Travels 2006-2009…old Serbian revolutionary…Vojislav Kostunica…April 2008
In Novi Sad, Kostunica takes the stage at another DSS rally and begins to speak. Below him are supporters in red shirts that read, “Kosovo je Serbia.”
Kosovo is Serbia.
Other supporters wear black T-shirts that has an outline of Serbia with a large red heart over Kosovo on the back.
In his speech, Kostunica repeats the word Kosovo again and again.
As if Serbs will ever forget.
He says that Serbia cannot join the EU because EU countries took Kosovo from Serbia.
Kosovo…the land, the monasteries, the history…it all must be returned.
Kostunica, he is using Kosovo in the way it has always been used. As a crowd symbol. A way to invigorate the masses. It is so cynical. So desperate. So based in the old ways.
But this patriotism is based the result of loss. And Kostunica is using that loss to gain votes. He has been in power for nine years. The man responsible for steering Serbia in the aftermath of the wars and collapse of Yugoslavia. In many ways, he is a great hero, a revolutionary who maintained over a long period of time against a larger, more popular force.
Once an opposition leader, he is now taking up the tactics used by Milosevic, the very man he spent years trying to unseat.
Mia Magazin, gets me into the DSS slava (saint’s day) in the Kalimegdan Terrace Cafe.
A party coordinator, Mia has worked for DSS for six years and though I make clear to her my belief that Kostunica has changed from a revolutionary to advocating nationalism for the sake of personal power, Mia champions him.
“I was skipping classes in 1997 to protest Milosevic and support Kostunica,” she says. “Once I joined DSS and met him all my impression were proved right. It is the conditions in the country that have changed. Not him. I don’t like all the rhetoric about Kosovo. He has no choice though. He has to make Kosovo the main issue. It was imposed upon the agenda by the people. It is what is concerning them and you cannot close your eyes to that, to what has happened to Kosovo.”
The slava is packed with politicians, business people, party supporters, and a few priests. Waiters walk around with plates of hor’devors. When Kostunica appears he is quickly surrounded by photographers and camera crews. He makes a loop around the restaurant, stopping a few times to shake hands and speak with the people that crowd around him.
The election is only a few days away. With their glasses of wine and hor’devors the DSS party members seem far different than the Radicals with their plastic cups of whiskey and plates of pork. But the Radicals are the party expected to gain the most seats in parliament and then DSS is expected to join them in coalition that will keep Kostunica as prime minister and Serbia out of the EU, following a nationalist path.
The slava is a relaxed affair that is closed to most foreign journalists. The only formality comes when a dance group of people in their late teens and early twenties present Kostunica with a bottle of wine and sing one of the old nationalists songs about Kosovo, a haunting melody that makes me think, “This won’t go down easily.”
Afterwards, the boys in the troop crowd around me. They are returning to Kosovo today. They’ve been performing at the DSS rallies throughout Serbia. In Sumadija they danced a dance from Sumadija. In Vojvodina they danced a dance from Vojvodina. They insist I take shots of the rakija from a wooden canteen and tell me that they plan to join the Serbian army and fight for Kosovo.
One boy, Milosh, proudly informs me that his father had known Arkan, the Serb paramilitary leader famous for his slaughter of Croats, Bosnians, and Albanians. “It is just a matter of time before Kosovo becomes part of Serbia again,” he says.
I ask them what will happen t0 the Albanians, who make up ninety percent of the province, if Kosovo is returned to Serbia.
“They will leave to Albania,” Milosh says.
“Come and visit the next time you are in Kosovo,” he says. “My parents and I support Kostunica because he will never forget about Kosovo. Kostunica will never let Kosovo go.”
After the slava Mia and I walk through Kalimegdan park back to the DSS office.
I ask her why she works for DSS, if she is not fooled by Kostunica’s nationalist posturing?
“DSS is a legalist party, concerned with the way the law has been written,” she says. Kostunica is the only uncorrupted politician and the only one that doesn’t lie. I admire Kostunica. When Milosevic was still in power I watched the parliamentary sessions. Kostunica was different than Milsoevic and different than the outside forces.”
Mia is among the future of Serbia’s politicians. She began working with DSS in 2003 when it was still a popular party not trying to sustain itself through nationalist rhetoric. She build herself up within DSS and is sticking with them, though she is not among the mainstream of the party.
A recent article referred to her as “Kostunica’s European Force.” She has been criticized by members of the party for being too liberal, but her intelligence and ability to make people like her keep her popular. While most members of DSS only reiterate to journalists the party line, Mia gives thought out and articulated opinions that express her wide view of Serbian politics.
She is still a member of DSS, however. The party that has calculated their political position by taking advantage of a great tragedy for Serbia. That I listen to her at all infuriates Igor.
“If Mia was paying attention just a little bit she could see that Kostunica does lie,” he says. He has completely changed who he is. He criticized Tito. He was in the opposition to Milosevic with Dindic (Serbia’s assassinated first post-Milosevic PM). We were getting gassed in front of the parliament and he was the one we voted for. Our vote did not do much though. He has turned out the same as Milosevic, deeply nationalist. He has changed into that. Did you see him the other day listening to one of Illic’s simple jokes? He smiled. Kostunica does not smile. Especially not at simple jokes. Hanging out with Illic is retarding his brain.”
“Also, Kostunica is old. Let me practical. He’s been through a lot in life. The years in the opposition. Psychologically he is messed up. He’s smart through and may find a way to stay in power. He’s been setting up for this election for awhile and thinking ahead. He has nothing else. He is getting old and doesn’t want to give up power. He doesn’t have anything else. He has no children. All he has is an apartment with high ceilings, old chandeliers, and cats. So he wants to maintain power. He sees himself as the only way for Serbia.”