September 19, 2002

Triumph of the Will
Balkans Election Season

For three successor states of the former Yugoslavia, this fall is all about voting. Macedonian parliamentary elections were held this past weekend, with predictable results. Serbian presidential elections are next on September 29, followed by a general vote in Bosnia-Herzegovina on October 5. It is a time of choice, a time of civic responsibility, a time to reaffirm commitment to democracy.

It is also entirely bogus.

Sacred Rituals

Every political system needs something that would give it legitimacy. For most of human history, that role was played by religion, from the "gods" of ancient Egypt to the "divine right" of European monarchs. In the 20th century, however, the altars of priests were replaced by ballot boxes, as the world largely embraced the new religion – democracy.

Professing belief in "democracy" is seen as a mark of righteousness, so much that dictators across the Third World hide behind the democratic title of "President." Almost every party in the former Socialist bloc has "Democratic" in its name. So did most of the formerly Socialist countries, for that matter. And the Balkans is a very representative case of this phenomenon, as the place where democracy is raw, primeval and unadulterated.

Just as more primitive religions honor ritual more than the meaning behind it, so the Balkans democracy honors the act of voting: as a sacred ritual that needs to be performed in a certain manner at a certain time, in order to bestow legitimacy upon the chosen leader(s). The Election is a Portal to Power, the Sacrament of Governance, and the Triumph of the (People’s) Will.

The entire sordid spectacle certainly did not impress the great American author Robert A. Heinlein:

"Democracy is based on the assumption that a million men are wiser than one man. How's that again? I missed something." (Time Enough for Love)

Well, it does beat human sacrifice. But not by much.

Terrorists Transformed

The tragedy of Macedonia should be a warning to every country in the world, but it isn’t – because of democracy. A year after capitulating to Albanian bandits, Macedonia officially voted them into power. Elections here were nothing short of a major miracle: they transubstantiated the "murderous thugs" and terrorists of the UCK into peace-loving moderates and "linchpins of the peace process."

Brazenly telling their ignorant readers that black is white, up is down and short is long, Western reporters gloated over the demise of the ruling VMRO and cheered the ascendant stooges of the Empire: Ali Ahmeti’s KLA, and the pliant Macedonian Socialists.

Only a "free press" can mention Ahmeti’s Union for Democratic Integration (with a woefully appropriate Albanian acronym, DUI) with a straight face, given its forceful advocacy and practice of separate societies for Albanians and Macedonians, an ethnic apartheid. Yet the Malice Award must go to the Washington Post’s Nicholas Wood, who described the Macedonian people as "ethnic Slav majority, who often call themselves ethnic Macedonians."

This is the equivalent of someone referring to "an ethnic European majority who often call themselves Americans." For that matter, imagine a Hispanic- or African-only party composed of pardoned terrorists, advocating an ethnically cleansed portion of the U.S., special ethnic privileges (called "rights" by the malicious or the misinformed)... Never in America? Yet in Macedonia, that’s "the road to peace and democracy."

It is all rubbish, of course. Any real choice must contain the possibility of different outcomes. Yet the outcome of Macedonia’s election was foreordained by many powerful people, who worked hard to bring it about. Indeed, just before the vote, they confidently claimed that whoever emerged victorious, Macedonia’s policy of subservience to the Empire would not change. So much for choice.

Nor will the powerful people stop at Macedonia. They have similar stakes in the upcoming elections in Bosnia and Serbia, where things are bit more complicated.

Bamboozling Bosnia

Bosnia-Herzegovina is a country held together by outside force and tyranny. There is no consensus among its citizens as to what is should be, or even if it should be. Ethnic conflicts that erupted in 1990 have remained unresolved, and were only made more intractable by the war. To think the way to fix this is holding elections, the Empire must be even stupider than critics give it credit for.

Bosnia has had three elections after the Dayton Agreement ended the war and instituted a foreign protectorate in all but name. Every time, the people’s choices disappointed their foreign masters. On several occasions, Bosnia’s colonial governors dismissed elected officials and appointed others more to their liking. This time, Imperial Viceroy Lord Ashdown even went so far as to lecture the people of Bosnia on whom to elect come October 5. So again, real choice is absent from the ritual – and from the slate of candidates.

Most parties in the Serb Republic are dedicated to preserving its autonomy, though the degree of their commitment largely depends on how much they need to please the Viceroy in order to stay in power.

Between the electoral defeat of the HDZ in Croatia, and the crushing of its Bosnian daughter-party by former Viceroy Petritsch, Bosnian Croats have lost much of their political clout, and their vote is likely to reflect their fear of domination by others.

Muslims seem to have the most choices, but the appearance is deceiving. They could bring back Alija Izetbegovic’s SDA, perpetuating its fundamentalist dream of a unified, Muslim-dominated Bosnia. Or they could support Izetbegovic’s loyal opposition, Haris Silajdzic’s "Party for Bosnia," which has the exact same goal, only packaged in the rhetoric of justice, human rights and yes, democracy.

Social-democrats (SDP) are the only non-nationalist alternative in the country, but what do they offer? Human rights, justice, democracy, rule of law, a citizen republic… these concepts are merely words, lacking practical manifestation. Plus, they have already been tainted by Izetbegovic’s abuse.

In fact, having collaborated with Izetbegovic during the war and with Silajdzic to win the last election, the SDP continue to be regarded as "just another Muslim party." That is somewhat unjust, since they do seem to have a commitment to a secular, multi-ethnic country. Shackled by their own prejudice, though, and preferring reluctant half-measures to a decisive resolution of Bosnia’s crucial issues, they seem unable to make their program believable.

Whoever wins, it is safe to say that ethnic issues will remain unresolved, the foreign masters will remain displeased, and Bosnia will continue its paradoxical existence. So much for the ballot box.

The Evil and The Confused

The only real choices seem to be available in Serbia – though even here, they are of highly dubious quality. In a cruel mockery of reason, behind an otherwise perfectly reasonable statement about Serbia’s future was Vojislav Seselj, the psychotic and unpopular leader of the Radical Party. Though endorsed by Slobodan Milosevic, Seselj will compete for the opposition vote against a former actor and Socialist candidate Velimir-Bata Zivojinovic.

Neither of them has a good chance of winning, though. The real struggle will be between a puppet of the unabashedly pro-imperialist Djindjic regime, Miroljub Labus, and the confused, vacillating Vojislav Kostunica. It is a contest between two visions of democracy, differing in degree of submission to the Empire while firmly anchored in modern welfare-statism. This is where Djindjic and his stooge have the advantage: they are as amoral, hypocritical, callous and unprincipled as their Imperial masters, "democrats" personified. On the other hand, Kostunica’s attempts to reconcile the realities of today’s democracy with ideals of liberty, law and limited government might as well be trying to square the circle.

Still, Serbia would be vastly better off if Kostunica won, then called for a new parliamentary election and ended Djindjic’s appalling reign. And even though the notion of limited government is dangerously flawed in itself, it is vastly preferable to unfettered tyranny currently in place.

Question is, will the Empire allow it? Too many people in Washington’s corridors of power hate Kostunica with a burning passion. Having destroyed the classical liberal ideals of the Founding Fathers, the paladins of Empire cannot stand someone who still professes to believe in them.

Certainly, the Empire would like nothing more than a Djindjic-run Serbia with Labus as the figurehead of state. To ensure this happens, they will likely continue to threaten, pressure, and blackmail to ensure the Serbs "choose wisely." In a September 17 statement to the public, Djindjic’s party has already claimed that Kostunica’s victory would bring "new war, crisis, hyper-inflation and international sanctions."

Bullet, Ballot and Bomb

For the past decade, the Empire has been heavily involved in all the Balkans elections, and continues that involvement with the current three. The birthplace of democratic religion, its blessing is now the necessary confirmation that the voting ritual was successful. Ballots have long since joined bullets and bombs in the assortment of Imperial weapons of conquest.

While they may install in power leaders willing to serve the Empire – or have already done so – elections in Bosnia, Macedonia and Serbia will hardly improve the lot of their people. Government is not the solution to their woes, but rather the source of them. There is little point in engaging in politics if debate is only allowed within the confines of statist tyranny and submission to the Empire.

Worse yet, the Balkans demonstrates the thesis that democracy attracts the worst sort of people to positions of power. The local power-mongers are so intent on lording over a fiefdom, however small, that they can’t see the forest from their own kindling-pile. Most Balkans politicians are only good for lamp-post decorations.

Hoop Hopes

Hope remains, of course, that some day the Balkans will awaken from the horrible nightmare of Imperial servitude and domestic tyranny. Preferably soon.

After the Yugoslav basketball team won the World Championship two weekends ago, ecstatic fans welcomed the players back with signs "Divac for President" and "Bodiroga for Prime Minister," showing that the everyday people still retained a modicum of sensibility. Sports championships are won through hard work and fair competition, and represent a real triumph of human spirit. Hokey religions and pretentious rituals will never match that, however hard they try.

– Nebojsa Malic

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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, and contributed to the Independent. 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 appears every Thursday.


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Illusions of Truth and Justice

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Nothing New in Kosovo

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Macedonia's Futile Surrender

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Presevo – A False Victory

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Enemies at the Gates

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Kosovo: Between Death and Taxes

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