The Morning After

Finally, it has happened – the long awaited implosion of the Milosevic regime. Where are they now, all those who claimed that the NATO bombardment only strengthened Milosevic’s hold onto power, would make him a national hero resisting world powers? In a kind of poetic justice, the circle has closed. Did we not see the same TV images – including the storming of the Federal Parliament building in Belgrade – more than a decade ago, when Milosevic was strengthening his hold on power by deftly manipulating the Serb public discontent and organizing the so-called “yoghurt revolution”, the series of mass demonstrations which toppled local governments in Vojvodina and in Montenegro? The same passionate energy of the crowd has now turned against him.

The magic dimension of this moment rests in the fact that it is always and by definition unexpected, as if it emerged ex nihilo. The same analysts who for many years predicted Milosevic’s demise (because of the catastrophic economic situation, because of the military defeats, including the loss of Kosovo, the Serb sacred ground), were taken by surprise when, all of a sudden, on the night after the elections, the Change occurred: not a “real” change, no shift in “real” relations of power – just that people somehow knew that the game really was up.

The hitherto feared Power disintegrated when people simply ceased to believe in it. The effect cannot but seem magical: it’s over because people think it’s over. All of a sudden, people awaken and discover that power lies in shambles, that it is an impotent spectre which no longer haunts them; all of a sudden, they are no longer afraid, they become aware that, ultimately, to quote the well-known words, they have nothing to fear but fear itself.

It would be of great interest to identify, in each Eastern Europe’s ex-Communist country, the precise coordinates of this moment which, sometimes, was almost literally a moment, lasting a couple of seconds. In Romania, for example, “the spell was broken” when, at the big mass-rally in Bucarest convoked by Ceaucescu after the demostrations in Timisoara in order to prove that he still enjoys popular support, the crowd started to shout at Ceaucescu who then raised his hands in a tragicomic and bewildered display of impotent paternal love, as if wanting to embrace them all… In that moment, nothing really great happened, yet “nothing was the same as before” – what a moment ago evoked a mixture of fear and respect, was now experienced as a rather different mixture of ridiculous imposture and brutal, illegitimate display of force.

[Extract. Appeared in Eurozine on March 27th, 2001.]