SERBIA: Serbian Women Refrained from Voting

Friday, May 25, 2012
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Last Sunday former nationalist leader Tomislav Nikolic was elected as Serbia's new president. But a majority of the Serbs refrained from voting. And with the political parties only talking about women as mothers, women don't have much hope of getting a government that deals with inequalities in the society.

According to the Serbian Electoral Commission official figures, Tomislav Nikolic of the Serbian Progressive Party got 49,7 percent of the votes in the second round of the presidential election. The Democratic Party's candidate Boris Tadic, who won the first round, got 47 percent. That means revenge for the challenger Nikolic, who lost against Tadic in the presidential elections in 2004 and 2008.

But the turnout was low, only 46,3 percent of the Serbs voted.

Many women I've talked to didn't bother to vote, because they are tired of voting for the least bad candidate, says Stina Magnusson Buur, working for the women's rights and peace organization The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation in Belgrade.

Vote blank-campaign

One positive thing with the election, she says, was a campaign that encouraged people to vote blank. A spontaneous grass-roots initiative, that grew significantly during the election campaign. In Belgrade, more than 5 percent voted blank.

That is a strong message to the political leadership, that people are tired of the situation and want to see political alternatives.

Many voters also wrote messages on their blank notes. One of the messages read: “I want Tadic to go, but I do not want Nikolic instead”. A feeling shared by many Serbs. That the result should be interpreted as an increased Serbian nationalism is denied by Milica Gudovic from the women's organization Zena na Delu. She means that it's more a reaction to the financial instability in the country and to a government that hasn't been able to deal with the high unemployment rates, problem's within the healthcare system and corruption.

In the parliamentary elections, held on the 6th of May, Tomislav Nikolic's Progressive Party won the most votes. But it is unclear what the government will look like, because the Democratic Party are likely to continue to cooperate with the Socialist Party, thus having a majority. Negotiations are underway.

No political will to change inequalities

If women have been mentioned at all during the election campaign, it has been in their role as mothers. There has also been a discussion about the law of quotas that should ensure that all electoral lists contain at least 30 percent of representatives of each sex. Tomislav Nikolic is said to have apologized to his male voters for the quota law. According to Stina Magnusson Buur, the political will to do something about inequality is virtually nonexistent.

It's rational for women not to vote, for no matter who they vote for it's a party that sees women only as reproduction machines, she says.

EU membership at the top of the agenda

The neighboring Balkan countries has reacted differently to the election results. While politicians in Sarajevo, Bosnia, said that it didn't mean that much, there were politicians in Kosovo who argued that Kosovo now must prepare for another war. But Serbian women that Stina Magnusson Buur has talked to do not believe there will be a renewal of the armed conflict. Instead they think that the question of an imminent EU membership will dominate the future political agenda. Nikolic has said he wants to continue to work to bring Serbia into the EU, but not at the expense of having to recognize Kosovo as an independent state.

The women's movement in Serbia, especially the Women in Black, tries to remind people that the EU is not the solution to everything. A fact that neighboring Greece is a good example of, says Stina Magnusson Buur.

Women in Black means that the EU adds to a kind of virtual reality in Serbia, where laws are being pushed through in order to reach EU standards. Meanwhile there has been no improvements for economically disadvantaged people and groups that are facing discrimination – including LGBT people and Roma – in the country.