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The Yugoslav Elections

by Diana Johnstone 16 September 2000

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"Early polls showing a big lead for Kostunica may well have been deliberately distorted by adversaries of Milosevic, for two reasons. The first -- rather standard -- would be to bring out the opposition vote by suggesting that Milosevic can be defeated. The second, far more sinister, would be to enable the United States and the opposition to cry "foul!" if Milosevic wins, and use the alleged "stolen election" to foment civil war, the excuse for fresh NATO intervention." - Diana Johnstone, as below

Jared Israel, the tireless editor of the Emperors Clothes website, has written a forceful and courteous criticism of a few things I wrote in a recent comment on the forthcoming Yugoslav presidential election. He makes a strong case, with which I agree, against the economic program of the neoliberal Belgrade think tank, G17, endorsed by the "democratic opposition" supporting the candidacy of Vojislav Kostunica. Jared and several other friends are sharply critical of what they consider my support to Kostunica's candidacy. I accept this criticism inasmuch as I have never considered it my business to tell people in Yugoslavia what to do.

My article was not intended as an endorsement of Kostunica, since it was not addressed to Yugoslav voters. However, I can see that it could be understood as such. So, my apologies to all for this violation of my own neutrality rule. My main intention was to denounce U.S. interference in Yugoslavia's political affairs, both before and after the elections, notably U.S. manipulation of the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague to create tension and even stir up civil war. Exposing the use of the Tribunal is a priority that I hoped might unite all adversaries of NATO aggression, both inside and outside Yugoslavia, regardless of different views on the elections. This still seems to me most important.

Nevertheless, I acknowledge two significant errors in my original article: (1) to have underestimated the damaging implications of the opposition's economic program, as signaled by Jared; and (2) to have overestimated predictions that Kostunica is likely to win.

Polls are especially unreliable in the absence of long accumulated electoral experience enabling representative samples to be chosen on the basis of proven accuracy. Moreover, early polls showing a big lead for Kostunica may well have been deliberately distorted by adversaries of Milosevic, for two reasons. The first -- rather standard -- would be to bring out the opposition vote by suggesting that Milosevic can be defeated. The second, far more sinister, would be to enable the United States and the opposition to cry "foul!" if Milosevic wins, and use the alleged "stolen election" to foment civil war, the excuse for fresh NATO intervention.

There can be no reliable way to predict the September 24 vote. Although very many Yugoslavs may feel that it is time to replace Milosevic with a leader better able to defend national interests, they know he is not the "genocidal dictator" portrayed by NATO propaganda. Like it or not, they may vote for him if he appears to be the only alternative to a takeover by paid agents of NATO.

A related reason to vote for him would be rejection of the unpopular economic program endorsed by the opposition, for the reasons pointed out by Jared Israel. That "G17" economic program is indeed dreadful, a recipe for the "shock treatment" that has brought mass unemployment, debt dependency and misery to other countries of Eastern Europe. Despite his undoubted patriotism, Kostunica is a jurist with conservative leanings, who seems largely unaware of the implications of the G17 economic program for social and national cohesion. He campaigns on other issues, more apt to win votes. Still, a victory of Kostunica would not be a victory for "shock treatment", even though it may look like a dangerous step in that direction. The important fact is that even if Kostunica were elected President of the Yugoslav Federation, his small party and the other opposition parties that support him would still not control the federal parliament, which means there is virtually no way he could put through such an economic program. The Yugoslav presidency is actually very weak, and has appeared strong only because occupied by Milosevic. Yugoslavia is a federation of two republics, Montenegro and Serbia, which would both retain their own governments. The Republic elections in Serbia next year will be more decisive for economic policy and distribution of power than the federal presidential election. If Kostunica actually managed to win the forthcoming presidential elections, this would have repercussions in the Serbian Socialist Party, the country's largest, which might even emerge strengthened from the need to revise its leadership. There would have to be a political realignment to create a new majority. It would be this new majority, and not the "G17", that would finally define economic policy.

All this is speculation, but indicates that the situation is perhaps more complex than it appears from a distance. Jared wrote, "The supporters of Kostunica argue, to themselves and others, that if Kostunica could only 'beat Milosevic', then maybe the West would stop attacking Yugoslavia and the lives of ordinary people would improve. Is this true?" No, of course it isn't true. Insofar as "the West" is the United States, it is not going to stop attacking Yugoslavia. Once the United States designates "an enemy" it is relentless in its destruction. Wounded Knee, Hiroshima, Vietnamese forests destroyed by agent orange, the 2,000 Panamanians who died so the U.S. could "arrest" its uppity ex-client Noriega, the ongoing bombing of Iraq are among the countless illustrations of the lack of civilized restraint with which the United States exercises its power. No, the United States will not stop attacking Yugoslavia. It is hooked on the habit, and it has to prove its "credibility" by crushing the bad example. The machinery that demonized Milosevic can demonize any eventual successor... but it would take a little time. And within that little time, perhaps some neighboring governments -- Rumania, Bulgaria, even Italy -- might get up the nerve to use the pretext of the change in President to renew relations with Serbia. The hope of simply having a President who is able to travel abroad without being arrested and speak for his country in international forums is far from signifying readiness to capitulate. Serbia is a small country.

Jared says it has become the example of resistance for hundreds of millions of people throughout the world who would be discouraged if little Yugoslavia capitulated. But then those hundreds of millions of people, in order not to be discouraged, had better start resisting U.S. power themselves, instead of counting on eight million Serbs to do it for them. The Western reaction to the Yugoslav elections is easier to predict than the domestic political repercussions. -- If Milosevic wins, the United States is certain to claim that he won by cheating and do everything to stimulate a "popular uprising" to provoke repression which in turn could be the excuse for even more aggressive outside intervention. The U.S. will move to expel Yugoslavia from the United Nations, complete the secession of Montenegro and provoke civil war.

Here it is important to note that cheating in Yugoslav elections is not very easy or likely. All parties send controllers to the polling stations, where they jointly count the votes and sign the final result. There is a procedure for appeal to the electoral committee, where all parties are represented, and from there to the courts. The opposition can complain, with some justification, that the conditions surrounding the elections are not fair, but that is primarily due to incessant foreign pressure. -- If Milosevic loses, the United States will claim victory and intensify pressure to force concessions from the new president. It will use the divisive demand to "deliver the indicted war criminal Milosevic" to the Hague Tribunal to test his successor, while stepping up pressure to take control of the country's government and economy. We on the outside can only denounce the fact that the United States gives the Yugoslav people the choice between cyanide and hemlock. Those who have to drink it have the right to choose their own poison. Global resistance to U.S. dictates cannot hinge solely on a set of elections in Yugoslavia. Those elections are not even likely to decide the fate of Yugoslavia. If Milosevic should lose, there will be a chorus of triumphalism in NATOland that may be very demoralizing to many critics of NATO in the West. My message is to them: don't be discouraged. In any case, resistance will continue.

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