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April 11, 1998
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 340
Stojan Cerovic’s Diary

Political Larceny

by Stojan Cerovic

What are all the things a tyrant will do to prevent his people from noticing that he has taken away their freedom?  Well, he will even go as far as calling a referendum and will ask the people to agree with him, of their own free will and in full possession of their faculties.  And if anyone were to raise questions about freedom of will and full possession of faculties, he would receive an answer that this people is by its very nature and in its very spirit slightly devoid of both the one and the other.  Those same authorities, who until not so long ago composed such beautiful rhymes about the same heavenly people, would be the same to say such things.

I systematically avoided, both then and now, rushing into something as moot as the spirit of a nation, and I resisted the temptation of interpreting the fate of the Serbian people.  My requirements for understanding and describing my environment are quite well articulated by Napoleon’s claim that fate is — politics.  That is why I cannot accept the whole story of Kosovo as a cradle and as holy, and the whole construction of the “historical NO”, and everything else surrounding the referendum as anything but treacherous political larceny whose success threatens to have catastrophic consequences.

I agree with those who, on the occasion of this referendum, are pointing to the previous one, the one from eighty-nine, when the issue was “first the Constitution, then the elections”, which exclusively served to legitimize Milosevic’s power.  At that time, those old regimes followed each other’s example, falling like dominos.  At that time also the referendum issue sounded innocent and not too important.  In any case, it did not appear to have much to do with the disintegration of the country, with the war and subsequent defeats.  But it did.

At that time the national elite largely believed that what was at issue was a dilemma called “nationalism or democracy”, and it was decided that democracy could be put off.  But, this “democracy” has yet to happen, while “nationalism” has been shattered and has gone to pieces like never before.  This time also the referendum question is being presented and advertised in a similar fashion: as nationalist, as declaration of love for one’s homeland which is above party allegiances and differences.  What is at issue is resistance to foreign intervention, aggression so-to-speak, so that the regime and the opposition no longer matter as such.

It is as if they are telling us: O.K., maybe we swindled you, defrauded you and battered you on more than one occasion up to now, but that is not important at this moment.  Now we must work together to save and defend ourselves jointly.  Show the world that you have forgiven us, that you are not angry with us and that you accept all accusations against us as being leveled against you.  Do not let our centuries-old enemies come between us.  In short: remain the same kinds of fools that you have always been.  If Milosevic has disappointed us beyond all expectations, we now have Seselj, and who will we believe if not him.

In reality, this is not a referendum on foreign intervention, nor on Kosovo, but on the new government and its possible military adventures.  The regime is not planning to initiate dialogue with Albanians at all, on its own, without mediators.  Had there been any will for that, it could have been done before now.  Besides that, it is known that it is difficult to get Albanians to sit down at a negotiating table without mediators, and no one has attempted, let us say, to specify and limit the role of those mediators.  Instead of that, a referendum has been called for yet another “historical NO”.

Just so that no one is surprised later, voters should know that they are being called on to give a vote of confidence to Seselj’s government.  Has he promised anyone that there won’t be anymore war or sanctions?  Has he guaranteed a return to international institutions?  Has he spoken about a “Swedish standard of living”?  No.  He’s spoken about everything that is Serbian, how far borders reach and who is the enemy, while he’s usually threatened Albanians with banishment.

Seselj does not hide his intentions the way Milosevic did.  That is why this time no one has the right to say that they were conned.  Thus, whoever hurries to say their NO on Thursday, April 23, should know that they are choosing sanctions, hyperinflation, empty stores, a winter without heating, and at the same time mobilization and recruiting, because Seselj has no intentions of attacking Albanians personally, but will rather send his faithful voters to Kosovo to do that for him.  The referendum will be successful, of course, but it is hardly unimportant whether or not the referendum committee will be forced to fill ballot boxes with shovels.  It is hardly unimportant because the regime will know the actual results and, maybe, will desist from undertaking the craziest operations if it does not get sufficient support.  But this referendum will not show us the actual will and real mood of citizens, simply because there is no free expression when people do not live in freedom.  This kind of regime can organize elections and referendums until we all turn blue in the face, asking the people if they are happy and, for the purposes of TV, shouting with glee.  If until now, we had something akin to a halfhearted kind of freedom, under Seselj and this referendum cannonade, we will have more and more shouting.  When freedom is at issue, it seems that the principle “all or nothing” really holds true.
Half-heartedness is unstable and discontinuous.  Serbia has been dithering for years, and trying to begin something.  And, paradoxically, it is with the help of a referendum, as the most democratic instrument, that Serbia is making a great, decisive step toward complete absence of freedom.

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