"Rainy Days" - An analysis of the failure of the recent Serbian presidential elections

On September 29, the first round of the Serbian Presidential elections was held. The two candidates, Kostunica (Democratic Party of Serbia) and Labus (Group of Citizens), went through to the second round, where Kostunica of the Democratic Party received a majority, but the turnout was so low, only 45.5% of the total electorate, that the elections were not valid. Goran M. in Belgrade, gives us an idea of the mood among the masses that has led to this stalemate. It was obvious that there was no enthusiasm for either of the two candidates or their pro-capitalist policies.

On September 29, the first round of the Serbian Presidential elections was held. The two candidates, Kostunica (Democratic Party of Serbia) and Labus (Group of Citizens), went through to the second round. Kostunica won 1,123,420 votes, 30.89 percent, while Labus won 995.200 votes, 27.36 percent. The remaining votes went to Seselj with 845,308 votes (23.24%), Draskovic with 159.959 votes (4.4%) and Pelevic with139.047 votes (3.82%), Zivojinovic with 119.052 votes (3,27%) and Nebojsa Pavkovic with 75.662 votes (2.08%), with the other candidates all receiving less than 2%. A total of 3,637,062 voters, or 55.5 percent of the total electorate voted in the first round. This was already quite a low turnout, but at least it was above the minimum 50% required by the electoral law for the elections to be valid. In the second round Kostunica of the Democratic Party received 66.9% and Labus 30.9%. But the turnout was so low, only 45.5% of the total electorate, that the elections were not valid. The elections will have to be held again!

In this article by a Yugoslav Marxist, we give an idea of the mood among the masses that has led to this stalemate. It was obvious in the first round that there was not much enthusiasm, but in the second round an absolute majority of Serbian voters clearly found no reason to support either of the two candidates or their pro-capitalist policies.

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The DOS establishment and its local apologists have once again shown us their capacity for hypocrisy and how low they are prepared to go in order to justify their own failures. As they have done in the past, government officials and their faithful servants (the media, political analysts, the NGO's.), have not refrained from making comments which insult the very intelligence of the average Yugoslav. This attitude is passing into an open form of antagonism to, and disgust with, the masses. Thus, in trying to escape reality, the main reason given by the majority of the country's 'analysts' for the failure of the elections in Serbia is the rain and the cold weather, which had supposedly forced people to stay at home!

The days in which the elections were held were indeed rainy and depressing. But most of all, in all probability, they were extremely depressing for the DOS itself, a coalition which had triumphantly come to power after the fall of Milosevic, and which now could not manage to inspire confidence even in one of its two candidates [Kostunica and Labus].

Of course, through its [the DOS'] various media campaigns we have all received a lesson on how Yugoslavs are, supposedly, very sensitive to the vicissitudes of the weather and that they are also a very 'lazy and primitive people' who lack the 'civil consciousness' of the 'European nations'. 'It's not difficult to be good-mannered' comes to mind as a good example. (This is a TV show that runs every evening after the news on national television. It is only a small part of the propaganda that the DOS is pushing in order to win support for "the transition". The main idea is to "teach" the Yugoslav masses how to act like "Europeans". Every evening they give lessons about "good manners" and they finish off with the line: "Let's live like the rest of the normal world!")

But, as if this were not enough, apart from the rain and the "primitive nature of the people", those poor presidential candidates had to overcome the further obstacle of that 'non-sensical', 'socialist' electoral law which states that more than half of the electorate needs to participate in the elections for these to be valid.

Suddenly, all their 'democratism', oath-taking to parliamentarism, and loyalty to the voice of the people have been thrown in the rubbish bin. 'Why should we waste money on elections when we don't win them?' the gentlemen from the DOS have been asking, 'Why insist on the idea that the majority of the people should take part in the elections?' Would it not be better to change the law to one's own advantage, or, even better, remove the cosmetics and have the president chosen by parliament - where there is a secured majority? Besides, it is in parliament that the cream of society is to be found, an elite which is able to take the important decisions, instead of those masses, who are not good-mannered, who do not understand the importance of the transition.

"A step further from the European Union"

In one united chorus the media immediately started to moan about the unsuccessful elections and have been trying to convince us that such 'irresponsibility' will cost us dearly. 'We are now a step further away from the European Union', one of these analysts was whining, after the final count of the percentage of the population that had voted in the second round of the presidential elections was announced.

But, after all, these very same gentlemen analysts and NGOs have discovered that everything is not so grim. We have finally had a modern electoral race with campaigns and candidates that reflect their counterparts in Europe. The world press went to great lengths to emphasise that the two leading candidates were 'democratically-oriented', moderate politicians, and who above all were supporters of the so-called 'reformist course' and the transition [i.e. of wholesale privatisation].

Ironically, it is that very 'flicker of light' [of Western style privatisation] - that all-important achievement of 'the young Yugoslav democracy', which the bourgeois press keeps on referring to - that explains the lack of interest on the part of the people, and the failure of the election.

Labus

That sparse minority that makes up the Belgrade 'middle-class' followed with great pride the feeble, unconvincing, and pre-arranged television "duel" between Kostunica and Labus, commenting on how finally in this country we have a 'civilised dialogue' and political culture without too many sharp words. But the majority of Yugoslavs asked themselves what all this was for? What is the difference between Kostunica and Labus? Yugoslavia had finally received its version of the Democrats and Republicans - its own brand of a coin with two faces.

Labus, tried to capitalise on the illusions which many Yugoslavs still have about the West. He entered the electoral race as the champion of "economic reform", the "candidate of the citizens", the independent "expert" who would bring the country close to shining Europe! He could only count, however, on the votes of those surviving middle classes and a part of the youth - those sections that retain the most illusions in the West. The working class and rural Serbia were looking to Labus but they saw through him and they recognised the hated image of Prime Minister Djindjic and his companions - the local business elite.

The working class, despite the aggressive media campaign, still rejects everything that is associated with Djindjic. They feel the open anti-working class tone of his rhetoric, and they are overcome by rage at the very sight of him. Although it is victim to various fantasies and propaganda, the working class in Yugoslavia, although still in a rather confused way, is beginning to understand the true meaning of the transition.

They have seen how the finance minister Djelic dealt with the bank workers and everyday they hear of the threats to sell off (state) firms, together with the lay-offs all this involves, and on top of this they are forced to listen to all the other mockery of Djindjic's ministers.

There was a well-known pre-election anecdote of a meeting between Labus and a peasant, which was an apt indicator of this mood. The peasant asks Labus for advice about his cows. The farmer asks Labus: " I own two cows. One of them gives 15 litres of milk and the other only 5. You are an educated man, you tell me, which one should I sell?" Labus answers: "Well, sell the one that gives less milk, of course!" Then the peasant answers back, "If that is the case, why do you sell the best state companies first?" Labus appeared to the workers, and justifiably so, to be a pawn of Djindjic and who knows who else.

Labus's electoral team tried to understand what made Kostunica so popular for the wider population - and they surprisingly stumbled upon an 'ingenious' conclusion - nationalism! Labus's campaign billboards were thus adorned in national colours, and carried slogans, which Seselj (the far right politician) himself could have adopted without any fear for his own reputation. Labus, in the middle of his campaign, suddenly decided to visit a monastery, and started using the Cyrillic alphabet to sign his name, and even the fact that his grandfather was an orthodox priest "accidentally" found its way into the press.

Instead of pushing the programme of the extreme "neo-liberal" wing of the DOS coalition and leading an openly anti-nationalist campaign, Labus tried to dress up in the clothes of nationalism, but without any luck. The hardened nationalists would never vote for him. And in the eyes of the majority of the population, who have had enough of nationalism in the last decade, he did not appear as radically different from the others and thus they remained apathetic.

It is also worth mentioning the dirty campaign which his team conducted. At times this was completely based on cheap insults against and mockery of Kostunica as a person. In this way they destroyed the media image of Labus as a 'sympathetic moderate intellectual'. Thus it was revealed that Labus was in no way an alternative to Kostunica. He was quite clearly ready to dress up in the clothes of Serbian nationalism, use cheap insults and promise anything, in order to grab power and to implement his (or, to put it more precisely), the IMF's economic programme.

Kostunica

Kostunica, by contrast, was absolutely convinced that victory was his. So sure was he that he did not even make the effort to think up a programme which he would, allegedly, implement. Relying on his trademark position - national pride and the already overdone story of a constitution, law and institutions of state - only towards the end did he add a few vague points such as battling crime. Furthermore, Kostunica finally became aware of his potentially most useful joker in the pack - the image of the man who would fight for the ordinary person in the street and halt 'unjust privatisation'. During his campaign, he only occasionally used this argument. But when did decide upon this risky feat it turned out to be the one that paid most dividends.

The DSS (Kostunica's party) and the other 'god-fearing patriots' still think they have enough room to present themselves as the lawful politicians who have not dirtied their hands. These "proud Serbs" hope that, when the ship starts sinking, they will be able to tell the people: 'It was not our fault! It was Djindjic and the mafia, which stands behind him. It is because of them that the transition has not succeeded!' Thus, the problem is not privatisation in itself - but the corrupt people who are implementing it.

Had he had more courage and built his whole campaign on this sort of anti-privatisation demagogy, not only would the elections have been successful, but Kostunica would have also won back the renown and eminence he had gained in the aftermath of October 5. Kostunica is hesitant about using anti-privatisation rhetoric because this would put into doubt the support of the Western bourgeois press, who might start questioning his 'democratic' credentials and his support for the transition.

Kostunica is a typical conservative, bourgeois politician, far from a fascist and not in the least inclined to Bonapartism, as the domestic 'left' is labeling him. The West has Kostunica, as well as all the other politicians, in their pocket. Kostunica does not have the strength of character to break away and to execute his own plans as Milosevic had once done, even though objectively he could do so. He is unconvincing and mild, and confused by his own petty-bourgeois illusions. When push comes to shove he is forced to back Djindjic's shock therapy economists and to admit that he supports the reforms from the depths of his soul, reforms that are 'of fundamental importance to our country'. Thus he is doomed to failure. Kostunica, who is reluctant to fence himself off completely form the sinking ship, has succeeded in losing the elections for which he had been already declared the winner.

The Success of the Far Right

Apart from the scarce interest shown by the electorate in the elections, the main surprise, for many was the high percentage won by the leader of the far right Serbian Radical Party (SRS) - Vojislav Seselj. Despite the fact that his campaign was very modest indeed (in comparison with the two candidates of the DOS), Seselj succeeded in winning 23% of the votes. Together with Kostunica's votes, it appears therefore that a majority of those who did vote chose the Right wing.

The Serbian Radical Party is one of the few 'real parties' on our political scene. 'Real' in the sense that it: cultivates its own cadres and a nucleus of activists, has a developed infrastructure across the whole country, has real representation among the workers, and fosters a real inner-party culture. Unlike the majority of small parties in the DOS which generally survive on the donations of wealthy backers and which are made up of a narrow circle of political careerists and business interest groups, the Radicals have stable foundations and even on bad days (from their point of view, after the October 5) they have succeeded in not slipping below three or four percent. Such a structure and organisation allows them to grow easily when the right conditions exist. Thus, Seselj's result is in no way a surprise and is not even the high-point of the Radicals' potential.

We pointed out long ago that the Right could easily make a huge comeback once the privatisation programme that the DOS is pursuing is discredited among the masses. At such a point the West would feel no revulsion at supporting an ultra-rightist force which could divert the anger of the working class and would continue the restoration of capitalism, but this time wrapped in the Serbian tricolour flag. If no clear leftist alternative (a workers' party) exists when such a scenario develops then the workers will once again be trapped in the snare of nationalist demagogy.

This moment, however, has not yet arrived. It is a fact that among the Serbian working class the virus of nationalism is still very much alive. These recent election results are a confirmation of this. But, stories of a so-called 'Serbian national being' and the incurable disease of nationalism, which will never let go, is an idiocy. The overall tendency within Serbian society these days is one of fading national sentiments. That tendency would be even clearer if the 'bourgeois option' did not hold back from a stand-off with nationalism because of its own opportunistic calculations.

Besides those 'incurable' elements - the ultra-nationalist wing - the majority of Seselj's votes come from normal people from the lower classes who are disillusioned with the politics of the DOS, and who have before them no alternative. The Socialist Party is so corrupted and obsessed with hiding its own crimes, that they are neither capable nor desirous of organizing themselves into a decent opposition party. Some kind of left reformist party is not even in the initial stages of being formed. Seselj is thus able to present himself as the only alternative to the establishment and many vote for him not because he struggles for 'Serbian lands', but because he 'criticises' Djindjic and co. Seselj has, unlike Kostunica, profited greatly from his criticisms of privatisation and the sale of state firms. Of course, Seselj does not criticize privatisation as such but 'the choice of buyers' and the price at which they are sold.

The working class, for lack of a better alternative, sees in Kostunica and Seselj characters with integrity, leaders who have an ear for 'the man in the street'. The workers hope that these individuals can at least offer some salvation from the apocalypse that is coming and from its most obvious prophets, the gang of slick talking yuppies gathered around Djindjic and the Democratic Party. In this way, many attempt to opt for the lesser of two evils. That is the explanation for the high percentage of votes that the Right has got, from those people who bothered to vote at all.

A Civil Society?

Still, the majority of the people have clearly refused to choose between the lesser of two evils! This is a huge encouragement to the Marxists of Yugoslavia. The boycott on the part of the majority of the population proves that the pro-European analysts, in a certain way were right, and that the laments of the NGOs are justified: Yugoslavs clearly do not have that 'civil consciousness of the Western nations'! But that is nothing new. The working class of the Balkans as long as six decades ago overcame and buried, apparently forever, the narrow canons of bourgeois democracy. Milosevic's was not overthrown at the ballot box either. We also reject this barren lie of bourgeois democracy called 'elections'. The only thing that the Yugoslav working class is allowed to do under such a regime is to choose the wing of the ruling oligarchy which will oppress them over the next four years! The bourgeois parliamentary system, whichever party has a majority in it, poses no solution. The Yugoslav working class must organise its own party which will struggle for its own rights and build its own institutions which will place real control of society into the hands of the masses.

Unlike the petty-bourgeois liberals who are embarrassed and shedding tears over the unsuccessful elections, we Marxists are elated and proud at level of political maturity shown by the people. Yugoslav workers have in no way 'distanced' themselves from the EU. On the contrary, they have come a step closer to their sisters and brothers in the rest of Europe who also for years have not been giving much credence to the charades called elections in their own countries.

Having said this however, even though it may seem effective at first sight, a boycott of the elections is not a solution to the problem. As we can see, the ruling oligarchy always finds a way of legitimising its own rule. The government is preparing a change in the electoral law, which will give it the chance to continue smoothly in power.

What we desperately need is a mass, independent workers' party with a revolutionary perspective which will present the interests of those who did not go out to vote. Only in this way can the workers take on the ruling oligarchies. Only in that way can a new birth of nationalism be stopped. Only in that way can the sale of state property be halted and the living standards of the working class be defended. The clear dissatisfaction with the political establishment must be channelled in the direction of creating a proper alternative. Passive resistance is not the answer.

"Civil Society" is a fairytale of the Belgrade liberals. Bearing in mind the world crisis of capitalism and the economic standing of our country, we can say that Yugoslavia in the future can expect anything but stable parliamentarism. The only thing that is guaranteed under the present set-up is a series of unashamed attacks on everyone's rights. It is an urgent task to build an organisation through which we shall lead a battle to defend the interests of the working class!