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December 7, 1996
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 270
Sign of the Times

Direct Hit

by Stojan Cerovic

Now even Slobodan Milosevic knows that the election fraud and theft of the votes was a mistake, although committed with the best intentions to completely finish off and liquidate the tiresome opposition. It isn't all that important to him anymore whether the error sprung out of negligence, arrogance or bad assessment. Maybe he only thinks it is stupid that such a huge problem originated out of a mere trifle, since he knows perfectly well what scrapes he has managed to come out of unpunished until now. Theft at the local elections appears here just like that sloppy tax return which landed Al Caponne into jail.

There is no doubt that the mistake, that is theft, was committed by Milosevic himself, and if anyone else was behind it, that mistake, that is theft, would have been admitted sooner and easier. It wouldn't have been allowed for the misfortunes of the regime to accumulate and multiply from day to day. However, it is not in the nature of the beasts nor the beastly regime to make rational maneuvers and diminish the damage, but rather to steal, snatch what does not belong to it and openly display force, and it retreats only when it has to, meaning when misfortune dangerously escalates and a serious resistance threatens.

It seems as though this time the headquarters in the wolves lair have, lightly and incautiously, believed the news that Serbia has completely lost it's capability for self-defense and a will to react on anything. They could not resist the challenge to commit a highly obvious theft, and if that had been accepted peacefully, it would have been easier and sweeter to them than to have truly won the elections. People would not only have understood who the authority really is but also that that authority does not depend on the elections and voters will one iota. Therefore, that was an attempt at establishing a stable and long-lasting facade of democracy, in which people agree to vote even though the outcome is known in advance and is unchangeable. Milosevic, according to his wont, was nowhere to be seen nor heard, yet he has never been so visible and clear to such a large number of people. All of a sudden, he found himself in conflict with the complete communities of Belgrade and Serbia, which he had believed had either scattered, been scared to death or vanished. The protests sprouted with speed and strength which obviously highly exceeded their initial cause. A hundred thousand people gather in Terazije each day primarily and mostly because of Slobodan Milosevic.

Djindjic, Draskovic and Vesna Pesic can say what they like, can be more or less effective, can generate applause and chants, but Belgrade citizens seem to be only waiting for one of them to mention Milosevic's name before they start booing, swearing, hollering, blowing their whistles and sirens, for at least fifteen minutes, interrupting each speech. They come not to listen but rather to express their opinion, and that only with regards to him, and not only on account of this election theft but on everything.

Ruined lives, abolished hopes, general humiliation and disgrace are hurling a scream of accusation.

Four years ago, Belgrade was protesting in mass numbers as well, but then more out of fear of what was obviously to come. This time, with more stamina, more directly and utterly personally, Belgrade and many other cities are telling Milosevic that they don't want him, do not recognize him, that they refuse to see or hear him anymore. He knew that himself which is why he hasn't put in an appearance anywhere, yet eggs are flying at the buildings of the state-owned tevision and Politika daily because the citizens know that he is speaking from there and are launching direct hits.

Never again shall Milosevic hatch from these eggs with any dignity. He himself is the greatest slave and the least free man in Belgrade, so that even his own name (Slobodan = free) is ridiculing him now. These eggs have forever stained both him and all those who agree to remain in his service, and they will be recognizable to the whole city by them wherever they dare to appear. Waiting for the protest to simmer down and die out on it's own, Milosevic has approached a dangerous ledge where even the judges of the Supreme Court are publicly disassociating themselves from the judicial theft. It would definitely soon become apparent that there are less and less Tomics and Dacics in his midst, prepared to shoulder his disgrace, and more and more of those who are packing their bags, selling off their real estate and transferring cash. Once that starts, it spreads like wild-fire and is unstoppable, and there is no doubt that many of his men have prepared and planned all details for a quick getaway a long time ago.

Attempts at totally censuring the protest, ignoring it and then intimidating it did not pay off. I believe that Milosevic is now urgently looking for the cheapest way to relent and admit an opposition victory in Belgrade, Nis and Kraljevo, however not a single way exists without admitting attempted theft, without shame and defeat. However, the most important issue for him now is to remove the people from the streets and to make the cameras of world television stations back off. After which he would find ways to deal with the opposition in a different way.

However, before he makes that necessary concession, the tyrant makes an important and characteristic half-move. He turns off Radio B 92, the last free electronic media in town. Therefore, if he shall be forced to surrender the vacant offices and empty treasuries in town to the opposition, he wants to make sure that meetings such as these cannot be repeated. Namely, no one is capable of quickly informing and gathering Belgrade citizens who are recognizable to each other more by having listened to B 92 than by where they live. That would be a way to transform a tactful defeat into a strategic victory.

I do not know whether anything testifies to the nature of this regime and the horrendous situation in Belgrade better than the fact that the small city radio station has become so vitally important, and that Milosevic deems shutting up Veran Matic's team as being of more benefit than the damage of installing Djindjic as mayor. Which naturally means that the protest should not be suspended under any circumstances if the victory of the opposition is recognized but would have to immediately emphasize an even more determined demand for freeing "ninety-two". Anyway, what we have here is not only a protest of the pilfered opposition, which is apparent by the semi- independent strike of the students who are interested in the voice of that radio station which possibly represents them in a better and more thorough way than the opposition leaders.

The outcome of this affair, however, depends in a large degree on the stands of international factors, which have a stronger hold over Milosevic today than ever before. It is also definitely true that they still perceive him as an important figure and as capable of partially controlling the Bosnian Serbs. Yet, it is also certain that they will not back him regardless of the price, and especially not if it becomes apparent that he is not capable of controlling even Belgrade and Serbia without terror. And terror is not only ugly, but also verified as an unstable and unreliable model of ruling.

Therefore, what Milosevic risks is that the West could turn it's back on him, as his own nation has turned it's back on him at this very moment. His authority is now based on the support of the West in a large degree, since he has nothing to offer Serbia, and what he could offer, he refuses to. His people backed him more sincerely while he was at war, and many of them undoubtedly fear his wife, her political and psychological profile, her ambitions and unscrupulousness by which her JUL party is clutching power and money. I am disposed towards believing that the success of these protests throughout Serbia has been brought about with the help of part of the regime figures who are resisting Serbia's transformation from a bad to an even worse, utterly incoherent JUL model, and that despite the catastrophic election results of this party.

At this moment Milosevic cannot keep his regime tightly bound together with only JUL's help, and that is the reason why he needs support from the West which is quickly crumbling. Yet, to totally abandon him, the most powerful world factors would have to know who they could turn to, and the opposition coalition, apparently, still fails to generate enough confidence. Naturally, we know their imperfections, as we know that they are always far lesser than Milosevic's, however they should put one last effort into consolidating and presenting themselves as serious partners.

Beside that, the opposition leaders are not quite sure whether this protest is only one phase in the process of eliminating Milosevic, or a decisive moment when they should play for all or nothing. It is not easy to answer such a dilemma, yet the mass on the streets is getting bigger and there is a possibility that Milosevic is now too late for any kinds of concessions. Gathering on the streets in all weather is becoming such an irresistibly pleasant habit, and the mood is so contagiously triumphant that it could possibly cease only on account of the loveliest and most pleasurable sight - of the tyrant who is departing.

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