Vote, Vote, Vote to Keep Your Job. (European Referendums)

Article excerpt

In cold war Europe, east and west held elections regularly. In the west, what validated democracy was pluralism. In eastern Europe, what counted was turnout. Voters were offered a single candidate. Before 1989, refusing to come and vote was the equivalent of voting "No". Few bothered to risk the consequences of coming in person to cross out the party's chosen candidate. The communist candidate routinely got 99.9 per cent of votes.

Today, everything is supposed to have changed in the new Europe, as eight favoured ex-communist countries march towards a brighter future in Brussels. Yet in each of the four countries that have held referendums paving the way for entry into the European Union--Slovenia, Hungary, Lithuania and last weekend Slovakia--all the talk has been about how many voters would make the pilgrimage to the polls and not whether they would endorse joining the EU.

After decades of isolation behind the Iron Curtain, "rejoining Europe" was a popular slogan in 1989, but 14 years on, the EU has offered less generous terms of admission than many easterners had hoped for. Euro enthusiasm has waned. Only the political class in the new Europe has retained its enthusiasm for getting seats at the European Parliament in Strasbourg or on the European Commission in Brussels.

In Lithuania, the media coverage resembled a throwback to communist-era blanket appeals for participation. Special buses were laid on and rules restricting voters to their own local polling station waived. The vote was spread over two days, which gave the authorities the opportunity to assess the turnout overnight and take what President Rolandas Paksas called "special measures", if necessary, to boost participation above the 50 per cent level required to validate the poll. …