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July 7, 1999
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 17-Special
On the Spot: the Village of Brezovica, Rudnik Mountain

Where Was Velja Ilic Hiding

by Dragan Todorovic

"I thank everyone, I thank God, I thank the Holy Icon of Saint Mary 'the Three Handed', I thank my patron Saint, Saint Nikola, for having brought me this far," stated Velimir Ilic, Mayor of Cacak, at the spectacular appearance of the opposition in his city.  He also sated that he could not even dram of the fact that he would find shelter in the Village of Brezovica (where he spent 43 days after fleeing from the military police which tried to arrest him), "for they're all Socialists there."

WASHING HAIR: On Sunday, July 4, Day of the Soldier, we went to visit Velja in order to learn the particulars of his battle.  There were many people at his home so that we went to the house of his brother Voja, next door.  He explained that citizens asked him to visit the neighborhood where military vehicles were being refurbished "six feet from their hose."  Ten minutes after his departure from that neighborhood a bomb fell, killing two.  He went to visit the spot immediately, saw victims, Radio Television Serbia (RTS) was there, and he hardly knew what he spoke in the heat of the moment.  This recording was broadcast on Radio Free Europe, even though he did not state anything directly, but it was nevertheless used to indict him for jeopardizing the defense capabilities of the country.  Naturally, ne continued as Mayor, did not receive any court summons, but felt "that something was up."  In the evening of May 19, amateur radio enthusiasts warned him that the military police was headed for his house in the Cacak neighborhood of Atenci, so that he fled before the house was surrounded.  He sat in his car "which was accidentally exiting his yard."  The military police, armed to the teeth took positions behind every tree, keeping guard over his house for full seven days.

The following day he went into the Community Government building, on May 20, Ascension Day, the city's church holiday.  He was told that the building was fenced off and fled to the barbers shop "pretending to wash his hair."  The police chased him through the streets, while his hair was being attended to.  One of his men arrived with a car to take him in the direction of Mount Jelica.  He went without his personal i.d., not managing even to get dressed properly, having to flee when he saw that it was no time for joking around.  He did not want to wander off far, but wished to stay on his territory, even though there were people "who wished to cast him out."

He let his driver go and went on foot.  The Army was on all sides, anti-aircraft systems in each nook and cranny, rocket systems...  He arrived in Torlak (part of Mount Jelica), and descended toward the forests of the Village of Brezovica.  The forests are exceptionally thick and large without a house to be seen anywhere.  He realized that the best thing would be to follow the reservists.  The Army had a supply truck without a muffler.  He saw soldiers sitting in front of a grocery store, drinking beer until three in the morning.  One reservist gave him an old uniform so that he could join the other soldiers without apprehension.  In this way he got hold of all the information: "Darkness, a lamp flickering, I pull aside into the night and listen."  One of them is saying that with him (Velja) he drove Milosevic out of Cacak using eggs, not knowing that I was there, sitting beside him all the while.

Initially he was constantly on the move, he did not know anyone.  He'd enter a house, "the house was empty", he'd climb into the roof and would wait.  The owner would come, he'd come down, but an old lady would see him.  He was in a sweat suit with little stars on the back.  He personally asked the old lady not to tell anyone for he fled from the battlefield, did not want to be killing anyone, and the old lady told him: "God forbid, my He protect you."  But as soon as it got dark, the old lady would go to her neighbor and would tell him that she saw an American pilot.  The neighbor would go on foot 5 kilometers to Jezevic to report a pilot on the loose.  A posy would be organized for catching the pilot.  At dawn he saw policemen from all around, wearing bullet proof vests and carrying guns with ammunition.  He'd make a move to come down from the roof, the ladders would brake and he'd hurt his back and his foot.  "By chance a vehicle would pass by," he'd enter, greet the driver, explain to him and escape the trap.

BASKETS AND PANS: He made a hole in a haystack, spending days and nights inside of it, even getting a mattress in it.  The worst was at dusk, the dogs would get wind of him, "it was unreal, they wanted to chew my feet off."  Somehow he sent word to the priest, figured he'd help him.  The latter would bring him food, medicaments, once even the archbishop dropped by to give him the icon of the Holy Mother With Three Hands and told him never to part with it.  He regained his strength there and would withdraw deeper into the woods.  Again problems, the mushroom season began and peasants would swarm through the woods at dawn so he did not know what to do.  Then he would find discover a cave that could fit a hundred people and he would hide there.  But people learned that he was there so they brought him baskets of food all day long.  One of them brought him a thermos full of coffee, a bottle of water, a box of sugar, another brought him a pan full of food that his wife prepared, telling them "for God's sake, don't carry this in a basket, you'll be followed."  Later they brought food in smaller pans pretending to be looking for mushrooms, and were told that Velja would pass by some spot where they were supposed to leave the food.

How did he decide to return?  This is how.  There was talk about the meeting in Cacak, there were flyers on store fronts, he saw this was his chance.  He contacted a friend who came to pick him up by car and they would arrive in town one day before the meeting.  The next day, on the day of the meeting, he saw blockades all around the city, but he arrived on time.  He followed the development of the situation deciding that if there are people at the meeting, he will put in an appearance, if not   he wont.  He wanted to appear before the people, to lay his accounts before them, to ask if he is a traitor.  He was on the other side of the Morava River, could not come by car.  He put on a hat, glasses, went on foot past the police.  The crossed the bridge, waited for a jeep to pass by and went straight to the meeting.  When he went up on stage, he saw that everyone was shouting their support for him, "it was the best moment;" after hell, the most difficult moments in his life, he saw that the people rewarded everything that he lived through.
Since then he's been going to his job at the Community Government building, no one is doing anything to him, even though he is ready to subject himself to the law in a legal procedure.

We talked   what next.  He says that the present Government must go.  There's no unity there, the people had to be unified just to survive, but now they want unity in rebuilding, they want to build once again, but they have been taken for a ride so many times that these types must me replaced, even if it means bringing Ioso the Gypsy from the street in as a replacement.  Enough is enough, they can kill one Ilic, but what will they do after.  The people are just waiting to trample on them   the people have been acting as a shock absorber for months now, begging not to be disturbed.  Many made mistakes in this war, the biggest criminals were taken out of the country for hard cash, some people were arrested as alleged war profiteers and later released again for hard cash, the sisters of boys who were fighting on the front line got hope that their brothers might do something...  He says that it's all documented in more than one place.  When he began saying this publically, patriots such as these got worried and decided to liquidate him.  And now the way things are set up is that they are patriots and he's a traitor.  Well if that's how it is, why in God's name are "traitors" not allowed to make something of Serbia.  No one will do anything to them, there will be no revenge, they'll be given their bit of land to implement their self-management and to command, hauling in bus loads in excursions and hauling in enormous amounts of cash as they show how the last Communists are organizing.

WHICH WAY TO VOTE: We took "Velja's Path."  We got a guide.  The old road to Kraljevo, the left turn to Brezovica and Jezevica.  After several kilometers there's a left turn before the road goes uphill.  On one peak the guide pointed to Toralk   abandoned houses, behind them the highest peak of Mount Jelica, called the Black Cliff.  The guide says that this is a crossroads: to the left, Premeca, down below, Rajac, and straight ahead Brezovica.  High above, the forests are thick and black.  Infrequently there are peasants to be seen picking berries, gathering hay.  The guide warns us to be careful in Brezovica where an SPO federal MP was beaten up several years ago.  At the center of the village is an old, concrete, electricity distribution building, with a sun bleached red star painted on it with the word "Mira."  On the metal gates of the village school there are metal stars, and from the store "Partizan" there is the loud sound of music.  The shopkeeper is a younger man wearing glasses...  We ask him about Velja.  He is suspicious.  Whether he knows something or not is uncertain, but says that Velja was at a meeting here and that despite this it was supposed that he was somewhere here.  Some more people enter, mostly residents of Brezovica who are in the village for the berry picking season.  We shout out "beer".  The shopkeeper tells us that business is slow, the shelves displaying tomatoes, cucumbers, two loaves of bread, two bottles of wine, snacks, powdered vanilla, puddings, matches...  Three of those present recognize the VREME journalist and photo reporter   they saw us in the grilled meat restaurant in Cacak last week.  They remembered us, they were surprised   one of us only ate cabbage sallade.  They all speak in unison about Velja   the man went into hiding, everyone would have done the same thing, they took a man in who was in trouble.  They don't know with whom he stayed.  They say that it is known that he stayed in one house one afternoon.  The socialists did win here   they promised a road!

, there is no road, no bus either, and Cacak is 30 kilometers distant.  Mika Majstorovic, a miner 300 meters underground, not at his post, wants to tell all.  There are not too many of them here.  There are only 130 voters in the village, but some ten of them manage to waste some 300 beers in the store every evening.  They come in front of the store to take pictures with beer in their hands.

The second round of beers, they don't know who was harboring Velja, but he should be commended.  One of the beer drinkers who worked at the Sloboda Factory in Cacak says that there were rumors that Velja is a traitor, while he was the "embodiment of Cacak and Serbia."  One resident who was in regular service in Kosovo during the first two weeks says that Velja was the first in Sumadija to raise his voice and they fixed him.  The shopkeeper raised his glass, "may the regime change," while another, angered, asks what is his father holding on the walls of his home.  What can you do, he answers, he also was misguided.  An older villager enters.  Was Velja here?  He did not hear of it, but lately he heard something about it.  So was he here?  No.

The miner says that Velja promised a way out.  It remains to be seen.  From now on they will be careful at the voting booth.  No one will win in the first round this time.  They'll wait to see who will win so that their man goes with the winner.  They have to do that, because of the way out.  Again the conversation turns toward Velja.  Since they gave him shelter, maybe they stand a chance in tourism.  They'll give shelter to anyone, regardless whether they are with the regime or the opposition...
We head back.  Our guide takes us to Velja's distant family.  In the house there are three generations of the Grujovic family.  They know nothing   the host put it well, but authority is authority.  In Velja's house there is still a big crowd gathered.  People are constantly arriving.  Velja explains that despite the embargo, Cacak will certainly get aide.  The Germans will invest in the heating plant...

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