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Waiting for Capitalism

mladen lazic knjiga cekajuci kapitalizam
Zorica Žarković on 10/02/2013 - 10:19 in English, Features

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What prevails in Serbia is lethargy and hopelessness, but not
readiness for a social rebellion. “It is clear to everyone reasonable
that there is no one to vote for”, but deeper analyses show that
politicians have managed to halt the reforms in collusion with the
citizens, who would like to like in a democracy, but not from a free
market. It is precisely because of this characteristic of ours that
it is of extreme importance for us to enter the EU, believes
sociologist Mladen Lazić, according an article written by Zorica
Žarković and published in the Biznis i Finansije magazine.

There was an anecdote going around in the former Soviet Union saying
that the platitude “comrades, communism is on the horizon” actually
meant that the closer you come to it the further away it is. The
exact same feeling is shared by most of the citizens of Serbia at the
very mention of a better life and of entering the EU, show the latest
public opinion polls and reactions in the media, especially in a
situation when, after a decade of poor reforms, it is only now that
the political leadership has reached the conclusion that life in
Serbia is hard. Why such a rough landing precisely at this moment,
this is a question that is easy to answer: the elections are
approaching, and the indicators of the deterioration of the citizens’
economic situation are such that they can no longer be ignored.

The real question, however, is why this issue was talked about
earlier on less than it deserved, considers Mladen Lazić, professor
at the Sociology Department at the Belgrade Faculty of Philosophy and
the author of the recently published book “Waiting for Capitalism”.
The reason for this, according to him, lies in the fact that after
the October 5th changes issues concerning the status of the state
were in the political focus, while the citizens, thanks to support
for the reforms from the outside, felt an improvement in their
standard of living relatively fast. “That was enough, especially for
the middle layers of the population, to start believing that things
were going well. It is only when the growth of the living standard
started slowing down, and then deteriorating even, that the question
that arose among the public as to why the reforms had not been
completed.

Individual scandals concerning the manner in which wealth had been
acquired in Serbia were increasingly replaced by debates on how the
structural reforms in our country were proceeding, i.e. whether or
not the system was truly being restructured”.

The information collected for the needs of the mentioned study
indicated that the reasons for the slow reforms were much more
complex than the usual perception that it was the regime that was to
be blamed for everything. One of the reasons is the fact that there
is no pressure from above for their acceleration, while pressure is
evident from the bottom for them to slow down to the benefit of
strong interest groups, so that they would be able to control them.

Unlike other countries, where this process proceeded faster, because,
at the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s there were no
internal lobbies that could manage it, while the strong pressure from
the outside led to it proceeding according to a relatively similar
pattern, the situation was quite the opposite in Serbia: the country
was isolated, with a very strong internal political and economic
group that controlled the reforms. “When the external influence
started being exerted following the change of the regime, we already
had a new, very strong economic elite, formed mostly out of old
cadre, and which started directing the further reforms towards its
own interests”, explains Lazić.

Serbian Patent: Democracy without a Market

There was no pressure also because it was not clear to the citizens
themselves what they actually wanted. Namely, according to indicators
on value orientations, practically all layers of the society, and
especially the upper and middle classes are politically liberally
oriented, but they do not share such a stand in regard to economic
liberalization. On the contrary, “people belonging to all layers of
the society, and even managers and owners of larger private companies
expect the state to continue to be the main economic protagonist”.
The mentioned controversies result from the fact that, throughout its
modern history, Serbia was a state-centric society where big jobs
were ensured through a struggle to enter the state apparatus, and
that such an “economic” tradition has survived in the present-day
system of values as well. The second key reason is the difficulties
produced by the current economic crisis. “We are witnessing the fact
that now even in countries of a traditionally liberal orientation the
state is expected to resolve problems. Therefore, precisely when a
liberal orientation started becoming more wide-spread in our country,
and not only in politics, but in economics as well, new economic
difficulties occurred having directed all the social layers towards
the state to resolve their problems: to stimulate exports, to limit
imports, to protect employees, to enable additional investments”…

The dissatisfaction is all the greater because it is now fully
visible that, when the new crisis broke out, Serbia had an enormous
baggage full of unsolved problems way back from the 1990s, i.e. that
the political elite was unable to find, in the previous decade, a way
to make up for what had been lost. “Our political elite is of poor
quality because it was formed in extremely bad conditions, in which
every political rival is equalized with a national enemy and with
corruption. When the regime changed, the political culture did not,
nor did the participants in the political game change to any
significant extent. There is no confidence here is politics being
able to service the public benefit. Priority is given to one’s
loyalty to one’s party and not to his abilities, so that our
political elite mostly consists of people of low professional and
problematic moral qualities”.

However, Lazić underlined, one must not lose sight of the fact that
the electorate in Serbia does not punish politicians for working
against its interests. “This is how it was during Milošević’s era,
and even today people vote by inertia – most people choose the lesser
evil. When you take a look at all the parties you do not have to be
an analyst to see that a reasonable person has no one to vote for. I
admit I do not see forces that would establish a relationship between
the political elite and the electorate in which the voters would
clean the political elite of the parasites who are oriented
exclusively towards their personal interests, and not towards the
public benefit“.

What prevails in Serbia is lethargy and hopelessness, but not
readiness for a social rebellion, Lazić is convinced. The situation
is very difficult, but not fateful. Furthermore, the historical
experience shows that major social upheaval takes place in
circumstances when good suddenly takes a turn for the worse. In our
case the improvement was short-lived, after which progress slowed
down and stagnated. Even though the standard of living is
deteriorating in general, the consequences are not the same for all
social groups. On the contrary, not only the richest, but also a
considerable part of the middle layer which provides for a living in
foreign companies, in the telecommunications, financial,
pharmaceutical or some other profitable branches still has a better
living standard than before.

The situation, of course, is not the same in Belgrade and in the rest
of Serbia, “but large social movements are rarely formed in the
country’s interior”, just as they are not led by the most vulnerable
either. In Serbia these are primarily old-age households in villages,
part of the employed persons, especially outside Belgrade, and
certain groups of people employed in companies that do not pay out
salaries. “These are big numbers, but a social rebellion is not
created at the bottom. You cannot expect it to be organized by the
most vulnerable as they are, at the same time, the most helpless in
every way”.

Banishment of Morality

Those whose influence is far more relevant – the middle class, are
not only disunited as regards their interests, but they are also
largely the most responsible accomplices in the failure of the
reforms. When one observes the changes in the financial position of
the three main groups of the middle class – experts, junior managers
and small entrepreneurs, unlike in the 1990s when it was experts who
fared the worse and entrepreneurs the best, the situation is now the
opposite. In this regard, the largest number of experts have found
jobs in state institutions which, by the nature of things, live off
money from the private sector and the gap has been additionally
widened due to the illogicality that the salaries in the public
sector are approximately larger than in the case of private
entrepreneurs.

However, the problem does not lie in the difference of interests,
“but rather in the fact that there is no elementary feeling of
responsibility towards the public interest. This was also very clear
during the recent strike of teachers, whose trade union leaders made
it clear that they do not care how the state will provide money and
how others live, but rather they are only concerned with having the
salaries of teachers raised.

That is catastrophic, that is that naked egoism which is increasingly
recognizable in our society, but which is very dangerous. The request
should have been for the state to find a way to improve the business
conditions for the private sector in order to improve the overall
economic situation and, thus, also the living standard of those
living off the budget. If the teachers’ trade unions are so
indifferent towards the public interest, it is hard to expect others
to be more responsible in this regard. If the most educated people
are not interested in the general benefit, then there is no one else
to be”.

From all this one can conclude that Serbia is in a stale-mate
position. On the one hand we have a state apparatus which, ever since
it has existed in Serbia, has been formed according to the principle
of loyalty, arbitrariness, family and regional ties, instead of one’s
expertise and professionalism. In this sense, different today is only
the rhetoric, standing behind which is the same psychology, totally
opposite of what is being declared and what the state should be doing
– protecting the public interest from individual aspirations that can
endanger it.

“In such a managerial structure the minister can be the most capable
person, but he will not be able to do anything of major importance”,
says the interviewee. On the other hand, the electorate which still
fails to understand that democracy is impossible without relying on a
market economy, including the middle class “which has totally failed
in this respect”, so the ultimate result is the fact that both the
authorities and the citizens – even though the individual
consequences are different, are accomplices in the same job: to halt
changes in Serbia and for the state the continue with a policy in
which “the market serves only as an auxiliary instrument”.

What is the solution then? For Serbia, Lazić considers, extremely
important is the fact that it is included in international
institutions, “which are not ideal, but are far better regulated than
ours and the more included in them we are the rules that are
established will be relatively firmer and will regulate a majority of
the processes in the society. I believe that for us, being as we are,
it is truly very important to enter the EU, because it imposes rules
and creates a framework which is also necessary for shaping the
conduct of people. It is only in such a situation that our creativity
can produce results, instead of turning into destruction”.

Zorica Žarković

May 5, 2011

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