boycott stickers
Photo: Pescanik

Anyone remotely familiar with the political situation in Serbia knows that the opposition is under enormous pressure and without any chance of becoming part of the system. Public debate on any important issue, including democratic elections, is impossible. Political organizations and their leaders are exposed to harassment, insults, and lies in almost all public media, and president Vucic is personally waging this relentless war through his tabloids, criminal gangs, and official servants (since there are no more government employees). Not only are the individual parties and their leaders subjected to discrimination and humiliation, but also individuals who dare to lift their heads (like doctors and nurses during a pandemic) are threatened with dismissals if they point to irregularities and corruption.

The policy of this internal war is inexorable, thus non-governmental organizations are also under attack, especially one specific organization focusing on the defense of the capital city. I am referring to Ne da(vi)mo Beograd (Don’t Let Belgrade D(r)own), an organization that has been defending Belgrade for years now from the corrupt hordes of the regime which plunder the city, destroying its green areas for the benefit of privileged investors, without sparing even the cultural and urban values of the city, or normal life of its citizens. This organization, too, has experienced a “thousand blows,” a sea of complaints, fines, and now, a break-in into their offices during the night. I want to stress this latest attack on a respectable association to emphasize that we live in a state of war in which the pathological needs of commander Vucic create a reality from which there is no way out. Institutions that could tame unchecked personal power (which is also a trend in the world, best manifested by president Trump) are unable to do that, because they are also under control. The prosecutor’s office, the courts, the police and other independent institutions are under control, as well as all major media, which are mere weapons of Vucic’s propaganda and incessant campaigns. After this crippled election, we see that he does not need the National assembly or the government. Even three months after the parliamentary elections, he doesn’t allow the constitution of the Assembly and the government, those basic institutions of the state – making that old quote, L’état, c’est moi, literally true in the case of Serbia. There is no longer a place for social peace to be declared or a new social contract to be made, a contract whose normative framework would guarantee freedom, rule of law, and real liberalization of society, media, and all individuals as equal citizens, as a condition for the democratic order which is currently suspended. Although it is known, I want to stress that the Serbian state was destroyed by corruption and crime. It is dominated by particracy, mass clientelism, pressure from criminal groups, and vote buying. And votes are for sale among the poorest and most discriminated groups, such as Roma.

An unscrupulous and privileged interest group of Vucic’s people is hiding and flourishing behind this collapsed state. Its survival is maintained by domination on the internal level, while in external communication Vucic is conspicuously submissive, contrite, and cooperative. When he finds himself in front of those stronger than him in the global arena, they become his protectors because, through him, they achieve their goals, which primarily refers to resolving the Kosovo issue. He weakens society and the opposition from the inside, and strengthens allies from the outside for his internal domination.

Since this is the situation, the question arises whether it makes sense to criticize and call on the existing opposition to account for its actions so far. I think such a call to account is necessary. The opposition has to be held accountable for its actions; according to democratic procedure, there must be some criterion of success and quality of work of Savez za Srbiju (The Alliance for Serbia), the main political organization in the last two years. Individual parties that are members of SZS are also accountable. The day after, when the question about what happens after the boycott arises, is here. What are the benefits or harms of the boycott, as the basic strategic commitment of SZS? How much will it hurt the opposition’s chances in the 2022 elections, since it has no representatives in any Belgrade municipality (except in Stari grad and Vracar), nor in municipalities across Serbia, when both local Belgrade elections and presidential elections are ahead of us? We see that the Democratic party (DS) has disintegrated, that Lutovac and his followers keep annulling the decisions of the statutory commission, suspending its members and making a list of people to be expelled from the party, without discussing their supposed trespasses or his goals. He said that Balsa Bozovic was guilty because he helped collect signatures for the election in two Belgrade municipalities. What kind of sin is that? For the other names on the list, we don’t even get the privilege of knowing that much about their crimes. Many members of the party were declared “coup plotters” and “Vucic’s men” because they, allegedly, tried to take over the DS on Vucic’s orders. I wonder what Vucic needs Democrats for, when he has so many members of his own party. Under whose control is Lutovac, who are his associates (besides Dragana Rakic), and why did he, as the president of the party, not work on its unity, instead choosing conflicts and disintegration, as if he was working for the enemies of DS? We also have no information about Djilas’ party, how much it has benefited from the boycott, how many boards it has formed, how many members it has, when was the last meeting of the governing board, etc. This also applies to Vuk Jeremic’s party, because he complained about being very busy gathering controllers for the next election. According to him, there are none. Did any party actually profit from the boycott, are they now stronger, do they have new members and supporters? Has SZS as a whole grown and become stronger? Research doesn’t indicate this. On the contrary, it shows that the synergy has failed. What is certainly lost and deficient is the most important thing for a successful policy: an ideological profile and definition of those parties. Even those who once had their own values and identity, have now immersed them in the collective ideology of boycott and harmonization within SZS, due to the heterogeneous ideologies of the member parties. The impression is that the opposition is at a loss due to the boycott of the elections, both collectively and on the level of individual parties.

What happened “the day after” is that SZS disintegrated two weeks after the election, and, instead, a new loose opposition association (UOS) was formed. It, however, also turned out to be shaky and prone to failure, if it hasn’t failed already. It is now said that the parties will have more chances to strengthen individually in order to strengthen the whole of the opposition and prepare for a joint appearance in the 2022 elections. Without going into details, it seems to me that the boycott of the elections was a strategy of surrender of the opposition, due to both terror of the regime and the opposition’s own unpreparedness. It is yet to recover from its weakness, ideological confusion, and the unpopularity of its leaders (the worst was the spontaneous protest of citizens on July 7, when all SZS leaders declared that they came as ordinary citizens and then dispersed), which is why the boycott seemed like the best solution.

SZS turned the boycott into a quasi-ideology that determined who was the real opposition and who was a traitor of the boycott if they dared to actually vote against Vucic. The boycott actually only became a solution in a situation in which the opposition had no chance to get a good result in the election, both because of the electoral terror of the regime, and because of the weakness and political inarticulation of the opposition itself. When the (unequal) fight for votes was rejected, the boycott itself became an exclusive ideology: either you are with us, within the real opposition (which includes only the boycotters), or you are a traitor, as the Movement of free citizens found out when they decided to participate in the election. This SZS policy had negative consequences and weakened the parties that nurture internal democracy, such as DS.

It is also unclear why the old guard from the previous government returned to politics, which refers primarily to Djilas and Jeremic, who should be retired: Jeremic was the minister of foreign affairs in the previous government for six years. The public expects new people, with new energy, new ideas and attractive programs, just like in Montenegro. Such comparisons are rarely appropriate, in this case also because Montenegro, under the leadership of Milo Djukanovic, was far ahead of Serbia in foreign policy. Nevertheless, the assumption is that new political forces are needed in Serbia. And by that I mean only those new forces who could present an alternative that would stop Vucic’s endless milking of the Kosovo issue, which keeps him in power. He knows this and is making sure that the milk doesn’t run out for as long as possible. The pathetic mobster who rules Serbia today can only be brought down by a proper alternative that could gain support and manage to block him from both outside and inside. Today’s opposition is not able to do that and that is why its expiration date has come. It is fair to say that the boycott was not without merit, because its strongest effect was to expose the fact that the government of Aleksandar Vucic has abolished the multi-party system and introduced a one-party system, which is why democratic elections aren’t even necessary. When a country goes back so far and gets stuck in retrograde more than once, which has happened to us, it is very difficult to establish pluralism, free society, and democracy out of a one-party system and autocracy. The example of Montenegro doesn’t help Serbia, because the situation there was not as retrograde as in Serbia, nor was the country ruled by a madman. And today’s world, as Svetlana Slapsak said, is full of madmen in power. In that respect, we are merely keeping up with the trend.

Translated by Marijana Simic

Pešč, 21.09.2020.

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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).

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