Serbia: Neoliberals Stirring Up Apathy

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For the third time in just over a year, Serbia's presidential elections were declared null and void last month because of a disastrously low voter turnout.

Only 39 percent of the population bothered to vote, instead of the necessary 50 percent or more. The result has since led to the chaotic splintering of the ruling 18-party Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition which came to power after the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic in October 2000.

This profound disillusionment with politics is an acute example of a trend increasingly familiar in the west, and for many of the same reasons. Since 2000, DOS has implemented a programme of mass privatisation that has increased unemployment, prices and poverty. The coalition has also become embroiled in a series of corruption scandals, and political infighting among Serbia's numerous political parties is endemic.

None of these political parties offers any real alternative to the free market. In the absence of any real political focus for their deep disaffection, the reaction of Serbs has been not only to spurn the polling booths on a mass scale. They have also reacted with a mixture of hopelessness (as manifested by a high suicide and family murder rate) and isolated explosions of social discontent, such as the near-storming of the town hall in Kragujevac earlier this year by angry workers of the giant Zastava car plant.

Given the depth of the political and economic crisis, and the absence of any political opposition to speak of from the left, the great danger is that the extreme right will benefit. Indeed, the winner of the aborted presidential election was the candidate of the extreme nationalist Radical Party, former allies of the Milosevic regime, who easily beat the official DOS candidate into second place.

The free market is not working wonders. Instead, its impoverishing effects are bringing back to power parties responsible for the bloody wars of the 1990s.