Photo: Predrag Trokicic
Photo: Predrag Trokicic

Let’s start with the good news. There aren’t any. Let’s try again. Good news is, for example, that the regime no longer holds over two thirds of the National parliament, which means that it’s no longer possible for them to make changes to the Constitution such as, for example, declaring Vucic president-for-life. I’m trying to say that the good news is that this is Vucic’s last term as president, and not because we can be sure that the people of Serbia won’t elect him again in five years, but simply because the Constitution forbids him from serving any further terms. The bad news is that he can return as prime minister.

Was this what the opposition was so happy about last night? If so, no one said it. Instead, they said they were happy about the fact that they’ve made it into Parliament. And that there is hope that they will win the majority in Belgrade. They didn’t, and that was already clear last night. And not when Vucic announced it. Crta (as well as Cesid) gave projections similar to Vucic’s. And when they did, it became clear that Belgrade was not going to happen either. I am sure that the opposition had its own preliminary results last night and that those results said the same thing. But after they raised all our hopes, it was as if they were sorry to tell us the truth.

We could tell that the candidates of “United for victory” were sorry by their faces. They were the only ones who behaved appropriately – defeated. Because the regime practically annihilated the opposition once again yesterday. However, the opposition outside of the coalition “United for victory” was overwhelmed with joy. We have passed the census, they shouted. But, if we’re being honest, only the “Hope” coalition really did this. All others remained below the 5% threshold. But the census threshold is 3%, I hear you say! Yes, since 2020. Let’s remember that the regime lowered the threshold from 5% to 3% back then.

In 2020, the opposition didn’t welcome that regime’s decision. Far from it. It was bait for the “traitors” in the opposition’s ranks to go to the polls, although the election conditions were far from fair and free. That 3% threshold was a substitute, a consolation prize, a bribe for the opposition. Here’s a 3% census, but you won’t get fair and free elections – this is how this was understood among the opposition. Two years later, the 3% census is still in place, but now the opposition celebrates it. But they fail to explain what has changed since 2020 that has made the 3% threshold acceptable.

Because, judging by the objections of the opposition, the elections we had yesterday were not free and fair either. And yet – they are happy. Radiant faces all around, except among the “United for victory”. They are the only ones who remained consistent. Their goal, as their name suggests, was victory. The goal is not fulfilled, so there is no reason for joy. To the others, it was as if the goal was just to make it above the already absurdly low census. They’ve achieved that goal, but what does that mean for the people of Serbia? Do they also have reasons for happiness, when a good part of the opposition is already rejoicing? Do your fellow citizens look happy this morning?

It is difficult to make comparisons between election results in Serbia – there are no stable actors and coalitions in the elections, so every comparison is also an interpretation of who is who compared to previous elections, which new actors should we compare to which actors from 2020. With this said, one could argue that Zdravko Ponos’s result now is almost identical to the result of Sasa Jankovic in the last election. Back then we thought that this result gives Jankovic the right to enter politics with a real chance to build a future election victory on the votes won. That didn’t happen. Therefore, one shouldn’t get carried away by Ponos’s results.

If we compare the results of these elections with the ones the opposition boycotted in 2020, it seems like a good number of SPS voters should be counted among the voters of the so-called boycott opposition. In yesterday’s elections, the SPS got significantly more votes than in 2020, and practically returned to the results from 2016. That does not mean that the SPS should be considered a potentially serious opposition protagonist. We know, of course, that this is not the case. And since that is not the case, one should stop believing in the fairy tale about passive voters of the opposition. Increased turnout is not a solution for the opposition in the fight against the regime.

These elections have shown that with increased turnout, the number of votes for at least some regime parties is growing. What is the solution for the opposition, then, if there is no additional tank from which to draw the required number of votes? These elections have shattered another myth, and it was high time for that: Serbia is not a divided society. On the contrary – Serbia is a very homogeneous, radically right-wing society. The crowd on that right wing is so big, and the differences so small, that it is unclear how a wider space could be created for right-wing opposition protagonists.

So, the space to the left of center is empty for a reason. This is also evident from the results of “Moramo”: with a serious census, they would not enter the parliament. I believe that what positive results they got are more due to the protest against Rio Tinto, which had elements of strong anti-Western sentiment, than to their left-wing policies and calls for solidarity. The results “Moramo” got in Belgrade should again be interpreted through the lens of the fact that ideology is somewhat less important in local elections: therefore, their leftism did not cause them much damage in Belgrade. But, it should be noted, both in Belgrade and national elections, “Moramo” did worse than public polls predicted.

“Moramo” is the only coalition whose presidential candidate did worse than the coalition itself. All other presidential candidates practically pulled their coalitions over the finish line, winning more votes than the political groups they represented. Which could again be interpreted as a confirmation of the extremely homogenized and radically right-wing electorate in Serbia. There is only one other hurdle in this regard. The handful of leftists that we have in Serbia show a tendency to turn sharply to the right when a crisis like the war in Ukraine happens. Thus, the local left is proving to be more anti-Western than actually left-wing. However, “Moramo” proved to be an exception to this.

In this regard, the fact that they managed to cross the “new” national census threshold should be considered a success. But, “Moramo” and the rest of the left really need to ask themselves what they are doing so desperately wrong that in a country where the working class is in ruins in every (material) sense, they still need a lot of luck to make it over the census threshold (however low), and celebrate when they manage even that much.

When all is said and done, it seems that Vucic has created a Serbia where everyone is satisfied. Even the opposition, happy about making it over the census. Only “United for victory” allowed themselves to really think about that victory. Hence, their disappointment is the greatest. But it is also the only thing that makes sense – one must enter elections against this regime only in order to win. However, they articulate their disappointment as a series of complaints about the regime’s election theft. After the boycott from 2020, this is no longer valid. You chose to participate in the elections, you either control the polls or you don’t. If you don’t, and the regime steals, it is no longer the fault of the regime, but a recognition of your inability to perform the necessary work on election day.

Complaining about the Republic Electoral Commission, its refusal to report on the results on election night, makes no sense. What did you expect? Did you expect the REC to do your job? Wasn’t one of the strongest messages from your campaign that this regime has destroyed all institutions and practically privatized them, and that it, therefore, needs to be replaced at any cost? Why would the REC be an exception? Instead of crying over the REC, “United for victory” should have come out with their own results, just as Vucic did. Or at least to say that they rely on the results of Crta. But that was not an option, because they kept assuring us that they had enough controllers at the polls.

And then, on election night, they practically admitted that they were able to control the polls only in the cities. It turns out that wasn’t enough, not even close. There’s your homework for the next election.

Vucic’s regime is a catastrophe of biblical proportions for Serbia, alike to Noah’s Flood. But, since we’ve been underwater for a decade already, it is time to finally learn how to swim. Therefore, I will finish with a bit of optimism: the fact that several parties, coalitions and movements from the opposition managed to enter the Parliament will, at least partially, solve the issue of finances for them. With that money, they can strengthen their organizations and prepare for the next elections. If this is what they were happy about – so be it. But it is also possible that they were only happy about the money they will receive.  If this is the case, then they, like their political predecessors, will simply – drown.

Translated by Marijana Simic

Pešč, 11.04.2022.

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Dejan Ilić (1965, Zemun), urednik izdavačke kuće FABRIKA KNJIGA i časopisa REČ. Diplomirao je na Filološkom fakultetu u Beogradu, magistrirao na Programu za studije roda i kulture na Centralnoevropskom univerzitetu u Budimpešti i doktorirao na istom univerzitetu na Odseku za rodne studije. Objavio je zbirke eseja „Osam i po ogleda iz razumevanja“ (2008), „Tranziciona pravda i tumačenje književnosti: srpski primer“ (2011), „Škola za 'petparačke' priče: predlozi za drugačiji kurikulum“ (2016), „Dva lica patriotizma“ (2016), „Fantastična škola. Novi prilozi za drugačiji kurikulum: SF, horror, fantastika“ (2020) i „Srbija u kontinuitetu“ (2020).

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