Student Protest '96 - '97
March 20th, 1997
The first day of spring and the last day of the Student Protest 96/97. After almost four months in the streets and one whole season spent in a fight for the basic human rights our victory has finally arrived. There were about 50,000 people gathered at the Plato in front of the School of Philosophy, mostly students but also citizens who supported the protest its entire length. The gathering was opened by the Krsmanovic academic choir, which sang the St. Sava hymn and Gaudemus Igitur. The program took place on the platform of a big-rig in stead of the jeep which was used the past months, and the speaker system was upgraded for the occasion - there was 12,000 Watts of music power. The spokesman Dusan Popovic started his speech by summing the achievements of the past seventeen weeks which we spent in the streets. "This is only one step. We have awaken a [different] picture of Serbia in the world and shown everybody who the Serbs are" said Popovic. A number of guests who had addressed us earlier in the protest, among them the legendary Grandma Olga who was sorry that she will not be able to greet the students from her balcony. Marija Bogdanovic, dean of the School of Philosophy returned the student IDs which the Main Board of the Student Protest had handed over to her for safe keeping until the end of the protest, and Milan Kurepa, academic and professor at the School of Physics said that he will no longer sign any recommendations for students who wish to leave the country. Actress Milena Dravic, journalist Mirjana Bobic Mojsilovic, Slobodan Marinkovic Moca, professor at the Medical School and many others also gave speeches. The Miss Student Protest Ana Ivkovic was announced, and she was presented with the gold whistle which the Student Protest received as a gift. The Main Board announced that the registration of the Student Parliament is under way and that there is an idea for protest walks to be held every month. Then the drummers started drumming along with famous drummer Dragoljub Djuricic and the surprise was under way. Members of the student security started wrapping the building of the Chancellorship in cloth, the way facades are covered during renovation. The words "Student Protest 96/97", "To be continued..." and "Renovation" were written on it, signifying that the renovation of the University had only started and that the Student Protest is not over yet. The drummers were joined now by a bass player and rhythm machine, and then Ceda Jovanovic... He said that we will stay with one foot in the street ready to return if it is necessary, and announced the final walk of our 119 day protest ending it with the usual "So help us God!".
The flood of people could barely move through Vasina street. It was raining but the people still followed the truck with the music. We walked towards Slavija, slowly, very slowly. There was little happening at this time. As we passed by the City Hall Zoran Djindjic, the newly elected mayor of Belgrade waved from the terrace, but while passing by the symmetrically positioned building, which is the building of the Serbian Presidency, we loudly protested, and cried "You're next!". The first stop was Slavija. The truck came to a halt on the opposite side of the square, and we gathered around it. The unexpected rain had caught us by surprise, and many of us were very wet. People started getting fed up with the cold, and we lost almost half of them. The truck started again, this time up Marsala Tolbuhina. The remaining students were mostly those who had endured in the past ten days of the protest, continuing the walks even though most of their colleagues returned to class, even after the continuation of the protest was voted. By the time we reached Crveni Krst, the rain had stopped, but it was barely noticed, because everybody was paying attention to other things. A special relation had bounded this whole generation during the protest. Thousands of students rocking to the beat from the truck, celebrating the victorious end of a long struggle for basic rights. A truck in the dark surrounded by students dancing, greeting the city and being greeted by citizens... for what seemed to be the last time. The column proceeded rather slowly. When we entered Bulevar Revolucije, somewhere beyond the engineering schools, the driver stepped on the gas and we were off, running after the truck, screaming "Hey, Ho, Let's GO!". Laughter and joy, pride and enthusiasm. The truck stopped again in front of the Federal Parliament, while the song "You don't fool me" played. The Parliament was in session and a number of police officers guarded the premises. We crowded the plateau, and yelled "Red gang!". The session was attended only by delegates from the Socialist Party of Serbia, the Democratic Party of Socialists and the Radical Party, while the largest opposition coalition Zajedno, boycotted the session. After a 15 minute pause we continued back to the Plato, where music was played. Security members said good bye to the undercover police who were constantly present in the crowd, and people exchanged telephone numbers, which were useless in the past months, but now necessary for maintaining contact, since there were no more regular gatherings.
An important episode of this generation has ended, but the fight is not over, yet. We have learned that changes are possible and worth fighting for. People have made contacts and a great percentage of the student population has connected. New plans have been made. Elections for the Student Parliament will be held on March 27, and the movement continues indoors. We are far from finished, but also quite far from being immobilized. Keep with us, fore we will be here tomorrow, and the next day, and the next...