We’ve had four elections in the past four years: two national (with one local), one presidential, and one Belgrade election. The Belgrade election was expected to be Vucic’s first big defeat. When this didn’t happen, many authors analysed the defeat of the opposition to the tiniest detail. They mostly criticized the opposition, their tactical mistakes, the number of columns, the unfair election conditions, they gave advice on the things they should have done (boycott the elections and the parliament, look for new politics and new people), but also dealt with deeper causes of the defeat, which were attributed to the utter demise of Serbian society as a whole (Ljubodrag Stojadinovic). The most far-reaching conclusions were made by Dejan Ilic (“We’ve butchered the ox”) and they motivated me to join the discussion on Pescanik.
He dared to make the blasphemous claim that the defeat of the opposition and convincing victory of the regime shouldn’t be attributed to electoral theft, bought votes, and unfair conditions, all of which are indisputable. The voters have chosen Vucic’s party for Belgrade on their own free will and, by doing so, made it clear that they don’t mind when someone stomps all over democracy. It is a matter of basic democratic values, in both this and previous elections. The regime keeps stomping over them on a daily basis. And the citizens of Belgrade have agreed to this. They know that the president is lying to them, yet they keep voting for him, because they don’t mind being lied to. They don’t have a problem with the fact that the president has usurped all state resources and stomped over all institutions, as long as they can expect a crumb or two from his table to fall into their lap. Waiting to gain some tangible benefit, the voters have given up their right to democratic self-government.
Ilic has a point. Keeping in mind Serbia’s thirty years of experience swinging back and forth between autocracy and democracy, and particularly the 1990s when the level of citizens’ mobilization was very high, his remark that the majority of voters (whether they are rich or poor, we know almost nothing about that) has given up on democracy – seems true to me. This happened during the intense transitions after October 5th, when parts of the middle class fell apart and lost their ideological and value-based commitment to democracy which they’d nurtured during the 1990s. Some of them were given an opportunity to use state resources to gain business and financial privileges and became dependent upon and sucked into regime structures. They relativized their ideology and democratic values, which made it easy for them to fly over to whichever party was in power. This became the dominant mode of behaviour. Other members of the middle class were disappointed and left politics, while only a small portion of them remained politically active in opposition parties, or actively support certain political parties or movements.
The weakening and loss of ideological and value-based politics and the „legalization“ of interest-based conversions from one ruling party to another, has caused a weakening of political mobilization and an increased distrust in politics, which is reduced to partocracy and personal interests. Aleksandar Vucic’s rise to power has brought a significant blow to the democratic opposition (primarily DS): they were accused of destroying Serbia and nominally taken as an enemy which needs to be destroyed. And it seems that this has in fact happened, because the Belgrade election has mowed down all parliamentary parties which made it over the national census. With this, their previously weak position in the parliament was additionally weakened. But, Vucic can’t stand the parliament even existing, no matter how weak it is. He can’t suffer the opposition to exist. The ruling majority submitted 360 amendments to its own draft laws in order to prevent the opposition from speaking. This was already done once before and it seemed like an individual occurrence. But, it was not. Majority MPs openly said that they submitted the amendments to avoid listening to the opposition. And the minister of police threatened the opposition with an election, implying that the next election would throw them out of the parliament. There will be no more opposition.
The explanation for the demolition of democracy in Serbia, and not only in the form of unfair and carefully directed elections used by Vucic, but also in a more fundamental sense, as a deficit of citizens’ ideas and political determination, is a consequence of the fact that we live in a society that has been falling apart for 30 years without a hint of change. What, exactly, has changed that would make us believe that something different would happen in the Belgrade election? Why did we expect something to change? It is true that the social structure is more favourable in Belgrade, but the desertion from politics and the disappearance of democratic awareness are still there. The social strata that could be a backbone of democratic change don’t want to fight for political power. With the collapse of the state, the economy, and life opportunities, young and educated people are directed to leave Serbia. They are not interested in Serbia any more. The youth don’t support Vucic, but they’re also not planning to fight him. They’re planning to leave. The other strata of society have no democratic capacity. The poor are chewing on the bones of state and social firms, which have been closed for 25 years. They live at the mercy of the authorities, desperate, but they are not candidates for organized resistance. Neither are the workers of private factories, which prohibit trade union organization. Civil servants and employees in public companies are part of the clientelistic network and are the backbone of the regime.
The Belgrade election has confirmed that there is no escape, except that this ruler is bound to trip over himself someday, just like his predecessors. But this natural downhill rolling never brought anything. Serbia went down the wrong street with Milosevic. We did not manage to get rid of Milosevic’s nationalist politics, which set wrong-headed goals that will never come to pass. This prolonged rotting in the atmosphere of the impossible, of wars and crime, left us with 20 to 30 percent of anti-regime votes in every election. These are the voters who support democracy, but are wandering around from one party and movement to another in confusion. They regularly go to the polls and vote against Vucic. But this is not enough, since a majority of people vote for the ruling party by default, as Dejan Ilic wrote.
His realistic claim that the citizens of Serbia freely and consciously vote for the personal power of the ruler, because the values of democracy in society have disappeared and lost their social foundation, is more acceptable than deceiving ourselves that we’ll succeed if we only bring the abstinent to the polls, or that the majority is actually against the authoritarian regime, we just need to reach out to them and understand their social and life problems. After the Belgrade election, it is even less clear how all of this can be untangled, not counting the external factors which regularly win at home.
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).