Political violence in Serbia

Anxiety, fear and some hope

FRI, 19 MAY 2000

Belgrade - Planned as a protest against stifling of political freedoms demonstrated by the regime a week ago in Pozarevac, the second Belgrade rally of united opposition on 15 May, against their will turned into demonstration of support to the students' - now already people's - resistance movement. Political turmoil in Serbia is quickly intensifying which justifies the picture of Serbia which is sliding down razor's edge and it warns against danger of a possibility of the worst possible denouement which was most directly expressed on the Square of the Republic by Vuk Obradovic, president of Social Democracy. His colleague by rank, former head of the General Staff of the Army of Yugoslavia and nowadays president of the Movement for Democratic Serbia, Momcilo Perisic, was also quite clear appealing on the regime to stop terror and schedule elections, and on the citizens to raise against the opposition too if it fails to meet its promise that it would bring about political changes without blood and violence.

However, it can hardly be said that the united opposition has an elaborated program of action in case of intensifying of the political conflict the regime of Slobodan Milosevic has resorted to in the past fortnight. When on 2 May in Pozarevac, native town of the president of FR Yugoslavia and his wife, bodyguards of his son beat up three activists of Resistance - after which the beaten up were arrested charged with attempted murder - the opposition reacted by calling up a rally on 9 May in "Serbian Kumrovec" (native town of Tito). The warning of the Resistance movement that this incident indicates an increase of criminalisation and the proposal for establishment of joint teams of lawyers, physicians and activists ready to react immediately to every case of beating up, taking into custody and arrests - was rejected as unnecessary by the opposition.

That this was a poor judgement became clear already on 9 May when practically whole of Serbia was blocked by police cordons whose only task was to prevent sympathisers of Resistance and the opposition to come near Pozarevac which earned the name the "forbidden city" on that very day. Beaten up activists of Resistance were released from custody, which just for a moment appeared as if the regime was making a concession to the wrathful citizens. But this was not true at all because on that very 9 May, 150 activists of Resistance, opposition parties and local journalists were taken for interrogation or arrested, while four foreign correspondents were detained for more than 24 hours at Belgrade airport and then sent back to where they had come from. The beaten up activists of Resistance from Pozarevac were arrested again the next day which caused resignation of one and relieving of duty of two investigative judges in Pozarevac who were not prepared to accept the obvious violation of law.

Since the gathering in Pozarevac was prevented, the opposition leaders scheduled a rally in Belgrade, at first for the 12, and later postponed it for 15 May. The reason for the postponement was fear of the Serb Revival Movement (SPO) that because of the rally in Belgrade, on 13 May on Ravna gora, there not a sufficient number of their supporters and "Chetniks" would gather to observe like for several years already "the beginning of the first anti-fascist uprising in Europe under leadership of general Draza Mihailovic".

The Day of Security, 13 May, was also observed ceremoniously and by numerous decorations awarded to the deserving ones. On that same day, at the opening of the agricultural fair in Novi Sad, president of the executive council of Voivodina Bosko Perosevic, who is also a member of the highest leadership of the ruling Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) was shot. He was killed, in broad daylight and in the presence of the highest Republican and Provincial officials, by a security worker of Novi Sad fair, a school friend of the murdered Perosevic. The first police report spoke about the murder and the arrest of the murderer, but on that same day - after the statement of SPS in which the murderer was proclaimed an activist of Resistance and member of SPO - the Ministry of internal affairs in a subsequent statement practically repeated this assessment.

This corroborated the estimate that the regime was intentionally directing repression against Resistance as the potentially most dangerous opponent, which is the movement which is spreading all over Serbia, indeed, the more frequent the beatings, arrests, interrogations and sentences pronounced against its activists, mostly high-school and university students, the quicker it is spreading. That is how, although not planned, due to closing down of Pozarevac, the opposition rally turned into a gathering of support to Resistance and development of the regime’s accusations of "fascism", "terrorism", "treason" and mercenariness" into unconcealed physical repression against its own youth. The situation which the Resistance is successfully fighting against is perhaps best illustrated by the new Belgrade grafitti, frightening in its simplicity: "Serbia Kills".

The murder of Bosko Perosevic - which according to the published statements of witnesses, neighbours, school friends and acquaintances, including the father of the deceased - can be attributed to mental disbalance of the murderer more than to any kind of political motive - was used by the regime to ceremoniously express its grief and to accuse the Resistance movement and the opposition for terrorism, obviously trying to paralyse or at least to weaken the undoubtfully growing citizens' discontent by spreading fear. That is how exactly one month after the first, Belgrade rally on 15 May turned into a test of support the opposition enjoys.

It is hard to guess why this time much less people gathered at the Square of the Republic than 120-150 thousand people who had flooded the square and the surrounding streets on 14 April. "How many of us are there?" was the most frequently uttered and probably not even uttered question of the participants. Extremely different and equally unbelievable estimates were given by state television (about three thousand) and "Draskovic's" Studio B (more than 100 thousand). It is more realistic to speak about between 25 and 30 thousand Belgraders who in great summer heat, having overcome the fear which was systematically stimulated during the past month, came out to offer support to Resistance and the opposition.

The smaller number of people present might also be an indication of the reservation concerning capability of the opposition – except for more or less ardent but in any case known speeches of leaders who cannot agree even about the order of their appearance except by alphabetical order – to move things from the standstill which has lasted for years. In this sense, the message of the citizens to all the opposition leaders – only Nenad Canak was missing because he had fallen off his motorcycle at the gathering of motorcycle fans in Sremska Mitrovica – can also be interpreted as a warning that they should finally start actual realisation of the main demand, scheduling of elections on all levels. Regular elections in one way or another are coming; in a state more normal than FRY or Serbia, a regular election campaign would have been at its height by now, and election conditions, number of lists and names of candidates would have been known.

Nothing of that is known in Serbia, while the opposition not only does not seem to be ready for true mutual cooperation, but its leaders often use joint and individual public appearances to lecture their political allies about democracy. Therefore, it is not at all peculiar that Milosevic’s regime – no less fiercely because its internal dissolution had perhaps begun – has decided to spread fear, just as there is nothing peculiar in the fact that the stand that “everything has already been said” was often repeated. This was explicitly said by Dusan Mihajlovic (New Democracy), Dragoljub Micunovic (Democratic Centre), Momcilo Trajkovic (Serb Resistance Movement from Kosovo) and Nebojsa Covic (Democratic Alternative); others were convincing themselves and those present that repression was a sign of weakness of the regime (but without delusion that it would stop just like that) and that people should not succumb to fear when faced with terrorism.

Perhaps still carried away by the gathering on Ravna gora – where he had spoken, commanded (“Save your ammunition”) and sung “Chetnik” songs – Vuk Draskovic’s (Serb Revival Movement) speech was the longest. He devoted most of his speech, for not exactly clear reasons, to 1941 and decades of communism, for the first time – as far as it is known – launching a new version of Serb history by saying that “the communists seized power under the aegis of Hitler”. The only novelty in his speech was the slogan “Uprising!” also used for the first time on Ravna gora.

After epic Draskovic, it was not difficult for Zoran Djindjic to be brief and clear in his speech in urban language. “We are here”, he said, “to offer support without reservations to the young men and women from Resistance: Bravo!” And as far as the regime is concerned, he addressed a warning to it: “If you strike against our children, you are striking against the future of Serbia, and there will be no withdrawal any more. That will be the end, that will be the end of rallies and speeches”.

The only and the gravest dramatic step forward at the rally corresponding to the tragic developments which are shaking Serbia in the past weeks was made by the activist of Resistance Branko Ilic and president of the Civil Alliance of Serbia, Goran Svilanovic. “Two days ago a man was killed at Novi Sad fair”, said Ilic. “Bosko Perosevic was killed on Saturday by a guard of Novi Sad fair, a psychopath in uniform from Bosko’s village, who committed the crime for his own, who knows what reasons… For the second time Bosko was killed by a monster who decided to start a big showdown in Serbia over his grave. Poor Perosevic has not even reached the cemetery yet when vampires from his own party started their feast over him, when the main board of SPS had already discovered the culprits, Goran Matic (federal minister of information) had already shown the manuals from parapsychological warfare on RTS (Radio-Television Serbia)… Let’s show them that, contrary to them, for us Bosko is first and foremost a man and a victim, and not a political opponent!” To Ilic’s invitation to do the last honours to Perosevic, the mass responded with a minute of dead-silence which ended with a unanimous “May his memory live!” Later on Goran Svilanovic equally dramatically referred to the “feast of vampires” occasioned by Perosevic’s murder (see entrefilet).

In the same spirit Branko Ilic continued with reminding the people how the nightmare had begun, with the beating up in Pozarevac, revolt of the citizens of Pozarevac who did not agree to be intimidated on 9 May, who since then “do not walk with their heads bent down because they know that they have saved the honour of their town… That is why listen to me, friends from parties, from non-governmental organisations, from free media, listen, honourable judges, lawyers, pensioners and professors, workers, listen you people from Belgrade, Uzice, Kragujevac and Nis – let us all gather in a big fist and we shall win!” Contrary to other ardent speakers, Ilic was clear about what should be expected in that struggle – persecution, beating up and arrests, accusations and imputations… “Tell me, dear friends, are you afraid? Will you bend your heads to violence and frenzy or will you continue to proudly raise your fist… Will you agree to fascism of the departing dictator or will you say ‘Resistance!’ to frenzy…”

There should be no doubt about the response of Resistance, nor about resoluteness – at least “firm” feeling of the pulse of the people for the readiness to put up resistance – with which the regime will continue. The only thing that was not manifested are the resoluteness, readiness and plans of united opposition to force the regime to agree to change through elections before the regime leads Serbia into another bloodshed.

Aleksandar Ciric



Goran Svilanovic, Civil Alliance of Serbia (GSS):

Two countries

“Ladies of Belgrade, I am addressing you who have either hidden or sent to war your children, and your husbands, who have welcomed them with tears, protected them from bombs, show that in your hearts there is enough space to receive two little girls who were yesterday so lonely, and who had lost their father the day before. Yesterday those two have not even cast a glance towards them! Just as they have never – really never – cast a casual glance towards anyone who had suffered from bombs in this country, who had lost an arm, who had buried a father or a son… For ten years they are followed by cameras, ten years bombs have been falling and never, never have they stopped by a hospital! I watched them last night how they did not see the two girls frightened like does, alone by their mother’s side. Their whole life tumbled down because of the two evil-doers who have no heart even to see them by their side!

Citizens of Belgrade! My name is Goran Svilanovic. My children go to school and kindergarten like yours, they have friends, while their children have bodyguards. My apartment has an address in New Belgrade and it has neighbours, while their houses have fences and guards. My city has its citizens, while theirs has patriots and traitors, they are dividing us. My country has its past it is proud of, while theirs has just ideology. My country has both monarchists and Republicans, while theirs has a president, one with no power and the other with no state. My Serbia embraces Montenegro, while theirs would go to war. Our country is of great value and we must defend it from them.

And that is why we send them word: Milosevic, now is the time! Choose! Do you wish your grandchildren to walk around Serbia together with our grandchildren. If you do, you must leave. Yours is the choice, your decision must be – pack your bags. And as for us, at this time, our only choice is resistance. We choose resistance to you, to your wife, to your armed bandits, in order to save Serbia with Kosovo on its map, in order to save Serbia which has neighbours where Serbs also live, in order to save the country where all its citizens live.

Choose! We are choosing: this is the end of your rule and the beginning of freedom and changes for our country. We are offering you a way out! The door through which you must pass are free and democratic elections in which you shall lose power and save your life, in order to save life of your family and all the children of this country who love Serbia and want to remain in it. We are choosing Resistance!”

Original article