During the first 'post-Dayton' spring, traditional supporters of the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) - pensioners and low-profile workers (mainly from the south of Serbia) - expressed openly their dissatisfaction over their social circumstances. Will the opposition be able to use these new tensions for establishing better communication with the people, and so, finally, garner sympathy among the voters? Here is the opinion of Bora Kuzmanovic, social psychologist and president of the Executive committee of Democratic Center.
According to Mr. Kuzmanovic, the articulation and expression of dissatisfaction fall ordinarily in the realm of unions rather than the parties. But the unions are unsuccessful, says our interlocutor, either because they are linked to the state, or, as is the case with independent unions, because they lack organization and internal communication.
The parties have another problem - they have never worked closely with the unions, and never regarded the social discontent as a part of their party programs, focusing rather on the unison critique of the government. In addition, whenever parties get involved in strikes or protests, they receive a tag of malevolence, explains Kuzmanovic. Even the workers themselves are hesitant and suspicious of any one party's offer to help.
"Essentially, this [approach] is not correct. Why should a party not turn a major part of its platform and focus to the social dissatisfaction? For example, a socialdemocratic party has the right to apply its actions toward solving the most pressing problems in the society, seeking the social justice, and improving the government. And, all things considered, the parties must show their solidarity more subtly, with a distance, " says Kuzmanovic. "In that case, parties should not expect endorsement from the strikers or protesters."
"If a party takes a stand of principle on these issues, and sticks to its program, both the protesters and the party will benefit. If, however, it attempts to use it for its own purposes, the party risks to harm these people, and ultimately itself," remarks Kuzmanovic.
Press releases, statements about the malfunctioning government, and perhaps some financial aid are as far as a party should go when discontent breaks out. If, on the other hand, the protest spreads and turns into a general strike, then the politics comes to play. Duty of a party in that case is to help solve the social conflicts, emphasized the leader of Democratic Center.
Majority of our parties have not clearly defined that part of their program that should address the social policy. "If the emphasis is placed only on property transfer, or privatization, and not on social policy, this may be a surprise. Or, they are afraid of supporting social upheavals since these threaten the privatization." Kuzmanovic remarks that Democratic Center, besides Socialdemocratic Union and the Civic Union ("to a certain extent"), is one of the rare parties that understand the need for a reform of the society, but also to protect the parts of that society that could be vulnerable.
"It is just as easy to make a radical reform without worrying about the prices and consequences as it is to talk about security for everyone without changing the economic system. SPS already did that - they printed the money, took here to give there where dissatisfaction arose, all without planning anything in the long run. Kuzmanovic wryly comments the ironic detail:
"The odd thing is that any party that is socialist in name, if it really pursues social justice, should support the expression of dissatisfaction and strikes. Nevertheless, just recently we have witnessed the passing of a strike-restrictive legislature, imposed by the ruling party, that poses many requirements before the would-be strikers, including the clause that prohibits the workers from organizing the strike on the streets! All that because for SPS, the power is more important than solving the problems," concludes Bora Kuzmanovic.