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Nova srpska politika misao


Transition


Venezuela Analítica

 

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Nova srpska politicka misao

January1999, Belgrade


Officially, Serbia is governed by a parliamentary democracy with a broad spectrum of political representation. But is Serbian political life really so diverse, or is its relatively homogenous ruling cadre merely dressed up with careless (or convenient) political labels? Nine intellectuals, most of them young, tackle this question in the latest issue of Nova srpska politicka misao [New Serbian Political Thought].

New Serbian Political Thought is one of the few intellectual oases in Serbia in which these kinds of debates are seriously discussed. Founded in 1994 under the name Serbian Political Thought, the journal has typically attracted young, independent political scientists, philosophers, sociologists, psychologists, and economists who weigh in on topical, and sometimes controversial, political questions. Two years later, its publisher (the state-controlled Institute of Political Studies) dismissed the editorial board and all but banned the journal. But soon after, Vreme, a Belgrade-based independent weekly, took it over, rehired the original editorial board, and relaunched it with “New” tacked on the title.

The current issue was conceived just as Serbia assumed its current government: a three-party coalition comprised of, on the Left, Slobodan Milosevic’s Socialist Party (SPS) and his wife’s Yugoslav United Left (YUL) and, on the extreme Right, Vojislav Seselj’s Serbian Radical Party (SRS). Aleksandar Molnar, a professor at Belgrade University, argues that the attitude of these parties toward the old regime is one of the most important criteria for distinguishing who really lays claim to the Right and the Left. Today’s coalition government, he suggests, is characterized by a “strong Bonapartist form of Slobodan Milosevic’s authority” with a soft spot for the former socialist regime. Molnar skewers the self-proclaimed Leftism of the yul and SPS, identifying them instead as Serbia’s extreme Right and moderate Right, respectively. Molnar not only places Seselj’s SRS into the same Rightist category, denying any pretense of ideological breadth in Belgrade, but also Ibrahim Rugova’s Democratic League of Kosovo (DLK). Both promote a rigid nationalistic and authoritarian model of power—whether Serbian or Albanian. By refusing to take part in the elections and thus become a strong opposition presence, Molnar argues, Rugova “invisibly” participated in the coalition, hoping this path would be the fastest to Kosovo independence. According to Molnar, those four rightist parties (SPS, YUL, SRS, and DLK) represent the real ruling coalition in Serbia, a “democrat-despotic” system.

Like Molnar, Slobodan Samardzic, from the Belgrade Institute of European Studies, finds a clear connection between the present regime in Serbia and the communist regime of former Yugoslavia. This continuity, he argues, has been maintained by Leninist methods of “closing and destroying the free political domain.” By either coopting new opposition parties or by undermining existing opposition parties with corruption and a strong police, the regime prevents the political interaction that drives real democracy. Samardzic calls it “cynical pluralism”—a parliamentary system that nevertheless eliminates all opposition.

Although ambitiously conceived, the January 1999 issue of New Serbian Political Thought provides little more than an introduction to Serbia’s complicated domestic politics. This mixture of quasi-democratic and authoritarian elements, populism, nationalism, and staged “democratic” conflicts has yet to be comprehensively explained.

—Dusan Velickovic Editor, Alexandria


Transition

January 1999, Cambridge


Founded in Kampala in 1961 by Rajat Neogy, a Ugandan writer of Indian ancestry, Transition was designed to be the literary organ of East African writers and intellectuals. But just six years later, the troubles began. The American press reported that one of Transition’s financial backers, the Paris-based Congress of Cultural Freedom, was financed by the CIA. Then, Ugandan president Milton Obote arrested and detained Neogy on sedition charges. After his release from prison, Neogy relocated the publication to Ghana, led by his friend Kofi Brefa Busia; but Busia was ousted by a military coup. In 1974, Neogy reluctantly turned over operations to writer Wole Soyinka, who ran the magazine from London. Under Soyinka’s guidance, Transition, subsequently renamed Ch’indaba—a fusion of Swahili and Matabele—became more pan-Africanist in tone. But Transition/Ch’indaba, pressed for funding, was forced to close its doors just seven issues into Soyinka’s tenure.

In 1991, Henry Louis Gates Jr., a former student of Soyinka at Cambridge and a frequent contributor to Transition in the 1970s, decided to revive the magazine at Harvard University’s William E. B. DuBois Center, in cooperation with his long-standing associate Kwame Anthony Appiah. The most recent edition, a special compilation celebrating Transition’s 75th issue, contains an exceptional selection of 47 articles published between 1961 and 1976 in the original journal. They cover an unusually broad scope: Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, the Nigerian Civil War, apartheid in South Africa, interviews with writers V.S. Naipaul and James Baldwin, several articles on African literature, and writings from prison by Neogy and Soyinka. But regrettably, many of the articles portray a negative image of Africa and Africans. Naipaul excoriates both the Trinidadians and the Africans in a 1971 interview. Nkrumah, Obote, and Idi Amin of Uganda are also subjected to scathing critiques.

Those readers interested in international affairs may be most attracted to a controversial set of articles on Nkrumah. In one of them, noted Africanist Ali Mazrui suggests that the first president of Ghana saw himself as “Africa’s Lenin” and strove to become “Ghana’s Czar.” He also calls Nkrumah a “great African, but not a great Ghanian.” But the characterization is not entirely fair. Even admitting the excesses of Nkrumah’s later years in office, one could argue that the completion of the Volta River project and Tema harbor, rural electrification, and educational reform in the early Nkrumah years were critical investments in Ghana’s now-promising economy.

Interestingly, one of the principal theses of the book that inspired Mazrui to compare Nkrumah with Lenin—Nkrumah’s Neo-Colonialism, the Last Stage of Imperialism—is that although the damage of colonial rule by Western governments in Africa was mitigated by public accountability, neocolonialism, or domination by corporate finance capital, had no such constraints. His observations are salient today in view of the Asian financial crisis and the role of finance capital in driving globalization. I had the same “back-to-the-future” sensation about at least one other article, author John de St. Jorre’s “Looking for Mercenaries.” His piece, originally published in 1967, describes the mercenary presence in the Congo that set the stage for certain African states or rebel military groups to “outsource” war today. [See David Shearer’s “Outsourcing War,” FOREIGN POLICY, Fall 1998.]

Although uneven in quality, the 75th issue of Transition provides an important retrospective. It takes us from the euphoria of Africa in the early 1960s through the disenchantment of the 1970s and provides a background for many of the challenges faced by Africa today. However, billed as “an international review of politics, culture, and ethnicity from Beijing to Bujumbura,” the resuscitated Transition has also been transformed. Now openly financed and housed in the United States, Transition is no longer an organ for intellectuals in Africa. It is primarily a journal on the African diaspora. Hopefully, the release of the 75th issue, with its emphasis on the original Transition, will inspire its new editors to accord greater priority to African topics with a more Soyinkian, pan-African perspective.

—Herschelle Challenor
Dean, School of International Affairs and Development
Clark Atlanta University


Venezuela Analítica

January 1999, Caracas


Latin America has made a huge comeback in the last two decades. Politically, the region has turned more democratic. Economically, it has introduced sweeping market reforms, allowing many countries to escape the impoverishing debt crisis of the 1980s. Venezuela, however, has grown poorer and less democratic, succumbing to political unrest, coup attempts, policy paralysis, party system breakdown, and economic chaos.

Last December, Venezuelans elected a new president, Hugo Chávez, who promised to liberate the country from crisis by prosecuting corrupt leaders and reforming the constitution. So far, so good. But Chávez admires Fidel Castro, cares little for (or knows little of) market economics, glorifies the military, detests political parties, and until recently, showed no remorse about his attempt to overthrow the government forcibly seven years ago. He has already filled his cabinet with like-minded friends and plans to reform the constitution with a plebiscite, even though the constitution states that any amendment or reform must come by way of Congress.

Leading Venezuelans weigh in on their new president in Venezuela Analítica, a stylish online newsweekly that posts what it considers to be the best editorials from the domestic and international press. A more comprehensive monthly edition also includes analytical articles by editors and guest authors. In January’s edition, political scientist María Teresa Romero argues that Chávez will eschew necessary economic reforms in favor of populism, demagoguery, and antibusiness politics, all in the name of the people. Chávez, she suggests, has advantages over Venezuela’s previous populist presidents. He enjoys a far stronger political base—a huge 56 percent of the vote, to be exact. And his appeal is deeper because he draws on both nationalist and religious sentiments. He freely invokes Jesus Christ, Simón Bolívar, Walt Whitman, and Che Guevara, often in the same speeches.

If Chávez is to face any real opposition, it will spring from Congress, argues former ambassador Guido Grooscors, where the new president does not quite have majority support. But Chávez has an edge on his detractors, claims journalist Carlos Ball. He can easily accuse them of corruption. At the first sign of trouble from the opposition, Chávez could try to disband Congress and produce a constitution that imposes restrictions on the opposition, all in the name of an anticorruption crusade—and the crowds will cheer.

Of course, Chávez could prove to be a closeted Alberto Fujimori, who became president of Peru in 1990 on a similar platform only to turn neoliberal once in office. But if Chávez “goes Fujimori,” his supporters in Congress will feel abandoned. The result could be the same: Chávez will be motivated to employ authoritarian tactics to govern.

The global revolt against liberal economics that swept through Malaysia and reached Russia in the last year and a half has finally reached Latin America. At least as troublesome, the election of Chávez is indicative of an increasing disdain for parliaments by the Latin American public. Many parliamentarians deserve to be disdained. But when citizens forget the benefits of institutions that hold national leaders accountable, would-be authoritarians tend to be the biggest winners. Venezuela is not likely to be an exception.

—Javier Corrales
Associate Professor
Amherst College

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