Boycotting an election is a desperate and harmful way to fight an authoritative regime. There is not a single reason to claim that the boycott was a success in the June 2020 parliamentary election. In the time of parliamentary elections, boycott and success are incompatible. The only thing one could even point to as a measure of success is the percentage of voters who didn’t show up on election day. And that percentage was greater this time than usual in Serbian elections. That was a consequence of the boycott, but Vucic got his 60 percent, i.e. 2 million votes, and won a huge majority in the parliament which is now entirely without opposition. In fact, we got a one-party parliament which is destroying the very idea of parliamentarism. I am once again returning to this topic because we’re already hearing about a possible boycott of the election announced for the beginning of 2022. My goal is to show that the last boycott strengthened Vucic’s autocracy and turned the parliament into another tabloid which unleashes various monstrous clones.
Chronologically, since 2018 and the renewed civil protests, the opposition and its main coalition – the Alliance for Serbia, together with the citizens, demanded fair elections and the rule of law (which is written in the famous Agreement with the People). The government didn’t even think for a second to try to regulate the election conditions, even when in 2019 the official negotiations between the government and the opposition began. This didn’t even happen when the EU representatives mediated the negotiations. Since then, a strong opposition campaign to boycott the fraudulent elections began. After the elections passed, Vucic, on his own, almost immediately and without any consultations, set April 3, 2022, as the day when the regular presidential, Belgrade and early parliamentary elections will be held. At first glance, that might have seemed like a small victory, but it soon became clear that the decision to merge these three elections was actually directly beneficial for Vucic.
After the boycott, a mere two weeks later, to my disappointment, although it was not my political choice, the Alliance for Serbia, which led the boycott and arbitrated who is and who is not the real opposition, disintegrated. The parties and movements it gathered went their own ways, with the intention to strengthen themselves, because almost all of them were, more or less, political models, without any organization or rating. Their seemingly inevitable conflicts also emerged. At the same time, the idiotic plan to boycott the 2022 elections, if Vucic does not give in regarding the election conditions, came into play again. Zoran Lutovac stated that the fight for election conditions is the main topic for DS, which deals with the “real-life problems of citizens,” whatever that means; Vuk Jeremic is preparing for the elections much more broadly in terms of programs and infrastructure, an area where he has been weak so far, by his own admission. The People’s Party is seemingly preparing for the elections, but their final decision will depend on the election conditions. Djilas is still undecided, and Bosko Obradovic seems to have separated himself from this group. The comical Russophile Mladjan Djordjevic, otherwise known as Djilas’ godfather and Tadic’s former adviser for Serbs outside Serbia, announced his presidential candidacy and has already started the campaign, but in a strictly pro-boycott manner. He announced another boycott purgatory and has already apodictically threatened: “Elections will be free or there will be no elections” (Danas, December 10).
In this opposition confusion, which is difficult to describe, the key question is whether it is realistic to expect that Vucic will accept democratic conditions for the triple elections in 2022, i.e. make at least some concessions that the opposition could accept? It seems to me that it is not realistic to expect that, having in mind Vucic’s current behavior and events in the current one-party parliament. The impression is that the government is attacking more severely and more brazenly than ever before, and it was already horrible before. The hope remains that the mediation of the EU MPs will enable normal and acceptable elections, but even those hopes are not justified. The EU cannot overthrow autocracies and introduce democracy, which is confirmed by some of the member countries currently going down the autocratic path, with the EU clearly powerless to convert them into democracies. Citing the example of Macedonia would be inappropriate, because the situations in Serbia and Macedonia are fundamentally different. The third possibility is to hope for some miracle, an unpredictable random factor, which is always possible, but it cannot be discussed in advance. The fourth possibility is for this society and its opposition to fight for democracy on their own (outside help is welcome), if they are prepared for a hard fight against Vucic’s government.
If the opposition has to rely on its own strengths and the strength of society, that means that the upcoming elections and the fight against the regime need to be thought of in a new way. I will not talk about what a successful political platform could look like, but only about a change in behavior and organization. The opposition is neither active enough nor combative enough. This excludes Marinika Tepic’s attacks against cases of corruption, on the street or sometimes in the parliament, which are useful and courageous. The opposition must fight in all fields and participate in all elections called by the autocrat, regardless of the election conditions. Elections are always a chance for a new battle. The ideology of surrender that has dominated so far, as well as the clear sense of complacency, must be left behind. The lack of fighting spirit was evident on July 7, when spontaneous demonstrations broke out and when police brutally attacked young protesters. All the leaders of the opposition were there, but stated that they came as ordinary citizens, after which some of them went home peacefully, where they continued to watch Vucic’s overwhelming force confronting the protesters, just like ordinary citizens.
The withdrawal of the opposition can no longer be tolerated when it comes to the unprecedented and daily demonization of Dragan Djilas. The boycott led to a one-party parliament and thus the very notion of parliamentarism was destroyed. This is evident in the difference between the previous parliamentary convocation which had a parliamentary opposition, and the current one which doesn’t. The parliament has become a place of systemic attacks against citizens, yet another source of deadly propaganda which is broadcasted free of charge by RTS throughout the day.
We are no longer talking about the old skirmish between the government and the opposition. Now, a machine gun has been placed in the Parliament, and it keeps opening fire on actors, on public figures, and on whoever is designated a legitimate target. Until now, public figures were butchered by tabloids, and now they are put on the “parliamentary agenda.” We used to watch SNS professionals showing us papers and charts and attacking the opposition MPs who were present and who could respond to their imaginary attacks. Since now there is no opposition, President Vucic and his clique got another arena all to themselves, in which they have already gotten very comfortable. Risticevic, Seselj, Martinovic and other famous circus performers who challenged the opposition to a duel are no longer the stars. The parliamentary opposition was few in number, but still eloquent and trained to respond to the “masters” in equal measure. When those battles got started, you knew that the parliamentary circus was in town. Looking back, this now seems like the golden age of Serbian circus parliamentarism.
That has changed now. This is no longer a circus. A well-oiled machine of young clones was brought to the Parliament, as if they were trained at some kind of academy for idiots or robots with no words or thoughts of their own, who just repeat the same attacks countless times. Those with the best grades are prepared to relentlessly glorify their leader, Aleksandar Vucic, by rote. After them, comes the team for the demonization of Dragan Djilas, repeating the same horrible attacks ad nauseam. Such are their orders. Djilas must be demonized, Vucic must be glorified. This is done by young and new forces from special schools in which fascist barbarism is thought. Someone may say my words are too strong. I say that they are fascists, idiots and fools, because they all have to speak on command, to glorify their leader to the heavens and back and endlessly demonize his enemy. These idiots were chosen to be the people’s representatives based on the degree of their ruthlessness and the obedience they demonstrate. Don’t ask questions and do what you’re told. If you do what you are told, you will get the next mandate.
The opposition must work at full strength under all electoral conditions and put itself at the forefront of the resistance in all situations. They’ve used the boycott option once; it is not something that should be done twice. And if they still decide to do it, there will be no more opposition, nor anyone to mourn them. The boycott has exposed the government, but we’ve paid for it dearly by the total humiliation of the parliament, in which little clones now reign in a fascist manner. It has been reduced to the tabloid level, which is humiliating for all citizens. The government and Vucic, who is up for re-election, have received all-day unpaid propaganda for the upcoming elections. That is why his little clones constantly glorify him as the one and only leader. So now everyone knows who the great leader of Serbia is, even those who managed to remain unaware until now. And they all know about the terrifying demon Djilas who should avoided on the ballot at all costs. The opposition did not intend to turn the assembly into a tabloid machine gun. But that’s exactly what happened. “Stripping” the artifice from Vucic through a boycott was obviously not the way to go. That card was bad, and anyway, it has now been played.
Translated by Marijana Simic
Vesna Pešić, političarka, borkinja za ljudska prava i antiratna aktivistkinja, sociološkinja. Diplomirala na Filozofskom fakultetu u Beogradu, doktorirala na Pravnom, radila u Institutu za društvene nauke i Institutu za filozofiju i društvenu teoriju, bila profesorka sociologije. Od 70-ih pripada peticionaškom pokretu, 1982. bila zatvarana sa grupom disidenata. 1985. osnivačica Jugoslovenskog helsinškog komiteta. 1989. članica Udruženja za jugoslovensku demokratsku inicijativu. 1991. članica Evropskog pokreta u Jugoslaviji. 1991. osniva Centar za antiratnu akciju, prvu mirovnu organizaciju u Srbiji. 1992-1999. osnivačica i predsednica Građanskog saveza Srbije (GSS), nastalog ujedinjenjem Republikanskog kluba i Reformske stranke, sukcesora Saveza reformskih snaga Jugoslavije Ante Markovića. 1993-1997. jedna od vođa Koalicije Zajedno (sa Zoranom Đinđićem i Vukom Draškovićem). 2001-2005. ambasadorka SR Jugoslavije, pa SCG u Meksiku. Posle gašenja GSS 2007, njegovim prelaskom u Liberalno-demokratsku partiju (LDP), do 2011. predsednica Političkog saveta LDP-a, kada napušta ovu partiju. Narodna poslanica (1993-1997, 2007-2012).