AIM
Opposition protest in Serbia

How the eager hangers-on of Slobodan Milosevic helped the protest of their opponents and what was the message of 150 thousand citizens to party leaders.

Aleksandar Ciric

TUE, 25 APR 2000


Belgrade - Three days before the rally announced for 14 April after several-month long negotiations of what wishes to be called united Serbian opposition, Radio-Television Serbia (RTS) invited Zoran Djindjic (Democratic Party, DS) and Vuk Draskovic (Serb Revival Movement, SPO) to participate in a show appropriately named "The Fifth Column". Vuk Draskovic refused the invitation by saying that he did not wish to be used by state television. Zoran Djindjic, it turned out more wisely, not only accepted the invitation but also announced that he would appeal on the citizens from the RTS studio to come to the rally of the opposition. He also mentioned that he would not mind having even more opponents than the invited three representatives of the regime.

On the day of the show, the three representatives of the ruling red-and-black coalition, Nikola Sainovic, Milosevic's man of confidence, Vojislav Seselj, leader of the Serb Radical Party (SRS) and Milovan Bojic in the name of the Yugoslav United Left (JUL) met in the building of RTS. Nobody knows who initiated this meeting behind closed doors of RTS director general Dragoljub Milanovic. In any case, after that, the editor of the informative political editorial board was informed that the show was taken off the program. Who, when and how ordered in the course of the afternoon that, after all and without Djindjic the show should be broadcast is in the sphere of guessing. Be what may, that evening the appearance of the three representatives of the regime who, relaxed and without mincing their words, competed in calling the (absent) "fifth column" names, must have increased the number of the citizens who came to the rally by at least several thousand.

The regime propaganda did not manifest a great gift for innovations. Like on the eve of last-year's August rally, it broadcast news about the arrest of terrorists ("Albanian" at the time, "Western" now), about "explosive devices" blasted (in front of the seat of JUL at the time, in front of the SPS municipal committee of Vracar in Belgrade now), and about young people who in great numbers joined the "leftist" and "patriotic" parties. For days regime dailies carried statements of local committees of the ruling coalition about the forthcoming rally of "NATO fifth columnists". Even organisations such as the "Patriotic League", "Nikola Pasic" Radical Party of the Left, and similar issued statements, which has so far always been a reliable sign of seriousness with which the regime looked upon the opposition.

However, TV Politika went the furthest by announcing its whole-day film Marathon to be broadcast on the day of the rally under the slogan: "Stay with us, you will not be sorry!", in which it showed the latest film on James Bond, American Beauty, "You Got Mail", and "Broadly Closed Eyes", hit films of the latest world production, causing damage by this illegal presentation to distributors who duly bought the copyright for Yugoslavia.

On the day of the rally, independent electronic media in Serbia once again showed that, no matter how fragile and vulnerable it may be, the alternative information network operates as it should. During the whole afternoon on 14 April news were broadcast at which points, how many times and with what consequences the police stopped "oppositionist" buses coming from inside Serbia. On their way to Belgrade some of them were stopped up to about ten times, every second or third vehicle was sent by the police to technical control, it was prevented from continuing the journey, or the certificates on technical correctness were confiscated. This time, the level of organisation and resoluteness of the oppositionists from inside Serbia was higher than the intention of the police to stop them. Buses moved in line escorted by cars drivers of which were ready to give a ride to the passengers, and if that was not enough, the protesters walked from the police control points at the entrances to Belgrade to the central Square of the Republic.

Students' "Resistance" (Otpor) Movement decided in advance that its supporters from Novi Sad would come on foot. Under the slogan "80 kilometres of High-Quality Resistance", after 16 hours of walking and just one incident along the way, they entered Belgrade as the heroes of the day.

For years already, the most reliable forecasts of the number of protesters at a rally in Belgrade were based on the place where the participants from being ordinary pedestrians become demonstrators, that is, when from the pavements they went down on the road. An hour before the rally, this point was the London crossroads which was promising that the gathering would be (un)expectedly large. Estimates of journalists of the number of the people in the Square of the Republic before the rally ranged between the sceptical 30 to 50 thousand, over - depending on the position of the observer - the obvious 50 to 70 thousand, to the first agency reports about 150 to 200 thousand participants.

That there were really many of them was unintentionally admitted by Politika daily by carrying on its front page the report that prime minister of Serbia Mirko Marjanovic opened one of the reconstructed bridges at a "magnificent gathering" of 20 thousand citizens, while in a piece of news about the treacherous opposition hidden somewhere in the back it was said that in the middle of Belgrade it had gathered "hardly thirty odd thousand" fifth columnists. RTS had a "scientific" approach to the problem and published that 31 thousand square metres of the Square of the Republic could not hold more than 30 thousand traitors. Belgrade television Studio B which is controlled by Draskovic's SPO, sharply reacting, estimated that "several hundred thousand" citizens had come to the rally. The police formula, however, calculates with two to five persons per square metre depending on the density of the crowd. According to that calculation, about 100 to 150 thousand people were present at the rally of the opposition (31 thousand square metres times 2 plus the people in the surrounding streets).

From the announced speakers, only bishop of Raska and Prizren Artemije did not appear, whose name conveniently fitted into the agreement about the alphabetical order of appearance of the speakers reached with great difficulties, but especially because he is a member of the clergy and a representatives of the Serbs from Kosovo. During the following two and a half hours the remaining 14 party speakers tried to convince the gathered masses about the true existence of union of the opposition parties and coalitions concerning the objective to replace the regime of Slobodan Milosevic by peaceful methods and by means of free, fair and honest elections on all levels: local, republican and federal.

Majority of the citizens of Serbia agrees with the mentioned objective and means for its achievement. The trouble is, like before in the fact that the opposition leaders, especially when overwhelmed by rhetoric inspiration in front of gathered masses and party flags, are not capable to conceal the actual absence of agreement on joint action. Having presented himself as a "separatist, traitor and foreign mercenary" and having got an applause for it, Nenad Canak (League of Social Democrats of Voivodina) promised Slobodan Milosevic ("the trash of all trash") not only a trial but that he would "hang here". On the other hand, the former head of the General Staff Momcilo Perisic (Movement for Democratic Serbia, PDS) repeated his conviction that Milosevic should first be forced to withdraw and then elections should be scheduled. The League for Changes has in the meantime abandoned this platform, while Draskovic's SPO is against it from the very beginning, as well as any idea about a solution of the political crisis which could be led by experts outside control of "large" political parties. Indeed, in his speech, while stressing the joint demand for early elections on all levels, it slipped Vuk Draskovic that: "of course, the presidential elections are the most important ones".

Two generals, Vuk Obradovic (Social Democracy) and Momcilo Perisic (PDS), agree in the assessment that the army supports the people and that "only some" of its members (Obradovic), that is, "a handful of misled and corrupt generals" (Perisic) are concealing crime or committing them, in other words, serving the regime for personal benefit.

The only representative of Kosovo Serbs at the rally was Momcilo Trajkovic. Welcomed by a thunderous applause, he presented himself as "Serb traitor", eager to confess about his treachery to the gathered citizens and the Serb public. "We are called traitors by those who brought about NATO bombing of Kosovo", said Trajkovic, "those who had before that taken away by trailer trucks their own and other people's plundered property, those who had tried to force all the remaining Serbs to emigrate from Kosovo and who are now selling all the remaining property. I am a traitor because I am ready to talk even with the devil himself if that will save somebody's life, that is what I am called by the regime which at the same time claims that it has preserved Kosovo and that it will return to it in tanks, sacrificing once again other people's children..."

Consistent in his rejection of both Milosevic's regime and foreign intervention, Vojislav Kostunica (Democratic Party of Serbia) reminded that apart from violence of Milosevic's regime, Serbia had for years been suffering from the sanctions, last year's NATO bombs and foreign support to ethnic Albanian terrorists in Kosovo which was also a form of violence not minor because it was applied for "humanitarian" reasons.

The central event was certainly the appearance of the two leading opposition leaders, especially because the alphabetical order dictated that they speak one after the other. The "epic" Draskovic spoke for twenty minutes, more than two times longer than the others. "We are here because the life we live is not life any more, because they are killing us, beating us up, arresting, accusing, banishing from this country every day, because we are living in poverty, humiliation and misery, because half of the citizens of Serbia are unemployed, and the other half which is allegedly employed do not earn even for bread, because our Serbia is being killed, because we have a million refugees, homeless persons, because we are isolated, excommunicated, like some country struck by the plague..." In the rest of his speech Draskovic also put accent on the catastrophic situation in the state, the threat of further dissolution by definite loss of Kosovo and secession of Montenegro concluding that for as long as the regime did not leave "we will be meeting here and elsewhere around Serbia, until we liberate it".

Zoran Djindjic seems to have mastered the "urban" language of Belgraders back in winter 1996/97. He reduced his speech down to seven minutes which he used to convey two effective messages. "This system relies on you and everything depends on you, ordinary people. You can change it, so do change it in elections", he said. "Let us decide this year that Serbia of the 21st century shall be a state we will be proud of". The second message was addressed to members and sympathisers of the Socialist Party of Serbia, those who "consider themselves followers of Svetozar Markovic and Dimitrije Tucovic... To this Left from Dedinje and their right hangers-on we are saying: We Do Not Need You".

Djindjic called the rally and assessed it as a "working meeting", announcing as of the next day a "campaign in the field" of the League for Changes in villages and cities of Serbia, appealing on all the parties to join in this activity.

With the ten-year experience of the citizens with "their" opposition, there is not much room for optimism. The mass turnout at the gathering of that and such opposition was more a demonstration of the citizens' defiance and proof that the regime has not succeeded in intimidating many despite the media and increasingly physical terror it is applying than a manifestation of enthusiasm about the latest union of Serbian opposition.

This message was most clearly demonstrated and, judging by the reaction of the masses, delivered to the leaders of the opposition by an activist of the Students' "Resistance" Movement from Novi Sad, Vladimir Pavlov. Having sent word to the people that things have become more than serious, that time has come for action, that it was "either victory or the dark age, either elections or dictatorship, either Milosevic or Serbia", he turned towards the leaders of the opposition on the stage. Invited by him, they came closer to the microphone, took the flag of the Resistance and raised their clenched fists (which is the symbol of this movement) and promised that they would be united in decision-making about running in the elections and that they would act as "one clenched fist" against the regime. And while sceptics in the mass still recalled how many times in the past decade they had seen such pictures of the opposition "brotherhood and unity", in the name of the Resistance, enthusiastically supported by the audience, he made a promise to the leaders present: "From one hundred towns, ten thousand of us will march and come under the window of any one of you who betrays this oath". The messages have thus been exchanged.

Without any incident, without visible presence of the police, without fights or disorder, Belgraders freed themselves of the several-month long accumulation of fear and uncertainty. The opposition leaders were given nothing but chanting of party activists equipped with flags and torches in support to "their chief". One cannot but hope that they have understood the message of the citizens which is also evident from results of the latest polls on the ratio of support between the regime and the opposition according to which the opposition (only united) leads with 46:23. But, even with such favourable relation of forces, the remaining one third of those who have not made up their minds yet may tip the balance. To either side.

TUE, 25 APR 2000 09:14:36 GMT

Opposition Protest in Serbia

How the eager hangers-on of Slobodan Milosevic helped the protest of their opponents and what was the message of 150 thousand citizens to party leaders

AIM Podgorica, 15 April, 2000

(By AIM correspondent from Belgrade)

Three days before the rally announced for 14 April after several-month long negotiations of what wishes to be called united Serbian opposition, Radio-Television Serbia (RTS) invited Zoran Djindjic (Democratic Party, DS) and Vuk Draskovic (Serb Revival Movement, SPO) to participate in a show appropriately named "The Fifth Column". Vuk Draskovic refused the invitation by saying that he did not wish to be used by state television. Zoran Djindjic, it turned out more wisely, not only accepted the invitation but also announced that he would appeal on the citizens from the RTS studio to come to the rally of the opposition. He also mentioned that he would not mind having even more opponents than the invited three representatives of the regime.

On the day of the show, the three representatives of the ruling red-and-black coalition, Nikola Sainovic, Milosevic's man of confidence, Vojislav Seselj, leader of the Serb Radical Party (SRS) and Milovan Bojic in the name of the Yugoslav United Left (JUL) met in the building of RTS. Nobody knows who initiated this meeting behind closed doors of RTS director general Dragoljub Milanovic. In any case, after that, the editor of the informative political editorial board was informed that the show was taken off the program. Who, when and how ordered in the course of the afternoon that, after all and without Djindjic the show should be broadcast is in the sphere of guessing. Be what may, that evening the appearance of the three representatives of the regime who, relaxed and without mincing their words, competed in calling the (absent) "fifth column" names, must have increased the number of the citizens who came to the rally by at least several thousand.

The regime propaganda did not manifest a great gift for innovations. Like on the eve of last-year's August rally, it broadcast news about the arrest of terrorists ("Albanian" at the time, "Western" now), about "explosive devices" blasted (in front of the seat of JUL at the time, in front of the SPS municipal committee of Vracar in Belgrade now), and about young people who in great numbers joined the "leftist" and "patriotic" parties. For days regime dailies carried statements of local committees of the ruling coalition about the forthcoming rally of "NATO fifth columnists". Even organisations such as the "Patriotic League", "Nikola Pasic" Radical Party of the Left, and similar issued statements, which has so far always been a reliable sign of seriousness with which the regime looked upon the opposition.

However, TV Politika went the furthest by announcing its whole-day film Marathon to be broadcast on the day of the rally under the slogan: "Stay with us, you will not be sorry!", in which it showed the latest film on James Bond, American Beauty, "You Got Mail", and "Broadly Closed Eyes", hit films of the latest world production, causing damage by this illegal presentation to distributors who duly bought the copyright for Yugoslavia.

On the day of the rally, independent electronic media in Serbia once again showed that, no matter how fragile and vulnerable it may be, the alternative information network operates as it should. During the whole afternoon on 14 April news were broadcast at which points, how many times and with what consequences the police stopped "oppositionist" buses coming from inside Serbia. On their way to Belgrade some of them were stopped up to about ten times, every second or third vehicle was sent by the police to technical control, it was prevented from continuing the journey, or the certificates on technical correctness were confiscated. This time, the level of organisation and resoluteness of the oppositionists from inside Serbia was higher than the intention of the police to stop them. Buses moved in line escorted by cars drivers of which were ready to give a ride to the passengers, and if that was not enough, the protesters walked from the police control points at the entrances to Belgrade to the central Square of the Republic.

Students' "Resistance" (Otpor) Movement decided in advance that its supporters from Novi Sad would come on foot. Under the slogan "80 kilometres of High-Quality Resistance", after 16 hours of walking and just one incident along the way, they entered Belgrade as the heroes of the day.

For years already, the most reliable forecasts of the number of protesters at a rally in Belgrade were based on the place where the participants from being ordinary pedestrians become demonstrators, that is, when from the pavements they went down on the road. An hour before the rally, this point was the London crossroads which was promising that the gathering would be (un)expectedly large. Estimates of journalists of the number of the people in the Square of the Republic before the rally ranged between the sceptical 30 to 50 thousand, over - depending on the position of the observer - the obvious 50 to 70 thousand, to the first agency reports about 150 to 200 thousand participants.

That there were really many of them was unintentionally admitted by Politika daily by carrying on its front page the report that prime minister of Serbia Mirko Marjanovic opened one of the reconstructed bridges at a "magnificent gathering" of 20 thousand citizens, while in a piece of news about the treacherous opposition hidden somewhere in the back it was said that in the middle of Belgrade it had gathered "hardly thirty odd thousand" fifth columnists. RTS had a "scientific" approach to the problem and published that 31 thousand square metres of the Square of the Republic could not hold more than 30 thousand traitors. Belgrade television Studio B which is controlled by Draskovic's SPO, sharply reacting, estimated that "several hundred thousand" citizens had come to the rally. The police formula, however, calculates with two to five persons per square metre depending on the density of the crowd. According to that calculation, about 100 to 150 thousand people were present at the rally of the opposition (31 thousand square metres times 2 plus the people in the surrounding streets).

From the announced speakers, only bishop of Raska and Prizren Artemije did not appear, whose name conveniently fitted into the agreement about the alphabetical order of appearance of the speakers reached with great difficulties, but especially because he is a member of the clergy and a representatives of the Serbs from Kosovo. During the following two and a half hours the remaining 14 party speakers tried to convince the gathered masses about the true existence of union of the opposition parties and coalitions concerning the objective to replace the regime of Slobodan Milosevic by peaceful methods and by means of free, fair and honest elections on all levels: local, republican and federal.

Majority of the citizens of Serbia agrees with the mentioned objective and means for its achievement. The trouble is, like before in the fact that the opposition leaders, especially when overwhelmed by rhetoric inspiration in front of gathered masses and party flags, are not capable to conceal the actual absence of agreement on joint action. Having presented himself as a "separatist, traitor and foreign mercenary" and having got an applause for it, Nenad Canak (League of Social Democrats of Voivodina) promised Slobodan Milosevic ("the trash of all trash") not only a trial but that he would "hang here". On the other hand, the former head of the General Staff Momcilo Perisic (Movement for Democratic Serbia, PDS) repeated his conviction that Milosevic should first be forced to withdraw and then elections should be scheduled. The League for Changes has in the meantime abandoned this platform, while Draskovic's SPO is against it from the very beginning, as well as any idea about a solution of the political crisis which could be led by experts outside control of "large" political parties. Indeed, in his speech, while stressing the joint demand for early elections on all levels, it slipped Vuk Draskovic that: "of course, the presidential elections are the most important ones".

Two generals, Vuk Obradovic (Social Democracy) and Momcilo Perisic (PDS), agree in the assessment that the army supports the people and that "only some" of its members (Obradovic), that is, "a handful of misled and corrupt generals" (Perisic) are concealing crime or committing them, in other words, serving the regime for personal benefit.

The only representative of Kosovo Serbs at the rally was Momcilo Trajkovic. Welcomed by a thunderous applause, he presented himself as "Serb traitor", eager to confess about his treachery to the gathered citizens and the Serb public. "We are called traitors by those who brought about NATO bombing of Kosovo", said Trajkovic, "those who had before that taken away by trailer trucks their own and other people's plundered property, those who had tried to force all the remaining Serbs to emigrate from Kosovo and who are now selling all the remaining property. I am a traitor because I am ready to talk even with the devil himself if that will save somebody's life, that is what I am called by the regime which at the same time claims that it has preserved Kosovo and that it will return to it in tanks, sacrificing once again other people's children..."

Consistent in his rejection of both Milosevic's regime and foreign intervention, Vojislav Kostunica (Democratic Party of Serbia) reminded that apart from violence of Milosevic's regime, Serbia had for years been suffering from the sanctions, last year's NATO bombs and foreign support to ethnic Albanian terrorists in Kosovo which was also a form of violence not minor because it was applied for "humanitarian" reasons.

The central event was certainly the appearance of the two leading opposition leaders, especially because the alphabetical order dictated that they speak one after the other. The "epic" Draskovic spoke for twenty minutes, more than two times longer than the others. "We are here because the life we live is not life any more, because they are killing us, beating us up, arresting, accusing, banishing from this country every day, because we are living in poverty, humiliation and misery, because half of the citizens of Serbia are unemployed, and the other half which is allegedly employed do not earn even for bread, because our Serbia is being killed, because we have a million refugees, homeless persons, because we are isolated, excommunicated, like some country struck by the plague..." In the rest of his speech Draskovic also put accent on the catastrophic situation in the state, the threat of further dissolution by definite loss of Kosovo and secession of Montenegro concluding that for as long as the regime did not leave "we will be meeting here and elsewhere around Serbia, until we liberate it".

Zoran Djindjic seems to have mastered the "urban" language of Belgraders back in winter 1996/97. He reduced his speech down to seven minutes which he used to convey two effective messages. "This system relies on you and everything depends on you, ordinary people. You can change it, so do change it in elections", he said. "Let us decide this year that Serbia of the 21st century shall be a state we will be proud of". The second message was addressed to members and sympathisers of the Socialist Party of Serbia, those who "consider themselves followers of Svetozar Markovic and Dimitrije Tucovic... To this Left from Dedinje and their right hangers-on we are saying: We Do Not Need You".

Djindjic called the rally and assessed it as a "working meeting", announcing as of the next day a "campaign in the field" of the League for Changes in villages and cities of Serbia, appealing on all the parties to join in this activity.

With the ten-year experience of the citizens with "their" opposition, there is not much room for optimism. The mass turnout at the gathering of that and such opposition was more a demonstration of the citizens' defiance and proof that the regime has not succeeded in intimidating many despite the media and increasingly physical terror it is applying than a manifestation of enthusiasm about the latest union of Serbian opposition.

This message was most clearly demonstrated and, judging by the reaction of the masses, delivered to the leaders of the opposition by an activist of the Students' "Resistance" Movement from Novi Sad, Vladimir Pavlov. Having sent word to the people that things have become more than serious, that time has come for action, that it was "either victory or the dark age, either elections or dictatorship, either Milosevic or Serbia", he turned towards the leaders of the opposition on the stage. Invited by him, they came closer to the microphone, took the flag of the Resistance and raised their clenched fists (which is the symbol of this movement) and promised that they would be united in decision-making about running in the elections and that they would act as "one clenched fist" against the regime. And while sceptics in the mass still recalled how many times in the past decade they had seen such pictures of the opposition "brotherhood and unity", in the name of the Resistance, enthusiastically supported by the audience, he made a promise to the leaders present: "From one hundred towns, ten thousand of us will march and come under the window of any one of you who betrays this oath". The messages have thus been exchanged.

Without any incident, without visible presence of the police, without fights or disorder, Belgraders freed themselves of the several-month long accumulation of fear and uncertainty. The opposition leaders were given nothing but chanting of party activists equipped with flags and torches in support to "their chief". One cannot but hope that they have understood the message of the citizens which is also evident from results of the latest polls on the ratio of support between the regime and the opposition according to which the opposition (only united) leads with 46:23. But, even with such favourable relation of forces, the remaining one third of those who have not made up their minds yet may tip the balance. To either side.



Original article