Foreign Agencies on January 25th, 1997
Whistle Is Serbian Rebel Weapon
By ALISON SMALE
Associated Press Writer
Saturday, January 25, 1997 1:23 pm EST
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) -- Serbia's revolt has a simple weapon: the whistle.
It's the badge by which people struggling for democracy recognize each other on the streets. It's the instrument for drowning out the distorted reality spread by state television and radio, or every mention of President Slobodan Milosevic's name at daily opposition rallies.
It's the clear way for anyone to signal they want a different, democratic tomorrow.
Especially since late December, when riot police were deployed in the capital to enforce a ban on street protests, the whistle has become essential equipment.
Every evening at different spots throughout Belgrade, a primeval noise rumbles and swells through the streets.
Once state television begins its news at 7:30 p.m., a cacophony of whistles erupts. Often, it is backed by a jungle beat of old ladies banging on garbage cans and saucepans with a fire and rhythm to rival dreadlocked street musicians in Manhattan.
Elated, hundreds take off around their neighborhoods or head toward students who have been facing down riot police downtown for almost a week.
Whistles, tubes and saucepans fuse with the blasting rock music of the nonstop street party. A wall of noise challenges the wall of riot police. Stopping by the students to give food or simply whistle has become part of any good democrat's evening.
"When we whistle, we think of Radio Television Serbia and how they lie and poison the people," said plumber Jovica Nedeljkovic, strolling along the main shopping area with his family Saturday afternoon. All had whistles.
"We're armed to the teeth," laughed his wife, Lidija.
"When we whistle, we're emptying ourselves, pouring out our negative energy," said Nedeljkovic, who whistles nightly in his New Belgrade neighborhood. "It's better to whistle than to wrestle and fight."
Farther along, a 27-year-old military pilot who hasn't been paid for a month and a half stood listening to Latin American music, whistle round his neck.
"Everybody who has a whistle is a protester," he said. "That's how you size people up now -- do they have a whistle or not?"
The pilot, whose job forbids him to give his name, said he finds it "incredibly ugly when you pass by a cafe or restaurant at night during the whistling, and people are just sitting there, as if nothing is happening outside."
Opposition leader Zoran Djindjic's office virtually overlooks the students' protest. The din, he said, "is music to my ears. I get restless if it grows quieter."
Belgrade newspapers say 120,000 whistles have been sold there in recent weeks. Standard issue is the small, plastic multi-colored model. No opposition gathering is complete without vendors touting them two for five dinars (approximately $1), or upmarket models for five dinars each.
Schoolchildren, caught up in a subculture of revolt, greet each other with whistles.
Almost as ubiquitous as the whistles are the badges pinned on many Belgraders' coats, hats and scarves.
One bears a quote from Milosevic's only public appearance in almost 10 weeks of protest -- a counter-rally Dec. 24 when his supporters chanted: "We love you!" Irritated by the display, Milosevic snapped: "I love you too!"
His words now adorn thousands of badges.
Much of this humor comes from the students, who invent new twists to their protest almost by the hour.
Within days of state television denouncing protesters for "chaos and senselessness," hordes donned badges proclaiming, "I am a lover of chaos and senselessness."
(c) Copyright 1997 The Associated Press