Presidential elections in Serbia - Nothing New... Situation Still Very Explosive!

The sharp radicalisation within Serbian society continues, and was put in the spotlight once again last week by the third failed presidential election in a row. The working people of Serbia simply stayed at home, ignoring the government calls to go out and elect a president. The election results clearly showed just how deep the crisis in the country is, and how unpopular and weak the pro-western ruling caste is in reality. From Pobunjeni Um Editorial Board.

There's nothing new in the heart of the Balkans. The sharp radicalisation within Serbian society continues, and was put in the spotlight once again last week by the third failed presidential election in a row. The working people of Serbia simply stayed at home, ignoring the government calls to go out and elect a president. Only around 38 percent of registered voters bothered to show up at the polls, and those who did show up voted against the pro-western ruling coalition - the DOS-and its candidate. The election results clearly showed just how deep the crisis in the country is, and how unpopular and weak the pro-western ruling caste is in reality. Most analysts predicted the failure of the election, however what nobody expected was that the people of Serbia would hand such a humiliating defeat to the DOS and it's "reformist course".

The DOS-sponsored candidate, who led all the pre-election polls - the media-hyped Dragoljub Micunovic - got a disappointing 35 percent of the votes, finishing second behind the underdog Tomislav Nikolic - a candidate of the right wing Serbian Radical Party who received 46 percent of the votes. Vojislav Kostunica and his Democratic Party of Serbia boycotted the elections. The restoration of capitalism under the disguise of "reforms" became a dogma in the political discourse of the last three years - a sacred "way forward" that no one was supposed to question. You can therefore imagine what a surprise it was for these "analysts" when the population turned its back on the pro-western candidate.

The trend of radicalisation, that was noticed at the last presidential elections (see: "Rainy Days" - An analysis of the failure of the recent Serbian presidential elections), grew fast and caught all the bourgeois "analysts" by surprise. Micunovic was able to win only in Belgrade, while Nikolic got majority in all other areas of the country. These failed presidential elections come on the heels of two previous unsuccessful rounds, the murder of the Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic (see: Serbia - the firecracker at the centre of the Balkan powder keg ), the disbanding of the parliament just few days before election day as the government lost its support, numerous scandals and affairs within the government apparatus, and a wave of strikes throughout the country as the as the dissatisfaction with the "reforms" mounts up - all of this in just one year! It seems the leaders of the DOS failed in their promises to make Serbia a "boring place to live in", as they promised few years ago.

Return of Nationalism?

What did the western media make of all these events? Well, the predominant sentiment in their reports is fear. Fear that the Serbian working class seems to be turning back to nationalism somehow after toppling Milosevic just three years ago. After all, it is well known by now, that you can not trust these Balkan people, as they will enthusiastically run back to fraternal slaughter as soon as they no longer feel the firm hand of EU and Washington on their shoulders. It seems the appeal of blood and nation is so strong that the Serbian working class simply can't resist it. Domestic liberal politicians are singing the same tune. Serbia-Montenegro Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic said Monday that the result could be seen as a sign that Serbia might be sliding back toward the nationalism that led to a series of Balkan wars in the 1990s. Is there any basis for this hysteria about the "return of Fascism" to Serbia after the "Le Pen scenario" happened twice in a row?

We mentioned many times before that if no clear working class alternative arises in Serbia in the near future, nationalism and bloodshed might be on the agenda again as the policies of the re-introduction of capitalism reach a dead end. However, it still has not come to that point. Nationalism has been falling steadily for years now, and objective circumstances are much different then they were in the early nineties.

Serbian Radical Party managed to climb to the top of the Serbian political scene in the early nineties thanks to a wave of chauvinist hysteria that emerged after the final breakdown of the Yugoslav workers' movement in the late eighties. It was one of numerous far-right parties with fascist elements (it had its own paramilitary forces), which was used by Slobodan Milosevic for the dirty work on the frontlines in his fight over territory with the bureaucracies of the other republics. Throughout the years it was able to survive and entrench itself on the right wing by adapting its rhetoric to the changing circumstances. The departure of Vojislav Seselj, their founder and traditional leader, to the Hague Tribunal on charges of war crimes, enabled them to reform their politics at an even faster pace.

The disarray of Milosevic's Socialist Party, and the total vacuum on the left, gave them space to present themselves as the sole opponents to the pro-western course taken by the DOS. They are seen as the party that is not afraid to say things others won't, even though they might go against the current dogma. It is highly indicative that these ultra-nationalists won a majority of the votes with the least nationalistic-oriented campaign in their history. Traditional points of their platform like the "reuniting of the Serbian lands" were carefully set aside, making space instead for criticism of the ongoing privatizations, unemployment, high school fees etc. The speech given by their candidate Tomislav Nikolic at the final campaign rally in the centre of Belgrade just one day before the election was a clear indicator of this. It was a definite disappointment for some of the hard-line old-time supporters in the crowd. Nikolic had to repeat twice to the puzzled crowd who weren't sure they heard right when he stated that: "Muslims are not our enemies", explaining instead that the real enemy is the DOS. In a bold tone he went on to say that "if you can afford to buy enough food each month, if you are able to send your kids to university, please do not vote for me!" He went on to mock the new Prime Minister and his trips to China and Russia in an attempt to reprogram debts and get new contracts. "What happened with your orientation towards the west gentlemen?" he asked, as the crowd burst into tears of laughter. Nikolic insisted that a slavish obedience to the west is wrong, taking full advantage of the anti-imperialist sentiment that exists among the Serbian working class. The crowd also cheered as Nikolic announced that if he wins, they could be assured he would not send a single soldier to Afghanistan or to Iraq. This gives a clear picture of the focus of Radical Party campaign.

The Vacuum

Of course the center of his campaign was the plunder of the Serbian economy by the process of privatization. The Radical Party now took full advantage of the fact that no other political current dared to openly criticise the course taken by the DOS economists - the Chicago Monetarist school disciples who have been implementing economic "shock therapy" which has devastated the living standards of a whole layer of workers over the past three years. The Serbian economy is on the edge of an abyss after only three years of "reforms". Industrial production is falling steadily, the foreign exchange deficit is close to 4 billion, and unemployment is on the rise as new workers from the privatised factories add their numbers to the already outrageous figure of 950,000 unemployed. Against this grim reality, the DOS candidate, despite the expensive campaign and media coverage, did not stand a chance with his worn out phrases about future prosperity and the European Union. The impetus these forces got after the murder of Djindic has worn out as predicted, and now they are in big trouble. The middle class is tiny, demoralised and confused by the failure of the "reforms". Micunovic barely got a majority even in Belgrade.

So, what these elections clearly showed, once again, is not the return of nationalism on the scene but the profound disatisfaction with the political course taken by the DOS. Moreover, it shows how barren the Serbian political scene really is. There is no force on the left which could pose an alternative. In this case, the Serbian Radical Party jumped into the vacuum and grabbed the votes of the dissatisfied workers. The vote for Nikolic was not a vote for a return to Serbian nationalism; it was a vote against the DOS.

Objectively, despite this surprise result, Serbian Radical Party is not yet a force that could win majority in the parliament. Workers will probably turn primarily towards Vojislav Kostunica and his Democratic Party of Serbia in the next elections. As Marxists we point out that even the victory of the Radical Party in the presidential or parliamentary elections would not really change anything drastically. The Serbian working class is again entering the scene fir the first time since it overthrew Milosevic in October 2000, with a sense of power - that it can change things. It knows clearly what it does not want -and that is the much-hated DOS. However, it is still very confused and inexperienced, and will probably try to use Kostunica and the Serbian Radical party as a sort of alternative in the next parliamentary elections. But no matter how radical their rhetoric might be, under these conditions, combined with the growing divide of class forces on a global scale, the Serbian Radical Party could only carry Serbia in more or less the same direction as the DOS has so far. Perhaps at a slower pace, perhaps with more government control over the whole process, perhaps wrapped in more patriotic colors, perhaps with different capitalist clients; but essentially it would be the same road.

The Radical Party is not opposed to privatisation in general, it is just unsatisfied with the way it is being implemented, the prices being offered, and the clients that are being picked. The Serbian Radical Party and its thugs who carry the blood of our brothers and sisters on their hands are not a party the youth and the working class should stand behind in Serbia. We must organize ourselves independently and fill the vacuum with a genuine left-wing party that represents the real interests of the workers and youth of Serbia and all other countries in the region. Now that the workers are on the move, it is only a matter of time before they realise this from their own experience. Then the western bourgeois media will finally have a genuinely serious threat to base their fears upon.