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December 1, 1996
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 269
Interview: Zoran Zivkovic, Democratic Party Vice-President, Nis

The Last Stalin

by Nenad Lj. Stefanovic

Nis has an increasingly small number of eyewitnesses because the Socialist authorities there are working behind closed doors more and more often. The few there are claim that Mile Ilic, the SPS chief in the city, repeated his favorite political phrase recently: "He who laughs last, laughs best". He said the same thing in June when some 30,000 workers took to the streets demanding bread and shouting Mile Thief. This time Ilic is laughing because almost everyone wrote him off prior to the second round of elections and he "won" and, with 37 seats in the city assembly, held onto the absolute SPS majority in city hall.

In some ways, the party apparatchik, who would have been thrown out by anybody serious, got the dubious honor of becoming the epitome of the past elections in Serbia. The least sophisticated theft of local assembly seats was staged in Nis. Nis was the place were perhaps the most cynicism was used to tell people "it doesn’t matter how you vote but how you count the votes". Prior to the third round, with only Socialists voting, the following rule could have been written: "vote early in the morning, vote at least twice a day until we win". Through Ilic, Nis became the metaphor of the system which shows vitality only in the force it uses to resist changes. Ilic is certainly the greatest advocate of an arrogant policy which tells people - "say what you like, I’m doing what I want". Nis will probably be the last city in which the Socialists will fall.

One of the people who is persistent in toppling them is Zoran Zivkovic, head of the local DS board. He’s one of the many Serbian opposition leaders who have the status of winner without a victory. Post-election events in the city made Zivkovic the first chairman of the "Alliance of Free Towns of Serbia" (an association of places where the opposition won). Prior to the elections, Zivkovic called Ilic to a public TV duel. Ilic said that he, as a lawyer, has nothing to talk about with an anonymous private businessman.

"Officially, the elections in Nis are not over," Zivkovic told VREME. "We got the first message in writing from the election commission last Thursday and that is when the election procedure began. Lawyers say that if every possibility of appeal is used, Friday will be the end of the legal circus. I don’t see the possibility of changing anything the election commission established. It decided that the SPS got 37 mandates, and Zajedno got 24. They ruled that nine mandates should be voted for a third time."

VREME: What was the count according to you in the opposition?

ZIVKOVIC: "According to original records we had 41 council seats and the SPS 13. We didn’t have records for the remaining seats."

So the third round won’t be happening?

"No, we certainly won’t go into the third round. That’s our political decision. We filed criminal charges against the chairman and secretary of the municipal election commission. We can’t go into the third round with the same commission."

Strange things happened with the count in many places but it seems things in Nis are ridiculous. How do you explain the fact that Nis was the site of the most obvious fraud?

"By the fact that the Socialists in other towns are probably more capable. Nis has the most primitive form of rule, I’ve been saying that for years. I told my people not to shout against the communists and Bolsheviks but to shout Red Khmers because that’s the level that suits the Nis Socialists. That’s how they’re building up Nis, that’s how they steal and rob. Besides being part of the party that has been doing bad things for Serbia everywhere in Serbia they did everything even worse in Nis. Our pure victory in Nis was not just because our campaign. It’s also a consequence of the awareness of who Mile Ilic and his companions are. Their last campaign could have been ordered by us. The poster of Ilic was terrible and some 50,000 copies were pasted all over the city. Our activists were told not to take the poster down. We kept praying they would print more posters. The Ilic on the poster is the best illustration of the SPS in Nis."

A few days ago you were booed when you tried to calm down the discontent among protesters.

"I didn’t try to calm them down and I’m not sorry I was whistled at and booed because there would have been blood otherwise. There were 25,000 people on the streets then and 800 police in front of city hall and who knows how many inside. They were armed and wearing body armor. We were told by friends and relatives in the police that their people had been infiltrated into the crowd. When we realized what could happen and that 25,000 people can’t be controlled and that guns would be drawn on both sides, I tried to calm things down. I led the people away from city hall and the police to the center of town. The next day we changed the protest site so that no one could provoke a situation we don’t want."

To what measure are the election results in Nis linked to the recent workers’ protests?

"There’s a direct link. I’m sure that changes started with the opposition rally in Nis late in March when Ilic’s people threw leaflets off the roof of the hotel. That rally showed Nis residents that they could take to the streets without the fear of getting beaten especially if the rally is well organized. Several months later the workers took to the streets. It’s strange that they never aimed their anger at anyone but the local power brokers and Mile Ilic. The city formally does not have much jurisdiction over the economy but it’s obvious that what the city could do for the economy wasn’t done in time. Ilic drew everything the people felt against the system and regime. As for the elections, at least half of our success stems from the fact that we had Mile Ilic as our opponent."

What can be changed in the media in Nis? When the workers went on strike last spring just one of five local TV stations reported it. At the same time, a Nis all music radio covered the SPS congress live.

"Not only that. They sometimes had live coverage of SPS city board sessions like the one when Ilic proposed Slobodan Milosevic for the Nobel peace prize. But that is changing slowly. The only TV station to report on the strike gave fair reports prior to the second election round from all part press conferences. They were short reports but with no lies or fraud. Recently I got a call from TV Nais, which only covered politics when Ilic promoted his book The Eyes of Truth, to appear with Milan Paroski live. We taped it in the end, I don’t know if they aired it but it took courage to let two "state enemies" into their studio even if it was for their archives."

Does that mean that Nis is slowly losing its fears?

"Quite certainly. We never had such an easy time getting money for our campaign and we never got more money. We were helped by private businessmen and people in state companies although they are under control. There is less and less fear."

You became the first chairman of the Alliance of Free Towns of Serbia...

"There’s something symbolic in the fact that Nis was given the first chairmanship. That’s just the good beginning of a story. We’ll try to behave as if we are in power and respect the fact that the feelings of the people in many places are on our side. That alliance will be a kind of Serbian parliament to the next elections."

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