this be prevented, or if this happens, how is it remedied? If the movement was broad based and not all of its leaders entered government after the fall of the old regime, those who stayed out can hold their former comrades in the government accountable for their actions and serve as the correcting factor, since they were all one the same page when the goals were set up before the dictatorship was brought down, and now have different perspectives, because they parted ways after the revolution. And I'm not talking here about confrontation, it is usually constructive criticism, as it used to be called in the socialist days.

So what happened in Serbia? In the last twelve years some institutions were established, some foundations for a democratic system were laid, but a lot of energy and time was wasted by the new authorities and there is still corruption which weakens the new system. On the other hand, the civil society born out of the movement against Milosevic is disappearing, their dedication is fading and their know-how is being lost. We shall see after the elections this year if the institutions on their own (or worse - left alone to politicians) can support the democratic order, or will this experiment fail in the end.


At 12:34 AM, Blogger Chanie said...

Hi, I'm writing a research paper on Otpor for a sociology class. I came across an intriguing opinion by Ivana Franovic about the aftermath of Milosevic's overthrow. She thought that by attacking the man and not his policies, the ethnonationalist element in Serbian politics was preserved. She also thought that Kostunica did not adequately reform Serbian laws, and preserved relics of Milosevic's regime.
I was wondering if you had seen similar things, or if any progress has been made on these fronts. Thank you!

At 1:24 PM, Blogger Ivan Marovic said...

As you can see, the test that I mention in the last paragraph was succesfully passed - we had elections and the elementa of the old regime came back to power, but on a different platform, the one that promised the continuation of the policy established after the fall of Milosevic. Today, one year later, everything seems to support the opposite of what Ivana Franovic claimed, not just that the nationalist element is marginalized, but even people like Dacic and Vucic (members of the old regime) signed something like the Brussels Agreement with Kosovo.


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