The Unbearable Futility of Voting

Results of the Serbian presidential vote this past weekend were entirely predictable, and Vojislav Kostunica is likely to win come the October 13 runoff. And while any outcome of the vote will make little difference in the grand scheme of things – for the future of Serbia is not decided at the ballot box, but in the power corridors of Washington, DC – the election does offer several revelations about Serbia, the Balkans and even the Empire.

By the Numbers

Judging by reports from Belgrade, Kostunica won around 31% of the vote. Zoran Djindjic’s sock puppet Miroljub Labus, ostensibly running as an independent candidate, managed to garner some 27%. The biggest surprise was the third-place finish of Vojislav Seselj, who got anywhere between 22 and 25 percent of the votes cast.

Statistics point to several interesting conclusions. First, only slightly over 55% of the eligible voters participated in the election, a strong signal that many disliked the available choices. Secondly, candidates loyal to Djindjic won barely 30% of the vote, less than the combined total of candidates formerly allied with Milosevic. Given Kostunica’s showing, that translates into a 70% disapproval of Djindjic’s rule, a powerful portent for the increasingly likely early parliamentary elections.

It is also interesting that Kostunica had strong support across the board – in Belgrade as well as in the countryside, among the besieged Kosovo Serbs as well as the wealthy farmers of Vojvodina. Labus’s support came mainly from ethnic minorities and urban elites dependent on the government.

Finally, Seselj’s strong showing is not so much a resurgence of some "extreme nationalism," as some commentators are wont to observe, but a strong protest vote against the policies of submission which Djindjic initiated and Kostunica accepted. This resentment is unlikely to achieve manifestation, though. Kostunica will use it to win in ten days, but he will not confront the Empire.

On Common Ground

It may also look as if the coalition that deposed Milosevic two years ago has come to dominate Serbian politics. But that Kostunica and Labus will be facing off in the final round does not necessarily mean that the former DOS is framing the Serbian political discourse. Thanks to the vacuum of values left behind by the collapse of Cold War socialism, politics in post-communist countries have always centered around personalities more than ideas. Serbia is definitely not an exception.

Their personal values set the contenders apart – Kostunica’s moralizing legalism against Djindjic’s amoral pragmatism – but on the issue of state, they are in complete agreement. Both believe in a western-style democratic republic, a managerial state that pays lip service to the free market but also practices social engineering. They disagree on the extent and direction of the engineering, but not its application.

Such ideas are keeping the Balkans in the gutter. But they are also the foundation of the Empire.

Playing Favorites

Unsurprisingly, the Empire has revealed where its sympathies lie. Reports about the election routinely declare Kostunica a "moderate nationalist," Labus is labeled a "pro-Western reformer," while Seselj is a "hard-line ultra-nationalist" and a champion of "extreme nationalism that marked Milosevic’s tenure." No report neglects to mention that Milosevic himself endorsed Seselj "from his cell in The Hague, where he is on trial for war crimes and genocide," emphasizing guilt-by-association and further smearing Milosevic as an added bonus. The phrases vary – though not by much – depending on the wire service, but their placement and tone do not.

Kostunica is almost certain to win the final vote, so this criticism can’t be aimed at influencing the results. More likely, it’s a method of pressure aimed at gaining leverage for the Empire. It is the same way Washington had the DOS regime submit to endless blackmail, extortion and humiliations in order to prove their "democratic" credentials – a promised blessing which, unsurprisingly, never materialized. Whether Kostunica falls for the same trick the second time remains to be seen.

Spillover Effect

One implication of the Serbian presidential vote mostly overlooked so far will be their influence on the upcoming general elections in neighboring Bosnia. In just two days, residents of that protectorate will have to decide who will govern their daily affairs for the next four years, knowing fully well that anyone they elect can be summarily dismissed by the Imperial viceroy at any time.

The ruling Social-democrats have been stymied over the past two years by their American-brokered alliance with the thinly disguised nationalists from the "Party for Bosnia" (SBiH), led by Haris Silajdzic. Alija Izetbegovic’s right hand during the war, Silajdzic officially split from Izetbegovic’s SDA afterwards – only to join it in a power-sharing coalition in 1998. Through the SBiH, Izetbegovic continued his policy of seeking a unified, Muslim-dominated Bosnian state, even as the SDA was ousted from power and he was pressured by the Empire to retire.

Fear and Blame in Sarajevo

Having never been disabused of the notion that the war in Bosnia was entirely the fault of Serbs and Croats, many Muslims are easy prey for the nationalist rhetoric of the SDA and SBiH. Now Kostunica’s victory and Seselj’s strong showing have given the Muslim militants more ammunition for their propaganda guns.

At a campaign stop along the border with Bosnia a couple of weeks back, Kostunica told the crowd that the Bosnian Serbs are "like a family member, temporarily separated but still holding a special place in our hearts." The characteristically over-the-top Silajdzic called the remark a "declaration of war," while others protested Kostunica’s ostensible "aggressive designs" on Bosnia.

No less popular are accusations of Kostunica’s "fascism," given that he will receive support of Seselj’s voters in the runoff, and that Seselj is reviled by Muslims for his alleged role in wartime atrocities and his "Nazi" politics.

But the Muslim militants might do well to remember who is the ultimate master of the Balkans. The Empire will not be impressed by the news that a suspected Al-Qaeda terrorist was arrested Saturday on his way back from Bosnia. Or that five former high-ranking government officials were just released from jail, even though they were involved in establishing and running a terrorist training camp raided by NATO six years ago.

Exercises in Futility

On one hand, defeat of Djindjic’s regime in Serbia and the Izetbegovic-Silajdzic axis in Bosnia would make a difference by stoping things from getting worse. On the other hand, the essential and existential issues plaguing both Serbia and Bosnia would remain largely unresolved.

Bosnia will remain a protectorate for the foreseeable future, just as Serbia will remain Washington’s whipping boy no matter who inhabits the presidential villa in Belgrade. Anyone who dares challenge the Empire risks a smear job declaring them either a mobster or a war criminal.

Elections are being advertised as a way of claiming responsibility for one’s future. In reality, they are nothing but a way to fool the people into believing that their opinions matter. And it is very obvious that for a very long time, that has definitely not been the case.

Author: Nebojsa Malic

Nebojsa Malic left his home in Bosnia after the Dayton Accords and currently resides in the United States. During the Bosnian War he had exposure to diplomatic and media affairs in Sarajevo. As a historian who specializes in international relations and the Balkans, Malic has written numerous essays on the Kosovo War, Bosnia, and Serbian politics. His exclusive column for debuted in November 2000.