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South Slavic: April 21, 2005


21 April 2005, Volume 7, Number 10

THE DEMISE OF LIBERAL AND CIVIC POLITICAL ALTERNATIVES.

Part I.

A program by Srdjan Kusovac (with Goran Vezic)

On 24 March, the Liberal Alliance of Montenegro (LSCG) -- or what was left of this party once known for its antiwar activities in the early 1990s -- disappeared of its own volition from Montenegrin political stage (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 March 2005). In other parts of the region, parties whose names define them as "civic" or "liberal" have faced similar dilemmas.

Why has this happened, and what does this tell us about political trends in Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, and Croatia? Our guests are three university professors: Slavo Kukic from Mostar, Veselin Pavicevic from Podgorica, and Jelena Vlajkovic from Belgrade, as well as Mira Ljubic-Lorger, a former leader of the now-defunct Dalmatian Action party.

Slavo Kukic, professor at the Faculty of Economics in Mostar, is a sociologist. He analyzes social developments not only in Bosnia-Herzegovina but in the entire region.

Veselin Pavicevic, professor at the Faculty of Economics and lecturer at the Faculty of Law in Podgorica, is a lawyer. However, he specializes in the sociology of politics, and his specific field is the theory of elections and electoral systems. He is considered one of the best Montenegrin experts in that field. He is also very active in the Center for Democracy and Human Rights (CEDEM), an NGO founded in 1997 to monitor public opinion in Montenegro.

Jelena Vlajkovic, professor at the Faculty of Philosophy in Belgrade, is a clinical psychologist. She specializes in mental health, particularly that of younger people. She was engaged in the reform of the Serbian educational system until the process was stopped by the present government.

Mira Ljubic-Lorger was politically active in the early 1990s as a leader of a regional and antiwar political party, Dalmatian Action. She was also a member of the Croatian parliament and is a doctor of law.

Slavo Kukic says that "civic" or "liberal" parties have done well only in Slovenia.

Slavo Kukic: One might say that the [next] best situation is in Croatia, since the civic idea there is represented by two more-or-less important political parties: the Social Democratic Party [SDP] and the Croatian People's Party [HNS]. In Bosnia-Herzegovina, the civic element has been reduced to, roughly, two social-democratic groups: the Social Democratic Party [SDP] and the Party of Independent Social Democrats [SNSD]. However, the civic nature of these parties is quite open to question, especially in the case of the SNSD, which often sings a [Serbian] national tune.

In Serbia and Montenegro -- but particularly in Serbia -- social democracy scarcely exists. Its position in Montenegro is somewhat better than in Serbia, but even there it is not really worthy of attention.

As far as the liberal political idea is concerned, one might say that it has fared poorly in what used to be known as the Serbo-Croatian-speaking areas.

From the beginning, liberalism was more solid and influential in Croatia than in any other region of the former Yugoslavia except Slovenia, but, after the fall of the charismatic Drazen Budisa, his Croatian Social Liberal Party [HSLS] gave rise to several splinter groups, including the Liberal Party and then LIBRA. None of them is very influential today.

In Bosnia-Herzegovina, the political influence exerted by Rasim Kadic's Social-Liberal Alliance is not even worth mentioning.

As far as Montenegro is concerned, the now defunct LSCG became increasingly given to national romanticism in recent years, which overshadowed its liberal aspects.

To sum it up, I think that civic forces remain weak, while liberal ones are even more marginalized.

RFE/RL: Mira Ljubic-Lorger and Jelena Vlajkovic explain some of the most important reasons for the marginal status or even complete disappearance of these political groups.

Mira Ljubic-Lorger: After all, we are talking about a small group of people. Dalmatian Action was important and had extensive media coverage, but it was too small for such a large geographic area. One should also bear in mind that those were very hard and dangerous times. As long as people were facing serious and substantial problems, they could hold out. However, they were getting worn down and their private problems remained unsolved. I am talking about those who derived no private benefit from their political activities, who were not war profiteers. They simply became exhausted, financially and psychologically. It is thus no surprise that many needed to take a break, recuperate, and recharge their batteries.

Jelena Vlajkovic: The term that is often used in clinical psychology is "burnout syndrome." It is a state of indifference and even a cynical attitude toward problems, as well as inability to continue working to solve problems within society. It amounts to a natural and even protective reaction. It is the very first thing that occurred to me when we first mentioned this topic.

I keep observing my own reactions. After all these years of fighting for a better society -- whether it was the society of Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, or whatever -- people who were in the front line gave up, feeling that they had run out of strength. They fought repression, but now their enemy is marginalization.

RFE/RL: Another reason many of these parties became marginalized is that in some cases the ruling nationalist parties co-opted much of their program. That is what happened in Croatia to the HSLS after the death of Vlado Gotovac, in Serbia to the Civil Alliance following the death of Zoran Djindjic, and in Montenegro to the Liberal Alliance, which even accused the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists [DPS] of "stealing their political program."

Our guests agree.

Veselin Pavicevic: One might say so. A big player will naturally dominate the playing field.

The civic option is gathering momentum here, and the liberals have a right to be proud of this legacy. However, unlike Gotovac's party, the LSCG did not disappear outright but slowly declined. The LSCG never really was a party in the modern sense of the word. From the very beginning until the end, they were a sort of a political movement devoted to...Montenegrin independence, as though they had a monopoly on that idea. That was very stupid since political ideas are public goods, and all ideas had long been on the table. In the 15 years of its existence, the LSCG failed to establish an efficient party infrastructure and become a modern political party.

Politically speaking, they were simply lazy people. Their political style consisted of mouthing slogans, which is easy to do, and degenerated into moralizing....

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