Foreign Agencies on December 15th, 1996

Sunday December 15 12:47 PM EST
Serbian Opposition Stages Biggest Protest

BELGRADE (Reuter) - Up to 250,000 protesters demonstrated in Belgrade Sunday against Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's handling of local elections in the biggest street rally since they started 28 days ago, reporters said.
Sunday a small group of students set off from Nis on a symbolic 230-km (145-mile) protest march to Belgrade to join Belgraders' protests and to try and raise their colleagues objections about the handling of elections to Milosevic.

In Belgrade, students were joined by trade union members in the march which grew as it snaked around the city for a rally in the central square. "Many are still joining the column of marchers," one opposition leader said.
Belgraders switched the lights of their apartments off and on as the march passed in gestures of support.

Serbian opposition stages largest protest
December 15, 1996
Web posted at: 2:30 p.m. EST (1930 GMT)

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (Reuter)
Students, trade union members and other Belgraders packed the central square to listen to speeches from opposition leaders who want to have their annulled election victories reinstated. There was a low-profile police presence.
After the rally dispersed, tens of thousands of students set off on a smaller march around the streets of Belgrade carrying lights and torches, some wearing miners' torches strapped to their heads. A student spokesman said their intention was "to enlighten a city in political darkness."

Separate demonstrations to protest the government's handling of the elections were held in at least 30 towns across Serbia Sunday.

Copyright 1996 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.
(c) 1996 Cable News Network, Inc.

Los Angeles Times
Sunday, December 15, 1996
Serbs Embrace Heady Feel of Public Politics
By TRACY WILKINSON, Times Staff Writer

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia--Not so long ago, talk of politics was as welcome as a skunk at a picnic in the music-filled Drum Club and similar hangouts where Belgrade's youth congregate at night.

Known for their too-cool indifference and air of resignation, many of the capital's hip young Serbs preferred to chat about money or how to get a visa to leave the country. Apathy ran through the generations, incubated by years of communism and isolation.

But now, after nearly a month of daily demonstrations against the authoritarian regime of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, all that has changed. At the Drum and elsewhere, you couldn't stop the political chatter if you tried. Darlings of the cafe society have suddenly become news junkies. Yugoslavs have gotten a rare taste of political activism.

"I've always hated politics, but I can't be blind anymore," said Daniela Jurjevic, a 25-year-old pharmacology student standing in the crowded, smoky entryway of the Drum with two girlfriends after another day of protest.

"I want to hear everything. I want to know everything. I want to see a change."

No one realistically expects Milosevic to fall as a result of the current protests. But it is realistic to expect enduring change--and not the least aspect of that change could well be the attitude of many once-fatalistic people.

On Saturday, for the 27th consecutive day, the demonstrations showed no sign of letting up, with tens of thousands of people massing in one of the largest rallies yet.

Demonstrations of this size and duration have not been seen in Serbia in more than 50 years. The solidarity from sheer numbers has encouraged those who were reticent to speak out.

"Everything I'm seeing happening gives me energy to stand up for what I want," Jurjevic said. "We never talked about this stuff before. We thought things had to be the way they were. Now I see a lot of people think the way I do. Before I thought I was wrong, alone, but now I see a lot of people like me--young people, old people."

The Serbian youths and others who have joined the protest movement are experiencing something that in American pop lingo would be called empowerment.

It comes after years of stifling communism in a virtual police state--especially during the last five years, when those now in their 20s were coming of age as Serbia was in effect at war through its proxies in Bosnia-Herzegovina and when little room was allowed for dissent.

A closed society where propaganda had such influence nurtured conformity and frustration. Many young people simply left the country.

As communism has receded throughout Europe, only in Serbia--one of two republics forming what is today the rump Yugoslavia--has the same leader continued to rule for nine turbulent years.

Copyright Los Angeles Times

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