An analysis of the failure of the Serbian presidential elections
author: Goran M.
"A step further from the European Union"
The DOS establishment and its local apologists have once again shown us their capacity for hypocrisy and how low they are prepared to go just in order to justify their own failure. As before, government officials and their faitfull servants (the media, political analysts, the NGO's.), do not refrain from comments which insult the very intelleigence of the average Yugoslav, which in itself is passing into an open form of antagonism to and disgust with the masses. Thus, trying to escape reality, the main reason given for the failure of the elections in Serbia by the majority of the conutry's 'analysts' is the rain and the cold weather which had forced people to stay at home!
Those days at election-time were rainy and depressing indeed, but most of all, in all probability, to the DOS, a coalition which had triumphantly come to power after Milosevic, and which now could not manage to inspire confidence even in the one of its two candidates.
Of course, through its various media campaigns ( 'It's not difficult to be well-mannered' - comes to mind as a good example..., we have all learnt that Yugoslavs are very sensitive to vicissitudes of the weather, and, that, they are a very lazy and primitive people who lack the 'civic consciousness' of the European nations. But, even that is not a satisfactory excuse, so, besides the rain and the primitivism, the poor presidential candidates had to come face to face with the 'non-sensical', 'socialist' electoral law which necessitates that more than half of the electorate needs to participate in the elections for these to be valid.
Suddenly, all their 'democratism', oath-taking to parliamentarianism, and the voice of the people falls into the water. 'Why should we waste money on elections when we don't win them?' the gentlemen from the DOS ask, 'why insist on the idea that the majority of the people should take part in the elections?'; is in not better to change the law to one's own advantage, or, even better, remove the make-up and have the president chosen by parliament - where there is a secured majority? Besides, it is in parliament that the cream of society is, which is able to take the important decisions, and not the masses, who are not well-mannered, who do not understand the importance of the transition.
From all the media at once, as if from a choir, we hear the wailing for the unsuccessful election, and attempts to convince us that such 'irresponsibility' will cost us dearly. 'We are now a step further from the European Union' - one of these analysts was whining, after the final count of the percentage of the population that had voted in the second round of the presidential elections.
But, still, all is not that grim - it is said by these very same gentlemen analysts and NGOs. We have finally had a modern electoral race with campaigns and candidates that reflect their counterparts in Europe. The world press went to great lengths to emphasise that the two leading candidates were 'democratically-oriented', moderate politicians, who were above all supporting a 'reformist course' and the transition. Ironically, it is that very 'flicker of light' - that all-important achievement of 'the young Yugoslav democracy' which the bourgeois press keeps on mentioning - that represents the main reason for the disinterestedness of the people, and the failure of the election.
While the sparse few who comprise the Belgrade 'middle-class' followed with great pride the feeble, unconvincing, pre-arranged television duel between Kostununica and Labus, commenting on how finally we have, in this country a 'civilised dialogue' and political culture without too many sharp words - the majority of Yugoslavs asked themselves what all this was for? What is the difference between Kostunica and Labus? Yugoslavia had finally received its version of the Democrats and Republicans- its own brand of coin with two sides.
Labus, trying to capitalise on illusions which many Yugoslavs still retain about the West, entered the electoral race as the champion of economic reform; the candidate of the citizens - the independent "expert" who would bring the country close to shining Europe! He could only count, however, on the votes of the of the surviving middle classes and a part of the youth; the sections that retain the most illusions in the West. The working class and rural Serbia were looking at Labus but seeing through him they recognised the hated image of prime minister Djindjic and his companions - the local business elite. The working class, despite the aggressive media campaign, still runs away from everything associated with the character of Djindjic. They feel the open anti-workers tone of his rhetoric, and they are overcome by fever on the sight of him. Even though it is victim to various fantasies and of propaganda, the working class, though still rather hazily, is beginning to comprehend the true meaning of the transition. They have seen how the finance minister Djelic came to terms with the bank workers and they listen to everyday threats of sell-offs of (state) firms, threats of lay-offs, and all the other mockery of Djindjic's ministers. The well-known pre-election myth/anecdote of the meeting between Labus and a peasant who asks Labus for advice about his cows is an apt indicator of such a mood. The farmer asks Labus: " I own two cows. One of them gives 15 litres of milk and the other only 5- you are an educated man, you tell me-which one should I sell?" Labus answeres:" Well, sell the one that gives less milk, of course!"; then the peasant answers back : " If that is the case-why do you sell the best state companies first ?". Labus seemed to them, with justification, to be a pawn behind whom stood Djindjic and who knows who else.
Labus's electoral team tried to demystify to themselves what made Kostunica so popular for the wider population - and it surprisingly stumbled upon an 'ingenious' conclusion - nationalism! Labus's campaign bill-boards, adorned in national colours, carried slogans under which, without any fear for his own reputation, Seselj (the far right politician) himself could run. Labus, in the middle of his campaign, spontaneously visited a monastery, began to sign his name in Cyrillic, and even the fact that his grandfather was an orthodox priest accidentally found its way to the press. Instead of trying to push to the end the programme of the more liberal part of the DOS coalition and to lead an openly anti-nationalist camaign, Labus tried to fain nationalism without any luck. The hardened nationalists would never vote for him, while in the eyes of the majority of the population, who have had enough of nationalism in the last decade, he did not appear radically different enough a phenomenon and thus left them apathetic
It is worth mentioning the dirty campaign, too, which his team conducted, which at times completely based itself on low blows against and mockery of Kostunica as a person, in this acting destroying the media projection of Labus as a 'sympathetic moderate intellectual'. It was shown that Labus was in no way an alternative to Kostunica. He was quite clearly ready to vest himself with Serbian nationalism, utilise low blows and to promise anything, only in order to grab power and to implement his (or, to put it more precisely), the IMF's economic programme.
Kostunica, by contrast, was completely certain that victory was his. So sure was he that he did not even make the effort to think up a programme which he would, allegedly, implement. Relying on his trade-mark position - national pride and the already overdone story of a constitution, law and institutions of state, only towards the end did he add a few nebulous bullet-points - like battling crime. Kostunica finally became aware, furthermore, of his potentially most useful joker - the aura of the man who would fight for the average person and halt 'unjust privatisation'. In his campaign, he used this argument only at times, but when he had decided upon that risky feat - it turned out as definitely the most profitable. The DSS (Kostunica's party) and the other 'god-fearing patriots' still think they have enough space to present themselves as the lawful politicians who have not dirtied their hands. These "proud Serbs" hope that, when the ship starts sinking, they will be able to tell the people: 'It was not our fault! - it was Djindjic and the mafia which stands behind him - it is because of them that the transition has not succeeded!'. Thus, the problem is not privatisation in itself - but the corrupt people who are implementing it.
Had he had more courage and built his whole campaign on this sort of anti-privatisational demagogy, not only would the elections have been successful - but Kostunica would have won back the renown and eminence he had gained in the aftermath of October 5th. Kostunica is hesitant about using anti-privatisational rhetoric because he would be doubted by the Western bourgeois press who could be in the position to bring into doubt his 'democratic' credentials and his support for the transition. Kostunica is a typical conservative- bourgeois politician, far from a fascist and not in theleast with bonapartist inclicnations, as the domestic 'left' is labeling him. The West has Kostunica, as all the other politicians, in their pocket, while Kostunica does not have the strength of character to break away and to execute his own plans as Milosevic had once done - even though, objectively, he could do so
This way, unconvincing and mild, confused by his own petty-bourgeois illusions, forced when push comes to shove to back Djindjic's shock therapy economists and to admit that he supports the reforms from the depths of his soul, reforms that are 'of fundamental importance to our country' - he is doomed to failure. Kostunica, reluctant to fence himself off completely form the sinking ship, has succeeded in losing the elections for which he had been already been declared a winner.
Beside the inadequate interest of the citizenship for the elections, the main surprise, for many, was the high percentage won by the leader of the far right Serbian Radical Party (SRS) - Vojislav Seselj. Despite the fact that his campaign was very modest indeed (in comparison with the two candidates of the DOS), Seselj succeeded in winning 23% of the votes. Together with Kostunica's votes, it appears that a majority of those who voted chose the Right wing.
The Serbian Radical Party is one of the few 'real parties' on our political scene. 'Real' in the sense that it: cultivates its own cadres and a nucleus of activists, has a developed infrastructure across the whole country, has real representation among the workers, fosters a real inner-party culture. Unlike the majority of small parties in the DOS which generally survive on the donations of 'donators' and which is constituted by a narrow circle of political careerists and business interest groups - the Radicals have stable foundations and even on the bad days (from their point of view, after the October 5th) they have succeeded in not slipping below three or four percent. Such a structure and organisation allows them to grow easily given the right conditions. Thus, Seselj's result is in no way a surprise and is not even the high-point of the Radicals' potential.
We pointed out, log ago, that the Right could easily make a huge comeback at a point at which the privatisation programme that the DOS is pursuing is discredited among the masses. The West will at such a point feel no revulsion at supporting an ultra-rightist force which would divert the anger of the working class and would continue the restoration of capitalism while wrapped in a Serbian tricolore. In the case that at such a point no clear leftist alternative exists, the workers will again be trapped in the snare of nationalist demagogy. This moment, however, has not yet arrived.
It is a fact that among the Serbian working class the virus of nationalism is still very much alive. These results a confirmation of this. But, stories of a 'Serbian national being' and the incurable disease of nationalism which will never let go is an idiocy. The overall tendency within Serbian society these days is that of fading national sentiments. That tendency would be even clearer if the 'bourgeois option' does not hide from a face-off with nationalism because of opportunistic calculations
Besides the 'incurable' - the untra-nationalist wing - the majority of Seselj's votes comes from normal people from the lower classes who are disillusioned with the politics of the DOS, and who have before them no alternative. The Socialist Party is corrupted and obsessed with hiding its own crimes to the degree that they are neither capable nor desirous of organizing themselves into a decent opposition party. Some kind of left reformist party is not even in the initial stages of being formed. Seselj is thus able to present himself as the only alternative to the establishment and many vote for him not because he struggles for 'Serbian lands' but because he 'criticises' Djindjic and co. Seselj has, unlike Kostunica, profited maximally from the criticism of privatisation and the sale of state firms. Of course, Seselj does not criticize privatisation as such but 'the choice of buyers' and the prices.
The working class, with the lack of a better option, in Kostunica and Seselj note characters with integrity - leaders who have an ear for 'the man in the street'. It hopes that these individuals can, at least a little bit, save them from the apocalypse that is coming and its most obvious prophets - the gang of slick talking yuppies gathered around Djindjic and the Democratic Party. In this way, many attempt to opt for the lesser of two evils. That is the explanation for the high number of votes that the Right has got of the people who bothered to vote at all.
Still- the majority of the people has clearly rejected to choose between a lesser of two evils! This is a huge encouragement to the Marxists of Yugoslavia. The boycott of the population prove that the pro-European analysts, in some way, were right and that the laments of the NGOs are justified. Yugoslavs clearly have no 'civic consciousness of the Western nations'! But that is nothing new. The working class of the Balkans as long as six decades ago overcame, it appeared forever, and buried the narrow cannon of bourgeois democracy. Milosevic's time in power was not overthrown at the ballot-box either. We reject this barren lie of bourgeois democracy called 'elections'. The only thing that the Yugoslav working class must receives under such a regime is to be able to choose the fraction of the ruling oligarchy which will oppress it over the next four years! The bourgeois parliamentary system without regard to which party has a majority in it, poses no solution. The Yugoslav working class must organise its own party which will struggle for its own righs and build its own institutions which will place real control of society into the hands of the masses .
Unlike the petty-bouregois liberals who are embarrassed and are letting out tears for the unsuccessful elections, we Marxists are elated and proud at the shown level of political maturity shown by the people. Yugoslav workers have in no way 'distanced' themselves from the EU. On the contrary, they have come a step closer to their sisters and brothers who, too, for years have not been giving much value to the charades called elections in their own countries.
Even though it may seem effective at first sight- a boycott of the elections is not a solution to the problem. As we can see, the ruling oligarchy always finds a way of legimitating its own rule. The government is preparing a chane of the election law which will give it the chance to continue smoothly in power. What we desperately need is a mass, independent workers' party with a revolutionary perspective which will present the interests of those who had not gone out to vote. Only in this way can it take on the ruling oligarchies. Only in that way can a new birth of nationalism be stopped. Only in that way can the sale of state property be halted and the standards of the working class defended. The demonstrated dissatisfaction with the political establishment must be channeled in the direction of creating proper alternatives. Passive resistance is not the answer. "Civic Society" is a fairytale of the Belgrade liberals. Having in mind the world crisis of capitalism and the economic standing of our country - we can say that Yugoslavia can in the future expect anything but stable parliamenterianism. The only thing that is secure, is that a series of unashamed attacks on everyone's rights - it is most important to build an organisation through which we shall lead a battle to protect them!