MON, 10 FEB 1997 23:52:16 GMT
Policy and Violence
AIM Belgrade, 7 February, 1997
On 3 February, President of Serbia Slobodan Milosevic received the republican Minister of internal affairs Zoran Sokolovic and his assistants for public and state security, police general Radovan Stojicic alias Badza and police colonel Jovica Stanisic. The reception was given great publicity by state-controlled media, especially electronic ones.
The meeting was convened a day after police these two men are at the head of brutally beat up hundreds of peaceful demonstrators in Belgrade. The policemen beat black and blue whoever they caught up with: passers-by, women and young men, President of the Civic Alliance of Serbia Vesna Pesic, university professors and students, actors, domestic and foreign journalists and cameramen, an American marine... The intervention began with water guns, tear gas and batons on Brankov bridge, as it is said in the official statement of the Ministry of the interior, for the purpose of "deblocking traffic" and then continued all over downtown. Members of special units with their batons drawn out surrounded citizens in small streets, beat them up in Terazije and the square of the Republic, broke into the Faculty of Philosophy and thrashed the people they found there. The clubbing ball lasted for more than two hours.
About this, the President of Serbia and his "first batons" have not uttered a single word for the public. On the contrary - the police was "given credit" for a successful action in Kosovo in which 66 "members of terrorist organizations" were arrested. Milosevic used the opportunity to say that "our state will not allow it to become a polygon for terrorism". Obviously, the President had in mind the terrorism which was not directed by his police.
Nevertheless, this meeting on the President's sofa is much more than mere formality and collecting cheap political points. It is a fact that for a long time the public has been disturbed by terrorist actions in Kosovo (murder of policemen, attempt on the life of the Rector of University in Pristina, etc.) and failure of the police to discover perpetrators. However, the roots of this lie in the political approach of the regime to the status of Kosovo and the Albanian majority over there, and not in minor or major efficiency of the ministry of the interior. Both Milosevic and his police heads know it only too well. Spotlinghting of the successful anti-terrorist action was obviously aimed to be a message to the international community and ethnic Albanian politicians that the current authorities still have "firm arguments" for possible future negotiations and that this should be born in mind.
All the other messages refer to the post-election crisis in Serbia. From its very beginning there have been speculations about the attitude of the police heads. There were rumours, among other, that nobody was consulting Sokolovic about anything, that the relations between Stanisic and Stojicic have become strained, that it was questionable who was in fact in command of the police and similar.
"Confirmed information" which caused musch attention was that assistant ministers (especially Stanisic) were against bringing police forces into the streets, that they demanded moderation and resolution of the crisis by political means, and that the Yugoslav United Left (JUL) of the President's wife Dr Mirjana Markovic exerted pressure that these two assistant ministers be discharged. Pictures of these three with Milosevic on the divan was intended to show that everything is all right at the top of the police command. Harmony and cooperation between the minister and his assistants were not only flourishing, but all three of them were extremely efficacious when most important interests of the state and the citizens were in question. In a certain sense, this reception was also intended to deny speculations that Sokolovic would remain without his portfolio in the forthcoming reconstruction of the Serbian Government. It was claimed, that Stojicic and Stanisic would most probably leave with him, because a new minister, even if not a member of JUL, would be extremely close to this party. "Giving credit" to the police is therefore a clear signal to all interested parties, both to the ruling parties - the Socialist Party of Serbia and the Yugoslav United Left - which are shaken by internal conflicts, and to the opposition and the public, that everything will remain as it were in the Ministry of Internal Affairs and that nobody should hope for any changes. Who could even think about changing the command of police forces, especially when the main political force - in this case Milosevic - publicly showed that he was extremely satisfied with its work?
But, the most significant message of the reception was that the President of Serbia fully supported the police terrorism in the night between 2 and 3 February. It was made sure that the message got through to everybody: it was not an excess, there was no parallel command, and there was no question about it that Sokolovic, Stojicic and Stanisic did not know who the thugs were.
It is difficult to list everybody who denounced police terrorism. The American administration, along with denouncing it, demanded from Milosevic to immediately interrupt all use of force if he did not wish to be sent back into complete international isolation. Foreign ministers of Great Britain, Germany and France reacted in a similar manner. While denouncing police terrorism against peaceful demonstrators, high representative of the international community in B&H, Carl Bildt, called Milosevic's Serbia the "sick man of Europe". Condemnation and abhorrence in the country, with the exception of the most rigid factions of the SPS-JUL, were general. In his so far sharpest message, Serb Patriarch Pavle, among other, begged "those who are armed to guard peace and order, and not the authorities which are tragically for all of us, sinking deeper and deeper, not aware of what they are doing. I trust in God that He will open their eyes and that they will stop maltreating the long-suffering people".
Apart from the Church, almost the entire public reacted. Theatres stopped working, the National Theatre inclusive, film distributers withdrew their films not only from the 25th FEST which was interrupted by their act, but also from cinemas, and it is difficult to think of a single public personage of integrity who has not condemned the terrorism and brutality of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Even Nebojsa Covic, mayor of belgrade, who after his own expulsion from the SPS had claimed that Stojicic (and Stanisic as well) were "supreme professionals" and honourable men and that they had had nothing to do with police thugs in plain clothes, did not repeat these allegations. Mentioning that he was still the mayor, he appealed to the members of the police force not to forget that they had peaceful citizens of Belgrade in front of them.
Along with bitterness, all this was accompanied by a feeling of shame that Serbia was, at the end of the twentieth century, a state where members of the special police units were thrashing the citizens like beasts because they were whistling to its president for the theft of votes in local elections. But, the thing everybody is ashamed of is admired by Aleksandar Vulin, former spokesman and nowadays deputy president of the headquarters of JUL. To his admiration for the members of the ministry of police "for having restrained themselves for so many days", he added a remark that it could not have been expected that, at the outside temperature of minus six degrees, the policemen should have sprinkled citizens from water guns with warm water!
The inevitable question is what was the trigger that made the top of the regime order and apply violence on 3 February. Speculations that this was the beginning of introducing coercive measures in Belgrade had to be rejected as soon as Milosevic ordered Serbian Prime Minister Mirko Marjanovic to instruct the Socialist majority in the republical Assembly to vote in favour of a special law which would recognize election results as determined by the OSCE mission.
Aware of the graveness of condemnation of the international community and with the already prepared decision to recognize results of 17 November, 1996 elections, the Serbian President wished to show with brutal force that he was still the boss who had to be taken into account for a long time to come. Decision of the British Net West Bank to discontinue advising FR Yugoslavia in negotiations with international creditors caused by the political crisis in the country, quite badly damaged the credibility of the regime. More precisely, suspicion about its survival discreditted the very sense of any further business dealing. Thrashing of the citizens was in fact aimed at showing that Milosevic could do with Serbia whatever he chose, and recognition of elections results was intended to reduce the noise coming from abroad. There are, however, also those who believe that beating was the result of the public diary of Dr Mira Markovic in which she stated that the coalition Together (primarily President of the Serb Revival Movement Vuk Draskovic) was seeking the life of her family and her own, and that it was just waiting for the opportunity to get hold of her and her supporters to begin arresting them and taking them to stadiums, according to the recipe from Chile...
"What Mira Markovic wrote about started happening, with the only difference that she confused the roles. She is the military junta, and we are the students", President of the Democratic Party Zoran Djindjic commented on police violence and added:"With this impotent Chile scenario Milosevic has done an enormous job in our favour, but without any plan. Pinoche at least had a plan..."
Nevertheless, the most wide-spread opinion is that Milosevic intended to intimidate the citizens and remove them from the streets with this brutal police force. When he was faced with general condemnation and when after the beating they all came out into the streets again, he retreated and did the only thing left for him to do: recognized the results of the 17 November elections. Although it sounds quite logical, the event which took place on 6 February in the square of the Republic casts a shadow on it. On that day, while the gathering of the coalition Together still lasted, a group of young hooligans tried to provoke a reaction of the police. But, instead to react, policemen completely withdrew. The vandals then started their destructive ball. They stopped cars ordering the drivers to honk their horns and salute with three fingers. A driver of a car with diplomatic licence plate of the French Embassy was beaten up. While the unfortunate diplomat was beaten black and blue, a policeman in plain clothes shot a bullet in the air, the hooligans scattered, and then he too disappeared. Finally, when after undisturbed vandalism of brutal young men which lasted for a whole hour, members of the special police units arrived, they started maltreating and arresting the citizens. Some policemen, obviously waging their own private wars, even tried to break into the Faculty of Philosophy...
It is difficult to say whether this drama on the square of the Republic was authentic hooliganism or calculated police provocation. Although it was not fully used for propagandist purposes as the regime controlled media usually do, it is certain that this was a message to the public that the regime needed not necessarily resort to violence only by means of uniformed policemen. And another thing: that the demonstrators who were claimed to be peaceful were not that at all. This is what happens when the police - which most of the public is so angry with - withdraws. It seems therefore that Milosevic decided to use police violence because he was aware that few things in Serbia would remain as they used to be. In other words, he made it clear to everybody what he was ready to do. Because in troubled times such as these the only thing that keeps the regime going is the police such as this one and its "actions" such as these. The current Serbian regime has already gambled away everything else.
(AIM) Philip Schwarm