Don’t just do something, sit there

I have been carefully following the discussion on the topic of white (void) ballots. I am comparing the pros and cons. At the same time I am following the election campaign. Primary impression is that everything is taking place in an airless space of a compromised reality. There is no solid ground in sight.

Let’s start with the campaign. It’s obvious that the candidates hired foreign experts, alchemists, whose job is to transform Serbia’s iron into forthcoming gold. They, of course, know nothing about Serbia, but this is actually their advantage because they are able to work without restraint. They do things in accordance with the rules of their marketing profession. Professional mist sellers are real competitors in this campaign. The only thing candidates have to do is to hire the best professionals and pose in front of their cameras. Of course the campaign then acquires dreamlike features. A bad dream. And a stupid one as well. This is what I call compromised reality.

An idea of the white vote (void voting ballot) seems to have emerged, among other reasons, as a response to existing “alternatives”. Why is my vote being sought? Not one key issue is being discussed in the campaign (Kosovo, Russia, Konuzin, Milosevic, wars and crimes, fascism, restoration of the Chetnik ideology, Bosnia, the European Union, judicial system, and reforms in general). On the other hand, alchemists-illusionist are condescendingly trying to influence my decision working on the subliminal, subconscious level, in accordance with their profession. How to make a candidate seem lovable, how to provoke positive emotions by using pictures of beautiful landscapes, animals and children, how to chose an ugly picture of an opponent, how to select the colour and music appearing in the advertising video. And altogether taking into consideration the average, not very sophisticated voter, disinclined to introspect, without clear awareness about his own feelings and unable to self-reflect. So for what reason is my voice being sought? This is a fundamental question which remains unanswered.

Some voters feel this. And I believe, logically, are resisting to be manipulated in such a way. They are being asked to compare political parties, embodied in their so-called leaders. But the evaluation of candidates and their parties is being done in a relative manner. Who of these two men do you like more? (like, because remember, all major political issues have been sidestepped).

Personally, I do not like anyone. We all learned in life to assess people with whom we come into contact. Assessing individuals is not rocket science but a skill that serves us well in everyday life. We do this based on our life experience and a countless small signals which people around us emit. So, when I look at these candidates, I ask myself the question: would I, as an employer, hire this person into a position which requires average knowledge, ability, honesty and diligence? For me, at least, not one of these people that have been appearing on our TV screens for years would pass this simple test. So, I would not give my vote to any of them.

However, I am being asked to act responsibly and vote. But I can not choose among these candidates for the very reason of being responsible. How can I entrust any of them with a job which carries enormous authority and which, therefore, requires above average honesty, knowledge, wisdom and commitment? Why should I share responsibility for someone’s future actions which, upfront, I don’t believe will be either useful or rightful? To the contrary, I think they will do enormous damage for which I do not want to bear any responsibility. With such logic, I have a very rational justification to abstain from voting.

But it seems to me that white votes are something more and something different. White voters feel the need to manifest their reasons for not voting. Or even more, their feelings towards a situation which, in their view, is not providing an alternative; therefore they are manifesting their powerlessness and the consequential protest. In other words, the reason for abstaining in case of white ballot, is not that one forgot, didn’t feel like it, doesn’t like voting, or that he had better things to do that day. White voter sends the following message: I would gladly vote for someone if I had good reason for it, but, man, all of you suck and none of you represent anybody but yourselfs, and so you offer me no hope.

More cinically, white voter is advised to run for office himself, set-up his own political party and enhance the existing political diversity.

But this is a bit hypocritical because those we have been electing so far have gone over their way to maximally impede and prevent the establishment of new parties through legislation. They call this bringing an end to the “expansion of the political scene”. We have been told that there is a “sufficient number of political options available and there is no need to have more”. (Driver, start the bus – everyone is on board!).

However, even regardless of this, white voices can be understood as a necessary preliminary step in the creation of new parties. The white votes wish to show the disheartened electorate that they are not alone in their frustration and that there are enough citizens who can join to create a new party and diversify available political options. The creation of political parties, movements and so on is a long process that begins by creating awareness of their necessity. Media should have an important role to play in this process, but today they are captives of the current government, primarily because they are unable to financially survive if they remain independent. A white vote seems to be the only available instrument. The only possible answer.

And finally, this rebellion (we should not shy away from calling it rebellion, since it is justified and franklly a very innocent one), is being systematically discouraged by urging everyone to fully understand the current political reality. Politics is the art of the possible, isn’t it? The society is, unfortunately, the way it is, no radically new political options exists, so the only rational decision is to choose among existing parties. In other words, think inside the box. White voters, conversely, are trying to think outside the box, in order to create new policy options. And no one can say how “realistic” this is if one does not try. If something is impossible within given circumstances, one may need to change the circumstances. Often, throughout history, “new options” were created exactly in this way despite the conservative warnings that “it’s not realistic”. One must particularly be careful when calls for reason are made by those who are a part of the existing “alternatives”. The society is the way it is, that’s true, but the white votes are part of the society, too.

Finally, we must admit that reasons favouring white votes are not always very convincing, and many of them are certainly not rational. Some include those that I cite here as well. But there is apparently something else, something more basic. As it’s usually the case with people, the reasons given in favour of white votes might also be a simple rationalization of feelings one wishes to express. A person has an inherent need to express and share his thoughts with others, but much more he needs to express his feelings as they are a precious part of each and everyone’s personality. With them, more than with his rational thought, a person confirms his presence in the world and the society. The feeling the white voter wishes to express is: I may be powerless, but still, I refuse to play along! This action then becomes a matter of self-defense, a way to protect one’s dignity.

One person who is part of the “existing options”, someone who is part of our frozen, forever given “reality,” on his website expressed his attitude toward white papers in a brutally honest way (with huge bold letters): “You have the right to elect : Vote or shut up! “. (okay, okay, it’s Dragan Djilas.) What arrogance, what insolence, what malicious mocking of the voter.

This is why I think that the supposedly critical argument against white ballot: “And, what will you accomplish with this?” is extremely shortsighted and unthoughtful. In our actions we are not always guided by immediate outcomes. As Bora Cosic would say, the victory belongs to the winner, everything else belongs to the looser.

Those who suffer from a irresistible political itch can hardly understand how the needs and capabilities of people exceed by far the reflexes of heedless political activism. Sometimes, selfrestraint it is also necessary. Very often this may be the best thing to do.

Pešč, 05.05.2012.

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Srđa Popović (1937-2013), jugoslovenski advokat ljudskih prava. Branio mladog Zorana Đinđića, Brigitte Mohnhaupt (Baader-Meinhof), Vojislava Šešelja, Dušana Makavejeva, Milorada Vučelića, Mihajla Markovića, Miću Popovića, Predraga Čudića, Nebojšu Popova, Vladimira Mijanovića (Vlada Revolucija), Milana Nikolića, Mihajla Mihailova, Dobroslava Paragu, Milana Milišića, Vladimira Šeksa, Andriju Artukovića, Beogradsku šestoricu, profesore izbačene sa Filozofskog fakulteta... Pokretač peticija za ukidanje člana 133 (delikt govora), ukidanje smrtne kazne, uvođenje višestranačja u SFRJ... 1990. pokrenuo prvi privatni medij u Jugoslaviji, nedeljnik Vreme. Posle dolaska Miloševića na vlast iselio se u SAD, vratio se 2001. Poslednji veliki sudski proces: atentat na Zorana Đinđića. Govorio u 60 emisija Peščanika. Knjige: Kosovski čvor 1990, Put u varvarstvo 2000, Tačka razlaza 2002, Poslednja instanca I, II, III 2003, Nezavršeni proces 2007, One gorke suze posle 2010.

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