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December 1, 1996
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 269
Student Protest of 1996

Does Anyone Understand Serbian

by Perica Vucinic

Tanja Petrovic is perturbed. She is speaking on Monday night, a few moments after the Initial Committee of the Student Protest of '96 has been organized in name of the students of the University of Belgrade Schools of Philology, Biology and Geography. She is a member of that Committee.

Tanja Petrovic is a fourth year student of the Serbian language. She does not hide her agitation. She says she feels like this because things have started happening in this country. "I think it has started and that is the most important thing. We may be fooling ourselves, but no matter, a person should try to do the most that he can in situations such as this. And we are trying to do just that. It is high time something was done, since that is all that is left us", says this young girl as the quick flow of words still reflect her excitement.

"We are all perfectly aware of what type of society we are living in, we all know the reasons why most of my friends who had where to go have gone abroad, to continue their studies and stay there for the rest of their lives. All those who amount to anything in this society are running away and leaving", says Tanja, a student from Jagodina, and having been presented with the question as to how she sees her future, answers: "I don't know. I love this country and am studying the language which is spoken in this country and there is no one I understand better than this nation and I would like to dedicate my efforts to it, yet on the other hand I realize, in a situation such as we have found ourselves in now, the hopelessness of it all".

In 1992 she was not a student and did not attend that student protest but she says that she was happy then, too. The Serbian regime provides each generation of students with reasons to organize their protest.

The student protest of '96 commenced on Monday, at the plateau in front of the Belgrade School of Philosophy. The groups which started arriving from the Schools of Law, Forestry, Pharmaceutics, Technology... were greeted with applause. By noon some 20.000 students gathered. Excitement could be felt in the air. The demands of the Initiative Committee stand as follows: that the Head of University, Dragutin Velickovic, and the faculty of the Council of the University in Belgrade take a stand with regards to the protest; that the President of Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic, addresses the nation in order to present his stand on the present political situation in the country. A strike is suggested.

By the words of Kristijan Djuric, a student from Bajina Basta, the students are demanding that the will of the citizens of Serbia be respected, as shown at the last elections. "This is an unprecedented injustice in democratic societies. Injustices exist with each step, starting from the pushing and shoving in traffic to the lines in the student restaurants and we put up with it all, but larger issues cannot be swallowed. In 1992 we did not achieve a thing, apart from having the June term moved to September. Even now, chances are meager, since the government is as it is, but at least it will be heard that we are not resigned to the situation", says Kristijan.

A few inches above the heads of the mass appears the old, skinny, good-humored head of the academician Mica Popovic. He said that he had been living under the communists for 50 years and that no one has ever been able to oust them by peaceful means. "They will leave only if they are forced to, and it is a well known fact how this gang can be forced to leave... Being as old as I am, I do not have the right to urge you to give your lives, yet they will never relinquish their power", he said, amidst applause and chants. Professors from the Schools of Philosophy, Electrical Engineering, Law... spoke. Professor Ljubomir Eric said that students constitute the most noble fabric of our society. All speakers stressed that the majority of them were preparing to leave the country.

Kristijan says that he has no intention to leave the country, since he believes that changes for the better shall occur, yet: "If in the next few years no changes come about and things remain as they are now, I will definitely leave. A country which remains without half a million of it's students who have left for good over the last ten years shall feel it. They shall regret it, but too late, when we return here as pensioners, and it will be too late then".

"Despotism... Ever since I started thinking, I feel and see it, and ask myself - when will it stop. I read the newspapers and think about leaving the country just like the majority of the students, which is probably the worst thing of all, since I would like to stay in my country, naturally. A flicker of hope appears that I won't leave, but if things carry on as before, I don't have a single reason to remain here. Therefore, only pensioners, petty criminals and black-market profiteers shall remain in this country", concludes Branislav Radovic, a student of biology from Kraljevo. He is a senior whose credit has been canceled. "Due to unknown reasons, I didn't flunk a single year... Probably in order to finance the "San Remo Campaign" and similar. I have even heard that they are asking students who have graduated to start paying back the money they had received, but I don't how they are expected to return the money if they didn't get jobs".

Radovic believes that "until the students and workers don't make a stand, certain issues cannot be resolved" and sincerely hopes that the government shall "be at least a tiny bit frightened by this crowd on the streets".

He fears that things shall carry on as before, that they shall continue to read scarce independent press and that he shall have to keep on worrying until he gets an ulcer. His thoughts are as such: "I don't fear a clash with the police, because what's the point of all this if I wish them all the worst, and when a clash finally happens I remain at home... I think they won't dare hit such a huge mass, and I also believe that a large number of them would be with the students... I worry that these crazy heads will create North Korea or Cuba... I fear that I, being Orthodox and a Serb, which I plan to continue being, could become a scarecrow abroad now that they have compromised us so much... that people on the streets shall shout - run, children, here comes a Serb, he'll eat you... It is a horrible thing that such a large number of indifferent people exist... people are convinced that they can't change anything, but one by one they gather and all of a sudden they become a crowd"...

Tanja Petrovic is scared she won't have a choice. "I am afraid of not being able to choose. I believe I wouldn't be able to live like that. I can put up with everything else. We have put up with it. I mean, the impossibility to choose anything - from a political choice, up to what I will do and where I will do it. That irritates me, that impossibility to choose and that is the reason why I would leave the country. The only reason... not because I lack money. Social reasons are last on the list at this moment, since, or so I believe, we have lived through the greatest poverty, especially those of us who were freshmen at the time of the worst sanctions".

"We are afraid of how our protest shall be interpreted, since we know how things evolve in this society, we know what our parents in other cities can read in the newspapers and see on the TV newscast. I am living in a student home and I don't watch TV. At the time when all of this started happening, I was in Jagodina and was shocked by the tone of the state television. I couldn't believe that it was as bad as that. At this moment, fear from retributions reigns in Jagodina, since the opposition was supposed to win there. At least the students have nothing to fear, since they have nothing to lose. In this society they can't gain much".

The organizers of the student protest recoiled from joining the protest of the coalition Zajedno in front of the palata Albanija building. Tanja claims that it isn't fear, but rather their intention to appear in public as students.

Around 2 p.m. at least twenty thousand students started down the streets of Belgrade chanting "The students have risen" and "Strike! Strike!". It seemed as though the crowd had no end. In front of the Assembly of Serbia, they were waving towards the balcony on which the flag of the coalition Zajedno stood. The building of the Presidency of Serbia, across the road from the assembly, they ignored. They greeted the workers who were fixing the facade across the road. The workers started peeking through the burlap covers. They greeted back with their huge frozen hands. The burlap covers started fluttering under the gust of wind and it appeared as though the whole building was greeting them. A withered old woman with a highly pitched voice was protesting and swearing their "police and mercenary" mothers; the dealer in front of the Beogradjanka building was yelling that tanks would run them over "just like those in China" and continued: "Foreign currencies, foreign currencies". The black market didn't do much business as the crowd was passing by. And the crowd looked impressive. From Slavija until Terazije, the end was not in sight.

The protesters turned into Beogradska street. A man wearing a jacket of the ugliest green color walked on the sidewalk in front of the crowd and kept turning as if the devil himself was in hot pursuit. He also mentioned something about mercenaries to all who would listen. His voice rang out loudest in the vicinity of the scarce patrols of traffic policemen. His pace slackened, he spoke less and simmered down, only to, finally, after Bulevar Revolucije street, in front of the Federal Parliament, stand at the front-line of the crowd. He seemed to have been somewhat liberated as well. In Beogradska, someone from a balcony threw eggs at these young people. In front of the Federal Parliament a policeman in a dark red jacket threw a firecracker. Amidst the boos and swear words, he left the procession and disappeared behind the shrubs which enclose the parliament building. The other, in a blue jacket, continued on his way with the crowd all the way to the plateau of the School of Philosophy.

There, by their respective Schools, they separated into those who wished to join the meeting in front of Albanija and those others. It was recommended to the students of the Police Academy to return to the Police Academy.

At the School of Philosophy, where the Initial Committee held their meeting, all was in an uproar. Into the School of Philology, where students from a few Schools located in the suburbs were to come as well, no one was allowed in. They were stronger than the bouncers.

In the dimly lit auditorium one young man refused to give his name. He explained such an act by stating that he was scared of the system. "The Socialists hold university education, the deans, professors. What do you think they could do to us at the exams", asked this student. "I am 19 years old and what am I to expect of this country if it doesn't respect the elections", he said and "admitted" that his name is Bojan. He is a son of a retired army pilot, from whose pension he is barely able to support himself while studying and if it wasn't for relatives, he wouldn't be able to continue his studies. "My father is a socialist and I am in constant conflict with him, and his argument is that things were much worse while he was growing up and supporting himself, while we are agitating even though we have it all and - all is well as long as there isn't a war. He is a war orphan and says that Slobodan Milosevic managed to keep Serbia out of the war and when he finds out that I have been at this protest meeting, he'll say - why don't you study instead of striking... He is satisfied with what the state has given him, regardless of what is in store for tomorrow. I am old enough to learn for myself", says Bojan.

The other one wishes to remain anonymous as he is from an atypical school - International Management - and believes that he is the only demonstrator amongst his colleagues. He is, obviously, a well-off young man from the inland. He says he is protesting in name of solidarity with all those who are demanding justice. He doesn't understand those who can't even buy a loaf of bread yet are supporting this government. He says: "What type of a country is this if it refuses to listen to it's youth, since who will this country fall upon other than the youth. Unfortunately, he refuses to relinquish power even when he has lost it - blood shall have to flow. Someone shall have to sacrifice himself before he is made to leave. Such power is sweet. I am not afraid. As I say, let's give it a try".

The third member of this group gathered on their city of origin basis, says that he had to take out a certificate from his School that day in order to postpone his military service. "While his son didn't have to go to the army. He has provided for his son, while I have to go. If I was his son, I would have noticed that my friends are unhappy".

This speaker in the dimly lit auditorium is a freshman of the School of Law and asks himself: "What type of law am I studying, if one man decides whether there is to be any law at all, or whether law shall represent what he wants it to".

The student of international management uncovers that his professor of sociology is Mrs. Mira Markovic. He says that he is "politically against her, but as a professor, she is really great. Her lectures have really raised my interest level".

"Yes, we see them as people, while they don't share our sentiment. I accept her regardless of her political convictions, while she doesn't share my sentiment. They see us as thieves, as enemies, as chetniks, as a... gang", states the freshman from the School of Law.

The lights have been turned on. The students were gathering. Aleksandar Radovanovic from the School of Electrical Engineering says that he has had it with "this, these lies, this theft". Milutin Kecic was debating as to what could be accomplished by such gatherings. "We are of no consequence at this moment, yet we are this country's future", he said.

Tanja Petrovic said: "I don't know what we can accomplish, but we have to try to do something, since that is all that is left us".

Tuesday, November 26. The protest continues. The Schools of Science and Mathematics, Philology, Philosophy and Law are on strike. We are awaiting the decision of the others.


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