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March 18, 2000
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 430
Serbia in a Broken Mirror

Just Waiting for You to Make a Wrong Move

by Milan Milosevic

According to the December poll conducted by the Institute of Social Science, SPS and JUL only have 13 percent support of the population, while SRS has 4 percent (in the 1997 elections, SPS had 24 percent support, while the Radicals had 16 percent).  When the minority in power, which under optimal conditions only has the support of one fifth of the population, Satanizes the representatives of the majority which is being held hostage by that government, it can easily happen that someone will be offended and will lose patience, which can be expected now with some certainty.  The governments continues to depend haughtily on servile passiveness.  (The research conducted by the Economics Institute in Belgrade for the United Nations World Food Program indicates that, for instance, 557,000 pensioners' households had monthly incomes below 31 dollars, which represents the lower range of poverty according to world standards.)

Perhaps in the present atmosphere we are not so far away from someone issuing direct, insulting statements.  The press release issued by the committees of the Democratic Party, the Serbian Renewal Movement and the Democratic Party of Serbia in Bajina Basta (near Uzice) states: "In the country of Serbia it is prohibited to make public statements against those who brought our fatherland and our people into a national, economic and civilizational dead end...  There are simply not enough inspectors and policemen who could stifle all the Serbian voices who are clamoring for change...  The biggest independent media in Serbia is the impoverished and degraded Serbian people."
The issue of the media and several other, easier issues will come to a head the moment they touch on something more fundamental, such as hunger or pride, or dignity.  For now this crusade by the government against the segment of the public which is independent has resulted in several ripples that opposition politicians see as potentially very explosive.

There has not been this much verbal confrontation by the opposition.  Everyone that has access to a public place, to an official company seal and to a fax has embarked into the battle for the free media.  It could be said that a test trial has been carried out over a divisive and fragile opposition network.

RIPPLES: Prior to these events, the elementary and highschool teachers' strike began.  Because of this highschool students in Belgrade are spending more time in parks than in class.  And when somewhere around noon they proceed homeward in groups, singing and whistling, grocers quickly gather goods from their store fronts with shouts "They're coming."

Of the 200 members of the reserve force of the Yugoslav Army from the Armored-Mechanized Regiment in Karljevo gathered on March 13 in front of the Kraljevo Community Government Building, protesting the increasingly frequent calls to active duty they keep getting.  They spoke with the Community President Mladomir Novakovic.  It appears that the reservists in the Village of Stubal were the first to make a public gathering in front of their village tavern.  The reservist claim that thus far the calls to active duty were always forwarded to more or less the same people - workers and farmers.  Now they demanded that the "smiling defenders of bridges" be included among the reservists called to active duty.  After a discussion in the local parliament, the reservists backed the initiative"Let Us Take Our Fate in Our Own Hands" organized by the National Resistence Movement.  The next day they were joined by around 2000 people.

The government is systematically disturbing, hassling, arresting, interrogating and degrading members of the National Resistence Movement.  The offices of the Resistance of Kragujevac were broken into and their computer and printer were stolen, while the police prevented activists from putting up posters on the previous day.  It appears that certain pro-regime organizations acting under cover have been engaged in the terror directed against the Resistance.  Over 60 members of this organization have been arrested, interrogated and battered.  It appears that this is not such a small group - their trademark clenched fist can be seen on posters, pamphlets, in small towns, even in villages.
Coordinator of the Alliance for Changes and President of the Democratic Christian Party of Serbia, Vladan Batic, stated for the Beta Agency that after the attack on TV Pozega, the opposition has to organize a crisis headquarters, it must organize itself for extraordinary situations because "a state of martial law has been unofficially declared," and that the opposition should no longer tolerate even the prohibition of pasted newspapers in Vlasotinac, let alone the stifling of Belgrade's Studio B Television and Radio.

CALL: A little prior to the deadline for seeing whether the regime will brake into Studio B a meeting of the opposition was held at the Democratic Center (DC) with included the leaders of the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO), Vuk Draskovic, of the Democratic Party (DS), Zoran Djindjic, do the Coalition "Vojvodina", Dragan Veselinov, the leader of Coalition DAN, the President of New Democracy (ND), Dusan Mihajlovic, of the Democratic Alternative (DA), Steval Lilic, the President of Social Democracy, Vuk Obradovic, the President of the Movement for a Democratic Serbia (PDS), Momcilo Perisic, the Coordinator of the Alliance of Democratic Parties (SDP), Zarko Korac and Coordinator of the Alliance for Changes (SZP) and President of the Democratic Christian Party of Serbia (DHSS), Vladan Batic.  The leaders of the opposition called upon all their members to gather in front of Municipal Parliament in the event that Studio B programming is interrupted.  Their diction was sharpened.  President of Social Democracy, Vuk Obradovic ordered all the members of his party, right to the last one, to come out.  President of Coalition "Vojvodina" Dragan Veselinov assessed that the weightiest aggression by the regime is yet to come.  President of the Executive Council of New Democracy, Vojislav Andric thinks that "organized, civic disobedience is the only answer to the bandit-like, unconstitutional and criminal entry of the premises of the radio and TV station, and the shattering and appropriation of expensive equipment."  President of ND and one of the leaders of Coalition DAN, Dusan Mihajlovic, stated as a guest on Studio B TV that "there is no spell with which the government divide" the unified opposition.  He expects a rebellion by those people who used to believe Milosevic and who voted for the Socialists.

According to the Democratic Alternative, "the regime is carrying out a cruel elimination of the media" in order to force citizens "to be exposed to the propaganda machinery of the regime's beautifiers of reality;" and since elections under such conditions will be impossible and useless, the blind box will win out.  President of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), Vojislav Kostunica assessed that opposition parties must respond to the increased pressure by the government with "legal methods of resistence, peacefully and wisely," given that the assumption that "the government is consciously inciting conflicts in order to prolong grip on power" cannot be ruled out.  He assessed that the closing down of Studio B television "would be a bite that is too much for the government to chew," because that would imply a radicalization of the situation.  According to him, the Hague Tribunal indictments against the highest Yugoslav and Serbian officials have contributed to the repressive policies by the government.

The Civil Alliance of Serbia (GSS) issued a warning that "this is an extraordinary situation and it is important for no one to stay asleep."

The Social Democratic Union (SDU) assessed that "fines and the closing down of the media, political trials, the kidnaping of Bogoljub Arsenijevic, the violence directed against the Resistence activists, and the wave of mobilization will not frighten citizens, but will only motivate them into joining more active forms or resistence against the regime."
Perisic's PDS warned the government that the protests in Pozega and Cuprija can easily spill over into "a general flood of protest against open dictatorship."
Speaking for Studio B in front of Belgrade's Municipal Parliament, SPO President Vuk Draskovic stated that "darkness on the Studio B screens" will meant that "some special brigades have begun their aggression against the freedom of citizens" and their right to think and speak freely, stressing that "no one should allow themselves to hold back."  He especially called on the 150,000 SPO voters in Belgrade and the voters of other parties to come out to a meeting in which by the strength of numbers they demand early, general, democratic elections and will force the regime to call an election and to heed the voice of the people, "which is the voice of God and must be heard out."
Mayor of Belgrade, Vojislav Mihailovic called on the residents of Belgrade to fight and to defend the municipal radio and television station Studio B from the government's attempt at stifling it, announcing that "now they are the only defense" of their own right to be informed in a timely fashion about everything that is happening in the country and the world.
Addressing citizens over Studio B, he pointed to the several months of interference that Studio B programming had been subjected to, as well as the "criminal taking" of equipment and the battering of the television station employees.

The regime was sent a message that it will be facing organized resistance.  And they waited.  On Tuesday the municipal government paid a tax which the Ministry of Telecommunications demanded in order avoid the closing down of Studio B, which would lead to conflicts.  Some of the actors in this situation demanded that there be no more waiting.

PREVENTIVE ACTION: Democratic Party (DS) President Zoran Djindjic announced that DS committees throughout Serbia had been advised to begin organizing meetings in all cities where there are independent media.  These actions will be initiated by DS and by the Alliance for Changes (SZP), and they will also call other opposition parties and groups in order to participate in the organization of this protest.  The DS advised all communities where the opposition holds power to begin holding extra sessions.  Djindjic suggested that "the guarding of antennas and of studios be organized and that citizens be advised what they should do in the event that the media are attacked."  Young members of DS announced that they will organize a one day "Campaign for Protecting the Media" in several cities across Serbia.  As the DS announcement indicated, meetings will be held in Belgrade, Novi Sad, Nis, Kragujevac, Leskovac, Zajecar, Pozega, Valjevo and Sabac, with 150,000 pamphlets due to be passed out during this initiative.  Major of Cacak, Velimir Ilic stated that "if anyone tries to close down Cacak TV, citizens will immediately block roads, bridges and railway lines with vehicles and heavy equipment, and that the blockade of the city will last for as long as the media are not freed."

Ilic thinks that there is no sense is connecting protests to the fate of Belgrade's Studio B TV and opposed the idea of holding the first joint meeting of the opposition in Belgrade.  Velimir Ilic repeated that "right after March 15" all supporters of the opposition are called to attend, "and then we'll see who is who and who is with whom": "There is no more time for waiting, the people no longer has even a month to throw away."  The other Co-President Milan Protic also announced the great joint meeting by the opposition in Cacak, stating that this city "is the opposition bastion in Serbia" and that the danger of incidents occurring in this city is the smallest.
This proposal was turned down by Ognjen Pribicevic, Advisor to the President of the Serbian Renewal Movement who stressed the fact that the opposition will agree about where to hold a general meeting the next time they meet.  He stated that "every initiative is welcome," but that the real meeting "must take place in Belgrade" because Belgrade is the capital of Serbia, and not Cacak.

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