News for January 14th, 1997
Several hundred thousand of Belgraders, according to the Belgrade daily press even up to 500,000, flooded the downtown Belgrade last night to join the celebration of the Ortodox New Year's Eve. Republic and Terazije Squares as well as the off streets were packed solid with people "armed" with whistles, sirens, drums and good spirits. The protest march, unhindered by the police, lasted all night, down Srpskih Vladara Street, Belgrade's main thoroughfare and Knez Mihajlova Street, the pedestrian precinct. There were, in fact, no signs of the police apart from the few traffic police members. A stage was set up in Republic Square to host a programme by numerous music and drama artists. A gig begun after midnight, featuring some of the best Serbian rock bands.
Upwards of a hundred thousand Nisans celebrated last night the Ortodox New Year's Eve in Nis's central square. The celebration was organized by the coalition Zajedno, who announced their victory in the local elections in this city. Just before the beginning of the celebration, the gathered Nisans carried by acclamation the proposal that a new City Assembly be constituted with 41 Zajedno deputies. Neither any incidents nor police occurred in the streets of Nis, reports FoNet.
The Serbian Government will today, or tomorrow the latest, issue a statement acknowledging the opposition victory in the local elections in 13 cities and 9 Belgrade municipalities with the exclusion of the Belgrade City Assenbly, learns the daily Dnevni Telegraf from sources close to the Serbian Government. The source claims that the Serbian Ministry of Justice has found irregularities in the electoral procedures and sent its reports of these to the Serbian Government. The Ministry did not, however, examine the procedures of the elections for the Belgrade City Assembly, for the Serbian Supreme Court had already established these electoral results.
Instead of the representatives of the Student Protest 96/97, who were expected to wish a happy New Year to the citizens at midnight last night, the Zajedno leaders appeared on the stage. The daily Nasa Borba has learned that the Steering Board of the Student Protest was prevented from coming to the stage just before mignight. The members of the Steering Board told Nasa Borba that Vuk Draskovic, one of the Zajedno leaders and head of the Serbian Renewal Movement, and his wife Danica said to the student representatives that they were not welcome around Republic Square. The Draskovics told the students that it was not their deserve that Serbia was protesting and that they had nothing to do with the whole thing. "You would not exist if it were not for us. These people have not come to see you," said the pair. During the whole incident, one of Draskovic's body guards was holding Pedja Antic, head of the students' Steering Board by the collar of his jacket. The members of the Steering Board told Nasa Borba that the Draskovics called them idiots. The students stated, however, that Zoran Djindjic, one of the Zajedno leaders and head of the Democratic Party had nothing to do with the incident.
Spokesman for the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO), Ivan Kovacevic, stated at a press conference held today that his party has no problems in its relations with the students. Belgrade daily Nasa Borba today reported of a conflict between SPO's head Vuk Draskovic and his spouse Danica and some members of the Steering Board of the Student Protest. A tussle allegedly occurred when, instead of the students, the leaders of Zajedno addressed the crowd at last night's street celebration of the Orthodox New Year. "There were no contacts with the students throughout yesterday, and so there was no physical possibility for a tussle. There were no incidents, and the program for the celebration was made together with the students. The whole story is a typical lie, thrown in by the police," stated Kovacevic.
A delegation of Belgrade students met today in Belgrade with Peirro Fasino, undersecretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Italy. Dusan Vasiljevic, spokesman for the Student Protest 96/97 made a statement to the press after an hour long talk in the Italian residency that Fasino gave strong confirmations that Italy will, together with the whole international community, and lead by the OSCE, insist on recognition of the original electoral results.
Bruce Vento, chief of the U.S. congressorial delegation to Montenegro has warned that even Montenegro, sharing one state with Serbia, who is refusing to respect the electoral will of its people, could be faced with serious consequences, reports Montena Fax. "It could be a great hinderance to re-entrance of your contry into the international community," he said urging Montenegro to put its efforts in solving this problem promptly.
Michael Mccary, The spokesman of the White House, was rather sceptical about the information concerning the recognition of the victory of the opposition in the elections for the City Assemblies of Belgrade and Nis. According to the AFP, Mccary stated that this seemed to be a step forward. He pointed out, however, that the White House wanted to see whether those who had been legitimately elected would enter the assemblies and start their work.
The Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs Teodoros Pangalos stated today that the Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic has a solution to the electoral crisis in Serbia, but hasn't decided yet to put it into use. According to the Chief of the Greek Diplomacy, the solution to the crisis lies in complete recognition of the recommendations made by the OSCE delegation on the local elections in Serbia from November 17th.
The U.S. administration has publicly thanked Greek Foreign Minister Teodoros Pangalos for his effort to persuade Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic that the European Union is unanimous in its support to the report of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, reports for FoNet Slobodan Pavlovic. The Administration representative, Nicholas Burns assessed as impressive the unaninimity with which the Contact group in its meeting in Brussels last Saturday demanded that Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic recognize all disputed electoral results and provides the necessary conditions for changes in Serbia.
French Foreign Minister Ervet De Charette had talks with Vesna Pesic, one of the Zajedno leaders and head of the Civil Alliance of Serbia, in Paris yesterday, Reuters reports. He told the press after the meeting that France has been pressurizing Belgrade since begining of the crisis that a peaceful and democratic solution be found. He reiterated France's warnings to Serbia that local electoral results must be respected and a dialogue between the Serbian authorities and the opposition be renewed. Pesic expressed her "extreme satisfaction" with the talks she had with the French Foreign Minister but left further details for the press conference she is to hold after her meeting with Lionnel Josepenne, the leader of the French oppositon Socialist Party.
Assistant Secretary of the Italian Foreign Ministry, Piero Fassino, today had a meeting with Yugoslav Foreign Minister Milan Milutinovic, followed by meetings with the leaders of the opposition and the students. Fassino said that he has arrived in Belgrade not only as a representative of Italy but also as an emissary of Europe in order to convey to Serbian authorities messages from the latest session of the Contact Group and other European forums. "I told Milutinovic that the time given to Milosevic by the international community is running out, and that the decisions of the Gonzalez's commission must be carried out," stated Fassino. He also commented the newest decisions of the Belgrade Electoral Commission, calling them a positive development.
Official Washington considers the latest confirmation of the opposition's victory in Belgrade "a positive turn of events." Spokesman for the State Department, Nicholas Burns stated today that, in the past few days, the US has achieved an impressive unity with its partners, and even Russia, on the point that Milosevic must accept the election results from November 17.
Ghenadi Tarasov, official representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry, has distanced the Russian government itself from the expressions of support to the Serbian opposition given by the leader of the pro-government party Nas Dom Russia, Sergei Belayev. Tarasov pointed out that, according to state decrees, statements on Russian foreign policy may be given only by President Yeltsin, Prime Minister Chernomirdin, and Foreign Minister Primakov. He added that Russia applauds the positive attitude Yugoslav authorities have shown towards the recommendations of the Gonzalez commission.
European diplomatic circles have learned of the new decision of the Belgrade Electoral Commission but point out that it is too early for any conclusions, reports FoNet from Brussels. Diplomats in Brussels are very skeptical about these concessions by the Serbian authorities because, as they say, it could be just another of Milosevic's tactical maneuvers. If the confirmation of the opposition victory turns out to hold, it would be a great victory for the opposition. Even so, the reinstatement of the Belgrade results is just a part of the Gonzalez package, which must be implemented in full. The European Parliament will discuss the situation in Serbia at its sessions in Strasbourg, in the next two days.
At its session today, the City Electoral Commission of Belgrade declared invalid the decisions by which the Municipal Court had previously annulled the original results of the second round of local elections in the Yugoslav capital. Today's reversal of those annulments means that the original election results of November 17 are now recognized as valid in law. According to November 17 results, Belgrade's City Council (110 members in total) should have 60 members of the coalition Zajedno, 23 members of the Left Coalition (the Socialist Party, the United Left and New Democracy), 15 members of the Serbian Radical Party, and 2 members of the Democratic Party of Serbia. The remaining 10 disputed mandates underwent a third and then a fourth round of voting, and the regularity of those elections will be examined by state institutions which have a three-day deadline to reach a decision.
Radio B92 reports that the City Electoral Commission in Nis has passed a decision according to which the coalition Zajedno has 41 mandates, the Left Coalition has 28 and the Serbian Radical Party has one seat in the city council of Nis. The Socialists have already announced that they will file a complaint.
President of the Democratic Party, Zoran Djindjic, stated today that the election results in Belgrade and Nis were not the only ones in question. Two months of protests in more than 40 cities of Serbia were aimed also towards the democratization of the country and the liberation of the media. In his first reaction to the decision of the Belgrade Electoral Commission, he said: "There is no reason for euphoria and celebration until the results from November 17 are reinstated in full."
Spokesman for the Democratic Party, Slobodan Vuksanovic, gave a statement for FoNet explaining the DP position on today's concessions by the Milosevic regime: "The coalition Zajedno does not trust the Socialists or their confirmation of the election results because both we and the citizens [of Serbia] have had bad experience with them in the past." He added: "We are not satisfied with these announcements because we consider Belgrade only one part of Serbia, and the elections in Belgrade only one part of the elections in the country. We demand that all the [original] results be reinstated, that all the mandates we won be returned to us in all the constituencies where we did in fact win, just as Felipe Gonzalez's delegation had recommended after its review [of the elections]."
The information service of the Serbian Parliament has announced that a panel is scheduled for 8 p.m. tonight, which will be broadcast live by Channel 2 of the Radio Television Serbia.
21 window panes were smashed on the Belgrade's Bajkarli mosk last night. The incident occurred after the last evening service in the mosk, so that there were none present at the moment of the incident. The police appeared on the spot only this morning. This has been the 7th attack on the mosk since 1992.
The state-owned Radio Belgrade reported that at the session of the Executive Board of the ruling Socialist Party of Serbia held today both Mayor of Belgrade Nebojsa Covic, and the local leader of the Socialists in Nis, Mile Ilic, have been expelled from the party. The head of Belgrade's party branch, Branislav Ivkovic, has been suspended from his duty. The new head of Belgrade Socialists is Dragan Tomic, Serbian Parliament Speaker.
Head of the Civic Alliance of Serbia, Vesna Pesic, gave a press conference in Paris today stating that the official confirmation of the opposition's victory in the elections in Belgrade could be a sign of a break-through. She added that the protests will continue until the authorities accept all demands of the opposition.
In its text named "Fear of the civil war spoiled the carnival in Belgrade", the correspondent of the London journal "The Times" from Belgrade writes about the demonstrations in Yugoslavia's capital and the "instrument protest" which has a witty title "Catch the rhythm". However, the article, broadcast by the BBC in its Serbian language program says that the record from the meeting of the closest associates of the Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic on Friday which "leaked" into public points that the partying of the peaceful supporters of the democracy, assembled last night at the Serbian New Year's Eve, may have come to an end. "The Times" quote the words of the Democratic Party representative, Slobodan Vuksanovic, who said that they "have a good nose to smell the atmosphere", and that what can be presently be smelled foretells something very ugly in the next few days.
The dictators and the regimes throughout the Balkans are trembling nervously while feverish street protests in Sofia and Belgrade raise the political temperature, today's London "Times" informs. "The whole region", considers the London journal, "seems sickly, which induces doubt about whether the countries at the Balkans should really be consider as serious candidates for the European Union, or will they end up as an unpleasant orphanage of the continent.
The French radio and TV stations report that "the most massive protest gathering against the Serbian regime yet", gathered more than a few hundred thousand supporters of the opposition and students in Belgrade last night. Some media state that the Orthodox New Year caused more than half a million "angry people" to come out on the streets of the Serbian capital. "Many actors and rock groups participated in the program, accompanied with fireworks, which lasted until 3:00 in the morning", the Parisian journal "LIberation" points out, citing that the demonstrators received the support of the European Council for their "peaceful and courageous protests".
The Serbs were the first people from Balcans who, thanks to their fierce nationalism, acquired victory; however, thanks to that same nationalism, they will be the last people to liberate itself from communism, Robert Caplan, author of the book "The spirits of Balcans: a travel through history", writes in the today's issue of the New York Times.
The Czech radio informs this morning that last night's Serbian New Year's Eve on Republic Square in Belgrade gathered hundreds of thousands of people. The events in Serbia are still gaining the most attention from the media, such as the magazine "Pravo", which quotes "Nasa Borba", which is foretelling the resignation of the Serbian Prime Minister Mirko Marjanovic, and quotes the words of Mirjana Markovic from the meeting of the leaderships of the Yugoslav Left and the Socialist Party of Serbia about the "specialized war in Serbia, because people on the streets are indoctrinated by foreign mercenaries."
Today's Financial Times observes in its report about the events in Belgrade that the street protests in Serbia have trapped Milosevic in a blind alley.
There are still no official announcements in Bonn, but the chief news on German television today is that the Electoral Committee recognized the victory of the opposition in the local elections from November 17, reports Milenko Babic, correspondent of the FoNet. The opinion of the observers is that the actions of the Electoral Committee depend greatly on the will of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic.
The League For the Protection of Private Property and Human Rights in its proclamation condemns the Serbian authorities for a prolonged ignoring of the public protests of the citizens and students. The League appeals to all non-party and non-governmental organizations, all the democratic and patriotic forces in Serbia, the Serbian organizations in diaspora, as well as distinguished individuals, to join the mutual "Resistance movement" against the current totalitarian regime in Serbia "composed from only a few usurpers of other people's property, the will of the people and our children's destinies".
Goran Ilic, member of the City Electoral Committee (GIK) of Belgrade and member of the Executive Board of the New Democracy (ND) affirmed to the Beta news agency that this party initiated the use of an extraordinary legal means on the basis of which the GIK accepted the preliminary results of the local elections from November 17th from the previous year. Ilic said that ND was the bearer of "the political initiative" and that the GIK, in the line of duty, summoned a session on which the decision was reached, by ten votes to one. The only one voting against the recognition of the preliminary results was the representative of the Socialist Party of Serbia.
Vuk Draskovic, the president of the Serbian Renewal Movement estimated today that the decision of the City Electoral Committee of Belgrade, by which the victory of the oppositional coalition "Zajedno" was confirmed, is "a step towards the return of sense". "A few more days should pass before we start rejoicing, when we see the reactions of the Socialist Party of Serbia and the court", Draskovic said, among other things, at the press conference.
During the celebration of Orthodox New Year in Republic Square in Belgrade, more than 100 people were slightly injured or had to ask for medical help, mainly because of intoxication. The Trauma center in Belgrade announced that 23 persons with slight injuries were received during the night and medical help was given them. According to the information of the "Anlave" clinic and the Trauma center of the Student Protest, 110 persons asked for their help during the night. The doctors of the emergency squad who were on duty during the night were called a number of times.
The Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) announced today that the opposition must not give up now, since the people's demands are broader than just the recognition of the local elections. The demands are: full democratization, fair elections, ending of isolation and democratic solution to the problems of state and nationality.
According to the results of a poll conducted by the "Beografiti" agency between 5th and 9th January, 30,88% of the citizens of Belgrade would vote for the "Zajedno" coalition in the republic elections called in a week's time. A new party, which would include the organizers of the Student Protest 96/97, would get 14,93% votes of the citizens of Belgrade. The coalition of the Serbian Socialist Party (SPS), the Yugoslav United Left (JUL) and the New Democracy would get 8,38% of the votes of Belgrade citizens, same as the Serbian Radical Party.