From near-victory to defeat - the moment of truth

Author: Srda Popovic
Uploaded: Tuesday, 10 July, 2012

Searing indictment of Boris Tadic's political record following his defeat in Serbia's May presidential elections, by one of the country's most prominet civil rights activists

Boris Tadic almost won his third, unconstitutional term. This should have been a routine operation.
First you somehow manage to get hold of 34 million euros, you buy hours and hours of TV time (the print is already under your total control), you hire the best marketing team and consume the public space with your telegenic smile and your solemn (firm but just), self-confident stately presence.
Secondly, in your campaign you try not to touch on difficult problems or the ways of solving them. This would have been needlessly disconcerting for the citizens. Instead, you keep repeating the suggestive catchphrase ‘I myself, as President.’
Thirdly, you terrify the citizens with the Greater Evil. Without me, this country would face a Catastrophe. Serbia’s meteoric rise toward the EU will be blocked, the racing reforms will be abandoned, and Danieli will cancel its investments. Even war is not excluded!
On the other hand, with Tadic you have – certainty.
Certainty vs. freedom
When he was asking for a second term (2008) Tadic’s slogan was stability. Years ago, Miloševic was calling for voters to choose his SPS, because ‘with us, there is no uncertainty’. On similar occasions, Šešelj did acknowledge that ‘everyone is lousy’, but the Radicals were ‘the least lousy’ of all. Those who got a piece of authority, power, or material wealth, are natural opponents of any kind of change and great enemies of uncertainty.
That is to say – of freedom.
Uncertainty is just another term for freedom. Certainty and freedom are incompatible. The free market is the essence of uncertainty. A competitive contest is full of uncertainty. Free democratic elections are uncertain. Unlike totalitarian regimes which are certain, especially when the opposition is thrown in jail, or better yet physically destroyed.
Mario Kopic (Pešcanik, ‘Governing and Masters’, 6 May 2012) gives a good description: ‘… the country and the people are under direct command of the political elite, which is protected from the democratic processes by force, and controls all sources of life. It enables reproduction on its territory, and controls its relations with the world exclusively on the basis of its own reasoning. The paternalistic super-state (partyocracy – S.P.) is engaged in production and distribution, education, science, culture and all other forms of relations with the world. Any attempt of autonomous civil initiatives in those realms is characterized as trafficking, crime, ideological aberration etc.’
During this campaign, the Democratic Party, Tadic himself, their voters and their media, spread the idea that their opponents must not win. Not that they cannot win, or that it would be bad if they won, but literally that they must not win. And naturally, when this nonetheless happened, they are acting as if something morally inexcusable had occurred. Professor Zagorka Golubovic concluded that the people are to blame for the result, and threatened the people that she will leave the country.
It is incomprehensible that the defeated side is now wondering: where were our 2 percent which we needed to win? Their 2 percent?! Whatever gave them the idea they had those two percent? They probably believed this because they had them in the previous elections, but these apparently somehow disappeared. It seems they cannot fathom that elections are periodically held precisely in order to determine if there was a change in the support for certain political parties and candidates. Nobody promised their support to today’s losers ‘till death do us part’.
Those who missed the chance to vote for ‘certainty’ are now paternalistically scolded for ‘not thinking of the consequences’. On the contrary, we could say it was the Democratic Party and Boris Tadic who were not thinking of the consequences.
Today’s losers apparently never really understood the central democratic idea of a government’s replaceability. Believing that the voters from the 2008 elections were guaranteed, led by the desire to widen their base, for the past four years they were courting their opponents’ supporters. They did it by shifting to the right, toward nationalistic options. Meanwhile, they did not think it could lead to any consequences regarding their guaranteed base.
They did not think about it when they adopted the Srebrenica declaration, from which the word ‘genocide’ was struck, just so they wouldn’t displease the parties and opponents who are denying the genocide. They did not think about it when they were calling Kosovo ‘Serbia’s southern province’, as they still do, and promising to ‘preserve Serbia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity’, or when they supported Dodik, the man who is actively engaged in disintegrating Bosnia-Herzegovina, or when they signed the Declaration of National Reconciliation with the SPS, who never openly and completely renounced their past and their leader Milosevic, or when they compared the ‘two pains’, the pain over Milosevic and the pain over Zoran Djindjic. They did not think about it when they helped Tomislav Nikolic and his former Radicals with their insincere conversion into Europeans, or when they kept silent about the political background of Djindjics assassination, or when they equated the Chetnik and Partisan movements, fascism and anti-fascism, or when they initiated the rehabilitation of the quisling Draza Mihailovic, using government agencies.
They did not consider the consequences of their actions when they tolerated the disgraceful corruption in their own ranks.   They figured ‘our voters’ would not notice this, because they established complete control over the media. There was no awareness that media control is often counterproductive: lacking the necessary feedback from the public, the controller slowly sinks into slumber, into numbness. They preferred to rely on paid and fitted opinion polls. And those are notoriously unreliable over here, for at least two reasons: first, as someone said, in this country people lie even in anonymous surveys, and secondly, the agencies have a commercial interest in bringing their customers good news.
They did not consider their real long-term results and their responsibility as a pivotal party, the party which was essentially in power since 5 October 2000. The prevailing opinion is that the elections were won by parties and people known as former pillars of the Milosevic regime. For their success they mostly have to thank, as we already mentioned, the Democratic Party and Boris Tadic himself, who used to assure us that all of them had fundamentally changed.
After the 2008 elections, a minister in the new government and a high official in the Democratic Party, Oliver Dulic, stated that he does not exclude the possibility of some future coalition between the Democratic Party and the Radicals. We all know from personal experience people do not change that easily, and if they do, they must bear the burden of their past mistakes. If those mistakes were serious, as was the case with the SPS and the Radicals – they have to bear it forever. This is what the Democratic Party did not realize. Or it did, but did not have the strength to resist it. In the latter case, it belonged in the opposition, where we practically find it today.
The blank voters and all those who missed the opportunity to vote for the Democrats and Tadic are now chastised for not considering the consequences of their actions, that is, the rise of Tomislav Nikolic to power. No, no and no. Exactly the opposite is true – the Democrats and Tadic were those who should have, but did not, consider the consequences of their politics. Otherwise, we would have to agree with Zagorka Golubavic saying it’s the people’s fault.
The lesser evil’s third coming
The losers of these elections can look for the cause of their defeat in their blindness to two simple facts: first, in a democracy government is replaceable, which they have forgotten, and second, you can fool some people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.
It is curious that they forgot this, when they were warned in the last elections. I apologize for having to quote myself, but already in 2008 there was a discussion on Pescanik about the rationality of voting for a lesser evil: ‘During this presidential campaign, some readers of this website, as well as a small segment of the electorate, began to doubt in the philosophy of choosing ‘the lesser evil’. The opponents of this wisdom argued that (a) it is not always easy to tell what would eventually turn out to be a lesser evil; (b) you should vote only for what you consider to be good; (c) by choosing a ‘lesser evil’ you are nonetheless choosing an evil; (d) voting for a ‘lesser evil’ means capitulating to circumstances which need to be changed, that is, perpetuating the situation in which you will constantly be blackmailed with the threat of a ‘greater evil’. On the other hand, there was a ‘pragmatic, ‘realpolitik’ argument: well, we can’t allow the Radicals to win.’
This tells us the arguments of both sides were the same as today. The Democrats’ main argument was even then that their opponents must not come to power at any cost. Even then, as well as today, there was the question – what is the point of elections anyway?
The piece I quoted above ends with the following conclusion: ‘This is how the “lesser evil” (DS) is redefining the meaning of “greater evil”, from which it is apparently rescuing us. The “greater evil” was first Milosevic, then Kostunica, then Seselj, then Toma Nikolic, and the only one left now is Dragan Todorovic. Both Ivica Dacic and Toma Nikolic meanwhile became the “lesser evil”. This is how you boil a frog. The “lesser evil”, once you choose it, tends to strike out the differences between itself and the “greater evil”.’   It seems that enough voters realized the lesser evil really tends to remove the differences between itself and the greater evil, and that by continuing to vote for the lesser – actually the growing – evil, you cement and perpetuate the situation in which the voter, blackmailed by fear, is forced to always vote the same way.
However, the Democratic Party apparently understood nothing.   In his final speech, after the results were revealed, Tadic ostensibly accepted his personal responsibility for the defeat, but he clearly did not explain – responsibility for what, for which act, for which mistake? Instead he explained that we should blame the global economic crisis. And that governments are falling throughout Europe. In other words, this was the main reason for his defeat and, as it turns out, the only one. He is somehow responsible, but actually he was defeated by objective circumstances beyond his control.
Tadic did not say what his personal mistakes were, but he found the time to tell us the experts in Serbia do not have a high understanding of politics, and he complained how he never had the support of the intellectual public. He had to add he does not feel responsible for ‘all those things’ of which the ‘political intellectuals’ are accusing him. So it’s the intellectual public and intellectuals. This is how we get to the blank voters, who did not comprehend the consequences of their low understanding of politics. His sportsman-like, proud spirit did not allow him to articulate this in clearer terms. In any case, this is the task for his party hacks and his media. However, they still cannot seem to agree whether the effect of the blank votes was insignificant or crucial.
Blank voters
If the blank voters’ effect was insignificant, they don’t deserve a mention. They deserve even less to be subjected to heaps of abuse. This is completely inappropriate.   However, those who claim that their effect was crucial need to realize that blank voters are only a fraction of abstention. The ‘blanks’ are the abstaining voters who tried to explain their reasons for abstention – that is, that they cannot trust any of the political options available, and they do not want to be held responsible for choosing the wrong people wrong parties. We can reasonably assume that these and similar reasons were present in the minds of many abstainers (‘I’m sick of them all, with them I have no hopes’). All abstainers were, in this sense, ‘crucial’. To put it simply – the losers were defeated because not enough voters turned out. It was ‘crucial’ that some people voted for the Progressives and Nikolic, and that some people did not vote at all, or they voted with a blank ballot.
Everyone voted the way they did, following their own conscience and their own motives. Only the blind frustration of the losers insists to find a ‘culprit’, or a scapegoat, which would justify the defeat. The hope that some lessons would be learned from this defeat seems illusory. Maybe next time.
Translated by Ivica Pavlovic, Peš, 23 May 2012.
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