Political violence in Serbia

Breaking down resistance (movement).
Faced with the somehow united opposition, Slobodan Milosevic's regime has severely stricken at its most dangerous enemy - the non-partisan student movement called Otpor (Resistance).

Aleksandar Ciric

SAT, 13 MAY 2000

Podgorica, 6 May, 2000 - This week the birthplace of Slobodan Milosevic and Mirjana Markovic was in the focus of attention of Yugoslav public. Not because on 1 May - in the presence of the highest state officials - the amusement park called Bambiland which is owned by Marko Milosevic, son of the president of FR Yugoslavia, was opened over there for the season on 1 May, but because of the fight that occurred the evening after in front of the café Pasaz downtown Pozarevac.

Based on statements of participants and eye-witnesses, the course of events on 2 May at about 19.00 h could be reconstructed as follows. Aware that the day before Dragan Milanovic, activist of students' Resistance movement, had already been maltreated and beaten up by workers of Madona enterprise who had demanded that he abandon Resistance and join the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), Radojko Lukovic and Momcilo Veljkovic, activists of Resistance, came up to the table where he was sitting. They asked the workers of Madona café to stop abusing Dragan Milanovic. The answer was drawing out pistols, grappling, scrambling for the weapons and a fight in which several strong guys immediately turned up against members of Resistance. Nebojsa Sokolovic, lawyer from Pozarevac who happened to be on the spot, tried to pacify the conflict, but along with Veljkovic and Lukovic also ended up in hospital and in - prison.

Dragan Milanovic managed to get away in the crowd and at the moment he is in hiding in Belgrade because he was threatened by Zoran Ivanovic alias Rolex, one of the participants in the fight ("You are a dead man, people will watch your face on death announcements"). According to Milanovic's statement, the previous day he had already been maltreated and beaten up by workers of Madona, one of the enterprises that belong to Marko Milosevic, because he had told certain foreign journalists that he had been blackmailed to join SPS. They had then threatened him that they would kill him if he did not show up on 2 May at 28.30 h in Pasaz café and signed that he would not be a member of Resistance any more. Adviced by friends and colleagues Milanovic asked the police for protection, but policemen failed to appear on the spot before the fight had been over and the crew of an ambulance had finished their job. The conflict broke out after activists of Resistance Veljkovic and Lukovic had come up to the table at which Milanovic was sitting in his undesired company. "Milos Lazic who was sitting by the table with me called his brother Sasa who soon after that arrived in his car and immediately drew out a gun putting it against Veljkovic's forehead", says Milanovic. "Veljkovic managed to snatch away the gun from him". At that moment the magazine fell out of the gun. Then Lazic hit Veljkovic and tore his shirt with the insignia of Resistance on it, and Veljkovic hit him on the head". Brothers Sasa and Milan Lazic, Zoran Ivanovic, Milan Bajic, Bojan Tadic and another person jumped on the two members of Resistance (Milanovic did not participate in the fight). Momcilo Veljkovic claims that "Marko Milosevic also appeared at the end of the fight and cried: 'Kill the sh... What do they want'" and according to statements of other witnesses, he addressed the people present who demanded that the fight be stopped with equally aggressive language. After that, the police took statements and that same evening arrested Momcilo Veljkovic, Radojko Lukovic and Nebojsa Sokolovic for "the attempted murder of Sasa and Milan Lazic".

Having in mind that in Pozarevac repression against activists of Resistance has a long time ago reached the level of a horror film ("There were cases before when Marko Milosevic and his men threatened activists and physically mistreated them. They put the barrels of guns into their mouths, threatened them with a motor saw...", according to the testimony of an activist who is hiding in the interior of Serbia), when an "incident" like this one would break out was just a matter of moments.

That same evening, the Pozarevac organisations of SPS and JUL, before the official statement of the police, issued a statement of their own according to which members of "the so-called Resistance attacked two members of JUL in an attempted murder with the use of firearms and inflicted bodily injuries on them"; that this was a "criminal act and a misdeed of men who devise forms of terrorism every day, all the way to murder of honourable men and patriots, with the aim to unstable their own country" and that "persons who caused the incident which turned into a fight downtown Pozarevac are known to the police for their hooliganism, criminal and deviant behavior". In the statement there is no explanation what brought about the fight, similarly as in the statement of Pozarevac police also issued that evening. According to it, Momcilo Veljkovic, Radojko Lukovic and (lawyer) Nebojsa Sokolovic are known "as persons inclined towards delinquent behavior".

Yugoslav minister of telecommunications and secretary of the directorate of JUL Ivan Markovic accused activists of Resistance movement that they had shot at member of JUL Milan Lazic. Qualifying the "attackers" as hooligans, psychiatrically treated persons who disturb peace, Markovic called Resistance “Hitlerjugend without an ideology”: "It is important that the Americans are paying. This time again, it is evident that the delinquents are Djindjic's and Draskovic's followers, organisers of most bloodthirsty and most frantic assaults which are directed from abroad against the citizens of Yugoslavia". Markovic's statement on the shooting resembled a previous one in which he claimed that an inspector of telecommunications ("opposition") citizens of Uzicka Pozega had been beaten to death by (“oppositionist”) citizens of Uzicka Pozega in his attempt to "shut down" the local radio-television station. The inspector was, however, alive, healthy and uninjured, as well as his minister after the publicly stated lie.

When the day after state television (RTS) showed Lazic brothers - the alleged victims of the terrorist attack in the manner of Hitlerjugend and NATO mercenaries and similar - it became definitely clear that all this hubbub was intended to conceal something. In the parallel worlds in which citizens of Serbia live, viewers of RTS did not know (and still have not found out) what happened to the "attackers", just as independent media did not and still cannot get hold of official data about the type, severity of injuries, investigation, indictment, and even about the place where activist of Resistance Radojko Lukovic is.

Statements of eye-witnesses and the fact that lawyer Nebojsa Sokolovic and Radojko Lukovic were taken away by an ambulance from the site clearly show who was hurt in the fight. The statement of the Resistance movement about severe injuries inflicted on its activists, especially Radojko Lukovic who might lose an eye, was confirmed by the official medial report of Pozarevac hospital the content of which was published by Belgrade Centre for Help to Victims of Torture. According to this documentation, it was medically confirmed that one case had a cut above the left eye, broken bones of the nose and concussion, the second had a cut in the back of the head, and the third a contusion of the eye ball, broken cheekbone and nose bones.

The severity of the injuries is also confirmed by the fact that Radojko Lukovic was in the evening of the same day transported from Pozarevac to Belgrade emergency medical centre of the clinical hospital centre of Serbia. According to statements of activists of Resistance, the next day, allegedly without an eye, he was transferred to the Belgrade Central Prison where lawyer Nebojsa Sokolovic had already been. Having concluded that when Lukovic is concerned it is a case of “put in simple language, a broken nose”, director of the emergency medical centre Dr. Vladimir Djukic decided to seek court protection from accusations of Belgrade TV Studio B that his personnel did not dare offer assistance to the injured man. Director Djukic did not pay attention to the warning of the trade union of physicians and pharmacists of Serbia that under influence and pressure exerted by JUL this was another case of manipulation health and physicians’ ethics.

The municipal magistrate in Pozarevac undertook offering anther kind of court protection. Acting pursuant complaints of municipal committee of JUL and participants of the fight, “leftists” Sasa Lazic and Bojan Tadic, in less than 36 hours five sentences were pronounced pursuant the law – the Law on Information! Belgrade TV Studio B was sentenced to pay the total of 1.18 million (in three appeals), weekly Vreme and Blic daily (one appeal each, for the time being) were sentenced to pay “only” 200 and 280 thousand dinars, respectively. Put together, reporting on the event in Pozarevac contrary to views of SPS and JUL on “terrorists” and “NATO mercenaries” cost the mentioned media more than a quarter of a million marks in a single day. Director Djukic also carried out his threat and sued TV Studio B pursuant the Law on Information.

The “incident” in Pozarevac is the latest in a series of numerous similar events which have been happening in Serbia for months. Students’ Resistance movement is the most frequent target of regime bullies. Why? The answer to this question is concealed in the fact that the resistance movement of the youth is neither headed nor controlled – regardless of how hard parties and non-governmental organisations tried to “adopt” it – by any of the political groups established on the political scene of Serbia.

Having arisen a year and a half ago as a form of resistance to the regime, but also to the political reality which the existing opposition is unable to change for years, Resistance has attracted the attention of the public and acquired popularity by the youth of its activists – without a single face which distinguished itself or developed into a “leader” in the past year, but at the same time by the wittiness of its activities and “happenings” it performs, and clarity of the messages it conveys. For instance, on the twentieth anniversary of the death of Josip Broz Tito, 4 May, in Uzice (once called Tito’s) activists of Resistance made the famous Tito’s statue, which was removed from the main city square, a member of their movement. Posters with a clenched fist on them and simple inscription “Otpor” (Resistance) are put up all over Serbia to such an extent that the authorities can neither take them all off nor cover them up with their own, so that they prefer to arrest young people caught in the act of putting them up, or have them beaten up in “spontaneous” actions, or punish them with sentences in prison for violation of public peace and order.

Without laying special stress on their victims except for regular publishing of data on threats, maltreatment, the number of persons who were beaten up, arrested or sentenced, the Resistance conveys the following message to the citizens: “Either Milosevic, or Serbia”. And equally clearly to the opposition: “We support you, watch what you are doing”. The regime of Slobodan Milosevic – it seems estimating well – has stricken with all its might at Resistance as a threat of a much greater impact than the “official” opposition capable only of endless negotiations, eternal lagging behind the events and permanent mutual competition of leaders’ vanities.

The fight in Pozarevac caused the expected condemnation of the opposition and protest “because of brutal terror of Marko Milosevic and men from his immediate surroundings” (Democratic Party), the assessment that “a state which is afraid of its youth is a bad state” and that the incident is “the picture of the end of the regime” (Dan coalition), “demonstration of physical, legal and media terror” (League for Changes) and “the manner which the regime, through the personal bodyguards of president Milosevic’s son, has chosen for a showdown with the children of the citizens of Serbia, is the announcement of general mental and physical punishments of all young people” (Social Democracy).

In condemnation of the “incident” political parties were joined by non-governmental and professional organisations with a demand for protection of human rights, including life. Helsinki Committee of Human rights stressed again that special concern was caused by the fact that the police, instead of an objective investigation and administering justice against the culprits, was acting with prejudice and bias, showing once again that it was just a service of personal power of Slobodan Milosevic.

Independent trade union and other organisations reacted in the similar manner. Only Madona enterprise from Pozarevac – owned by Marko Milosevic, son of the president of FR Yugoslavia – decided not to state its view of the incident in which its workers had participated.

At the demand of representatives of Resistance, although it was not planned, the regular gathering of the leaders of the opposition held on 5 May was forced to declare its stand about action – more rigorous than just issuing statement – it intended to take on the occasion of the fight. The demand of Resistance was accepted that a joint rally of united opposition, after the one in Belgrade held on 14 April, be organised in Pozarevac. It was scheduled to take place on 9 May and an application was lodged with the local police. Three days before the rally, the only reaction that arrived was the one of the mayor of Pozarevac, Dusan Djukic: “The travelling circus of NATO mercenaries shall not be welcome in Pozarevac”.

After 72 hours spent in police custody, activists of Resistance gathered in front of the Belgrade central prison stated in front of several hundred citizens, representatives of non-governmental organisations and officials of opposition parties, that they considered their arrested members free, or rather, illegally deprived of freedom. News reached some lawyers who offered to defend the arrested activists and their colleague from Pozarevac that criminal charges had been sent to the judge in charge 10 minutes before expiry of the time in custody, but that there would be no interrogation before Monday, 8 May, the day before the scheduled rally.

What will happen next? Although never uttered, this question is hovering in the heavy, depressive, spring “Serbian” atmosphere. The “incident” in Pozarevac caused fear, there is no doubt about that. Causing fear is for more than a decade a routine tactics of Milosevic’s regime. But this time fear seems to have exceeded expectations of the planners, perpetrators and interpreters of intimidation. To the systematic and – for a change – consistently repeated demand of the opposition that the terror stop and that free, democratic elections be scheduled, Milosevic’s regime is responding only by increasing violence. The “incident” in Pozarevac has turned fear into something even worse: into expectation of the moment in which a fight in a café will be the beginning of another terrible bloodshed.

Original article