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December 1, 1996
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 269
Election Fever

Shell Them With Eggs!

by Milan Milosevic

The conviction that election fraud was committed is spreading across Serbia.

Dissatisfaction came after election commissions and later courts annulled election results in towns where the opposition won in the second round but not (at least not to that extent) in places the Socialists won. How do you explain the fact that the population of Serbia didn’t even blink when they stole their four billion USD in foreign currency savings, when they broke up the state and are now making such a fuss over election fraud. It’s a question of honor and pride. We can’t let them trick us! Elections sometimes cost people their heads.

Tuesday, November 26, was the 10th day of street protests in Belgrade under harsh weather and a growing number of protesters despite the heavy rain and cold. Zajedno coalition MPs in the Serbian parliament are on strike along with some local assembly members but they were thrown out of the parliament and assembly buildings politely. University students were on strike for two days on Tuesday after protesting since Friday, November 22. Demonstrations in Nis are a daily occurrence; the opposition in Kragujevac is staking rallies; the National Accord coalition organized a rally of support for the Serbian opposition in front of the Montenegrin parliament building in Podgorica.

Monday, November 25 was the first day the opposition used eggs against the authorities, an old tool for political fighting in Serbia. Belgrade city hall was shelled with eggs as well as the Serbian state TV (RTS), the republican presidency building and Politika daily.

On Monday and Tuesday all of central Belgrade was blocked by no one can say exactly how many protesters. Morning to afternoon on Monday and Tuesday, columns of mainly young people marched through central Belgrade, walked past the US embassy and shouted at the army general staff building. The march goes through central Belgrade’s streets to end up on Terazije square in front of Zoran Djindjic’s Democratic Party (DS) headquarters. On Monday, reports and assessments of the number of people ranged from 200,000 ("our spies who heard what the police was telling Slobodan Milosevic," said Vuk Draskovic) to 80-100,000 and down to a realistic 50,000 at the rally itself following the march. Whatever their size, the protests are the biggest and longest Belgrade has seen. As of Tuesday, the protest was staged in rainy weather with the Zajedno leaders calling people to hold out.

The performances by the opposition losers were full of boring clichés for a while but now they’re showing some innovation and a new single motive in the fight for democracy and justice.

Formally, two protests mixed last week - the Student Protest ‘96 and the omelet revolution by the Serbian opposition.

Nine days after the second round of local elections the protests continued despite rain, sleet and the cold in Belgrade, Kraljevo, Uzice, Nis, Pirot.

Zajedno MPs entered the parliament building on Wednesday, November 20 and got visits by the protesters in their daily march.

On Sunday night when the courts announced their ruling to annul the election results, and the protest in Belgrade dropped from 70,000 to over 20,000 people, SPO leader Vuk Draskovic said there wouldn’t be a third round . Zoran Djindjic said Zajedno would hand back all its mandates because it does not want to sit in the same hall with thieves and added that the goal of the protest isn’t winning local authorities but the liberation of all of Serbia. To the frozen crowd on Terazije square this seemed like a revolutionary declaration. Djindjic spoke from the fourth floor window of his party headquarters and to the crowd it seemed he could fall. When Draskovic spoke those fears were voiced out loud.

Because they feel they were robbed in the elections, opposition sympathizers are expressing great discontent which has spread across the republic. It all looks like a movement that has spread across the most vital segments of Serbia.

GSS leader Vesna Pesic told the crowd on Monday that things had gone too far, that the time is past when the authorities can destroy the state and get away with it, when they can rob the people. "People of Serbia, do not give up, this is the beginning of the fight for Serbia, a democratic and better life. Slobodan Milosevic is a miserable coward and all dictators are cowards".

Any mention of Milosevic’s name draws whistles. During one of Draskovic’s speeches the whistling lasted nine minutes until Draskovic himself said enough.

Zarko Korac of the Social Democrat Union (SDU), a party which should be skeptical about the Zajedno protest, told VREME that this is the start of the end game but that the question is how long it will last after discontent takes hold in all the more important towns.

Dragoljub Micunovic of the Democratic Center (DC), a formal Zajedno member, said a significant amount of energy has been launched but added that he feels the protest organizers don’t know what to do with it.

DSS leader Vojislav Kostunica (who isn’t taking part in the protests because he wasn’t invited) said the boycott of the third round of elections is an ineffective way to fight the authorities given the current balance of political power. He called the entire opposition to hand back their mandates in the republican and federal parliaments.

Vojislav Seselj’s Serbian radical Party (SRS) spoke out against the street protest.

The legal service of the Association of Free Municipalities and Towns in Serbia, a newly formed association, published what it knows about a number of very strange things in the behavior of the courts towards Zajedno. None of the rulings made by the Belgrade first district court were handed to Zajedno. That court wrote out the same explanation for the annulment of 33 mandates in Belgrade’s city assembly. The court ordered the third election round although that is something only the city election commission can do (the commission did schedule the third round earlier, ed. note). The entire first round was annulled in Belgrade’s Savski Venac municipality because the court established that the local election commission’s mandate expired on November 16. Zajedno lawyers feel that can’t be grounds for annulment and added that the results could be published by a new commission since the number of votes are determined by electoral boards. Zajedno lawyers said the city election commission in Nis faked results to turn the SPS defeat into victory. The DS board in Nis said none of the local judges wanted to preside over the court panel and Ruzica Stojiljkovic, the president of the Bela Palanka court and chairman of that town’s election commission, was brought in. Zajedno filed criminal charges over forgeries of election records (numbers crossed out in the records and similar). No investigation was launched. The only exception came from Kraljevo where the judges who are SPS members were replaced.

The conclusion that could be drawn is that legal proceedings served the regime only as the form to annul the opposition victory. Early on, the authorities doubted their victory. At midnight on November 17 with a celebration underway, VREME was told by the opposition that the Socialists had stopped publishing results but were drafting a large number of complaints since they failed to enter them in election records. A day later, Draskovic called Milosevic to accept the opposition victory and the Zajedno leaders later had a fierce duel with the chairman of the city election commission. That argument was calmed by Djindjic when he said they had come to ask about the complaints. The commission finished its job in two days accepting most of the complaints in the records. As far as this reporter understood what was said at a press conference then, the rest of the complaints were reviewed but rejected. The first district court concluded that the commission did not handle any SPS complaints filed later in violation of the law and annulled the elections in 260 polling stations.

The mood that ensued seemed like a serious undermining of confidence in the courts. When an institution as vital as they are loses trust, the reasonable thing would be for the state to work at winning back that trust and that would be achieved best by investigating court proceedings. Loss of confidence in institutions is a serious thing. The loss of confidence in banks during hyperinflation when state officials destroyed the population’s savings for short term goals is now felt as a serious state and economic problem. The population no longer keeps its money in the banks.

The election mood touched on one of the key system issues - the independence of the courts.

In terms of strategy, the opposition is focusing its pressure on two things: a) they filed charges with the supreme and constitutional courts asking them to annul the lower court rulings; b) a proposal was submitted to the Serbian parliament to form a parity commission made up of the parties that ran in the elections with the job of objectively establishing the election results. The student protest also requested the parity commission.

Zajedno tried an old formula and went for support from public figures. On the evening of Sunday, November 24 they announced that Dobrica Cosic would speak. He met with insults and whistles from the young people while the older members of the crowd tried to calm things down. It was sad to see the old man’s fiasco. What he said was OK, he called Milosevic to respect the law and rights of the citizens, asked the opposition leaders not to use violence in the fight for democratic rights.

A few days earlier, the state media launched a campaign against Danica Draskovic’s words, allegedly spoken in private but with camera crews and tape recorders present. She said the terrorism of the authorities should be met with terrorism. She and her Srpska Rec magazine staff later claimed she was kidnapped that night by unidentified members of the state security service, interrogated all night, blackmailed into talking her husband into ending the demonstrations, leaving politics and abandoning Djindjic.

New events overshadowed that mess.

The opposition decided to go for all or nothing when it said it would hand back its mandates. There’s a paradox in the fact that the leaders are mesmerized by the masses and take decision under that influence. That is sometimes visible. Draskovic changes completely in contact with the crowd The pragmatic Djindjic had a very pleased expression during some of the chanting. Djindjic was the star attraction, supported by his fellow players, loved by the public. Draskovic supporters try their best to equal the support Djindjic gets. All that is understandable. They haven’t achieved a success in a long time and now when the wind is blowing their way they find satisfaction in popular support. They have no other political tool but the direct contact with the crowd, marching with the people and expanding the fraternity. You have to wish them well; in the past six years they walked across Serbia countless times, they were beaten, tear gassed, slandered grossly, humiliated in public and ignored by the state media.

Handing back the mandates is a gamble with everything being sacrificed to win more. One opposition MP said that decision was taken before being made public and was based on the logic: of we agree to the farce now while reach the ninth round (an association with Dante’s Ninth Circle). It’s hard to predict anything but perhaps they could have saved some of their victory in the third round. Judging by the results of Sunday’s third round in 34 municipalities, the chances of a Zajedno victory were slim. The SPS won 51 of 70 possible mandates, Zajedno won nine, a group of citizens won two, the SRS two, the Vojvodina coalition one and the Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians won 1.

The opposition felt that the Socialists would not annul election results if they didn’t intend to fake them and turned towards the long-term goal.

The Zajedno leaders finally captured the international interest in the problem of democratic civil rights in Serbia. Reactions came from the US, Germany and the EU along with some criticism of Milosevic and calls to make the RTS available to the opposition. All of that drew no reaction from the Serbian president. FRY Foreign Minister Milan Milutinovic fared very badly in Brussels. It seems the opposition is not happy with the level of support it got from the western democracies and even wrote a letter saying it would turn to the opposition in the West. What they underestimated is the fact that power has always been more important to Milosevic than international aid.

A day before the third round there was confusion. There were messages saying Zajedno voters should not turn out in places where courts changed the will of the electorate and turn out in other places.

Voters got calls to vote from Zajedno, the leaders called them not to turn out but were adding that they would send their people to check on the "SPS internal vote". First and second round election results showed that opposition voters don’t pay much attention to their leaders. We saw that when Kostunica’s supporters failed to vote for Zajedno at federal level just as SRS supporters voted for Zajedno in the second round.

The kids on the street want a solution to that and other larger enigmas. They will look for a way out regardless of who wins the mandates. The shivering of the impoverished middle class will be music to the ears of any ruler because of that. The protesters might stay on the street for a long time but winter is coming. We’ve seen similar events melt away while the authorities grin in their warm rooms.

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