Electing to Abstain

"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."

(from "The Unbearable Futility of Voting")

Once again this week, the tired and suffering denizens of what used to be Yugoslavia were called upon to engage in the false religion of Democracy. Slovenia held a general election, while Bosnia and Serbia voted for local governments. Coming up on the ballot-worshipping calendar are the general elections in the occupied Serbian province of Kosovo two weekends from now, and a Macedonian referendum on "decentralization" on Nov. 7. Of these, only the Macedonian referendum has any meaning whatsoever – which is why it has been condemned by the Empire.

"Pond Change"

Slovenians ousted the government that has ruled almost continuously since its declaration of independence in 1991, leading some commentators to call this a "sea change." Given Slovenia’s size, it’s a "pond change" at most, and in reality not a change at all.

Slovenia joined the Soviet – um, European – Union this spring, so its choice of political options is circumscribed by what Brussels is inclined to tolerate. Although Janez Jansa’s Slovenian Democratic Party takes a more nationalist tone than the outgoing PM Anton Rop’s Liberal Democrats, its European policy is identical. Jansa could take a harder line on relations with Croatia, but pressure from Brussels makes that unlikely.

The two million Slovenians ought to enjoy their country while they still can; whoever acts as the agent of the EU in the meantime is rather irrelevant.

Same Old Story

Only 45% of Bosnian voters (if that) bothered to vote for their local oppressors this past Saturday, and not surprisingly, the ruling nationalist parties emerged triumphant. On the eve of the poll, a human-rights group charged that Muslim, Orthodox and Catholic clergy were campaigning for the nationalists, but the allegation had little effect. Most Bosnians have been keenly aware of this for over a decade, while the Imperial overlords of the tiny Balkans country couldn’t care less.

"There will be no alarm bells ringing for the international community … because the nationalists are seen as mostly changed and committed to carrying out wide-ranging reforms," wrote Reuters in the post-election roundup. As with most things in Bosnia, that is only a half-truth. The "international community" – as the coterie of near-omnipotent Imperial officials is euphemistically called – is indeed not alarmed. They prefer nationalists in power, since they are easier to bully and blackmail with threats of war crimes indictments.

The notion that nationalists have "changed" and "reformed" is the brainchild of viceroy Paddy Ashdown, a petty tyrant with delusions of grandeur. In a statement to BBC on the eve of the elections, Ashdown said: "If the West preaches democracy to Bosnia, then it must abide by the results of the electoral process." In a normal world, such words from a man who just recently summarily purged 58 public officials in the Serb Republic would have to be taken as a demented attempt at humor. But Bosnia has not been normal for a very long time.

Imperial authorities don’t really have a problem with all nationalists. Ashdown gave a very moving eulogy at the funeral of the Muslim nationalist leader around this time last year. Rather, both Ashdown and his masters have a problem with Serb and Croat nationalists, who interfere with their dreams of a centralized Bosnia – that just so happen to be shared by many Muslims, albeit not in the context of liberal secular humanism.

The "international community" doesn’t care a whit who rules over the Bosnian natives, as long as they unquestioningly follow instructions on important matters. Otherwise, their monopoly on the near-absolute power to tax and torment their citizens (but little else) remains unquestioned.

Fear and Gloating in Belgrade

In Serbia, voters chose mayors and municipal councils, as well as the provincial parliament in Vojvodina. The Western press claimed the vote was important "because victories by hardliners could set back Serbia’s efforts to join the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization" (International Herald Tribune). Given the nature of these two organizations, such a setback would be a blessing.

Serbia’s sycophant-in-chief and Democratic Party head Boris Tadic thinks otherwise: "We must not make a single political step that would take us away from our goal of joining the European Union" (emphasis added). No turning from the Path – wasn’t that the refrain of a popular ode to Marshal Tito?

Tadic’s followers gloated when their candidate won the mayoral race in Belgrade, but had to deal with two bitter defeats. In their former bastion of Nis, a popular candidate from one of the parties in the government coalition unseated the Democratic incumbent, while in Novi Sad, the capital of Vojvodina, a margin of some 700 votes handed another defeat to the Democrats. Derided in the Western media as "ultra-nationalist" and "hardliner," the triumphant Radical candidate in Novi Sad was actually a well-mannered, educated lady. Don’t look for Serbian women’s-rights groups to cheer her victory, though; they only support the politically correct women, such as the air-headed Djindjic puppet Natasa Micic.

Even so, the results were a success for the Democrats and the Radicals, and yet another setback for the coalition government of Vojislav Kostunica. That was expected. Serbia’s political predicament is such that only parties with extreme messages (Democrats’ utter submission to the Empire and Radicals’ angry rejection thereof) stand a chance of energizing the tired and impoverished electorate. Kostunica is hobbled by his own bland message, and coalition partners who’d much rather work with the Democrats (G-17, SPO). There have already been predictions that the current government will collapse within months, meaning yet another election.

Withholding Consent

Three years after the first general election for the "provisional institutions of government" in occupied Kosovo, the UN/NATO authorities are organizing another. This time, however, the province’s surviving Serbs are likely to boycott the poll, refusing to lend legitimacy to the occupation in a belated act of self-preservation.

Pressure on Serbs to vote has been mounting since early September, culminating with the recent visit of EU foreign policy commissar Javier Solana – who presided over the 1999 occupation as NATO’s Secretary-General – but with little success. Last week, the Serbian Orthodox Church appealed to the government in Belgrade not to give in to pressure, and announced support for the Kosovo Serbs’ boycott.

In his open letter to President Tadic and Prime Minister Kostunica, Patriarch Pavle asked why Serbs should vote when they aren’t allowed to live, and taking part in the elections might actually hurt their security and human rights. When such questions were raised the last time around, the Church and the state nevertheless endorsed the vote; now the Church, at least, has learned from its mistake.

Kostunica agreed with the Patriarch, but President Tadic chose otherwise, arguing that the only way to solve the problem was through proper democratic procedures. Such as, presumably, were the bombing, occupation and ethnic cleansing of Kosovo? For too long have the Kosovo Serbs accepted the legitimacy of NATO’s occupation and KLA rule, both of which were asserted at gunpoint. If they have decided, however belatedly, to withhold their consent, is it not wrong to deny them that choice?

Sticks and Iron Fists

In truth, there is a lot of effort to deny people their choices, especially if they don’t favor Empire’s designs in the region. Macedonia drew the ire of Brussels and Washington when opponents of ethnic redistricting successfully campaigned for a popular referendum on the issue, and the Empire has been laboring ever since to intimidate the Macedonians into voting "the right way" come Nov. 7. These efforts have generally been an iron fist in an iron glove as opposed to the proverbial velvet – or, to use a favorite Imperial metaphor derived from donkey-husbandry, very long on the stick and short on the carrot.

The most recent example is one Michael Sahlin, the "Special Representative of the European Union" in Skopje, who aired his frustrations through the Imperial propaganda outlet IWPR last Friday. After prattling in bureaucratese about "security providers" (presumably the Empire and its servants) and "security consumers" (presumably Macedonia and other prospective victims), "improved delivery of public services" and other similar nonsense, Sahlin eventually came to the point:

"The referendum itself is a step away from EU membership … [and] if successful, may result in a serious setback for Macedonia’s Euro-Atlantic ambitions. … The EU has a lot to offer Macedonia. Apart from the prospect of increased living standards and improved economy, there is the chance to belong to the most advanced liberal democratic community of states in the world."

Obviously no one told this pompous equine gluteus that a referendum is still the highest expression of liberal democracy, even in his Soviet-style superstate. Then again, the EU routinely ignores referenda that don’t go in its favor. As in the good old days of the Politburo, the People only get to vote once – for The Party, of course (opposition voters will be shot) – and don’t have to bother thereafter. Isn’t democracy grand?

Macedonia’s referendum is a conspicuous example of a meaningful vote, an effort to reject a government policy that profoundly affects all citizens. It is a rarity in today’s world, where people at most get a "choice" in the flavor of Imperialism or sycophancy that is to govern them. This is why the various Sahlins rail against it: it is a threat to their very existence as ultimate arbiters of other people’s lives.

Rejecting Kakistocracy

After countless elections since 1990, many surviving inhabitants of the former SFRY have come to realize that voting doesn’t solve a thing; it is all too often a way for those who seized power with bullets to secure it with ballots. In states that still practice Communist-era centralism, local authorities simply act as field agents of the central government. That government, on the other hand, rules only so much and so long as it enjoys the approval of Empire, embodied by various "special representatives," envoys, proconsuls, legates, ambassadors-at-large and heads of mission.

The result is a kakistocracy – rule by the very worst, whose ideas of politics, economics and society are guaranteed to bring further deaths, destitution and despair to their unfortunate subjects. Judging by the rising rates of abstinence from ballot-worshipping, however, many are beginning to understand that no one can ever take from them the ultimate freedom of withholding consent from their oppressors. All it takes is to say "No." Or say nothing at all, letting the half-empty ballot boxes speak for themselves.

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 Antiwar.com debuted in November 2000.