Skip to main content
November 10, 1996
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 266
Counting With Scotch and Plum Brandy

The Night of the Drooping Faces

by Zoran Kusovac &Dragan Dimovic

In the SPO premises in Knez Mihaljova street, in which the joint election committee of the coalition Zajedno was situated for the federal elections, Vuk and Dana Draskovic, Vesna Pesic, vice-presidents, high officials and candidates of the Serbian Renewal Party and Civil Alliance gathered by 10 PM. The first results which were forwarded by members of the election committee seemed favorable for the coalition, in accordance with their pre-election prognosis. Yet this time, most of the gathered journalists managed not to become ensnared in the semi-directed euphoria. Not only due to the fact that caution was visible on the faces of the party officials from the start of the evening but also because the initial euphoria brought about by the favorable results has backfired upon many in previous elections.

The bar and the spokesmen were responsible for maintaining a general good mood. And while the bar worked impeccably until the early hours of the morning to the joy of the thirsty and hungry journalists and activists, the spokesmen seemed more tired and more unconvincing with each new result. As soon as it became clear that there was no possibility for a great victory, it could be discerned that all had hoped for it more than they had truly believed in it. High officials retreated into one of the chambers and chances of their facing the gathered journalists and activists diminished with each new result. Spokesmen tried to rescue the whole situation to a certain degree, unconvincingly boasting of individual candidates who had managed to enter the second round.

As the hours passed, the phone was more frequently answered by Vuk. "Leave the numbers; percentage, give me percentage!" he screamed into the mouthpiece. Most often, he would only huff and hang up, to the desperation of the party secretariat which did not even manage to find out the data from the polling places. Shortly after midnight all hopes were lost. Journalists slowly started drifting away even before the last press conference.

The central headquarters of the coalition for city and municipal elections was situated at the headquarters of the Democratic Party on Terazije. Zoran and Ruska Djindjic, on these elections without Luka, initially tried to emanate optimism. Phones were ringing here as well, but fewer and fewer people jumped at their sound. As reasons for optimism diminished, Mrs. Djindjic found it more and more difficult to simulate it.

That night, true lethargy was manifested at the headquarters of the Democratic Party of Serbia in Brace Jugovic street. Devoid of any formal assignments in the coalition, with a spokesman at Knez-Mihajlova, without confirmation of any success, Vojislav Kostunica and Vladeta Jankovic sat for a long while at a part of the room which was off-limits to the journalists. Following their quiet departure, the party totally emanated the atmosphere expressed in Edgar Allan Poe's stories. While in one room results were received and fed into the PC, in the chamber a cat walked about amongst some ten or so activists of lower echelons and half a dozen sleepy journalists. All that was missing was backwater. From a large poster on the wall the late Ljuba Davidovic seemed more lively than the complete present party leadership.

The atmosphere was made even more bizarre by the triumphant smirks of the members of DSS's hard nationalistic wing over the bad results, who were defeated in their party at the moment when a decision was reached regarding the coalition. "I kept saying all along that our voters cannot be sold on a coalition with Vuk and Vesna, that we should have entered into a national coalition with Seselj", gloated Drasko Petrovic. "We would have been the second strongest political force in Serbia. If we had done that on time, we could have even finished the war favorably". From somewhere lists were fished out with internal party bets on the number of mandates, which confirmed that in that party the atmosphere of "the worse - the better" was no news, as well as that harsh squaring of accounts are yet to come. The best prognosis, with an estimation of 56 seats for the left coalition, 30 for Zajedno and 18 for the radicals proved to have been supplied by Drasko Petrovic himself. At the headquarters of the party in which operative behaviour was never a dominant trait the hardest task proved to be to somehow find any type of beverage for the journalists shortly before dawn. Finally, a bottle of home-made plum brandy emerged, in accordance with the poster from one of the previous more successful elections.

That night at the headquarters of the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) in Francuska street, a definite political survival and strengthening of the radicals was celebrated to an excessive degree. Vojislav Seselj was obviously in a good mood, well-disposed, talkative. He received journalists in his reception room, treated them to a drink, felt strong and successful, was proud of his election as city hall delegate in the first round and did not evade answering a single question. While results were coming in from party committees, he issued instructions to the officials and with victorious contempt watched news reports on TV with half a glance. Conscious that he had survived, Seselj was lording it, although a little disappointed that there weren't more people in the headquarters that night with whom he could have shared his happiness.

Following the question of whether his participation in the great coalition could have made it possible to defeat the Milosevic couple, Seselj unexpectedly yet in a crystal-clear manner defined his political credo: "I am not interested in toppling Slobodan Milosevic out of office if that would bring the incapable Vuk and incoherent Vesna Pesic into power. My goal is to come into power myself, and until I am in office, I don't care who is". The general secretary of the party Aleksandar Vucic had the most difficult ordeal. After excellent initial results, news followed which pointed towards Vucic's close defeat. The more unpleasant news he had to relay to his boss, the grimace on Vucic's face became more painful, and his apologies more marked. However, even the defeat of the general secretary could not spoil Seselj's victorious mood.

The most boring spot was the former CK, headquarters of the Socialist Party of Serbia (which "had nothing to do" with the one who had built CK). Not a single high official was present. The president decided to favour his wife's headquarters with his presence rather than his own. Those whose political survival was never put to the test did not find it necessary to show their face in public; those whose seat directly depended on the results of the elections did not want to or did not dare risk it, and therefore awaited results in a sedate atmosphere amongst reliable associates.

The socialist mayor Nebojsa Covic, for whose seat not only Zoran Djindjic is a pretender, but according to information which is spread by a part of the SPS, his SPS party colleague Branislav Ivkovic as well, did not dare risk facing his party colleagues and the public in case results on the city level turn out to be unfavourable. He was nowhere to be seen that night, while information that, with a few of his closest associates, he was sitting behind the locked doors of his own restaurant was not confirmed by any reliable sources.

Rumors were spreading all over CK of a somewhat bizarre incident from the polling station where the ruling couple came to vote. When the duo Milosevic - Markovic entered the polling station, one of the members of the election committee asked the president, to the utter shock of the members of the left bloc and security, for his ID. "I don't have it... but I guarantee that we are the ones who we appear to be", following a short suspense Milosevic found his feet. By complete accident, it turned out that the above mentioned member of the election committee devoted to procedure was Ivan Zikelic, the grandson of Josip Broz personally, and now JUL member.

Even the non-creative spokesman Ivica Dacic did not manage to insert a lively atmosphere into the socialist headquarters, who had finally managed to replace his ill-famed official suits of a lavender hue with a totally appropriate classical blue. He announced the particulars and answered questions with dry phrases rehearsed during the previous elections. Even though it was evident that the left bloc would have enough mandates, even Dacic himself was not certain of whether his party or its new sister would run the left wing.

If he had the opportunity to visit the Yugoslav United Left (JUL) headquarters in Djure Djakovic street, all would have been clear to him. The annex of the luxurious building of a pre-war industrialist, and prior to its having been turned into public property by the united left, the Genex business center, was the most cheerful and wildest place in town that night. Behind the tall iron gate, scotch was poured by the buckets. As more favorable results came in, so did the consciousness of a necessary urgent presence on the right spot quickly spread amongst members, quasi-members and sympathizers of JUL.

Journalists were lead through the dark garden by guards, along the flower filled chamber reserved for officials and guests, up to the small journalistic ghetto which instantly acquired the popular name of "chicken coop". The party had for that occasion appointed Aleksandar Vulin as rooster, who, by his laid back appearance clad in jeans and Doc Martins boots, while perching on tables, tried to make the atmosphere as intimate as possible.

In the chambers which were inaccessible to the non-devoted, the atmosphere was a great deal more intimate, and around 2 AM almost out of control. Even though the "party's mum and dad" put in an appearance, albeit a very short one, and that before 10 PM, while no indicative results had come through yet, the number of present relaxed and smiling people of influence, with a scotch in one and mobile phone in the other hand was imposing. Buba Morina, Zorica Brunclik, Desko Stanojevic, Vican Vicanovic, Jovan Ristic and many others (discretion guaranteed by holding journalists in the chicken coop) could enjoy their great victory without restraint. The presence of the minister of information and/or director of BK television Aleksandar Tijanic and the director of Politika Dragan Antic was an indication of who in the ruling family shall hold the reins of independent and objective journalism.

Besides entering the newly arrived results, Monday was even more marked by re-counting in all parties (who was or was not where and with whom) and the flustered regrouping of those who had not managed to swim into the desired fraction or party. The inter-party line-ups for execution are yet to come, which guarantees that until the republic elections the political scene shall once again resemble a vaudeville with songs, shots and squeals. In the meantime, the most prized article on the Belgrade political market became a JUL membership card dated Saturday.

© Copyright VREME NDA (1991-2001), all rights reserved.