a victory for democracy or naked force, imperialist lies, threats and bribery?
The Yugoslav presidential election was held on 24 September. The five candidates who contested the election were as follows: Slobodan Milosevic, nominated by the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), the Yugoslav Left (JUL) and the Socialist People’s Party of Montenegro (SNP); Vojislav Kostunica, the candidate of the motley of 18 opposition parties grouped under the umbrella of the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS); Tomislav Nicolic from the Serbian Radical Party (SRS); Vojislav Mihailovic nominated by the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) of Vuk Draskovic; and Miroljub Vidojkovic of the Affirmative Party.
Barrage of imperialist propaganda
Preceding this election, imperialist propaganda had reached fever pitch. With one voice, imperialist statesmen, leader-writers and other members of the journalist fraternity, and television presenters, declared that the Yugoslav election was a fraud as Milosevic was going to rig the election. The so-called Democratic Opposition (DOS) repeated this NATO imperialist lie in the run up to the election. Notwithstanding this assertion, neither imperialism nor its stooges were leaving the field open for Milosevic. On the contrary, they made meticulous preparations for contesting, and winning, this election. The allegation of fraud in advance of the election was merely to serve as a convenient alibi for a refusal to accept the result in the event of the DOS candidate losing. In other words, imperialism was prepared to accept only one result – a defeat for Milosevic and a victory for Kostunica.
Bribery and intimidation
It is now openly admitted that the National Endowment for Democracy, a counter-revolutionary agency set up by the US Congress to subvert democratic processes abroad in the name of democracy, donated $100 million to the Yugoslav opposition. It also gave an additional $20 million to Milo Djukanovic of Montenegro, notorious for his pro-imperialist sympathies. Not wishing to be left out in the cold, Germany, the second most important imperialist contender in the Balkans, funded the Yugoslav opposition to the tune of £6 million, using the German Red Cross for secretly moving these funds to their DOS recipients. These vast sums of money were used to put together the opposition, to create and fund TV and radio stations, newspapers and a host of subversive outfits with innocent sounding names such as the Humanitarian Law Centre, the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights; the Centre for Democracy Foundation and, most important, the G17 group of economists (of which more later). On top of the lavish monetary funding of the opposition, imperialism let it be known loud and clear that economic assistance to Yugoslavia and the lifting of sanctions against her were conditional on the defeat of Milosevic. In the week before the election, for good measure, a large NATO armada, including the British aircraft carrier
was lurking off the Yugoslav coast in a show of force – an obvious attempt to influence the election result.
Election result and the storming of parliament
Thus it was in these circumstances of imperialist bribery, threats and intimidation that the election of 24 September was held. The Federal Election Commission, an elected all-party body, announced the result, according to which no presidential candidate had received the 50% plus 1 needed for an outright victory in the first round. It therefore ordered a run-off for October 8, with the top two candidates, Milosevic and Kostunica, entitled to take part in this second round. What took imperialism by surprise was the fact that, according to the figures of the Election Commission, its candidate, Kostunica, with 48% of the votes polled, was leading Milosevic, who secured 39% of the vote, by a whole 9 percentage points. In view of this, it became impossible for it to question the very legitimacy of the election.
Since the election to the Federal Assembly was held at the same time as the presidential election, and since Milosevic’s SPS and its allies had won that election with 72 seats against the opposition’s 66, imperialism was not prepared to take the risk of its candidate losing in the second round. Instead of accepting the result, as they should have were they the democrats that the Yugoslav opposition and its imperialist backers claim to be, they went on, in flagrant violation of their professions of loyalty to legality and to constitutional and peaceful methods, to mobilise large crowds who on 5 October stormed and set alight the parliament building, bulldozed their way into the state-run RTS television station and beat up its director general. The demonstrators, in their tens of thousands, led by hundreds of youth, came from Cacak and other opposition centres. It is indicative of the careful and long planning that must have gone into it, that the crowds were well enough prepared to bring excavators for removing road blocks. Equally indicative of the long and thorough planning is the fact that the crowd, led by DOS activists, went on systematically to take control of a number of public buildings, beginning with the parliament, attacked and plundered the headquarters of the Socialist Party, as well as several buildings housing public enterprises. Several stores in the centre of Belgrade had their windows smashed and were subsequently looted.
Several weeks before the elections, Djindic – the real leader of the opposition – had openly told Greek television that if the opposition failed to win the election, it would take over parliament. What took place in Belgrade on 5 October merely serves to confirm that the opposition had meant to storm parliament irrespective of the election result.
Dollars and thuggery
It is significant that on Monday 25 September, just one day after the first round of the election, the US House of Representatives passed a Bill authorising
“financial aid for opposition groups in Serbia… The bill authorizes $500 million to help finance democratic forces in Serbia and Montenegro …, including $50 million to fund the activities of pro-democracy and dissident groups.”
(Robin White, ‘US calls on Milosevic to concede election loss’,
Los Angeles Times,
September 26, 2000).
We know precisely what the above-cited provision means. It means that the opposition in Serbia must be furnished with large amounts of money to do its dirty work on behalf of imperialism. Having at their disposal a pedantic mediocrity (instead of a popular, if reactionary, figurehead such as Lech Walesa of Poland), imperialism and its stooges could only achieve power by supplementing the ballot box with a strong dose of thuggery, intimidation, media blitz and vast infusions of dollars.
In the week following the storming of parliament, drunken mobs systematically stormed “…
the offices of factories, coal mines, banks and universities forcing people to resign. Armed gangs seized the National Bank as well as the Customs Office. The managers of Yugoslavia’s largest gold mine and smelter were kicked out, as were the managers at Zastava, the country’s giant car-maker. The Director of the Kolubara coalmining complex was thrown out, as was the Director of Yugoslav Coal Production.”
(From Global Reflection Foundation – NET, Amsterdam, 13 October 2000).
In addition, road blocks were set up in and around a string of towns in central and southern Serbia – the opposition heartlands. The main railway line between Serbia and Montenegro was blocked for two days running.
Fraud – but on whose part?
The above actions of lawlessness and hooliganism are sought to be justified by the opposition in Yugoslavia and its imperialist masters on the pretext that the election result of the first round, as announced by the Election Commission, was fraudulent and had cheated Mr Kostunica who, it is further alleged, had won an outright victory in the first round. In fact, if there were irregularities and malpractice during the election, these were entirely on the side of the opposition. The SLP in Britain sent a three-member delegation to monitor the Yugoslav elections. On its return the delegation issued a statement which is worth reproducing in full. This statement reads thus:
AT THE INVITATION of the Socialist Party of Serbia, Britain’s Socialist Labour Party sent a three-person delegation to participate in international monitoring of the Yugoslav elections held on 24 September. We were the only British representatives among 250 observers invited from around the world.
Our delegation travelled extensively throughout the country, was able to talk to officials and voters and visited numerous polling stations, gaining first-hand experience of what was actually taking place during an election which was being misreported in many parts of the world.
From what we saw, the Federal Electoral Commission, an elected all-party body, did everything in its power to ensure that people were able to cast their votes without intimidation and in an orderly manner – and certainly in accordance with procedures which we would expect in a democratic, free election.
In Serbia, we visited the Muslim areas of Kraljevo and Novi Pazar as well as observing polling in the capital, Belgrade.
It was only in Montenegro that we observed the following irregularities:
1. The so-called Democratic Opposition which boycotted the elections in Montenegro nevertheless gathered outside polling stations there in clear violation of election procedures, using intimidating behaviour towards prospective voters;
2. We received many first-hand reports from people who stated they had been threatened with the loss of their jobs if they turned out to vote;
3. We were in no doubt that countless refugees from Kosovo had been deliberately excluded from the electoral lists in Montenegro despite the fact that their identity cards, issued in 1999, gave them the right to vote, and were thus prevented from voting.
We could only conclude that these tactics of intimidation and disenfranchisement were designed to benefit the so-called Democratic Opposition.
We were also appalled at the blatant outside interference in the procedures from Western governments which are obviously seeking to influence the outcome of these elections by promising economic aid and the lifting of sanctions if the Yugoslav people vote in accordance with the wishes of these governments and the European Union.
Milosevic accepts defeat
Be that as it may, on the evening of 6 October, that is, after the storming of parliament and widespread disturbances and hooliganism orchestrated by DOS, Milosevic accepted defeat. He “
went on television to congratulate the opposition politician on his election victory”
7 October 2000, ‘Milosevic concedes presidency to Kostunica’).
adds that “
Mr Milosevic’s admission of defeat came after he had been abandoned by Russia. Moscow’s decision to join the west in endorsing Mr Kostunica as president-elect was made as Mr Milosevic’s power continued to crumble and his allies deserted him.”
Thus for the second time in the last 15 months, Russia, for reasons which are not difficult to guess, has acted as a saviour for the NATO imperialists, the first being when it persuaded Belgrade to agree to the entry of NATO forces into Kosovo in June 1999. Russia, with its grip on Yugoslav energy supplies, is in a unique position to exert undue pressure. In all probability this is just what it did, for Milosevic’s acceptance of defeat came after he had had a meeting with Igor Ivanov, Russian foreign minister. After this meeting Ivanov announced that Milosevic had no intention of using force and that he intended “
to continue to play a prominent political role in the country”
as the leader of its largest political party – the SPS. Ivanov then called on Kostunica and delivered a personal message from the Russian President, Vladimir Putin. Ivanov also stated that he “
congratulated Mr Kostunica on his victory in the presidential elections
“. With events taking this turn, and not wishing to lag behind, the blessed head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, prepared to bless Mr Kostunica. Very touching indeed!
Milosevic’s acceptance of defeat was greeted by imperialist organs and statesmen with a mixture of malicious glee, triumphalism and hypocrisy. The
of 7 October spoke of the ousting of the “
who had turned Serbia “
into a Balkans black hole
“. Cynically ignoring the fact that it is NATO imperialism which has turned the entire Balkans region into a black hole through war, aggression, economic strangulation and incitement to fratricidal strife, the
goes on unctuously to express the hope there will be an
“end to a decade of violence, war and isolation”.
Ignoring the irregularities and gross intimidation practised by DOS and imperialism, and flying in the face of all known facts, the
, in its editorial, with characteristic bourgeois shamelessness, has the temerity to say: “
Serbs are to be congratulated for the … success of their protests against his
shameful attempt to manipulate the presidential election
” (6 October).
Bill Clinton, the chief executive of US imperialism, expressed his satisfaction thus:
“The people of Serbia have spoken with their ballots, they have spoken in the street”
(quoted in the
Financial Times, ibid.
We know precisely the circumstances in which the people of Serbia have spoken.
Even if for the sake of argument one were to grant that Kostunica did win an outright victory in the first round of the Presidential election, one is nevertheless obliged to say that this is not because, as the likes of Clinton would have us believe,
“the people of Serbia have spoken with their ballots”.
The election in Yugoslavia was held under the most difficult of conditions. As a result of war and economic sanctions, output in Yugoslavia has fallen by two thirds. Its factories, electricity plants, roads, bridges, and other infrastructure, have been badly damaged or destroyed, courtesy of the NATO imperialist bombing. Its people are still having to cope with fragmentation bombs and the effects of depleted uranium so liberally hurled at them thanks to the ‘humanitarian’ concerns of the group of imperialist bloodsuckers grouped in the warmongering NATO alliance. Using the rope of starvation as a means of strangulation, imperialism presented the Yugoslav electorate with the brutal choice: “
Vote for the pro-imperialist DOS candidate or starve”.
And to finish the job, imperialism filled the coffers of the opposition with hundreds of millions of dollars, supplied it with specialists skilled in the most up-to-date and sophisticated techniques for organising mass campaigns based on nothing but lies – when one takes into consideration all these factors, one can hardly call these elections fair and free, let alone an expression of the will of the Yugoslav people through the ballot box.
This election was merely the continuation of the war waged by NATO against Yugoslavia just over a year ago. It was a continuation of the same policy by other – more peaceful – means, if one may use this expression by stretching its meaning somewhat. What NATO set out to do, and could not accomplish through bombing last year, it has sought to achieve through this election.
At the height of the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in the spring of 1999, US imperialist strategy was explained with brutal candour by the US General Michael Short, who stated:
I am persuaded that if these people don’t have current to keep their refrigerator going, no gas for the kitchen stove, if they can’t go to work because the bridges are smashed and they can’t stop thinking about the bombs that could fall at any moment, the time will come when they will say to themselves that they have to finish with all that. All that – that was the Belgrade regime.”
Thus NATO’s bombers created the most favourable conditions for the electoral chances of its stooges.
Social inequality consequent upon market reform
While fully taking into account the imperialist intimidation, extortion, threats, bribery and lies – repeated by the opposition throughout and in the run-up to the election – the question nevertheless arises: why, and how, did an uninspiring mediocrity such as Kostunica manage to secure 9 per cent more votes in the first round than did Milosevic, who had led the Yugoslav people in resisting NATO’s aggression against his country, and for which stance he was supported and admired by the majority of the population? Apart from the fact, already indicated, that the Yugoslav people, tired by sanctions and war, simply concluded that they would get no rest from imperialist strangulation as long as Milosevic remained president, fell for the temptation dangled before them that sanctions against Yugoslavia would be lifted and economic assistance rendered to it if – and only if – Milosevic lost the election, there is one other factor which played a most important role, namely, the increasing growth of social inequality. This has been going on for a long time. Market mechanisms for running the economy were introduced by Tito. With the passage of time, the workings of the increasing encroachment of commodity production have reached a point where one third of the Yugoslav economy is in private hands. The Yugoslav regime has not merely permitted it, it has favoured the growth of social inequality. Outrageously large fortunes have been made by those in business and trafficking, who make no attempt to hide their scandalously lavish lifestyles, while the majority of the Yugoslav people struggle with daily hardship. And some of those who have made these vast sums are pretty close to the regime. The notorious Karic brothers, three of the wealthiest people in Yugoslavia, whose business interests range from a mobile telecommunications network and a television station to energy interests, are just one example. Along with the growth and expansion of commodity production (the market economy), and the making of vast private fortunes, come the usual corruption and other malpractices which, while inseparable from such an economy, have such a corrosive effect on the workings of the rest of the economy, as well as of the administration and state apparatus. In the circumstances (even though the opposition’s victory will only have served to accelerate this process, which is one of the reasons for the support given to the opposition by imperialism), the government’s message lacked credibility. Sections of the Yugoslav electorate did not as much vote for the opposition as against Milosevic.
In this context, it is worth mentioning that hardship alone does not furnish the sole explanation for the Milosevic regime losing support among sections of the working class. Cuba too has suffered hardship, even extreme hardship, resulting from the four decades of cruel US blockade and the collapse of the Soviet Union. All the same, the Cuban regime remains popular, for the Cuban leadership does not enjoy a luxurious lifestyle, nor does it allow any tiny minority to amass fabulous fortunes. As it stays in close contact with its people, understands their problems and explains the difficulties facing the country to the masses, it is able successfully to defy US imperialism and solve economic problems through mass mobilisation of the Cuban working class and peasantry. The Milosevic leadership failed to do this, which alone explains why the coal miners in the country’s largest mine, Kolubara, went on strike of Friday 29 September.
A bleak future under the opposition
Now that Kostunica has assumed the presidency, will the Yugoslav people do any better? All the signs are they they will fare far worse under him. This is for the following reasons. First, DOS is a heterogeneous collection of 18 parties, who share very little with each other except their common desire to get rid of Milosevic and his SPS. Second, the opposition’s economic programme is bound to disappoint the Yugoslav people who, after a decade of sanctions and hardship, want to ‘live normally’ and with a standard of living as close as possible to that enjoyed by people in Western Europe, which they have been deluded into believing will be delivered by the opposition. Even a cursory scrutiny of the opposition’s programme reveals that it calls for massive redundancies hand-in-hand with the removal of all social protection. It calls for the acceleration of the privatisation programme and further inroads of the market into the economy, and an end to all price controls. It stands for the wholesale gobbling up of large Yugoslav enterprises by multinational imperialist corporations. All in all, the G17 plus group of economists, who act as the DOS thinktank, and whose chief executive, Miroljub Labus is the opposition’s candidate for the position of Federal Prime Minister, has long been an ardent champion of placing Yugoslavia into the receivership of the IMF. None of this augurs very well for the long-suffering Yugoslav people. Far from guaranteeing them a ‘normal’ life and a Western standard of living, it will plunge the overwhelming majority of the Yugoslav workers into further, ever-deepening, poverty, while a minority of parasites, local and foreign, make vast fortunes. If the opposition is able, and this is far from certain, to carry out its economic programme, the Yugoslav economy will entirely pass into the hands principally of foreign multinational corporations, and secondarily into those of their local stooges.
Slip between the cup and the lip
There is many a slip ‘twixt cup and lip goes an old saying. The opposition may, because of the complicated political situation in the country, not be able to deliver what it has promised to its imperialist patrons. This is for the following reasons.
First, the Yugoslav presidency is the least powerful institution under the Yugoslav constitutional dispensation. It became invested with undeserved importance because Milosevic held this position and he was vehemently demonised by imperialism as well as the opposition within Yugoslavia.
Secondly, Milosevic’s party and its allies won the election to the Federal Assembly, the legitimacy of which no one has questioned. More than that, in the new Federal Cabinet, announced as we go to press, Milosevic’s party occupies the premiership.
Third, the election to the Serbian parliament, the most important of the elected bodies, is to be held in December. There is no guarantee that the opposition will do any better than it did in the election to the Federal Assembly.
Fourth, it is far from certain that the Kostunica presidency will be able to gain control, let alone the confidence, of the Supreme Defence Council – a body which commands the armed forces and on which sit the presidents of Yugoslavia, Serbia and Montenegro, as well as the Minister of Defence and the Chief of Staff of the Yugoslav army.
Fifth, the Yugoslav people, while they may be tired of war and sanctions, and while some of them may think that getting rid of Milosevic will deliver to them Western living standards, are far from enthusiastic in their attitude to privatisation. Although the privatisation law was passed in the autumn of 1998, no privatisation has taken place. The reason is the opposition of the Yugoslav people to such an act of economic vandalism. Even Reuters, the news agency, was obliged in its report of 17 November 1998, to refer to a poll of 300 companies which stated that
“privatisation raises no enthusiasm in Serbia as the workers fear massive layoffs. No new companies have been privatised since the new privatisation law was adopted a month ago.”
Sixth, as time passes on, the burning of the Federal Assembly and the storming of RTS television will come to haunt the Kostunica administration. Large numbers of Yugoslavs are furious over the torching of the parliament. “
Even NATO spared this symbol”,
they say. The torching of parliament is evocative of Hitlerties setting the Reichstag on fire as a provocation and a prelude to their wholesale persecution of the working-class opposition, which in due course led into the Second World War. As to the storming of the RTS television, it comes so soon after NATO’s brutal bombardment of this station, which claimed 16 victims, that it can hardly fail to stir Yugoslav emotions.
Seventh, the boastful comments emanating from the chief executive of US imperialism, as well as other imperialist politicians, such as ‘our own’ despicable prime minister and the equally nauseating foreign secretary, cannot but undermine the authority of Kostunica and DOS. One day after the acceptance of defeat by Milosevic, Bill Clinton had this to say on the outcome of events in Yugoslavia:
This victory is ours; it is the outcome of US combat over the last ten years. We stopped Milosevic from continuing the attack on Croatia, Bosnia and other countries
[countries! They were all parts of Yugoslavia!].
With the demonstration
[i.e., the torching of parliament]
, we ended for good the threat from a person who is responsible for hundreds of thousands of victims.”
(Quoted in Michel Collon, ‘Belgrade Journal’, 7 October 2000).
The Yugoslav people are not stupid. They will draw the proper conclusions from the above revealing remarks of this imperialist charlatan. They would understand that it is imperialism, PRIMARILY, which has broken up their country; that it is imperialism which was behind the torching of their Federal Assembly and first the bombing then the storming of their television station; that it is imperialism which, by inciting fratricidal warfare in order to break up Yugoslavia, caused hundreds of thousands of Yugoslav people to be butchered in senseless nationalist strife; that it is imperialism which, through 74 days of relentless, round-the-clock, barbaric bombing, inflicted thousands of deaths and over $100 billion of damage, and which destroyed hospitals, factories, bridges, residential blocks, schools and railway stations. They will understand, too, as will proletarians and oppressed people all over the world, that the exploiting classes have absolutely no respect for ‘legal’ and ‘peaceful’ methods of struggle which they preach to the exploited classes; that imperialists have no respect for the ballot box in which they exhort the masses to have faith. If their class interests so demand, the exploiting classes are the first to resort to brutal violence, disband parliaments and suspend constitutions. The very same bourgeois British parties – Labour, Tory and Dimwits (sorry, Lib-Dems) – who condemned the British miners during the historic coal strike of 1984-1985 for picketing, have enthusiastically applauded the torching of the Yugoslav parliament, the storming of the television station, and dozens of such other acts of hooliganism. In doing so, these despicable defenders of imperialism and of privilege are teaching the oppressed masses an important lesson in class struggle. The proletariat and the oppressed peoples too must, if they want to defend their class interests, have no respect for bourgeois legality. They too, taking a leaf from the bourgeoisie’s own book on class struggle, learn to rise above the cretinism of bourgeois legality and bourgeois parliamentarism.
Eighth, Kostunica has all along stated that he will not hand over to the imperialist kangaroo court at The Hague either Milosevic or any other Yugoslav leaders targeted by imperialism for their resistance to the imperialist diktat. In passing, we may judge the ‘impartiality’ and ‘objectivity’ of this tribunal from the contents of the communiqué issued on 6 October by its ‘dispassionate’ judge, the execrable Carla Del Ponte, in which she declared: “
It is appropriate on my part to express my pleasure regarding the dramatic events unfolding in Belgrade. I wish them full success with all their new democracy.”
And this woman, who by this statement disqualifies herself to sit in judgment even under the norms of bourgeois law, seeks nonetheless to dispense ‘justice’ (dispense WITH justice, more like).
The refusal of Kostunica to throw Milosevic and his close associates to the bewigged and begowned hounds of this imperialist mockery of a tribunal is bound to upset the various imperialist powers and cause friction between the latter and the Kostunica administration.
Last, but by no means least, the UN Resolution under which NATO troops entered Kosovo specifically says that Kosovo is a part of Yugoslavia. Kostunica has all along insisted that this is so. The insistence by the Kostunica government that it regain control over that province is a source of friction, fraught with unimaginable consequences for imperialist control of the entire Balkans region – not just Yugoslavia.
The ‘electoral victory’ of Kostunica, and the defeat of Milosevic, can by no means be described as the outcome of a fair and free election. It is, on the contrary, the product of a combination of naked force, imperialist threats, wholesale bribery, a barrage of deceitful propaganda and a flood of US dollars. Those who have been catapulted into the new Yugoslav administration are no democrats by any definition. They are indeed the cringing and servile lackeys of imperialism, the defenders of the interests of the latter and of a tiny minority of Yugoslavs who hope to get rich on the coat tails of the giant multinational companies which are limbering up to swallow the Yugoslav industry and enterprises. But in doing so, they will meet the fierce resistance of the proud Yugoslav people. This is their Achilles heel. Imperialism is far from assured of any easy run, let alone an easy victory. There is much inflammable material in Yugoslav politics. It could all end up in flames for imperialism. The coming weeks and months will be very interesting indeed. We wish the Yugoslav people well in the impending trying times.
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