Politics and violence

Does the opposition have the answer to repression of the regime?

Vesna Jelicic

SUN, 28 MAY 2000

Belgrade, May 25 - When it does not know what to do, Serbian opposition organises a rally. Leaders of the opposition called the people to come to the protest in Belgrade on 27 May, and just two days before that they were still negotiating what to say to the people. By seizing radio-television station Studio B Slobodan Milosevic had thrown down the gauntlet to the opposition which did not have an adequate move in response. Squeezed between brutality of the regime and enormous discontent of the people, instead to consolidate into a firm political alternative, the opposition started to divide. Division into the moderate and hard faction shows that Milosevic still has some manoeuvring space on the part of the field of his opponents.

The forthcoming rally of the opposition in Belgrade is the third in a row in the past two months. The opposition was practically forced to organise the first rally, held on 14 April, because at its January unification meeting it demanded early elections on all levels as an ultimatum and promised that if this did not happen it would organise demonstrations in March for fulfilment of its demands. In the meantime, the opposition had a series of futile meetings and organisation of the announced protest was a question of preserving remainders of credibility. The second protest on the Square of the Republic was a substitute for the one scheduled to take place in Pozarevac because of brutal beating up of activists of Otpor (Resistance) movement. The immediate cause for the next rally was confiscation of radio-television station Studio B and merciless beating up of demonstrators by the police during the first two days of the protest held in front of Belgrade city hall. At previous gatherings the opposition warned that the regime was provoking civil war and demanded early elections as the only peaceful solution. Some leaders of the opposition seemed to think that they should not face the people for the third time with the same story.

Fearing of losing confidence of the citizens, Vuk Obradovic, president of Social Democracy, addressed an open letter to leaders of the opposition and non-governmental organisations in which he stressed that the demands should be specified. His proposal is that the regime be given a time limit until 5 June to give Studio B back, that the wave of violence and persecution of activists of Otpor and political opponents stop, as well as that all those arrested in the previous demonstrations be immediately set free. This letter was preceded by a meeting of Obradovic, Nebojsa Covic (Democratic Alternative – DA) and general Momcilo Perisic (PDS) who demanded that specific goals and time limits for their attaining be set. According to Covic’s words, relations in the opposition should be clarified, and opposition leaders should be sincere and openly declare that they have not the heart for real action. He added that he believed that “a deadline should be set for the demands and come out with a specific strategy of action”. Leader of Democratic Alternative added that “the opposition is in favour of a peaceful resolution of the crisis, but the problem is in the fact that the other party does not accept that”.

Zarko Korac, president of the Social Democratic Union, confirmed that there were “serious differences” among opposition leaders. There are two types of reaction to the terror of the regime: radical and moderate. The joint estimate is that the regime has resorted to terrorising the people as a “preventive measure” and that its repression is always one step ahead of what the citizens are doing in the attempt to defend themselves. There are serious differences, and not conflicts of personal nature, concerning the assessment whether time has come for the citizens of Serbia and all democratic forces to oppose more radically what the regime is doing or to wait and let certain evolutionary changes to take place and after that put up more radical resistance, Korac says and adds that he thinks “that differences at such a difficult moment are natural". Korac says that he personally thinks that a more energetic response to the regime should be chosen.

Gatherings in Belgrade organised by party leaders are a simulation of protests contrary to the gatherings in other towns of Serbia which are a manifestation of unity of the citizens and membership of opposition parties, as Mladjan Dinkic comments and stresses that leadership of G17 Plus that he belongs to has decided not to participate in the protests headed by party leaders.

The price of the hue and cry on the media, apart from Studio B, is already paid by B2 92 and Blic daily, but Otpor will suffer the most, just because this organisation is the most popular among the citizens, and the opposition is insufficiently taking this into account, Dinkic stresses and adds that G17 Plus will do its best to prevent Otpor from being destroyed in the forthcoming developments.

In the past few days, the question that has imposed itself to the public is whether party leaders all have the same goal – change of the regime – or preservation of the existing privileges, and even their increase. The regime is buying time, and the leaders who have such a goal, Dinkic warns, are helping it. That the opposition parties are having difficulties in coordinating their goals and actions and even more in coordinating with the citizens’ discontent was visible from the very first day after confiscation of Studio B. Leaders of the opposition, without Vuk Draskovic who later explained that he was ill, addressed the people with a dramatic proclamation. They stressed that the country had entered into dictatorship and appealed on the people to resists it with all their might and all forms of citizens' disobedience. Demonstrations followed in which the police brutally beat up everyone who happened to be close to its truncheons. At that time leaders of the opposition parties were sheltered by the thick walls of the city hall and negotiating about what were they to do. According to the testimonies of witnesses, the city elders were trying to pacify their nerves by drinking whiskey.

Absence of the leader of the Serb Revival Movement (SPO) was cause of various speculations, both among ordinary people and the opposition leaders, which did not die down even after his arrival. Draskovic tried to ease the tension, appealed for organised non-violence, announced a trip to Russia and a new rally in Belgrade. The demand of the opposition came down to restoration of “Studio B and by the way freedom to B2 92” and in the following few days the number of citizens who protested was reduced to hardly a few thousand. The police has not intervened again.

Rumour was launched that everything that was happening was the result of Draskovic’s trade with Milosevic, and numerous combinations were concocted among analysts. People were reminded that the leaders of SPO had announced in advance that he would not speak at the rally in Pozarevac, and when all went wrong, he was not on the spot. Many reproach him for having dragged the people’s energy to Ravna gora, and spent it on the story about Chetniks and partisans which is for majority of citizens, at least at this moment, not at all important. Besides, political theoreticians are not convinced that SPO has done well when by its boycott of the assembly of Serbia, it enabled the tripartite ruling coalition to freely walk into the Chamber of the Republics of the federal assembly.

This gave additional space to the regime instead of further narrowing it down. Loss of confidence was skilfully further stirred up by Vojislav Seselj, leader of the Radicals, by his declarations on TV Palma that by breaking into Studio B, the government had allegedly got hold of compromising financial documents for the leader of SPO, but that his coalition partners were against revealing them in order to keep Draskovic under control. The stated facts are the most frequent immediate cause for suspicion against Draskovic. This brought to the rumour that Draskovic would run for federal prime minister if he enabled Milosevic to amend the constitution of FRY and to get a new term in the office of the president. The second variant is that he would gladly be Serbian Putin in exchange for peaceful retirement of Milosevic-Markovic couple. Lack of confidence in Draskovic has obviously become very serious, so that his advisor Ognjen Pribicevic was forced to appeal on the public not to take the bait and believe rumours. He strongly denied that there had been “contacts between leaders of SPO and representatives of the authorities from the Socialist Party of Serbia”. “This is a frivolous story imputed by the regime in order to discredit SPO. This is part of the special war the authorities are waging against their own people”, said Pribicevic to Beta agency.

“Developments linked to seizure of Studio B are a turning point on the political scene of Serbia which introduced the undeclared state of emergency in the country, and the leaders of political parties who are not aware of that do not know what they are talking about”, politicologist Vladimir Goati believes. Goati stated that the “protagonists who are opposed to repression” still do not have the awareness of their joint suffering and their joint destiny and added that “synchronised action” of all democratic forces was necessary in order to change the regime. He assessed that “time is not on the side of the democratic forces” and that that is why they must not be defensive.

According to public opinion polls carried out by Strategic Marketing agency, the support of 30 per cent of the electorate enjoyed by the regime has dropped to about 22 per cent and it has a tendency to continue to fall, while the support to the opposition has increased to 30 per cent and continues to grow. According to the words of Srdjan Bogosavljevic, investigator of this agency, about eight per cent of the opposition electorate belongs to the parties which will not cross the election threshold, so that the opposition parties must run in the elections together.

A hunting season on activists of Otpor has been opened in Serbia and some of them are arrested practically every day. The government has announced passing of the law on terrorism, and Vojislav Seselj proposed that capital punishment be introduced for acts of terrorism. Nobody has any doubts any more that this law will be conceived by measure of activists of Otpor who are qualified by the government as terrorists and fascists. Ruffians have prevented protest gatherings of students at Belgrade faculties and Republican ministry of university education cut the school year short overnight and proclaimed the beginning of early summer vacation at the University as of the next day.

Practically at the same time the opposition of Serbia was sitting at the building of Belgrade city assembly for six hours discussing what was to be done. According to unofficial information, representatives of SPO (Vuk Draskovic was not present) were against radicalisation of resistance and setting deadlines for demands at the gathering on 27 May. Representatives of the League for Changes were in favour of all variants of the opposition response to the regime. A big part of the time was used to clarify mutual relations and to reproach general Perisic who publicly criticises the opposition but is not ready to sign the agreement of 10 January. Leaders of the opposition could not agree about what they would come out with in front of the people they called, so they postponed the problem for the day before the rally. They even considered the possibility that the developments might be determined by the protest of students to be held the day before and the reaction of the regime to it. If that does not happen, something else will: for example, the law on terrorism. Is not that more than enough?

Original article