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July 3, 1999
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 17-Special
Leskovac: Protest of a Disobedient Citizen

Gesture Warranting of a Month Long Sentence

by Jelena Grujic & Vojkan Ristic

Continuing the protest, the residents of Leskovac gathered for a second day in front of the house of Zivojin Stefanovic, Head Supervisor of the Region of Jablanica and the man who caused everything.  Nearly two thousand people clogged traffic in Svetolijska Street, calling on the District Chief to Resign.  First they wrecked his car and garage and then the people broke the fence and threw it onto the luxury home, breaking doors, windows and the facade for a full half-hour without stop.  The group of the most adamant protestors who protested form six in the afternoon that day, ended up on the Nis-Skoplje Highway, blocking this thoroughfare at the point where Motel Atian is located.  They lasted for one and a half hour, until they recognized the police in the surrounding fields.  In the darkness they could not figure how many of them were around the highway, but there were already many of them on the highway itself   face to face, in a closing noose.  The group slowly dispersed into the neighboring homesteads.

One of them, Bojan, told VREME that earlier that day, before the group tried to break through the cordon in front of the Federal Ministry of Internal Affairs (SUP) building, the policemen shouted to the crowd: "We are not the police force of Zika 'Turn Signal', we are your police force."

"The are also with us.  We heard that their superiors are split because of this.  They are also citizens, and this is a purely civil protest.  I don't know if Ivan Novkovic wanted this or not, but he let loose the lava flow.  People went out into the street precisely because they believe in him, for they protest as citizens, without any political party having called upon them," Bojan said.

NECKTIE, NERVOUSNESS: As the producer of the community television station of Leskovac, in the half-time break of the basketball match between Yugoslavia and Germany, Ivan Novkovic broadcast a tape on which he recorded himself.  Looking very serious, with a necktie, a sheet of paper trembling in his hands, he excused himself because of his nervousness and then called upon District Chief Stefanovic to submit his resignation and called upon citizens to gather in the central city square on July 5 in protest against local government.

"It's very nice of Zivojin Serfanovic that he's the District Chief, but it is tragic because he has caused catastrophic consequences for us citizens and for farmers also.  Thanks to him we have become underdeveloped, but I am certain that starting today citizens will only jeer at him, the biggest looser in the South of Serbia.  Prove that you are good at the bottom of your hear, submit your resignation.  Do you respect personal integrity?  How do you feel when you fire someone who is better than you and when you fire people who think differently form you?  Do you like humans?  Did you create positive changes when you sent 40,000 people into war?  Did you feel a need to be with them all the time like our Patriarch Pavle did?  Do you believe in God?  Do you have an answer to these questions?  If you don't know the answer, just ask the people," Novakovic spoke in the program from a pre- recorded tape, while his colleagues knocked on his door in the broadcasting room where he locked himself in.  They begged him to stop because it is dangerous and because the station director is calling him.  Novakovic later explained that all he had on his mind are the anecdotes of his friends, reservists who just got back from the front line, so that he decided several days earlier to record this tape in secrecy, deciding "to listen to his heart, not his brain, to conquer fear and to say what he thinks and what everyone knows."  When the seven-minute statement was concluded, Novakovic played the rock video entitled "Oh Angel look at you home", created by one of the top bands in the country, Riblja corba (Fish Soup), after which he left the building.  He went missing until the meeting on Monday when he spoke before 20,000 people who responded to his call, and was arrested the next day in the home of his friends, where he was hiding.  In less than 24 hours Judge Mirjana Markovic sentenced him to a month of prison because he "organized meetings without the approval of relevant authorities."

MOBILIZATION: Of the 80,000 residents in the District of Leskovac, 20,000 were officially mobilized, while unofficially it is said that twice that amount "took up arms", for only the surrounding villages have at least 20 thousand.  At the end of the war the local Church held requiems for 57 soldiers.  This list of names was read in its entirety from the roof of an older model YUGO by the law student Predrag Pesic, the owner of the vehicle in question who resorted to the use of a megaphone.  Before he even finished the gathered began shouting the names of those who did not come back, but who did not show up on the list: "My neighbor, my son-in-law, there's one more..."  One of the policemen spoke up   his colleague did not receive mention.  The crowd was hollering.  "Zika 'Turn Signal' is guilty for the mobilization."

The residents of Leskovac remember full well the insult that resulted from the visit to Leskovac by Slobodan Miloseivic.  At that time Zivojin Stefanovic personally promised Milosevic 3,000 soldiers for the battles in Vukovar.  All of those who came back alive from that front line are officially registered as volunteers even though they were mobilized, Bojan who is presently demonstrating on the city square tells: "I don't know if the mobilization will ruin Slobodan Milosevic, but I know that it will ruin Zivojin Stefanovic.  That is why the people are demonstrating now."  Bojan fought near Gnjilani, just like the majority of the residents of Leskovac, when Stefanovic showed up at the front line with a group of government officials, bringing humanitarian aid.  The District Chief was advised by the military officers that he should not risk visiting the ditches where the soldiers are because they cannot guarantee his security.

One day following the initial protests, Stefanovic stated at a press conference that the meeting in Leskovac is of a political nature and that it was held immediately following the arrival to the country of the traitor and deserter, Zoran Djindjic.  "This was a meeting of non-tolerance.  The protestors have indicated that they do not support elections, because a government cannot be replaced on the street, but through legitimate channels.  This are methods of destruction, street mongering and ruin," stated the District Chief with a tremor in his voice.  Stefanovic has been part of the government in the District of Leskovac for over fifteen years, variously changing jobs.  Novkovic worked at the television station which is under Stefanovic's control, so that the Station's Board of Directors called of the second half of the basketball match, having prepared a statement which was read immediately after the match.  Deputy Director of Leskovac Television, Aleksandar Davinic, excused himself to the viewers "because of the extreme abuse by the station employee who destroyed the reputation of the station and his colleagues," having assessed his appearance as "an act of vandalism which attempted to destroy that which NATO did not succeed in destroying."  The same program included an SPS statement which emphasized that this act is "ill-spirited and directed at a man who has an excellent reputation in the District."  It was also stated that Novkovic used firearms to subdue his colleagues in fulfilling his wishes.  Despite this, the Station Management took the precaution of suspending all employees who were working at the time when Novkovic played his tape.

THREATS: Repression followed immediately after the incident at the TV Station, with local criminals having been hired to do this job, according to Democratic Party (DS) activists.  Their street vendor of magazines who was hired to distribute pamphlets in support of Novakovic was told by the local thug, a seedy character who goes under the name of Trle, who met him on the street with a promise that he "will brake his legs and arms."  Several "skinhead-types" from Stefanovic's personal entourage prevented the DS Council from making their loudspeakers available to the demonstrators, making threats of appropriating all equipment and arresting the entire party council.  The door to the party headquarters had the words "Just a warning for traitors!" engraved with a knife overnight.

"Me and my family were threatened with liquidation," stated Dobrosav Nesic, President of the Human Rights Council in Leskovac.  On the evening when the people demolished the District Chief's house, close to Nesic's home, Stefanovic entered their yard with a pistol.  "Who knows what would have happened if the MUP did not intervene on time," Dobrosav Nesic stated.  His brother was arrested two days later.

Predrag Pesic, a student, reminded citizens at the first meeting that "whenever Milosevic and Seselj defended Serbian territory, Serbian graves were inevitably left on the territories we gave up."  He has been a fugitive for many days already, and he told VREME that he was told that he will get at least six months in jail for saying such things.  Now he is changing his place of residence at ten hour intervals.  The police paid a visit to his father at the factory in which he works and told him to "find his son, whatever it takes."
"The city is full of police which has been taken from Urosevac to serve in Leskovac.  And not only from that location.  When they surveyed my neighborhood, the police told me that they are from Belgrade, asking for addresses because they were not familiar with the city," stated Pesic, convinced that the local police is on the side of the residents of Leskovac.  In the same way, he believes that this is the basic reason why there were far fewer people on the second day of the protests, with a far greater police presence.  "On Monday anyone who had anything to say stood on my car.  Many workers from different factories, with each one demanding the resignation of their factory's director.  There were farmers and women which were not very present on meeting in past years.  All of them want Zika 'Turn Signal' to go," stated Pesic.

On day two there were fights, "some petty leaders stuck out."  All the same, enthusiasm is not waning and protests are still being depended upon.  Demands for Stefanovic's resignation are coupled with demands for Ivan Nikolic's release, who is a 34 year-old father of a six month old child.  The residents of Leskovac keep heckling, "Out, Slobo, out!"

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