Samstag, 13. Dezember 2014

Decent people

I've talked and debated with a lot of people lately about politics. It's really a national pass-time in Serbia, discussing politicians, their actions and laying it all out there. Doesn't really matter if you disagree, the opinions of average Serbian voters can't be changed without a heavy use of propaganda.

For some time now, no longer than 10 years, so coinciding with the assassination of Zoran Djindjic, at least in my mind, I hear people say, and say it often, like some sort of credo:"All politicians are the same." Not "alike", but "same". Well, I disagree, and I'll explain why.

If I must generalize, I'd say that this statement is closer to voters of democratic persuasion. A brief note, in Serbia "democratic" means "all those who beat Milosevic in 2000", and in a more narrow sense "whatever coalition exists around the Democratic Party and it's prominent ex-members". I make this distinction, because Democracy is one of the main reasons why people perceive politicians to be "same". This is because the "non-democrats" have embraced Democracy, and seem to be doing fine using it to win elections. The shift came after a mega-flip on the part of our current Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic and President Tomislav Nikolic. If you follow Serbian politics, you may have gotten the impression that AV is the Alpha and the Omega of Serbian (not only) political life, all thanks to Democracy.

Also, don't get me wrong, I'm not against Democracy. It is, as they say, the least bad political system known to man. Any discontent with the political system in Serbia is not due to flaws in Democracy, but flaws in institutions and low political education of the people. I like to make a distinction between "the people" (narod) and "the citizens" (gradjani), to make known that there is in fact a difference between an entity which is characterized by its natural and historical heritage, and the group of people who are educated on their political rights and actively use them to support and promote their political views, for instance by voting in the election. When I say "citizen", I mean this latter type of people.

Another problem in Serbia is the heavy dependence on the State. So many people are employed by the State that the campaign promises and election outcomes can directly affect someone's salary or job. Keeping this class of people happy is of course expensive and directly contrary to any promises of reforms. So, if you promise reforms, you do not get elected. If you do not promise reform you do not get elected. If you promise both, you get elected. If you then deliver on reforms you do not get re-elected. Tricky, and perhaps the reason why so many politicians can be caught lying.

To me, AV and Zoran Djindjic are not and cannot be the same. Likewise, AV and Vladimir Pavicevic are not the same. Neither are AV and Boris Tadic, but since he's a hasbeen, I won't talk about him much. The main point about AV is his arrogance and, in later years, pathos. AV of ten years ago was arrogant on the border of combative. Now that he is in power, he has developed the pathos, which he uses to draw sympathies as in "Poor me, everyone's attacking me because I want to change things." The thing is, with the power he has, even if everybody was attacking him (which they aren't because almost all are trying to please him), he'd still be able to push whatever changes he wanted. The problem is that he is both not willing to make important changes, nor does he know how to make them, and he's surrounded himself with yesmen with no qualifications.

Since the last elections there's been a new parliamentary party, Nova stranka (New Party), and although it only has 2 MPs (out of 250), it has been very vocal. From the public appearances, mainly CSPAN-esque broadcasts of the parliamentary sessions, I have gotten the impression that not only is Vladimir Pavicevic saying and doing the right things, things one would expect of a critical, yet constructive, opposition party, but he is doing so in a well argued and calm manner. He is what I would call a decent politician.

So, here we are with a generally decadent political class, led by AV and Nikolic, people who got rich doing nothing but politics most (in AV's case all) of their lives. It is safe to say many of them are no strangers to all sorts of corruption and nepotism. There are surely many generalizations to be made about them, but to say they are all the same, even if they all say they are for EU membership, or that they all want reforms, and all can achieve a higher standard of living for the people, well, that's just not true.

One can choose who to vote for based on all sorts of criteria. In the election campaign, the cacophony is such that politicians often say paradoxical things. Some people choose to vote based on general principles, such as the stance towards the EU, Nationalism, economic policy, etc. There are others who tend to their narrow interests such as their pensions, jobs, local issues... I base my decision on as much information as I can get, about all of them (both issues and politicians), trying to make sure I'm not lied to. If, for instance, a politician has been a opposed to the EU membership, and then changed his position, I welcome his change of heart, but I would not vote for him, because he should have known better in the first place. If he gives clearly false promises and tries to lie his way into the Cabinet, I won't vote for him. If he actually won an election and then did not deliver on his promises (that helped him gain support), I don't vote for such a guy. If he uses tabloids to smear his opponents, I cannot vote for him. If he is not a decent human being, a person I would be happy to know and be proud to be associated with, I will not vote for him. It makes one long list, but it is all fairly simple - if you are not a decent person, politics or not, I will not vote for you.

It is of course hard to find such men in today's Serbia, but not impossible. I've found at least two political options I can vote for, and this might mean that the times are changing.