Foreign Agencies on January 2nd, 1997

In Serbia, they drive prodemocracy movement and are seen as above the fray

BELGRADE - Fueled with caffeine, cigarettes and much of the nation's admiration, students have become the engine driving Serbia's democracy movement.

Students have kept themselves outside the atmosphere of hatred and mistrust that prevades today's Serbia: between President Slobodan Milosevic and the political opposition, between haves and have-nots, between city dwellers and farmers.

They provide the good-humored choreography, costumes and props that have turend the protest into political theater. Their marshals keep order on the streets. Their ideas give steam to the demonstrations, now in their sixth week.

And, unlike opposition politicians, they enjoy unqualified public support.

"These young people are the only inocent people in this society," said Sonja Biserko, the head of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia. "They're not responsible for Milosevic being in power for 10 years."

Many Serbs are angry at Milosevic for starting wars in Bosnia and Croatia and for encouraging international isolation with his extreme nationalist views and policies. They are angry, too, at foreign governments for imposing sanctions that ended the comfortable life many people once enjoyed.

But no one seems to dislike the students.

People are impressed by their good humor, discipline, clear thinking, and by their faith in Serbia's democratic future. That faith kept them from leaving the country, like some 200 000 young Serbs have over the past six years.

Zoran Matic, a 30-year-old taxi driver, got out of his car recently to watch a stream of student protesters march past. He didn't mind losing fares. The students, he said, are "the ones who want to leave in this country, the people whom this country should rely on, the people who still think with their heads."

When Milosevic decided to meet with opponents last month, it was not with his political foes. He chose a group of students from Nis, who had walked 150 miles to talk to him.

On New Year's Eve, student delegates went to his neighborhood in hopes of presenting a prodemocracy message, but police turned them back.

The students have been careful to distance themselves publicly from the political opposition. Backers of Milosevic accuse the political opposition of inciting civil war. Some critics of Milosevic say the opposition expresses the same aggressive nationalism that sparked wars in Croatia and Bosnia.

"Ours isn't a partisan protest, but it is a political protest," said student spokesman Vojislav Filipovic, a 19-year-old archeology major at Belgrade University.

Still, many of the student leaders belong to the Democratic Party, which is a part of the opposition coalition Zajedno, or together. And the students seem to work in cooperation with the party. The daily student protest, starting at noon, serves as a warm-up act for opposition demonstrations.

For a New Year's protest last night, students booked drummers and said Belgrade's two independent radio stations would broadcast their rhytms. They called on supporters to bang on water pipes and windows in hopes of drowning out state TV's 7:30 p.m. newscast.

Milan Bozic, an adviser to opposition leader Vuk Draskovic, said the students served as "mediators" between the coalition's supporters and middle-class Serbs unsure about the opposition.

The students "are helping us a lot," Bozic said.

Students have kept their demands narrow: reinstatement of Nov. 17 local elections the opposition won, resignation of several Milosevic supporters among Belgrade University rectors, and removal of the Serbian interior minister.

Filipovic, the student spokesman, said he and his peers learned from mistakes of the 1992 student movement, which had called for Milosevic's resignation. This generation, he said, knows the limits of what it can achieve.

Thursday, January 2, 1997 11:00 am EST
Yugo Students May Change Tactics
Associated Press Writer

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP)
Wednesday evening, 8,000 students marched to the state television building to protest government propaganda. They used drums, cymbals, tambourines, spoons and whistles to symbolically drown out the main newscast Wednesday evening. Many residents joined in, banging pots and window frames.

``Thieves! Red bandits!,'' the students jeered as they passed the television building, pelting it with firecrackers and snowballs.

Only a few plainclothes policemen monitored the crowd.

(c) Copyright 1997 The Associated Press

Serbian Orthodox Church denounces Milosevic
January 2, 1997, Web posted at: 7:10 p.m. EST (2410 GMT)

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP)
Students target media for protests

Taking advantage of the absence of riot police who have blocked their marches over the past week, students in Belgrade took their protests to the state television building Wednesday.

The students urged fellow Serbs to join their demonstration on Wednesday night against state television for broadcasting what they said is propaganda in favor of Milosevic.

The march by approximately 5,000 students through Belgrade was accompanied by drums, cymbals, tambourines, spoons and their trademark whistles.

The students have accused the media of manipulating information about their protests and Milosevic's government.

Copyright 1997 The Associated Press.
(c) 1997 Cable News Network, Inc.

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