Fist of the 2000 Otpor (Resistance) movement
Fist of the 2000 Otpor (Resistance) movement, photo: Ivana Tutunovic Karic

For years, Pescanik has been a place for discussion about the legality and legitimacy of elections in Serbia. In 2012, when there was an almost legendary discussion about blank ballots, the question asked was something like this: could a lack of good political options, lack of ideas from political parties, and their focus on themselves instead of on social problems, be exposed by a mass blank vote?

Some even suggested voting for Tomislav Nikolic, a representative of today’s omnipotent party, for the same reason. Not because of any actual, genuine support for Nikolic, but as a protest because his electoral opponents, who were the “lesser evil” (this, at least, was not up for debate), made little or no effort to be good and responsible representatives of the citizens who elected them.

It turned out that blank ballots, protest vote for Nikolic, or plain election abstinence, didn’t led to the expected result in 2012. The lesser evil did not become better and more enlightened. Let’s remember for a moment that Boris Tadic is currently “liberating Vracar.” Although he barely collected signatures for its liberation, he expects to win the municipal elections. While, at the same time, boycotting the national elections. So, the main target of all forms of election protests in 2012 is still hopelessly wandering the political sky, with no prospect of finally retiring, as he promised to do more than eight years ago. The only thing that happened to us politically in 2012, which is worth mentioning, is the political disaster we are currently dealing with.

Those who, back in 2012, rushed to explain that while the elections may formally be free, the choices on offer are such that they should be urgently rebelled against, are now showing the same level of consistency as Tadic. If, they predicted back then, we hit rock bottom (the Radicals), we will experience an enlightenment that will lead to a change of government. As in any other democratic country. This hope for the changeability of government leads us directly to the present moment.

Since then, we have all become quite familiar with rock bottom. I guess now is the time for that expected electoral enlightenment?

This is the only way to explain the fact that the pioneers of most of the actions from 2012 are racing today with equal ferocity to explain to us that, while the elections scheduled for June 21st may not be fair and honest (abbreviated from equal, general, free, secret, direct and personal), we should still participate because – get this – the conditions may never be better. And it is quite certain that they will be worse. Although they used to be better.

Maybe in the period from 2012 to 2020 we now go to the polls under threat of being fired, with a request to provide proof of voting for the ruling party. Maybe the Bulgarian train is circulating under the protection of the state and para-state apparatus. Maybe the police are securing local elections in the smallest municipalities. Maybe they make voter lists in residential buildings, local communities, public bodies, and companies, and maybe they threaten us if we want to run as an undirected and insufficiently controlled opposition. Maybe there’s no place for the opposition to be heard in the public, no way for us to even find out it exists. Or maybe we can only hear about its many sins that make it practically non-existent.

Maybe the ruling party has control over the voting list, uses food as bribery, conditions social welfare with a vote and loyalty to the only existing political figure. Maybe it formed a Taskforce for coordination and monitoring the implementation of recommendations for the improvement of the election process, which won’t do anything within its jurisdiction, because it never really had any jurisdiction. Maybe that same party is blatant enough to conduct elections during an epidemic of a particularly contagious disease.

Maybe in this period, opposition political actors, instead of the media space that belongs to them by law, received death threats and metal bars to the head. Maybe in those conditions, we all but missed one pre-election political assassination – that of Oliver Ivanovic. Maybe because of that, but also for some other reasons, citizens protested for months in dozens of cities and municipalities and independently (without political mediators) demanded equal application of the law, boycott of abused institutions, including the boycott of abused elections.

Many so-called opposition leaders, overwhelmed by greed or blackmail, have forgotten all this and started smiling to us from billboards and from the very media that was inaccessible to them until now.

Those who celebrate entering the National assembly on Sunday will have to do so – whether they want to or not – with full awareness that it happened only because the ruling party was afraid of its own looming reflection in the mirror. They did not like the thought of outside observers seeing what they really wanted for the past eight years come to fruition – all 250 MPs, every chancellor, every municipality and every city in the party’s pocket.

Those who become “MPs” on Sunday will be remembered as bribed or naive. Or both. But certainly not as people of their word.

It will be remembered that a dictator at the end of his reign lent them his resources – sympathizers, certifiers, billboards, media space. That he had changed the election law twice, the last time only a month before the elections, in an attempt to set that bar for fake pluralism low enough.

We will remember that marketing experts have humiliated some of them for all eternity; made us see their greed, vanity, and weakness of character so clearly.

All that will remain recorded, and the impressions will intensify every day that the president of the only party silences, humiliates, and punishes the opposition for expressed opinions and lack of loyalty though his puppets in the Parliament.

So, a significant portion of the political elite thought that 2012 was crucial for the election protest, and that today democracy in Serbia is to be defended by the absence of protests. With, so to speak, nonchalant participation in the elections. It is really difficult not to notice how unfounded in reality this attitude really is.

All that is violent and foul, like we saw in every election from 2012 until today, we will probably not see on Sunday. Or at least not to the same extent. Mostly those to whom the threat was forwarded a long time ago will go to the polls. Perhaps even those who still do not understand that a vote for the opposition at this moment is a vote for the colors of the background in the play that will maintain the Progressive party regime for some time to come.

The fact that the results are more or less known and that the violence won’t be as present on June 21st is already satisfaction enough for those who advocate a boycott of the elections. Voter turnout won’t be the sole measure of its success or failure. The idea of the boycott came from the desire for the violent force of the authorities to be removed from the election process, and for citizens to be able to run and vote freely. If the people who are the targets of the authorities’ violence and coercion don’t show up for the election – if they don’t run, or are at home, or do not answer their phones – the violence itself becomes meaningless. And disarmed.

The first goal – reduction of violence and pressure – may be at hand, but we will have to achieve everything else using alternative methods. We need to stay home on Sunday. It is a choice, although not an exercise of the right to vote.

The right to vote, which, in spite of everything, still belongs to us, although it was temporarily taken away, we will have to defend in the same place its institutionalization originated – on the street.

Translated by Marijana Simic

Pešč, 20.06.2020.

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Sofija Mandić je rođena 1986. u Novom Sadu. Diplomirana je pravnica, posrednica u mirnom rešavanju sporova i aktivistkinja za ljudska prava. Radi u Centru za pravosudna istraživanja (CEPRIS), a prethodno je bila angažovana u Beogradskom centru za bezbednosnu politiku i Nacionalnom demokratskom institutu. Generalna je sekretarka Peščanika, sa kojim sarađuje od 2007, kao učesnica u radijskim emisijama, a zatim i kao autorka tekstova. Autorka, koautorka i urednica je brojnih analiza o vladavini prava, stanju ljudskih prava u Srbiji i njihovoj perspektivi. Neke od skorašnjih su: Izbori pred Upravnim sudom 2022 – pregled postupanja i odluka (ur. CEPRIS, 2022), Izveštaj o javnosti rada Visokog saveta sudstva i Državnog veća tužilaca (CEPRIS, 2022), Sloboda izražavanja pred sudom (ur. SĆF, 2021-2022), Rad sudova tokom epidemije zarazne bolesti COVID-19 (OEBS, 2021), Ljudska prava u Srbiji (BCLJP, 2018-2021), Naša urušena prava (FES, 2019), Uslovi za izbor i napredovanje sudija i tužilaca u pravnom obrazovanju (CEPRIS, 2018), Skorašnji Ustav Srbije – rodna perspektiva (ŽPRS, 2017). Kao predstavnica civilnog društva učestvuje u procesu izrade komentara i mišljenja na izmene Ustava iz 2022, kao i zakona koji proizlaze iz ovih promena.

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