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October 20, 1996
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 263
Elections 96

Gypsy Language For Beginners

by Uros Komlenovic

Only a single day spent on the coalition Zajedno's pre-election tour in Serbia is enough to conclude that Dr. Dragoslav Avramovic wasn't "faking" too much when he had stated that he was withdrawing from his candidature due to medical reasons. Hoping that as large a number of people as possible gets a chance to hear and see them (since state television is totally ignoring them), the leaders of the coalition Zajedno have imposed a deadly tempo upon themselves. Which is how on Tuesday, October 15, following an independent appearance in Gornji Milanovac, the president of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), Dr. Vojislav Kostunica, also spoke in Nis and Zajecar. Beside Nis and Zajecar, the president of the Civil Alliance of Serbia (GSS) Dr. Vesna Pesic, the first man of the Democratic Party (DS) Dr. Zoran Djindjic and the leader of the Association of the Independent and Freelance Syndicates Dragan Milovanovic also appeared in Aleksinac and Knjazevac. Meanwhile, the hyperactive leader of the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) Vuk Draskovic on top of all that also managed to appear in Kladovo, beating all records - five rallies at five different places in one day. And all that without a single five-minute coffee break.

For the leaders of the coalition Zajedno, the beginning was hardest of all - at the unannounced and improvised meeting in Aleksinac somewhat more than a thousand opposition supporters gathered, along with a few opponents as well.

Making use of a dramatic pause during Draskovic's speech, a certain bald left-wing supporter (out of belief or on duty, whatever) managed to yell out: "You're lying, damn you". The "provoker" instantly retreated accompanied by various abuse, while Draskovic managed to promote an interesting linguistic discovery in Aleksinac. Glancing over at the advertising slogan "JUL is cool" (in English "cool" means "cold", yet the younger generation all over the world, even in Serbia, use it as a slang word with extremely positive meanings: "all right", "as it should be" and similar), Draskovic asked the group of gathered people whether they knew what the word "cool" meant in the Gypsy language. One dark-complexioned man who was present at the rally instantly yelled out: "Shit". "Exactly, that's exactly what it means," answered Draskovic, adding that the coalition Zajedno does not wish to be "cool".

There were no further dialogues with the public at the other rallies held that day, although a handful of non-sympathizers in Knjazevac tried to attract attention in vain ("Go dig out potatoes") and soon left. In Knjazevac, the somewhat merrier atmosphere was provided by the lyrically-disposed master of ceremonies, while at rallies held in Zajecar and Nis there were too many people to make it possible for individual opinions from the public to be heard.

In Nis the appearance of the leaders of the coalition Zajedno gathered the largest number of opposition supporters in the thus far campaign. Fifteen thousand people created an atmosphere which was very similar to the opposition rallies held in the center of Belgrade: a vast number of small and large party flags, chants of "red gang", a choir of whistles at each mention of Slobodan Milosevic's, Mirjana Markovic's and especially the head of the Socialists in Nis, Mileta Ilic's name... The electricity, strangely, wasn't cut off by anyone, while the numerous members of the police force acted correctly. The rally opened and closed with the old track of the Film band (in the remade version of the Playboy band), with the song 'Zajedno', and even a superficial glance toward the gathering was enough to conclude that the renowned verse: "Our girls are the prettiest in town" in Nis showed itself to be more than accurate.

In other cities, the coalition Zajedno rallies gathered a predominantly young crowd, while amongst the older crowd, "urban faces" greatly outnumbered the unavoidable bearded admirers of Vuk Draskovic. In all cities, the conclusion was imposed upon us that the rallies had attracted "superior members" of society, the city elite in all its glory. People applauded, whistled and chanted when the need arose, yet, or so it seems, the most important thing was not to miss a single word which was coming from the platform. Draskovic's cry "You are our television" was taken seriously, and there should be no doubt that all over southern and eastern Serbia stories shall be told of all that was heard from the platform.

The common denominator of all the appearances of the opposition leaders can be reduced to what Kostunica stated in Nis: "This isn't an election between two coalitions, two parties, nor between two party programs - this is a choice between survival and doom." In the expected (and justified) longish inventory of the failures of the current government in the period from the first multi-party elections up till now, Kostunica was "encumbered" more than the others with the consequences of Milosevic's war adventures, explaining that the "outer wall" of the sanctions has not been lifted. With the promise that, if they come to power, the coalition Zajedno shall square accounts with the "criminals and mafia", Vesna Pesic most frequently spoke of the citizens rights to live in a dignified manner from their labor, and Draskovic insisted on the possibility of changing a government in case the opposition was to win ("if we are no good, kick us out") and, with (intentionally or accidentally) a light erotic connotation, he explained to the citizens how a change of government comes about: "The hardest thing is to make the first penetration, the second time things are much easier, and the third time things are running as smoothly as possible". Zoran Djindjic's favorite question was, in its short version: "Where is the money?", and the promise: "We shall give people their money back", further explaining that he has in mind the "old foreign currency savings" and regulation of the pensions.

The promises can be reduced to moving the decision-making center into parliament, public viewing of parliament sessions, an independent judiciary, the control and possible replacement of the government and, most important of all, the consistent implementation of Avramovic's economic recovery program, on which the "syndicate official" Dragan Milovanovic especially insisted. All the other speakers swore to, in case of an election victory, offer Avramovic the place of prime minister or governor of the National Bank.

The next afternoon, on Wednesday, October 16, an announcement of the Election Headquarters of the coalition Zajedno arrived in which, amongst other things, it was stated that Avramovic has notified the coalition that he has "sent off a letter to the Federal Election Committee in which he stresses that he is withdrawing as head of the list of the coalition Zajedno - Dragoslav Avramovic and that he is withdrawing as a candidate for an MP seat in the electoral unit of Palilula".

As professor of the Belgrade School of Law and member of the Federal Election Committee, Dr. Vesna Rakic-Vodinelic says for VREME, in case a candidate, in this case Dr. Avramovic, officially withdraws as head of the list in the electoral unit in which he is a candidate for an MP seat (Palilula, electoral unit no. 1) the second person from the list automatically takes his place, that is Dr. Dragoljub Micunovic. The third person takes the place of the second and so on, although the place at the end of the list remains empty. That is foreseen by article 41 of the Law on the Election of Federal MP's in the Citizen's Chamber in the Federal Parliament.

However, Avramovic was at the same time the head of all the coalition Zajedno lists (the lists are printed out as Zajedno - Dragoslav Avramovic, so that his name is at the same time part of the official name of the coalition), and regulations aren't as clear on that.

Professor at the School of Law in Belgrade and president of the Election Committee of the Civil Alliance of Serbia, Dr. Dragor Hiber, explains for VREME that the function of the "head of the election list" was invented in former times so that the Socialist Party of Serbia would bear the name of Slobodan Milosevic on all its lists:

"The only idea was for the name to stand on the lists, but the legislative body failed to foresee the possibility of deleting that name. Mr. Avramovic addressed the Federal Election Committee in writing, yet at one point he had also given his written consent to be head of all lists of the coalition Zajedno - Dragoslav Avramovic at all the election committees of the electoral units. Therefore, his letter to the Federal Election Committee does not produce any legal effects and the name of the list can no longer be altered.

As VREME is unofficially informed at the last minute, the hesitation surrounding Dr. Avramovic could deepen - namely, up to the moment when the Election Headquarters of the coalition Zajedno had announced that Avramovic has dispatched his "letter of withdrawal" to the Federal Election Committee, no letter of the ex-governor had allegedly arrived at the Federal Election Committee. The next few days shall most certainly clarify whether Dr. Avramovic has withdrawn at all and if he did, why he is informing the coalition Zajedno first, and the official institution later, whether the post office or courier have made a mess of all this...

In any case, it seems, at least judging by what can be seen in the field (that is at the rallies and in talks with the citizens all over Serbia), that the coalition Zajedno isn't unduly shaken by Avramovic's withdrawal. On the contrary, the "opposition team" leaves the impression as though they had "consolidated their forces" and in their public appearances all over Serbia seem rather compact. There are even occurrences when leaders on various rallies "steal each other's lines" but nobody is offended, nor demands "author's rights". Things shall naturally be different at the local elections so that DSS has publicly announced that they shall stand alone at certain municipalities.

Therefore in the coalition Zajedno ranks, "brotherhood and unity" do not reign, nor is there an insistence upon a "love till death do us part", yet it is obvious that even the Serbian opposition, slowly yet surely is maturing and that it is basing its cooperation on much healthier foundations - on mutual interest.

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