Student Protest '96 - '97

February 23rd, 1997

18:00 CET
(17:00 GMT)

The Plato

One day until the dead line set by the teachers for the students to return to class, and one day until the dead line set by the students for the resignation of the Chancellor. The situation is critical for the protest, and the end is being decided at this time. There is a rumor that the Chancellor will resign tomorrow at 8 am and thus make the students keep their word and return to class.

The evening was a beautiful one. Clear skies full of clouds and a full moon, a Plato full of students at the time when everything seemed to be coming to an end. The 20,000 gathered students had an interesting guest speaker, Dusanka Bojcic, president of the Association for the Spreading of Good Behaviour. She told us that the cause we are fighting for is just and that we must endure until the end. Cedomir Jovanovic started the previously announced walk to Dedinje, the elite Belgrade neighborhood where the residence of Slobodan Milosevic is located. There was a number of attempts to walk to the residence, and invite ourselves for coffee (everybody is curious to try Mirjana Markovic's Turkish coffee). Tonight the action was intended to find the Chancellor and where he drinks coffee. The closest the student "delegation" got to the house was about 100 meters, when the students of the Schools of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering managed to outwit the numerous police force securing the neighborhood. And another attempt was about to get under way...

19:00 CET
(18:00 GMT)

The "Walk"

The procession started down Vasina and Kolarceva as usual, and turned into Knez Milosa from Srpskih Vladara street. It was announced that if the police were encountered, the students would stand in front of the cordon for twenty minutes and then return to the Plato. The expected barrier appeared in Kneza Milosa, not far from the American Embassy. The students slowly walked to the Plato after having waited out the announced twenty minutes.

19:00 CET
(18:00 GMT)

At the same time...

Not all students were ready to be blocked by the police cordon in Kneza Milosa, as everybody expected them to be. There were those enthusiastic persons willing to take the risk and outwit the police in the attempt to reach the "horror house" located in the famous Tolstojeva street. The Schools of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering are famous for these kinds of guerilla actions, but this time there were many more schools involved, although with fewer representatives. The word was passed somewhere during the time the main procession was walking across Terazije. The word went from ear to ear, mostly among the people actively involved in the protest organization, people who spent much time organizing, promoting and overlooking the various protest activities. Among them was Your's truly and four other members of the Internet Service, along with members of different student protest press agencies. The whole thing was planned by the Initiative Board of the School of Electrical Engineering, and carried out by the Delta Force of the Student Security. The group was also accompanied by two medical students working for SUMC (Student Urgent Medical Center) which is responsible for the health of the students, and a reporter for Radio Index. The group met in front of the Serbian government, each person waiting for the whole group to gather while the rest of the students walked down Kneza Milosa. When the whole main procession had passed, the "special group" followed in the rear, but turned suddenly into the first street leading down towards Slobodana Penezica street. There the whole group removed all protest insignia: whistles, buttons, ID cards and security vests.

As a tram passed, the whole group rushed to board in order to get a head start, and accelerate the progress toward the goal. There were about 15 people on board and the group filled all the remaining space, which of course was quite a shock to the passengers. As the tram stopped at the next light, one of the key events took place. Since the main student procession had been stopped in Kneza Milosa, the police had blocked all the parallel streets at the same point, in order to prevent the students from changing the street they were taking to Dedinje. In so doing, the police had placed a group of officers in Slobodana Penezica street also. They were placed right around the stop light in a bus and a number of cars. As the tram stopped the students in the tram realized that they were surrounded by policemen who would stop them immediately if the officers discovered them. The lucky thing was that the weather was quite cold and the windows had started to fog up because of the great mass of people, so all that could be noticed from the outside was that there was a crowded tram passing by the potential road block.

The tram was empty two stops later. The group got off at the foot of the Senjak hill, which is next to Dedinje, and quickly got off the main street by running up a narrow flight of stairs leading to the next parallel street, out of view of potential police patrols. We took the parallel street to the right, and then the first street left, leading up the hill. As we turned into the street, a group of people could be seen rapidly approaching from the other end of the street. At first we thought that they might be another group of students on a similar mission, but when they blocked our rear it was obvious that they weren't. It turned out that they were a local gang curious about who is passing through their turf. They thought we might be an opposition troupe, but when we identified ourselves as students on the "crusade" to Dedinje, they even offered their help. We gratefully refused, fearing that we might even run into trouble with the police if we surprise them too much. Meanwhile, at the head of the group the Delta group was investigating the police concentration in the area. Six of them were standing in the street when they were approached by two officers, who were polite, but suspicious of what they were doing in the neighborhood. As the officers were about to ID the security, a group of minor hooligans came up a street into plain view, carrying sticks and stones. They were of much greater interest to the officers so they let the student security go. The whole group returned to the lower street and continued around the hill, moving away from the city center.

The following exciting event was the passing by a police station without being seen. In the dark the leaders didn't notice that one of the darker buildings we passed by was a police station, but when the garage doors opened somewhere in the middle of the column, it was more than obvious. Only a small bunch of bare bushes and about 50 meters separated us from them. The whole group squatted and luckily weren't seen. We then turned left, into the hill and ended up in a dead end street, where we rested a while. The leaders discussed wether to return to the Plato and be satisfied with what had been achieved or to proceed into Dedinje, where a huge number of police certainly waited. The majority voted to continue, but even so about 30 people decided to return. We passed different grand homes of people nobody knows, people needing personal security guarding the entrances to their residence, also official diplomatic residences. Most of these houses would definitely impress most of the Western citizens with their size and luxury. We passed the International School and were passed by a car with a familiar face in it. Everybody swore that the person sitting in the passenger seat had to be Mirjana Markovic, wife of Slobodan Milosevic and leader of the Yugoslav Left. The rumor could not be confirmed since the white BMW had already passed. We walked as quietly as possible, not to arouse the guard dogs sitting in most of the yards, because their barking would wake the entire neighborhood. At the end of the next street we came to the Stevan Nemanja elementary school, and entered the dark schoolyard. The question in mind was where to go next. We had no idea where the police could be, and we came so close that we were not ready to waste the opportunity to achieve what no one else had done, reach the residence of the President of Serbia. It was decided that the reporter for Radio Index should report directly that we were on a completely different location and heading in the opposite direction, and so it was. Then the discussion started. To go or to return, to try an obvious route and be caught without reaching the goal or try a secretive route and possibly create panic and hate with the police at the moment we surface. Suddenly two cars pulled up and about fifteen people rolled out. The Delta Force cavalry! What had happened? They had been searching for us for an hour, knowing that we were somewhere on Senjak or Dedinje, but could not find us. They had seen many police buses, special forces jeeps and vans in the area, and then heard that a group of students was in front of the Dragisa Misovic hospital, which is located on the other side of the residence. They rushed over to the hospital, angry and surprised that the group had gone that far and revealed their position by radio. This of course had been the false information given by us to hide our traces. They found the square in front of the hospital overflowing with police lights. Buses, cars, jeeps and vans made the whole area blue and black. The Delta cars returned and a little later found us waiting in the schoolyard. They told us the police were no longer at their positions and how we would get to Tolstojeva easiest. We crossed the road in small groups in order to prevent great suspicion among the drivers, and entered the forest. When we emerged, we were three blocks away from our destination, in the most expensive part of Belgrade, which should have been full of police protecting the President especially during the demonstrations in the city. The final block we walked through a small path leading between two houses. When we entered Tolstojeva street, two members of the student security ran ahead to investigate the situation. They saw three officers and a car in front of the residence, and identified themselves, saying that the students have no intention of going any further and didn't want any trouble. At that moment the main group arrived and the victory noise was created and pictures were taken as souvenirs from the great trek. The officers were noticeably nervous, and radioed for reinforcement. This was the first group of students to make it this far. We were 20 meters away, in front of number 31 (Milosevic lives in 33) from the forbidden house. Within minutes about 50 officers arrived at the scene, including the general-colonel in charge of all the demonstrations in Belgrade. He admitted to the security that the police had no idea of how 150 students managed to reach Dedinje with all the police surrounding it. As we started back the way we came, another caravan of police cars blocked our way. We were told to return, go back the way we came. We then realized that the police didn't know where we had entered Tolstojeva, not to mention how we got to Dedinje in the first place. We were forced down a small lot, down to the next street, and then started in the direction we came from. We were met by the car of the Delta Force, which went in front of the procession. At one moment the car started backing up through the crowd followed by a black BMW. The window rolled down and Senta, the personal bodyguard of Slobodan Milosevic put his head out. He exchanged a few bitter words with one of the students. "You want to go to Tolstojeva?! You'll come to Tolstojeva to su*k di*k!!". He suddenly opened the door and got out. Angrily he put his hand in his jacket, going for his gun. The crowd ran but there was nowhere to run, the street was narrow and bordered by fences on both sides. Luckily he returned to the car and drove away. As we came to the first corner a small police caravan with four vehicles and about 20 officers of the special police appeared. They followed us back through the forest, where there was a dose of fear that there might be a group of officers waiting in the dark. Nothing happened and we went back past the school and residences. Our steps were considerably longer and quicker than on the way up, but we still found enough humor to make up a song to commemorate the occasion.

Hi-ho hi-ho
it's off to Sloba's we go,
to 31 we came you now,
hi-ho, hi-ho, hi-ho, hi-ho

We came out of the residential area in front of the Bigz publishing company. Three students tried to turn home before that, but were stopped by the police who insisted that the group stay together. We virtually caught a tram which was going to the garage between two stations and filled almost as full as the previous one. We got off at the train station, only to "catch" another tram at a stop light. The whole group was very merry, but also very polite: there wasn't a single person standing who wasn't a student. Everybody else was sitting. The final lap was from the City Library to the Plato, the victory march through Knez Mihajlova with loud singing and rejoicing. Dedinje had fallen once again. The great fear for the security of the President was expressed. If 150 students managed to get to the residency, even though the action had been announced two days in advance, then there is a serious breech of security.

The students might try another test of the President's security...


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