News for January 11th, 1997
Today in Belgrade, the police prevented the student march planned for the 51st day of their protest. The students, however, managed to break riot squad lines several times by playing hide and seek with the police. They would run down any street the police was not blocking, forcing the police to chase them and set up new cordons to turn the students back. The action performed by the students "blockade against blockade", i.e. "cordon against cordon", which was introduced two days ago, continued in Kolarceva street, where, some time around 22:00, the lined up cordon received reinforcement. The students remained in the streets until the police, which have been prohibiting protest walks through the streets of Belgrade for as long as three weeks, was withdrawn (around 1 am) and then organized the protest walk.
Once again the citizens in all parts of Belgrade made noise tonight during the broadcast of the prime time news program, expressing their protest against its way of presenting information. The citizens of Belgrade use various devices - from pots, pans, whistles, to horns and fire-crackers to make deafening noise from 19:30 to 20:00, which is the time the news are broadcast. In Srpskih Vladara Street most of the drivers blew their horns, and many drivers do so in other areas, "helping" the citizens make noise from their windows and balconies. The action of "overpowering" the television, named "The noise is in", has already been taking place for 11 days.
Today's Zajedno protest at Terazije Square was attended by dozens of thousands of their supporters as well as a very large contingent of police forces. One of Zajedno leaders and head of the SPO, Vuk Draskovic responded to the rumors of a possible formation of a coalition government thus: "Milosevic is allegedly inviting us to enter into a new government. Zajedno's reply is this: 'We know why we are here."' He stressed that the need to bring to justice those who have ordered or committed murders and other crimes against citizens during these protests is one of the motives for the protests to continue. Draskovic said the minister of the police and chairman of the Serbian Parliament are two among those who need to answer for their actions in the past few months. Vesna Pesic, one of Zajedno leaders and head of the GSS pointed out: "If they [the authorities] recognize our electoral victory, we cannot thank them. They had robbed us and insulted us in the first place." She observed that Miloseivic has now become a problem for the entire world community. Addressing the thousands of riot squad police members, leader of the DS, Zoran Djindjic said: "Even if November 17 electoral results are acknowledged, our job is not finished. We have to fight for the establishment of democratic conditions in the domain of politics." He invited the citizens to a festive evening meeting on January 13 [Orthodox New Year]. Around 16:30, the Zajedno leaders led the procession of their supporters to a march in Knez Mihajlova Street, as the other streets in downtown Belgrade were blocked by the massive presence of riot squads.
Cedomir Jovanovic, member of the Steering Board of the Student Protest 96/97, told a press conference held after his three-hour meeting with Serbian vice-presidents Ratko Markovic and Nedeljko Sipovac yesterday that "the government of Serbia has issued an order to the Ministry of Justice instructing it to demand from the local election commissions as well as the local courts immediate action on determining the real results of the November 17 elections and identifying those responsible for the violations of law committed at the time." According to Cedomir Jovanovic, the authorities have also asked the Ministry of Education to accept and endorse the student demands for the replacement of the current rector and his student assistant at the University of Belgrade. The students were not able to get any satisfactory response to their demand for the removal of the special police units currently deployed in Belgrade in their thousands. Jovanovic added that the Student Protest will go on until that demand, too, has been met. The student representative also emphasized that Dragoljub Mladenovic, Serbian minister of education, did not show up for the meeting with the vice-presidents of Serbia and is expected to see Nedeljko Sipovac later today to be briefed on the decisions taken during this meeting.
Ratko Markovic, Vice President of the Serbian Government stated today in the course of conversation with the students that the information service of the Radio and Television of Serbia (RTS) is "doing harm to the Republic Government and to the ruling party", Vladimir Dobrosavljevic member of the Initial Committee of the Student Protest 96/97 announced today. "During the informal part of the conversation Nedeljko Sipovac, Vice President mentioned that the upcoming pre-electoral campaign for the republic and presidential elections in Serbia will be drastically altered, more precisely, that the state media will be liberalized", Dobrosavljevic said immediately following the meeting of the student delegation with the representatives of the Serbian Government. "Ratko Markovic had an interesting explanation for the present situation in Serbia. He said that the authorities in Serbia are not yet adequately prepared to conduct the local elections, that it is inexperienced, for these are only the third local elections and that these are the reasons that the procedures and the law have been violated, which will be corrected as soon as possible and will not happen again", Cedomir Jovanovic, member of the Initial Committee announced. He said that the Vice Presidents of the Government pointed out that, in order to win the upcoming elections, SPS "will have to clear its lines and find those who violated the law".
"The government of Serbia will instruct the Ministry of Justice to demand from the competent state bodies which have not completed the procedures [needed] to establish the final electoral results do so most urgently," said a statement signed by the Serbian vice-presidents Ratko Markovic and Nedeljko Sipovac and the representatives of the students of the UofB today. The statement also said that the Serbian government will instruct the competent state bodies to establish the identity of those responsible for electoral fraud and to determine adequate penalties for the falsification of electoral results. The government will demand that the Ministry of Education seriously consider replacing the UofB Rector Dragutin Velickovic and his student assistant Vojin Djurevic.
Vuk Draskovic, leader of the SPO, told a press conference today that the statement the government issued today after the meeting of its vice-presidents with the student delegation was a simply "new trick" by Serbian President Milosevic. He stressed that Zajedno will keep up its daily protests "until the people's will is respected in full." The press conference was attended by the Russian ruling party MP Sergey Belyayev and chairman of the Russian association of writers Sergey Grizunov, who have come to Belgrade to express their support for democratic changes in Serbia.
A high ranking Serbian government official, who asked for anonymity, has told Reuters that Slobodan Milosevic is expected to publicly recognize opposition victories in several Serbian cities and to call for the formation of a coalition government later today. "Milosevic will publicly accept, and in full, the recommendations of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). The statement regarding this is being prepared as we speak," the same Serbian official told the British news agency. The decision to accept the OSCE mission's report was made last night at a joint meeting of the SPS and JUL leadership, the ruling party and the left-coalition headed by Slobodan Milosevic and his wife Mirjana Markovic respectively.
At the Brussels meeting of the Contact Group countries, the US has publicly come forward with its list of measures aimed at pressuring the Serbian government to accept the OSCE recommendations for a full reinstatement of opposition victory in the recent local elections in Serbia, reports AFP. The statement issued by the US delegation in Brussels carries a 4-point plan of punitive measures against official Belgrade. The US plans to veto all FR Yugoslavia's moves in the field of foreign relations; delay granting any landing rights in the US to the Yugoslav state-owned airline; discourage all international trade and other high-level missions relating to Serbia, thus maintaining the outer wall of sanctions against FR Yugoslavia; and cut all contact between official Belgrade and international financial institutions.
High diplomatic representatives of Contact Group member states expressed in Brussels today staunch support for the conclusions and recommendations of the OSCE fact-finding mission and strongly urged Belgrade to implement them fully and immediately, reports for FoNet Mirko Klarin. However, the international community will not discuss the re-imposition of sanctions against FR Yugoslavia for the time being. According to John Kornblum, US assistant secretary of state for European affairs, "the consensus has not reached this point yet;" similarly, German representative Inger believes that "sanctions would not solve the present crisis."
The first unofficial reactions in Washington to today's news from Belgrade are characterized by satisfaction at the possible first step towards the desired solution of the crisis in Serbia, reports for FoNet Slobodan Pavlovic. The announcement of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's decision to accept fully the demands of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) for the reinstatement of the local electoral results of November 17 and the formation of a coalition government in Serbia received prominent place in the news programs by the American electronic media. Washington's NPR radio, citing news agencies' reports, said that the decision to form a coalition government was reached at yesterday's meeting of the top officials of the SPS and JUL. The decision seems to have been made in order to pre-empt the possible re-imposition of economic sanctions against Serbia, which was expected to be announced at today's Contact Group meeting in Brussels. Kornblum has confirmed that the representatives of the U.S., Russia, Great Britain, France and Germany have discussed further measures against Milosevic.
The 5-member U.S. congressional delegation has arrived in Montenegro for a 2-day visit at the invitation of the Montenegrin government. Their first meeting today was with Svetozar Marovic, chairman of the Montenegrin Parliament, reports Montena Fax. After their meeting, Bruce Vento, member of the delegation, told the press that "the U.S. congressmen appreciate the efforts Montenegro is putting into the development of democracy and market economy," stressing that "the U.S. will do their best to help establish political and economic stability in the region." Marovic reiterated today that "the will of the people must be respected [in Serbia], especially since this effects its relations with Montenegro." Marovic added that the issues being decided by means of "street conflicts must be transferred to the Serbian and Yugoslav parliaments" and that "the OSCE positions must be respected."
More than 4000 students of the University of Kragujevac raised a large tin board at the city entrance tonight, on which the words "The free pedestrian zone of Kragujevac" (signed Student Protest 96/97) were written. Jelena Urosevic, member of the Initial Board of the protest,stated for the Beta news agency that the students of Kragujevac proclaimed Kragujevac a "democratic, free and lighted zone in this country of theft, despair and chaos".
Addressing the crowds gathered in Nis today at another Zajedno protest rally, Zoran Zivkovic, Democratic Party vice-president, said Zajedno will enter the Nis City Council after the Orthodox New Year and form its own municipal government. "Zajedno can go on [with the protests], but the time for waiting is running out," he explained, adding that no violence will be used in this action. Students of the UofN went for their protest march down Nis streets in the afternoon, and later joined the Zajedno rally in the city's central square.
Protests against the annulment of the electoral results and the against the decision for the local radio and television station to be annexed to the Radio and Television of Serbia (RTS) continued in Kragujevac today. The Vice President of the City Government, Vesna Pajevic spoke at the rally which gathered a few thousand citizens of Kragujevac, and pointed out that the social status of the citizens is very poor. She maintained that Serbia owes the city of Kragujevac more than 57 million dinars. The citizens of Kragujevac were also addressed by Branko Vidakovic, the actor of the National Theater in Belgrade who commented that "it is shameful in these times to sit in one's chair and wait for someone else to finish one's business". The most important thing is to establish a mechanism by which the authorities can be easily replaced, and told "the news from Belgrade: the police perform less beating and more tea-drinking with the students". The continuation of the protest is scheduled for Monday, at 22:00, on Orthodox New Year's Eve.
Radio B92 has learned that in Vrsac, yesterday, a rally of 5,000 Zajedno supporters was addressed by several members of the city council as well as the president of the municipal government of Vrsac. The walk held after the rally attracted a larger number of participants. The police did not attempt to block the protest walk or otherwise interfere with the protesters.
The citizens of Sabac protested today against the annulment of the results of the local elections for the 42nd time. The protest at the central town square was marked by the conversing of the demonstrators with the policemen who surrounded the square. Most of them consented to the conversation with the citizens of Sabac. However, a few threatened the demonstrators, using harsh words. A member of the police force with the badge number 741057 was voted the most somber policeman.
More than 5000 citizens of Kraljevo protested tonight, on the 55th day of the protest, against the annulment of the local elections. The demonstrators were addressed by guests from Trstenik, Pristina and Belgrade. After the rally, the usual walk through the streets was conducted.
Despite the icy cold rain, around 500 people assembled in Zajecar tonight, at the 38th protest rally. Just before the rally, the police arrested the President of the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) in Zajecar, Radivoj Nikolic, and Jovan Andrejevic, citizen, with the following explanation: "they had the forbidden devices in their hands". By the estimation of the policemen, Nikolic was able to write down the numbers of the uniforms of the policemen in the notebook he held, while the stick Andrejevic used as a walking aid could have been used against the police. Nikolic and Andrejevic were released after the rally. After the rally the demonstrators walked in Liberation square surrounded by police forces who have been preventing the citizens of Zajecar from making their protest marches for the past three days.
Around 1,000 citizens of Leskovac protested tonight against the annulment of the local elections. The demonstrators were guarded by around 80 policemen who were on friendly terms with the citizens. The people of Leskovac were invited by the "Zajedno" coalition to gather in the town centre on Monday at 22:00, where the Orthodox New Year celebration will be organized. An action organized by the "Zajedno" coalition will start at 7:30 tomorrow, when 41 young men and women from Leskovac will start towards Nis in order to hand presents to 41 coalition delegates in this city.
More than 3000 citizens of Jagodina gathered tonight, for the 54th time, in order to protest against the annulment of the local elections. The reading of a letter of support written by 52 teachers from the high school in Jagodina was followed by the customary walk. The tensions between the demonstrators and the police have noticeably loosened in comparison to previous days. A source close to government informed the Beta news agency that SPS and JUL "have secured four more votes which will give them 32 delegates (a majority) in the City Assembly. The celebration of the Orthodox New Year was also announced at the gathering.
The oppositional coalition "Zajedno" announced today that yet another four towns joined the protests against the violation of the electoral will of the citizens: Vrnjacka Banja, Svilajnac, Bela Palanka and Dimitrovgrad. The committees of the "Zajedno" Coalition in those towns joined the protests against the electoral theft in Belgrade, Kraljevo, Nis and other cities in Serbia", the announcement says. It is added that "the walks take place under surveillance of the police, which hasn't prevented the citizens so far to express their discontent by demonstrating peacefully".
Belgrade Mayor Nebojsa Covic told Belgrade's BK Television today that it is against his moral principles to convene the Belgrade City Council as elected in a way that has been protested by dozens of thousands of students and citizens for almost two months. Covic denied the press reports that he's been offered the office of premier, adding that he will not even consider such an offer before he receives firm guarantees that the conditions he has made will be fulfilled.
The mayor of Belgrade Nebojsa Covic stated today in the interview for the Radio Index that he supported the demands of the students of Belgrade, and affirmed that he had requested "the dismissal of those who had brought about this crisis". He said that his stand, since November 18th has been that "we are entering a political crisis that is daily increasing in intensity", because it was then that "the results of the second electoral round started being questioned". "I demanded that in the name of maintaining the integrity and reputation of the state institutions, the culprits be found and charges brought against them because they caused the crisis and only made it worse by their subsequent actions", Covic said. When asked why he had kept silent for such a long time, Mayor of Belgrade answered that "it would have agreed best with "his conscience" to have immediately spoken publicly about all that he had been "trying to achieve". When asked whether his statement meant that he supported the students' demands, he answered: "Exactly. Their chief demand is the same demand I have made on November 18. What are the students' demands actually? The recognition of the election results, obeying of law, objective information and the responsibility of every individual as the condition for ending the crisis. It is at the same time the minimum of democratic conditions for normal functioning of a modern state, to the establishing of which, I hope, we all aspire."
Member of the Nis electoral commission and president of the Nis municipal court, Golub Golubovic resigned his office in the commission today, reports Nis independent television NAIS. At yesterday's meeting of the commission, Golubovic demanded that Zajedno's victory be recognized. He said Zajedno had won 53, the Socialists 16 and the Radicals 1 seat in Nis. NAIS reported today that the Socialists have split into two factions -- the hard-line faction of Mile Ilic against the recognition of Zajedno's victory, and the pragmatic faction of Zivota Zivkovic, local SPS leader, who demanded the reinstatement of the opposition victory in Nis.
Today's issue of the Washington Post carries an interview with "one of the wealthiest people in Serbia, worth several billion US dollars" Bogoljub Karic. The article stresses the pressure Serbian businessmen have been putting on Milosevic not to drag out the electoral crisis and thus endanger the prospects of reintegrating the Serbian economy into international trade. In his Washington Post interview, Bogoljub Karic described the authorities' actions as "stupid" and "counter-productive," adding that it's not the opposition but the government itself that is acting as its own worst enemy. Washington Post considers Karic's readiness to publicly oppose the government as extremely important since he has had friendly relations with the Serbian President and his politically powerful spouse in the past and has so far refrained from criticizing them publicly.
Athens has not confirmed yet whether its Foreign Minister will travel to Belgrade for talks with the government and the opposition, reports for FoNet Slobodan Markovic. The electronic media have kept silent about the visit unofficially announced by Greek sources in Belgrade. The Greek press, on the other hand, carries confusing reports on the goals of Pangalos's trip to Belgrade. The influential pro-government daily Ta Nea at one point today said that Pangalos's mission is to mediate between the Serbian government and the opposition, and at another point that his goal is not to mediate but to gather information. Ta Nea claims that Pangalos's message to the Serbian government and the opposition is that Greece is in favor democratization and a political and democratic solution to the crisis in Serbia. The moderate left Elefterotipia abandoned today its usual criticism of official Belgrade in favor of Pangalos's position that the authorities in Serbia have been unjustly accused of hindering democratization.
The hottest news in the German media is that Zajedno has received the first indications that Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic will reinstate all electoral results of November 17, reports for FoNet Milenko Babic. According to this information, Milosevic should announce his decision today. In an interview to be published in the German newspaper Bildt am Zontag, German foreign minister Claus Kinkel reiterated his demand that the local electoral results be acknowledged but refrained from direct criticism of Milosevic. He ruled out new sanctions against Serbia since they would affect the people primarily. Kinkel said, however, that the international community may further isolate the Belgrade authorities for blocking the way for the Serbian people to reintegrate into Europe.
Humor, wit and inventiveness are some of the weapons used by the
students of the UofB in their protests against the riot squads,
said an article in today's issue of the Czech daily Pravo,
stressing that the students "have made a point from the very
beginning of distancing themselves from political parties and not
letting themselves become a tool in the hands of the opposition
for their daily political needs." The Czech news agency CTI
brings a report titled "Serbian Opposition Has Fun in Protests"
describing, in particular, the gadgets used in Belgrade
demonstrations. The report quotes some of the most amusing slogans
in the demonstrations:
"Stop the Danube! It's a foreign influence."
"My children have been misled: they want food every day."
"A misguided male student is seeking a misguided female counterpart."
The leadership of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) decided today to formally demand the introduction of a proportional electoral system and freedom of the media prior to deciding whether to participate in this year's presidential and parliamentary elections.
The "Zajedno" coalition appealed to all the journalists and speakers of the prime-time news of the state controlled television (RTS) "to refuse reading commentaries written by the ideologists of SPS and JUL". "Refusing to read such commentaries is the only way for the RTS reporters to maintain their dignity and reputation", it is stated in the announcement of the "Zajedno" Coalition. The Coalition assert that "the commentaries made by the RTS only spread hatred among the citizens and create an atmosphere of constant conflict and mutual accusation of those politically opposed".
The founder of The Institute for Peace in Oslo, professor Johann Galtungh sent a message to the students and citizens of Serbia to persist in their protests, for it is the only way for them to achieve their goals. The OSCE committee, which investigated the regularity of the elections in Serbia, "did a good job", Galtungh said, adding that "it isn't advisable" to apply the same model of international mediation as the one used in the negotiations in former Yugoslavia. "The banging performed daily by the citizens at 19:30 is very good, but the future of Yugoslavia is not about making noise from the windows", Galtungh said, estimating that the protests of the citizens and students need to be "refreshed with new ideas".
The leaders of the "Zajedno" coalition will visit Rome on Friday, where they will meet the representatives of the Italian government, the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs informed today. Piero Fassini, Undersecretary at the Ministry will visit Belgrade on Friday, where he will converse with the representatives of the government, the "Zajedno" coalition, the Student Protest and other organizations, it is said in the announcement.