Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
The Milosevic Show
Serbia is spinning in a pre-election whirlwind. Just like the film "Twister", the tornado is sweeping the country sucking up all obstacles in its path. No sooner had former president Ivan Stambolic began toying with the idea of standing against our revered leader Slobodan Milosevic than the storm swooped past his park bench whisking him off to who knows where.
With just over two weeks to go to polling day, Serbs need to be rational, to face up to the fact these elections are a farce, a decorative bauble, cellophane-packaged to deceive the naïve and gullible. We need to recognise the stench of deceit enveloping this so-called election.
A walk around Belgrade's streets should be enough to clarify the quality of political debate the election has inspired. Overnight, the opposition billboards reading "Our Task - A Better Serbia" were transformed into "Our Task - A Worse Serbia". Graffiti informs the voters that the opposition politician Zoran Djindjic is a "poofter" and opposition presidential candidate Vojislav Kostunica "a piece of shit".
Of course, it's a well-known fact the so-called Serbian Opposition is a collection of "agents, traitors, mercenaries, homosexuals, American lackeys, riffraff, scum, terrorists, evildoers and fifth columnists." After all state TV never lies.
We've had ten years of Milosevic's amazingly democratic rule now. Surely that experience should be enough to make clear exactly what's coming on September 24. Think of all those federal, republican and local elections, the mutual masturbation over patriotism, the nation, courage and dignity.
Vote-rigging has increased exponentially with each passing poll. During the 1997 Serbian presidential elections, the official count showed one million Albanian votes for Milan Milutinovic, enough to defeat his rival Vojislav "The Duke" Seselj. Remember the lorries carrying boxes stuffed with votes, the lying and falsifying, how the cobbled results were legitimised because they were in the "national interest".
Is it really likely the September 24 poll will be conducted coolly and fairly? That voters can cast their ballots sincere in the knowledge a cross in the appropriate box will send the president into retirement? Can the electoral committee really be trusted not to drop 200,000 Milosevic votes into the ballot box as soon as the opposition observer's back is turned?
Some naïve individuals clearly think so. At an opposition meeting the other night in Mokrin, near Kikinda, a member of the student movement Otpor (Resistance), a friend of mine, said there was a 50 per cent chance Milosevic would step down! I had to interrupt. Rather aggressively and nervously I told him the awful truth - Milosevic has no intention of "stepping down". It isn't a question of maths, of a 5 per cent chance or a 50 per cent chance, there is simply a 0 per cent chance of him leaving office. Unless he is forced to do so.
Another gullible expert at the meeting claimed 4.2 million votes against Milosevic would be enough to guarantee the president's end. Again I intervened, "Milosevic doesn't give a monkeys whether 2 million, 5 million or even 17 million people vote. He will - don't say I didn't warn you - he will declare himself convincing winner in the first round."
The whole psychological make-up of the Milosevic regime precludes defeat. How can a "National Hero" lose? How can the symbol of the "World's Resistance to the New World Order" possibly get fewer votes than Kostunica? Do you really think Mrs Milosevic will allow her hubby to surrender, admit defeat and shake the hand of a victorious Vojislav Kostunica on national telly?
No, defeat is not an option for the Milosevic team. Deriding the opposition has been declared the national sport. The pro-regime daily Politika portrayed sacked Yugoslav Army chief of staff General Momcilo Perisic as a small boy crapping under a tree and the former mayor of Belgrade, Nebojsa Covic, as a "tiny louse with a huge appetite."
Other opposition figures, Vesna Pesic, Vuk Obradovic, Josef Kasa and President of Montenegro Milo Djukanovic, to name a few, merited only the labels "excrement" and "shit". One headline advised the public to "Hold Your Nose and Walk by the DOS [Democratic Opposition of Serbia]."
What's the point of dredging all this up? Well, to show that these days there are no limits, anything goes - from kidnapping and arrests to lies and puerile insults.
What could the next 16 days bring? News of the Yugoslav Army returning to Kosovo or clashing with units of the Montenegrin police? That Milosevic has declared a state of emergency and all elections are cancelled? That the president has brought his "police" out onto the streets?
There is no need to read between the lines. Politika's message is very, very clear - "don't mess with us, we're armed, we have tanks, special forces, cut-throats with pedigree. Don't think a vote is going to save you."
Straightforward blackmail is operating within state companies, government departments, the police, the army, hospitals and so on. Vote for Milosevic and keep your job, vote for Milosevic and get paid. Many have already received ballot papers marked with an "X" for Milosevic. The scam is simple. Put the ready-made ballot paper in the box on polling day and return the blank one issued at the polling station to your relevant employer as proof you have done as you were told.
There are to be no election monitors from Western nations (after all what do they know of democracy, no democracy would have unleashed such a perfidious bombing campaign against Serbia's children). No, our foreign election monitors will come from friendly China, Russia and, of course, Iraq.
Nothing is left to chance. The state media makes no mention of a possible second round, and why should they when it's clear that's not in the script. These are not elections. This is "The Milosevic Show".
Petar Lukovic is a long-time reporter, columnist and editor in Belgrade. Godine raspada, a collection of his war-year journalism, has recently been published by Feral Tribune, in Croatia
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