Another bizarre week

Strange things happened in Serbia this week – the government started election talks with the opposition, crime and entertainment, not politics, took over the TV screens, the first November snow in almost 20 years began to fall, and – the biggest mystery of all – there’s no longer a shortage of gas and electricity. To most people, all of this wouldn’t seem so related… but, of course, it is.
It all starts with the unusual weather the whole region has had this month – sub-zero temperatures, continuous rain, and sometimes even sleet and snow are not too common here in late November. With low temperatures comes the need for more power and heat, and if neither of them is available, which was the case just a few days ago, the people are unhappy. And if you have regular federal and local elections scheduled for the following spring, it doesn’t pay to have the voters mad at you because of “small” things such as how many of their friends and relatives froze to death.

So, what you have to do is provide a bare minimum of gas and power the country needs to survive a month without cuts and shortages – by pleading for help from “friendly” countries such as Russia, the Czech Republic and Greece. Then, you schedule the elections for just before you run out of electricity and heat, which will happen in early February, for there is certainly not enough to last trough the whole of the winter. And finally, if possible, you avert the attention of the people you are manipulating with less important events by giving them more entertainment on TV. The voters would then, in theory, think that things are not as bad as they’ve been told they would be by the opposition, and their votes would in turn go to the government – for doing such a good job of restoring the country after the war.

But, if there is no such thing as a perfect crime, there is also no such thing as a perfect election-manipulation scheme – and this example only proves it. It’s main flaw? It’s already been done. Of course, not at such a grand scale, but the basic elements of it has been seen many times before. The elderly, who are the biggest voters of the party in power – the SPS, get their pensions (which are more than three months late… “but as long as they’re there, who’s counting?!”), more roads, bridges, schools and factories are built in a month than in the previous two years combined, and phone and electricity bills are suddenly cut by a quarter. The only problem is, come post election celebrations, things are just where they were a month before the elections, so the people (and the opposition) have all to often had an opportunity to learn what happens when you do listen to the government’s promises. All in all – it’s yet another big mess the government has got itself into, dragging the rest of the country along for the ride.

A side effect of the government’s effort to give more entertainment to the masses is the fact that many important things, which are not related to either politics or daily survival, go unnoticed. For example, just released data has shown that the numbers of skinhead-related crimes have risen dramatically this year.

One reason for that is the “change of policy” that most of the white supremacy groups have accepted. They are no longer attacking only the gypsies, the only “coloured” ethnical minority of the 22 that Serbia has. Instead, they have shifted their tactics to attacking everyone who gets in their way, which, because skinheads usually do their rounds at night, basically means everyone who works the open-air night shifts – like garbage men, taxi drivers, prostitutes and the homeless.

Another reason for expanding neo-nazism is that the new members of white supremacy groups are getting younger and younger, the youngest registered being only 12, which means they have more and more members every month, doubling and even tripling in size in the last year, along with other such groups, like religious sects. However, there are too many bad experiences with fighting the skinheads for the public to accept another effort by the police. Just a few days ago, a 13-year-old was charged with intentionally knocking his gypsy teacher unconscious while they were trying to get into a bus. There was a relatively big media campaign in favor of giving him more than five years in prison, which was supported by the government. However, it turned out that a different student accidentally pushed the teacher out of the bus, and that the teacher lied about being unconscious only to get more media attention. Needles to say the charges were dropped, and the public started considering all such incidents, most of which are really connected to skinheads, as overblown.

But, the public gets it right most of the times. The government’s statements of “the great rebuilding of the country” are overblown. The public knows that. Statements from Russia, Greece and other “friendly” countries that they will help us no matter what, are overblown. The public knows that as well. When the opposition says that the government will fall in less than a month – it’s overblown. And, guess what, the public knows it. The only thing the public doesn’t know is what the hell is happening around them. Too many trees, too little forest – so easy to manipulate. The skinheads, the religious sects and other such groups know it… and so does the government.