Skip to main content
December 7, 1996
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 270

Post-Election FeverAgainst the Machine

The old political rule "ballot-not bullet" says, in fact, that elections are the means of resolving conflicts and decreasing strain, but in the country of Serbia the opposite is valid - the elections have been stirring up passions for three weeks already because this government is able to secure its victory, but obviously is not able to organize fair elections.

Only a month after the first round of elections on November 3, the Belgrade regime created a situation in which it can stuff its federal election victory level up its shirt. Judging by the atmosphere, the degree of dissatisfaction and the array of complications those elections have been practically annulled. The only thing that is lacking is a pen to sign it.

Without Control: The signatory of the Dayton Agreement about the end of the war in Bosnia Slobodan Milosevic entered the elections as someone to whom the Western world turns a blind eye and whom the local public sees as the embodiment of the state, unscrupulously usurping the state media to his benefit and to the benefit of his wife’s party, and threatening the democratic opposition by total recall. Accidentally or not, due to "short notice", the OEBS did not delegate its monitors, so the elections were held with a small number of international observers who did not make any crucial remarks, although the partiality in the state media was extremely obvious. Because at that time it had to be so, the state media reported from the spot that everything went smoothly at the polling stations, peacefully as in Sweden, while the opposition observers reported on the engagement of the kick-boxers and arms in Vozdovac and in Nis against the controllers of the coalition Together.

Against: Meanwhile a miracle happened and the knocked down opposition kept its supporters gathered in the course of the second round of the elections. While the ruling party rejoiced unscrupulously at the victory over the opponent whose hands were tied, the opposition gained the majority in all key cities of Serbia - exactly in those points which were the basis of the regime’s propaganda about the step into the new century.

The news about the loss of "the three capitals" had a frustrating impact on the Socialists who, dejected by the bad news, reached for the nearest means at their disposal: somewhat through the marionette election committees in which the members from the judges circle were delegated, and somewhat through the municipal courts, they "proved" that in Belgrade, Kraljevo, Kragujevac and Nis the election rules were not respected, and that they were respected in Batocina, Medvedja and Lebane. This open hypocrisy irritated the citizens, at first only those inclined to the opposition, and the protests overwhelmed numerous cities; dissatisfaction slowly reached the industrial areas and the workers of some factories, for instance IMT and Zastava, announced strikes in support of the demonstrators. The protests have been spreading to the universities and schools. The protests of the students from all Belgrade schools are supported by 1000 professors, 30 members of the Serbian Academy of Science and Arts (SANU); among them also the academician Dragoslav Srejovic, and that was his last public message before he recently passed away.

The conscience of the judges has also been awakened against turning the judges into marionettes. Some of the Supreme Court judges raised their voices and the reply to the charges of the president of Belgrade’s City Election Committee has a note of disassociation.

Many well-known public and culture figures have raised their voice, writers, actors, priests, members of the PEN Club, as well as the Yugoslav basketball player Vlade Divac.

Defense: In the night of the victory celebration (November 17) the opposition was already suspicious that the regime is about to revise the results of the elections and the next day it mobilized its membership in defense of the won over communities. Belgrade, Novi Sad, Nis, Kraljevo, Cacak, Kragujevac, Uzice and other towns became the stages of mass demonstrations that could not be stopped neither by rain, snow, slush, wind, cold weather, nor by the lack of resources and state propaganda.

The state media at first just ignored this "Ghandi movement", or were referring to the fact that they were "respecting the election black out", or routinely informed that the supporters of the coalition Zajedno "fewer in number every day" are again demonstrating and insulting the employees of the state television. They were repeating this half-sentence for some ten days, so that finally the spectators were facing the dilemma of how many demonstrators were actually there in the beginning when "less and less in number" they were succeeding to block all those cities.

Wearing Out: The police have been kept in a state of readiness for three weeks now, the tormented policemen have been sleeping in the sports halls and standing in the streets with no goal and no reason and it is only the question of time when they will pour their anger at the demonstrators or be overwhelmed by apathy. Traffic patrols have been considerably cooperative in the Belgrade streets for two weeks, regulating the traffic by letting through or keeping from passing the lines of vehicles in order to avoid a collision with the demonstrators, but lately, following instructions it seems, or maybe losing enthusiasm, they have started permitting close encounters of the columns of demonstrators and the lines of vehicles. No major incidents occured, however.

Then the "machinery" began the action of indirectly thwarting the demonstrations. The Assembly of Serbia in which the opposition won seats, was closed on Tuesday (December 3), allegedly due to the extermination of rats, insects and disinfection, for the second time this year. A similar "decision" was brought at the beginning of this year when the opposition created the so-called "parallel parliament". And that parliament can also be considered dismissed since it is not operating. The deadline for the beginning of the autumn session has expired two months ago, and even while it was operating without the opposition, the assembly enacted laws as if it was printing them on a printing press.

Stop Reuter: As for the media, November’s routine winner Milosevic found himself in the miserable role of Dzavid Nimani, the politician from Kosovo from the ‘80s who, utterly petrified, ordered an information blockade when the demonstrations in this autonomous district broke out in 1980, and when he was informed that Reuter had already published the news on the demonstrations, recklessly exclaimed something that has become a national proverb: "Stop Reuter!". Accompanied by a cynical explanation (dealt with in another column of this newspaper), on Tuesday, December 3, several radio stations were choked, among them Radio B 92 which has heroically been testifying about the pacifist and liberal Belgrade for six years, and became its one of a kind identification card.

The disgrace of this regime has already been spreading worldwide and banning the operation of the free media just fortified the bad reputation of the government. Preventing the operation of these radio stations could, maybe, be justified by a "special war" against the demonstrators, but essentially it is just part of the previously started operation of eliminating the independent media. The "left-left-wing", whose open domination in the state media gave very modest election results, is leading in this campaign.

Just like Nimani and his sentence: "Stop Reuter!", Slobodan Milosevic suffers the same consequences with the banning of the B 92. Minutes and minutes of whistling in discontent echoed in the damp of the streets of Belgrade and the same night news was transferred to all world capitals. The intensity of the exclamations against the regime is well illustrated by the scene of a man standing in front of the Optika shop who in the second third of the salvo of whistling, rattle and shouts, bells, drums and percussion instruments, sighed, out of breath: "Oh, Sloba, f.... your red mouth!" The students paraded the next day at his very doorstep at the Andric Venac, and the demonstrations gained in scope.

The world is beginning to fear that Belgrade’s Terazije might turn into Peking’s Thien An Menn. Reuter and the France Press, labeled "urgent", transferred on December 1 the warning of the Serbian police that the demonstrations in defense of the electoral rights had "elements of violence and severe breakage of the law", after which more important world newspapers’ commentators began to conclude that bloodshed might occur in Belgrade.

The previous two weeks’ demonstrations were disgraceful to the regime, because eggs were flying around as a symbol of loss of respect for the thieves. Some of the demonstrators previously perforated eggs and let them get spoiled on the radiators for two days. In the first phase of concealing information, to some state commentators the broken eggs still had the fragrance of dessert.

In the course of the protest the mass was mostly self-controlled, except in the two days in the middle of last week when some of the demonstrators threw rocks and broke the windows on the buildings of the state television and the Politika. In those moments in the dusk, the mass cheered recklessly while individual demonstrators were breaking the windows and when some of the demonstrators pushed a garbage container into the big glass store window of the Politika, the horrifying sound of falling glass was heard.

This was excessive and counter-productive letting off steam, although the exalted support of the masses to such an act obviously results from extreme individual frustrations which usually leads to the loss of self-control. Some eyewitnesses claim that one of the demonstrators even came close to the building of the television and shamelessly peed on its wall. After that, the leaders of the protest tried to restore order among the demonstrators and enforce the watchmen service, but there was also suspicion that provocateurs were present.

This protest has something of a carnival in it, with trumpets and folk dances danced at the Terazije. One of the demonstrators orders the trumpet players to play the funeral march in front of the Politika, and they (assumably with the regular: "Yes, boss!" and "G-minor") start playing "The March on the Drina"!

Two of the students’ slogans "Something Stinks Here!" and "Students Against the Machine!" are the best illustration of the character of this civil protest to which the government apparatus has not found an appropriate answer yet.

Ideology: In the moment which coincides with the return of Mirjana Markovic from India, which she visited to promote her books, the president of the Assembly and the member of the ruling party Dragan Tomic, on state television and with all his well known "you-knows" and "isn’t-its" found "pro-fascist elements" in the demonstrations of the coalition Zajedno. This was the beginning of the struggle for suppressing demonstrations that had the elements of a crawling coup and special war or, as initially stated by JUL’s official Ljubisa Ristic, "the struggle against the chetniks in Belgrade". After that followed the closing of the Assembly building, banning of the electronic media that reported about the demonstrations, stirring up the citizens against the demonstrators, provocation, arrests... The statements of various satellite proto-parties emerged, including the so-called Patriot Front used during the draft period in 1992.

The police have started arresting demonstrators in their homes, and the magistrates have started issuing sentences overnight and on the spot, even to the demonstrators for whom it was proved that they are accused of the unbecoming deed of "throwing one i.e. two eggs on the building of the Vecernje Novosti daily". Later the number of the accused came to over thirty, but the beginning was really pathetic - the court began by protecting Rade Brajovic from the Vecernje Novosti daily, out of all institutions in this country.

The event must seem funniest from the view of a plain clothes policeman. While mafia is robbing the state, while the mafia’s money is laundered, while everyone is grabbing on all sides, while the transports of heroin and arms are passing, while cars are being stolen, someone has to take off wet boots in the evening and write a report against John Doe who threw eggs at the windows of Rade Brajovic.

Here and there things are even more serious. At the School of Electrical Engineering someone’s armed bodyguards broke in and tore the students’ posters while pointing guns. That's intimidation.

The Minister of Education has ordered that the students’ protest must cease, that the buildings of the schools be locked over the holiday and, according to one version of the story, even threatened that he would personally lock and close the School of Electrical Engineering, the highly esteemed and relevant institution worldwide. State media have started objecting that "the children have been manipulated" because they are shouting instead of studying.

In the following days, the "Choir" has picked up where Tomic has started, repeating the thesis about "the fascist elements". The Borba daily of Mr. Brcin, in its commentary entitled Terrorism and Violence condemns "unheard of and inhuman deeds of a frenzied political mob, which could only be compared with the fascist manipulations and misuse of the children by the separatists from Kosovo".

The Vecernje Novosti daily on its front page carry the huge caption Terror Over Belgrade, and on its fifth page the newspaper claims that "the dance is led by people who are wishing bloodshed". The state television, of course, duly reads the commentaries before the newspaper appear tomorrow, in a coordinated action of confronting the demonstrators with the mostly elderly citizens that complain for not being able to walk through the city freely. This dully patterned rhetorics was literally refreshed on Wednesday by the words that came from the mouth of a communist official Ratko Krsmanovic, who wrote in Brcin’s newspaper (which was for that sake overtaken too) that the policy of the coalition Zajedno is led "by the holy trinity of a pensioned marital couple, a bon viveur who enjoyed grilled oxen in Pale and the new primadonna of the Scala from Terazije".

The coalition Zajedno keeps its cool head and every afternoon gathers tens of thousands of demonstrators in the downtown area of Belgrade, repeating that it will celebrate New Year’s Eve there if necessary. As it is said in the commentary of the Vecernje Novosti daily, "there is no price that the leaders of the coalition Zajedno would not pay in order to seize power." Vesna Pesic, Zoran Djindjic, Vuk Draskovic keep repeating at the meetings and in the interviews that the only issue now is who can endure longer - Milosevic or the people.

Goals: They have refused to bargain about the mandates in Belgrade, Nis and Kraljevo and extended their aspirations, assuming that Serbian society is ready for changes, and also hinting that if the changes do not happen now, in a year’s time Serbia will have a social rebellion. They obviously express their intention to continue with the protests until Milosevic is forced to schedule new elections on all levels under fair terms and until he agrees to a serious reform of the system, with an independent judiciary and media.

The coalition Zajedno has announced the goals of its internal policy: respect for the electoral will of the citizens, returning dignity to the government and the assembly, forming a capable government without the ministers - profiteers, an independent judiciary, privatization, a special district attorney who will initiate an investigation against the corruption in the state...

The motto of this policy is concisely described by Zoran Djindjic’s request "that our history, our dignity and our money be returned to us." This statement is also the common denominator of the three Coalition leaders - Vuk Draskovic has recently spoken most frequently about the lost two hundred years of Serbian history, Vesna Pesic about the dignity of the citizens and Djindjic asked where the money was during the process against Marjanovic.

The coalition Zajedno forms the Alliance of the Free Cities and Municipalities of Serbia who, in its Statement of Intentions, says that the victory of the opposition in the major cities has returned the belief of the citizens in crucial changes and gave a chance to the current government to peacefully accept the electoral switch of power. "On November 17 Serbia has stepped over the threshold of parliamentarism, expressing the decisiveness not to be the only one-party state in Europe, but to become a civilized society and democratic state. This is our essential intention and we’ll achieve it using all our strength," is stated in the Statement of Intentions, drawn up in Nis on November 28, 1996. This is now much more than the cheer: "Come On! Let's go! All charge!". The happening of the people is not a good way to formulate any policy, and that is why now, in the background of the protest, political work on defining a policy and establishing a network of the far-reaching importance is developing.

The government is hoping that things will get hushed up, if not through the exhaustion of the protest then through the radicalization of the demonstrators, then by breaking them up, since the President of Serbia Slobodan Milosevic does not hesitate to draw guns to defend power, just like in March 1991, but warnings have reached him not to try that. Out of all the buildings that are along the path of the demonstrators, he posted visible police protection in front of the American Embassy, probably counting that the aspirator for the position of mayor of Belgrade Djindjic will not have a reputation of cooperativness that he, Slobodan Milosevic, has gained after Dayton. The leaders of the coalition Zajedno have succeeded in shaking up the belief of the Western governments that Milosevic is a stability factor. The coalition Zajedno issued a statement that it would respect the Dayton Agreement, and Milosevic is for the time being defended from condemnation only by the Russians, and even by them only in the context of opposing the extension of NATO to the East. Active participation in the demonstrative "walk" was taken on Thuesday (December, 5) by five American congressmen who visited Yugoslavia.

However, discrediting Milosevic in the West to a greater extent was a substantial task accomplished by his marionette servants, who are destroying the credibility of the judiciary and demonstrating the ugly face of obsolete propaganda.

What will happen next? The organizers of the protest express their determination to endure, those that protest return every night from the protest somehow relaxed, just like in Orwell’s 1984 when the telescreen is turned off for five minutes and everyone scream their brains out. That outlet has a somewhat therapeutic effect, just like when Lisa Minelli in Cabaret screams under the bridge while the train is passing over. (On Monday, during the blizzard, the students have arranged such a sound spectacle under the Brankov Most in Belgrade.) Totalitarian regimes are at a loss when expressing weakness in exerting control. It is about to happen in Serbia, judging by the fact that the regime was the first to show signs of losing nerves.

There are losses on both sides. On the side of the rebelled public, there is the banning of an excellent media, B 92, but we have to hope that this station will find a way to continue its operation because of the noble mission it has been accomplishing for six years already, and not because their work was allegedly crucial to keep the protest going. Everyone knows where to come and where to go; as one demonstrator said on Tuesday evening: "They might as well tear down the signposts and we shall still know where Dedinje is!". On the side of the regime, it is breaking in its very nomenclature and now it seems certain that for a long while the Socialists will not be able to establish a stable government that will not have to face a wall of the citizens’ disobedience.

In the atmosphere of the livened up opposition bets are being made on who is to win the parliamentary elections next year.

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