Public opinion of Serbia - Hope for change

The local public does not have high opinion of politicians. Over one half of citizens think that none of the politicians deserve their trust. Others trust Slobodan Milosevic and the former NBY Governor Dragoslav Avramovic the most, while almost two thirds of citizens have positive opinion of President Milosevic and only one fifth of Avramovic.

Vesna Bjekic

MON, 17 JAN 2000

PODGORICA, December 31, 1999 - At the end of twentieth century citizens of Serbia are most dissatisfied with their living conditions, political circumstances (especially with the country's international standing) and lack of any prospects. In short, this sums up the results of the latest public opinion poll in Serbia carried out from December 12-19, 1999 (on the territory of Serbia, excluding Kosovo on a sample of 2,039 citizens) by the Centre for Politicological Research and Public Opinion of the Institute for Social Sciences in Belgrade.

Far back in 1966, as much as 95 percent of the citizens of Serbia were satisfied with the country's (SFRY) international position, honesty and behaviour of their fellow-citizens (60 percent), prospects for their personal future as well as future of their children (85 percent), living standards - 67 percent. Now, at the end of the century, the pendulum of public opinion has swung back so that as much as 85 percent of citizens are dissatisfied with the country's international position, 82 percent with the political situation, 79 with economic situation, 72 with republican authorities, 64 with inter-ethnic relations, 79 with future prospects (their own and those of their children), and 58 percent of citizens are dissatisfied with the state of civil rights and freedoms.

According to the findings of the public opinion survey, the dissatisfaction with the international position of Serbia is widespread: only five percent of citizens are satisfied with Serbia's position, and as many as 85 percent are not. It is interesting to note that there are no great differences between respondents with regard to their nationality, profession or age. Even sympathisers of the parties from the ruling coalition are dissatisfied with the international standing of their country (57 percent of interviewed SPS followers expressed dissatisfaction and only 24 percent were satisfied, while among the Radicals 85 were dissatisfied and 12 satisfied).

Dissatisfaction of the opposition parties supporters ranged from 96 to 100 percent. That means that the vast majority does not approve of the regime's current policy. For example, asked whether bombing of Yugoslavia could have been avoided, 59 percent of citizens said that it was possible with wiser foreign policy, while only 28 percent thought that it was inevitable. Apart from the followers of the ruling coalition no one else thought that the bombing was inevitable.

Despite visible efforts of the state propaganda to show the opposition' cooperation with the West as collaboration with the enemy and thus satanise the opposition, the survey results show that people are rather immune to such anti-Western propaganda. For example, asked whether they thought that the future of Serbia lay in its alliance with Russia and White Russia or in the establishment of closer links with the West, this is how the respondents answered: 43 percent were in favour of greater reliance on the West, another 18 percent for any integration and alliance with the West, and only 18 percent for alliance with Russia and the Republic of Bellarus. Only the SPS (64 percent) and SRS (60 percent) followers were mostly in favour of this alliance. On the other hand, opposition sympathisers were of pro-Western orientation: SZP followers - 77 percent, SPO followers -74 percent. Advocates of the pro-Russian orientation were mostly pensioners, and those of pro-Western orientation came from all professions.

Judging by survey results, there is a growing dissatisfaction with the state of inter-ethnic relations among citizens: 63 percent of respondents were not satisfied with the state of inter-ethnic relations, 22 percent were satisfied and 15 percent refused to state their opinion. Naturally, SPS (47 percent) and SRS (39 percent) supporters were more than satisfied with inter-ethnic relations, while the dissatisfaction of sympathisers of the Alliance for Change - SZP (84 percent), SPO (71 percent) and DSS (63 percent) was above-average. Interestingly enough, one half of the Radical Party followers (50 percent) were also dissatisfied with this state of affairs.

The pollsters also point to an interesting turnabout in public opinion when it comes to Kosovo. The best solution for Kosovo and Metohija for 34 percent of interviewed citizens lay in high degree of its autonomy within Serbia. The above-average number of DSS (46 percent), SZP and SPO (40 percent, respectively) followers were in favour of this solution. According to some 24 percent of citizens division of Kosovo into Serbian and Albanian part would be the best solution which is a marked increase in relation to previous findings: just a year earlier only four percent of citizens were in favour of the division of Kosovo. Some 16 percent of citizens were in favour of the return to the pre-war situation, even by force if need be. From the point of age, the largest number of those who were in favour of the use of force belong to the oldest (21 percent of respondents were over 60 years of age) and youngest age groups (19 percent were up to 29 years). In other words, those who have no conscription obligations or those without much experience are more belligerent than others.

Also, Radical Party (46 percent) and Socialist Party (31 percent) supporters showed greater belligerence than any other interviewed group, while only six percent of SZP, 11 percent of SPO and 17 percent of DSS supporters were in favour of this option.

According to this survey, former NBY Governor Dragoslav Avramovic got the top ratings and is by far the most popular politician about whom the majority of citizens have favourable opinion. Second on the list is Vojislav Kostunica with equal number of pollees having favourable and unfavourable opinion of him, while all other politicians were negatively assessed by respondents. Only 20 percent of interviewed citizens expressed favourable opinion and 56 unfavourable opinion of President Milosevic, 18 percent had favourable and 52 unfavourable opinion of Vuk Draskovic, 13 gave positive points and 57 negative points to Zoran Djindjic and 13 percent had high and 64 percent low opinion of Vojislav Seselj.

Dragoslav Avramovic got the best ratings from the followers of the Alliance for Change - 89 percent, Democratic Party (DS) - 90 percent, and the Serbian Revival Movement (SPO) - 71 percent, but also from sympathisers of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) - 54 percent, electoral abstainers (42 percent) and uncommitted voters (46 percent). Members of Kostunica's party all hold him in high regard (94 percent), as do the sympathisers of the Democratic Party (60 percent), Serbian Revival Movement (59 percent) and of the Alliance for Change (50 percent). Favourable opinion of other politicians, were mostly expressed by their own party membership.

The local public does not have high opinion of politicians. Over one half of the citizens think that none of the politicians deserve their trust. Others trust Slobodan Milosevic and the former NBY Governor Dragoslav Avramovic the most, while almost two thirds of citizens have positive opinion of President Milosevic and only one fifth of Avramovic.

The dissatisfaction with the political situation and politicians is reflected in the fact that citizens were generally in favour of early elections. Naturally, the majority of those in favour were supporters of the opposition: 96 percent of the SPO followers, 90 percent of SZP sympathisers, 94 percent of the followers of other parties and almost one half of those who have not yet decided whom to vote for, but also 44 percent of the SRS supporters. Only the majority of SPS and JUL followers (69 percent) are against early elections.

When it comes to electoral preferences survey results have shown that ever since 1997 parliamentary elections parties of the ruling coalition have been constantly losing the popular support: the support of SPS-Jul has been almost halved, while SRS has registered an even greater loss. Survey takers advise caution when it comes to Radicals because in certain periods of time they had been instructed by their leadership to hide their electoral preferences so that in the past SRS managed to surprise everyone. Nevertheless, one thing is certain, the SPS-JUL coalition and the policy of the ruling coalition have significantly undermined the support of citizens this party once enjoyed.

In all likelihood, by refusing to call early elections the parties from the ruling coalition are biding time and hoping to improve their rating through a continuous campaign (by promoting results achieved in the "reconstruction and rebuilding of the country", by promoting their own patriotism, boasting of military victories over NATO, intimidating citizens with a possibility of continued aggression with "different means", scaring people with a possibility of new NATO strikes, by discrediting the opposition parties as "traitors and foreign mercenaries").

This approach is not unfounded. Namely, the following facts also confirm significant changes in electoral preferences: out of the total number of voters who voted for SPS at the 1997 elections, 42 percent have no intention of giving their vote to this party again. These disappointed voters have "moved" to the category of floating and abstaining voters rather than opting for some other party. There are many of those who intend to turn out at the elections but are undecided which party to vote for - about two fifths of the electorate.

The opposition seems unable to make use of this heterogeneous "reservoir" of votes, although all surveys have shown that citizens inclined to the opposition are predominant. Pollsters claim that the major problem for opposition parties is to translate citizens' support of the opposition into electoral victory. These citizens who mostly abstain from voting at elections, feel the same dissatisfaction with the opposition as with the parties in power, as well disbelief that the disunited opposition could ever win the elections. Only one sixth of citizens (26 percent) think that opposition parties will be able to form one or two coalitions for the forthcoming elections and thus prevent the dissipation of voters and motivate them to turn up at the elections in greater numbers.

What citizens expect from the year 2000? According to survey, citizens of Serbia have mixed feelings about the new millennium. Nevertheless, negative feelings prevail: concern (34 percent), insecurity (17 percent) and fear (among as many as seven tenths of respondents - 19 percent). Among positive feelings, a bit over one fourth of citizens have expressed hope, which is a clear fall in relation to previous surveys. Supporters of the ruling parties - SPS (54 percent) and SRS (49 percent), have much higher hopes in the coming year than any other citizens. Followers of DSS, SPO and SZP have mostly expressed concern, while followers of the Socialist and Radical party have least worries about the new year. Also, they number most among those citizens who do not feel insecure (only five percent of Socialist Party members and 11 percent of Radical sympathisers), while the feeling of fear is omnipresent among the SZP (26 percent) and SPO (24 percent) followers. Despite highly unfavourable assessment of all aspects of life and predominantly negative feelings, nevertheless, the citizens believe that positive changes will occur in the year 2000 - primarily political changes(47 percent), as well as that peace (46 percent) and economic prosperity (41 percent) will finally come. Perhaps the reason for this is the usual new year optimism or the well known fact that people cannot live without hope. In any case, in a country torn between the traditional and the modern, between constant aspirations towards change and fear of change and hard line rule, between adoration and denial of the leader, the only thing people have is hope.

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